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What makes a great e-book for kids?

The BolognaRagazzi Digital Award, given annually, helps to draw attention to the best in digital books and apps for kids. I’ve found the coverage of the award over the past couple of years to be a treasure trove of ideas and inspiration for anyone looking to create something in this space—and particularly helpful for those who are entirely new to the endeavor.

The award was established in 2011 “to identify best practices in this emerging category of commercial products, on a global scale,” so the winners can be from anywhere, which is part of the fun.

LaunchKids 2015, a conference on digital books for kids, shared a list of insights into what did or didn’t work with that year’s BolognaRagazzi winners, and the lessons learned can serve as a roadmap for creating digital books and apps. (I haven’t seen a similar analysis for 2016 or 2017, but I think the lessons are still relevant.)

So, what makes a great e-book, and a not-so-great ebook? Here are a few pointers that caught my eye, as I begin to toss around ideas of what’s possible:

  1. Interactivity: If you’ve got items on the screen that look like they should respond to a touch, make sure they do! Don’t invite the touch of a curious child, only to have no payoff. Look at "Oh!" by Anouck Boisrobert & Louis Rigaud, a 2017 BolognaRagazzi winner.
  2. Interactivity, 2.0: Make sure interactivity advances a narrative. Don’t simply toss in illustrations and hot spots to jab.
  3. Kid-controlled: Make sure you have a mute button that enables a child to control the experience. You’re looking for a psychological balance between screen and child initiation.
  4. JackandtheBeanstalk-726x726Innovation: This is probably the Holy Grail—easier said than done. Try to stay a step ahead on the innovation wave, and do something new. Don’t just offer up a “collective mush of mediocre quality stories with limited features and perhaps a jigsaw puzzle, a coloring page or a game of concentration. There’s so much more the medium can do.” Don’t create what the judges referred to as just another “page flipper.” As an example, check out Nosy Crow's "Jack and the Beanstalk". At 9:03, the child mends a broken mirror with an image of his or her own self. This is something that had never been done before, and won the app a 2014 BolognaRagazzi mention.
  5. Teaching moments: Help the emerging reader. Labeling strategies, closed captioning options, and touch and hear techniques to help a child build a bridge toward becoming a reader—all these won points.
  6. LoopimalThe human touch: Don't focus on technical fireworks at the expense of great quality sound, and good old fashioned warmth and humor. Apps needn't dazzle and overwhelm. The simplest of apps can engage and delight. An example is Loopimal by Yatatoy, which won a 2016 BolognaRagazzi mention.


More useful links:
LaunchKids 2015 full downloadable report
BolognaRagazzi Digital Awards, 2015
BolognaRagazzi Digital Awards, 2016
BolognaRagazzi Digital Awards, 2017


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