I’m a geek, but love books first and foremost (# 3) – Storieman and kids book apps

This is the third in a series of posts [1][2][3] that explain just how much I love reading, especially books.

Technology doesn’t discourage kids from reading. As a child, one of my favourite book series was enhanced with tape cassettes that read out the text and guided the reader through the pages. I knew the book series in Afrikaans as Storieman, published by Rubicon-Press in 1982, but discovered today that the original UK version is The Story Teller by Marshall Cavendish.

Storieman cover page

I was reminded of Storieman while reading the ebook version of The Schatzkin Files – a collection of posts about changes in the book industry – especially his thoughts on enhanced ebooks and juvenile fiction.

Storieman was a collection of children’s stories that came with a set of eight-track tapes. You (or a parent) would open the book, play the cassette, and read along with the narrators that spoke in the voices of the characters. Every now and then, a “priiiiing” would sound, prompting you to turn the page.

We -loved- Storieman. I recall getting excited when our mother called us to read and the disappointment I’d feel when the tape player would abruptly interrupt the story by asking us to turn it around to side B. Gobblino, the Witch’s Cat was by far one of our favourites.

Gobbolino, the Witch's Cat

In his post, Mike predicts that juvenile fiction will migrate to enhanced digital products much faster than narrative text. Also, these kids’ titles will be produced by new companies rather than book publishers. He mentions examples of publishers partnering digital media studios – the kinds of companies that film and TV studios have also been to create interactive experiences around their content – to create reading experiences for kids in the form of apps.

PopOut! PeterMonster at the End of this Book, a Sesame Street bookMonster at the End of this Book, a Sesame Street book

What if Storieman were available as an app?

I’ve noticed a significant growth in children’s ebook apps on both the iTunes and Android stores.  There are books that read out text, books that let you interact with illustrations (some rather useless; making each object in the scene wiggle and bleep is a distraction at the least), books with puzzles and books that emulate other “enhanced” children’s books such as virtual “pull-out” books.

I also showed some of these apps to my niece, a precocious and loquacious 7 old. Both she and her mom were delighted by these books and it took a bit of encouragement for my niece to part with the tablet.

The Reluctant Catterpillar, a Meegenius kids' book application.Four seasons kids' book applicationFour seasons kids' book application

Storieman was an enhanced book, and reading about Mike’s predictions about childrens’ literature and ebook apps, I wondered what Storieman could have been like today. Then I discovered that Human & Rosseau is planning to release the series again – this time on CD. So far, it doesn’t seem like they’re going to do anything else with the content viz. Pottermore, but I wonder what they could do…


Jenka Eusebio from Appazoogle considers when kids will start saying: “My grandmother reads those paperwhatchamacallits. I think they were called books…”

“I think they were called books…”.

Claire Schultz from Appazoogle reports on a Nielsen survey that indicates tablet users are willing to pay for content.

It’s official: we don’t really mind paying for content. (Who’s ‘we’?).

In order to pass this course, you should publish an ebook.

I want to try out a different way of evaluating an ebook project, but there seems to be some resistance to the idea – the idea being that they should actually publish a ebook – get it “out there” – as part of their qualification.

In this post, I try to explain my reasoning behind this idea.

About the course

I teach publishing students about publishing in the digital environment. While the course covers various aspects of e-publishing, our focus lies in ebooks. As one of their assignments, students prepare content into an EPUB document, theoretically meant for publication in the ebook marketplace. They also investigate various ebook vendors in a theoretical assignment where they act as a publisher intending to distribute its titles.

The theoretical nature of these assignments bothers me. The publishing industry is inherently a production industry. If we expect students to play a role in preparing and distributing content in the real world, they should have some experience in it.

Academic vs. vocational training

This proposal underlies the nature of evaluation methods in higher education. Universities are playing an increasing role in vocational training: that is, preparing students for the workplace. The need to offer both vocational and academic training is a balancing act between research-focused and practice-focused assignments.

Employers in South Africa need skilled workers:

“In 2009, Higher Education South Africa (HESA) released a study titled “Graduate Attributes”, which was a study on South African graduates from the perspective of employers. It highlighted a disparity between the expectations of employers and the readiness of graduates, and while expectations outstripped readiness, there was some good news as some colleges were driven towards producing graduates fully prepared for the workplace.”

One way to give my students workplace experience is to encourage them to publish an ebook. This won’t shift the outcomes of the assignments and it will encourage the kinds of teaching methods I believe are useful in both vocational and academic training: learning done through actively engaging with the subject matter.

Also, various degrees require of students a certain amount of workplace experience. What better way to have students experience the ebook industry than having them publish?