I haven’t lived in the same town as my parents since shortly after graduating from college, and based on our current trajectories I don’t expect to any time soon. Usually technology does a pretty good job of bridging the gap—we frequently chat on the phone, email each other and occasionally use Skype to video chat. We try to see each other in person about once a year, but it can be tricky sometimes with school and work schedules (particularly since my brother and sister both have kids now as well). Fortunately time feels like it passes pretty quickly, unless you’re a kid—or a grandparent. Let’s face it—trying to video chat with kids is only really fun for about five minutes. And then they lose interest, or they try to talk louder to be heard, or they start goofing off. My kids tend to run off to their room to bring out another toy or something to show my parents; this is repeated until my parents are tired of spending all their time waiting for the kids to return and I have a pile of toys on my computer desk.
Readeo is a web-based service that aims to change that.
Coby Neuenschwander, the founder of Readeo, had the same problem I do. They wanted a way for their son Oliver to spend time with his grandparents, but Skype just wasn’t quite working. But Oliver always loved reading picture books with his grandparents, so Neuenschwander had an idea—what if his parents could read picture books to Oliver over the internet?
That’s how Readeo works: there is a video chat element to it, but the bulk of the screen shows the picture book, with arrows that allow you to flip through the pages. Either party can turn the pages (though there is an option to lock the controls if needed), and the video chat lets you see and hear each other while you read. Clicking on the book will cause a little blue circle to flash, so you can point out details in the illustration or highlight words as you read them. And the chat window itself can be enlarged if you want to set the books aside and just chat for a while. You also have the option of just reading the books in the library on your own without the video chat and you can create “bookshelves” to store favorite books—for instance, one shelf for each child.
Readeo has a library of over a hundred picture books, and is constantly adding more. They have deals with various publishers like Simon and Schuster, which allows them access to fairly recent books as well as a few older titles. All of the books are chosen by their editor, Jenny Brown, who has experience in children’s books and the publishing industry. Each month they also choose a Book of the Month to highlight—this month it’s Peter Reynold’s delightful ode to drawing Ish—and they post an interview with the author on their blog.
The way the subscription works is pretty interesting: one party pays the $9.99/month subscription fee, and then can Bookchat with any number of other users with access to the full library. Users with free accounts will be able to see the library while they’re chatting with paid users, but on their own they can only see the Book of the Month. If you want to give it a shot, you can either sign up for a free Guest account (Book of the Month only) or you can sign up for a free 14-day trial with full access (but we’ve got a code for you at the end of the post). I like the setup, though, because it means that a grandparent could become a member and then read with any of their grandkids in different locations—or if the child is a member, then any number of friends and family members could read to them.
Neuenschwander gave me a trial account and we actually chatted about Readeo over Bookchat so he could give me an overview. The interface is very simple and easy to use—though it’s easier to turn the pages with the arrow buttons than with the “page flipping” by mousing over the edge of the page. But the real magic happened later, when I got my kids on Bookchat with my mom. As I mentioned earlier, usually our video chats devolve pretty quickly: there’s a show-and-tell period, followed by some loud showboating and then concluding with the loss of interest as the kids wander off to other things. We decided to have my second-grader read a story to my mom first—and she loved it so much that she kept picking more books to read. My four-year-old sat next to her and was delighted to sit and listen. They also really loved the ability to click around on the pictures to point things out, and they were able to move through the book at their own pace. My kids also tried again with GeekMom Jenny Williams’ kids, and they had a blast taking turns choosing and reading the books—it was easier to manage than their previous Skype playdates and that added bit of structure really helps.
Fellow GeekDad Dave Banks has shared before about another book-reading site called A Story Before Bed, which allows you to record yourself reading a book so that a child can play it back later. That’s a great service for when you’re just not able to read together at the same time—for example, when a military parent is deployed.
The difference with Readeo is that it allows for real-time interaction through books, and I think it’s a definite bonus particularly for the adults. It’s great for the kids to have a recording, but that means the adult doesn’t get to see their reactions. Readeo puts you both on the same page, so to speak, and you get to watch each other respond to the book. As one user put it in a video testimonial, it allows her to feel like she’s “more than just a picture on the wall” for her grandson.
If you love reading books together, you no longer need to be separated by long distances—give Readeo a try! GeekDad readers can enter the code “GEEKDAD” for a free month at checkout.