Personalized Book Reader Follows Kids As They Turn The Pages

Expert publishing blog opinions are solely those of the blogger and not necessarily endorsed by DBW.

Sparkup Reader lets kids hear loved one's voices reading paper books.

Sparkup Reader lets kids hear loved one’s voices reading paper books.

When the words “digital” and “books” are used together, most people’s thoughts go directly to “ebooks.” But “digital” applies to imaging and audio, too. The folks at Sparkup have come up with a new use for visual and auditory technologies and created a digital device that enhances the experience of reading paper books to children.

Learn more about the future of children’s publishing at Launch Kids at Digital Book World 2014.

Follows the child’s lead

The Sparkup Magical Book Reader works as an auditory add-on to paper picture books. You attach the device to the back of any book, press the “record” button, and read the story aloud. Once recorded, a child can later attach the device to the book, press the bright “playback” button, and hear your voice reading the story.

This device allows kids to flip the pages of the book at their own pace. They can go backward or forward in the book because the digital camera recognizes the pages. The device follows the child’s lead—it knows which page is open and plays the recording that corresponds to that page.

Simulates engagement

The Sparkup reader can help simulate the engagement that comes from being read aloud to by a loved one—without the loved one actually being there. Audio-enhanced ebooks can do this, of course, but Sparkup is a solution for parents who favor paper books over screentime. “Digital screens dominate our kids’ lives today, but we know families still love to read quality, printed books,” says Amir Koren, founder and CEO of Sparkup. “We leverage technology to take kids and the whole family back to a fun, interactive and tangible reading experience.”

Distant parents can connect with kids

I could see how parents who travel frequently, or who don’t live with their children every day, could use this device to connect with their child. In fact, any caregivers who don’t have as much time to read with their kids as they like could employ this device.

When my kids were preschoolers, for example, my husband was in the military. Typically, he’d be away for six months at a time. Back then, and probably still today, many military parents would make videotapes of themselves reading storybooks. I can tell you firsthand how valuable those recordings are for the kids of service members who have few other ways to connect with their deployed dads and moms.

Sparkup doesn’t allow the kids to see their loved one reading the way a video does, but it allows children to hold a book on their lap and hear the quirky, personal vocal inflections of the parent who’s far away. And it allows the kids to move around the book according to their own whims. This device doesn’t exactly make me long for the days when my boys were little and my husband spend months in the Persian Gulf, but it does make me wish that I had the convenience and flexibility of such a device back then.

Sparkup Reader on a paper book.

Sparkup Reader on a paper book.

Uses for special needs children

Parents and caregivers of children with special needs have already discovered the value in tablets loaded with read-aloud ebooks and apps. For those who want their special needs kids to spend a little time with paper books, too, the Sparkup device may offer a useful option. Koren says, “Children with special needs can get extra help and validation” with the Sparkup Reader.

Caregivers of special needs kids can also use the device in custom ways, too. The camera recognizes the page that’s open in the book, but there’s nothing in the device that requires you to read the exact text on the page. So you could record other types of messages—questions, suggestions, tips on reading techniques, or even behavior reminders—to go along with the text on the page.

Not just for preschoolers?

There’s also nothing to say this device must be used with picture books or used by kids who don’t yet know how to read. My teenager, who loves acting, was cast as Sir Toby Belch in Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night. He probably could have used this little machine to help him learn his part. He could record the other character’s speeches, then leave blank space for him to fill in his own lines “live” as he practiced.

I’m sure there are lots of other creative uses for the device out there. If you’ve come up with one, let us know in the comments below.

Intuitive, unless you’re completely frazzled

When I tried the Sparkup, I didn’t read the instructions (effectively embodying the stressed-out parent mentality). I just went ahead and started using the device. It was simple to listen to the test book that came in the box. It was also a breeze to use the device to hear the two pre-loaded audio recordings of the classic children’s books, William Steig’s Shrek! and Tikki Tikki Tembo by Arlen Mosel. I got a little discombobulated, however, when trying to make my own recording. But I asked another parent to try, and he figured it out in no time, no need for instructions.

Turns out I was too impatient and the problem I encountered was all my own. It really is an easy device to use. So my advice: if you’re frazzled, take a moment to read the instructions or at least take a deep breath before you begin to record a story yourself. You’ll save time in the long run and the narration will sound better, too.

Despite my initial experience, the device is, in fact, easy enough for reading-age kids to make recordings all by themselves. Many self-starting kindergarteners or first graders would have the agility to dictate their own stories and gain the satisfaction of hearing their own voices.

Learn more about the future of children’s publishing at Launch Kids at Digital Book World 2014.

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