Trying Out Digital Storybooks With a 4-Year-Old, Part 3: Arthur Reads Series

Geek Culture

My 4 year old son is getting quite spoiled when it comes to bedtime — since introducing him to the Jack and the Beanstalk story app and the Berenstain Bears app, he’s now asking me which new story I’ll have for him tonight. I can see that he’s enjoying the narrated stories and the interactivity that these kinds of apps can provide.

Fortunately for him (and me), I have another new app to share with him tonight — it’s another story in the Arthur Reads series from ScrollMotion Kids. It’s called Arthur’s Teacher Trouble and it’s just one of 10 Arthur Reads apps available from the App Store. For the past few weeks, Decker has been enjoying three other Arthur stories — this was very helpful last week while our family was on vacation!

First, a few details.

Each of the Arthur stories is based on the Arthur books (and TV show) by Marc Brown. Decker has enjoyed the Arthur series for over a year now since I introduced him to the PBS show; he likes the various personalities and quirks that each of Arthur’s friends, family members, and teachers display. (He definitely gets annoyed by little sister DW and frequently feels sorry for Arthur.)

Each Arthur app is $2.99. But as with the other storybook apps I’ve reviewed, the price is a real bargain given how much reuse Decker has given the three Arthur apps he had access to over vacation. Just like the other storybook apps, opening up an Arthur Reads app allows you to either have the story read to you… or allows you to read it by yourself. The stories are narrated by author Marc Brown, and I have to say that he’s a very good narrator — Decker was good at sitting still as the stories unfolded, but there’s an added benefit to these apps that has completely sold Decker on the Arthur Reads apps — anyone can read the story and record his or her own voice. That means Decker can now choose to have a few of the stories read to him by his grandparents!

In addition to having the story read to you, you can bookmark pages and turn off the in-story text. An Autoplay button allows you to set the app so that page turns are done for you. (Decker prefers Autoplay set to On.)

But the story isn’t the only thing these apps offer. Each app also provides two Play options: Puzzles and Coloring.

The puzzle selection offers up 12 scenes from the current app that is opened; two difficulty levels are provided (Easy and Hard) that basically change the number and size of the pieces. Decker started out liking the Easy settings but quickly figured out how to drag and drop the pieces in place… from that point on, he wanted the difficulty level set to Hard. Of all the features found in these apps or the previous storytime apps, the puzzles are Decker’s obvious favorite and I have found him at times opening up one or two of the Arthur apps and doing just the puzzles.

The coloring selection is also nicely done — each app provides 5 images (typically a character from the Arthur series) and a hideaway color palette and brush size selector. The color buttons are oversized and the brush size drag bar is large and easy to use for small fingers. Decker enjoys coloring, too, but I’ve since found him returning to the puzzles (more of them) since he’s colored just about all of the images from his 3 Arthur apps.

In the upper-left corner of every page is a small menu button that easily allows Decker to jump from Story to Puzzles. There’s also an icon for buying additional books, but if you’ve kept the password for iTunes purchases safe from your child, there should be no worries about him or her buying more books… even though the fact that they would want to is definitely encouraging, right? Icons for recording your own voice (or allowing someone else to read the story) and for getting help with the user interface are also provided. (I actually needed to access it to figure out that the Autoplay feature existed.)

Decker is in for a real treat this week and next… I’ve since added 5 more Arthur read apps to my iPad. Given that he knows how to access and use the Arthur Reads apps, I have no problem with him reading them (or allowing them to be read to him) whenever he likes. (He likes Buster, by the way… so I’m hoping a few stories are released that have Buster more heavily involved.)

I’m very pleased with Decker’s reaction to the Arthur Reads apps (as well as all of the other storytime apps we’ve shared together). While I don’t plan on replacing actual book reading with him with iPad apps, I think these are done well enough that I should be able to switch back and forth with him at bedtime or any time he wants a story.

What’s next? I’ll finish up this series with a summary of Decker’s experiences with the three series we’ve shared (Beanstalk, Berenstain Bears, Arthur Reads) and offer up some ideas and suggestions that have popped into my head as I’ve observed my son interacting with the iPad apps. In the meantime, I’ll be sure to keep my eyes open for more storytime apps and try to provide some updates in the future on new titles, new ideas for interactivity, and new techniques for teaching kids to read.

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