My wife and I have a new reader! It’s awesome. Decker will be 5 next month, and he’s now reading a few books on his own and quite proud of himself. I watch him use his finger as he moves from word to word, and I love watching him try to sound out words before asking for help. (I also love hearing when he guesses at a word and his choice is funnier than the actual word on the page.)
As both a writer and a reader, it makes me smile big to see this new skill opening doors for him. He has access to books in his school’s library (until school ends in a month — yikes) and the teacher sends home the occasional workbook with short stories in it for him to practice reading to his mom and me. And, of course, there’s the iPad in our house that has a number of eBooks that he enjoys listening to (using the Read to Me feature) and having fun with the interactive elements. The iPad has really opened up a lot of different reading apps to Decker, most of them standalone books that have one story and a collection of games or interactive elements. While I like the interactive elements, sometimes they can be a bit of a distraction to Decker when what I really want him to be doing is listening and reading along and not worrying about a puzzle or finding a secret item on a page. That kind of fun has its time and place, but I much prefer an app that offers up just the story with the option to listen to narration or turn it off for reading on your own.
About a year ago I was introduced to the MeeGenius library — this is a company that is celebrating its second birthday on Thursday, April 26. A very young company! Besides accessing their large digital book library (currently over 700 titles) via a web browser, they also now have apps for both Android and the iPad. I can’t speak to the Android app, but I absolutely love the MeeGenius iPad and iPhone app and so does Decker. The app mimics the Apple iBooks bookshelf by placing small books on the My Books shelf with their colorful covers. A single tap opens a downloaded book and offers to either read the book to Decker or another button that allows him to read the book by himself. The narrated reading highlights each of the words as they are spoken, allowing Decker to hear and see words that are new to him. Hopefully, this will help expand his vocabulary as he replays his favorite stories over and over again. I’m trying to make it a point to have him first listen to a new story once or twice and then we go over a story together with me helping him with the more difficult words. So far, it seems to be working, and he’s discovered a few new words on his own by sounding them out and understanding their relevance to a particular point in the story.
The app offers a number of free books that can be downloaded, but the majority of the titles are in-app purchases. You can view all 700+ books using the Category or Browse buttons after tapping on the Bookstore button. Books run in price from $0.99 to $4.99, and the authors range from well-known authors and illustrators of children’s books to newly discovered authors and illustrators — and many of these titles are found only in digital format in the MeeGenius app as the company has the largest kids e-book library available. The company tells me that each week, the MeeGenius app is opened over 300,000 times by parents and children looking to read, listen, or find new stories. And the new stories are being added at a rate of about 10 new titles per week!
I was also told that the app is being continually updated with new features based on feedback it receives from customers. Next week an update will be released that offers up a Category button allowing parents and kids to browse the library for categories such as animals, princess, and dad or mom. Another feature on the horizon will allow users to filter content based on reading skill level — this is one I’m definitely looking forward to as I’d like to be able to filter out those books that are definitely beyond Decker’s skills and not tease him with books that he’s not yet ready for.
After you create a MeeGenius user account, any books you purchase can be synched to web or mobile devices — similar to purchasing books from Kindle where they’re available wherever and whenever you want them. (Decker can view his books even when Internet access is unavailable on the iPad.)
We have an Apple TV connected to our living room television. One nice thing I like to do with MeeGenius is use the iPad and Apple TVs AirPlay feature with Mirroring turned on — this allows whatever is displayed on the iPad to also be displayed on the television. Decker can select a book and have it read to him on the larger screen — the narration is even pumped through the TV’s speakers instead of having to watch the TV and listen via the iPad’s tiny speaker. If you have an Apple TV or a similar device that can take the output from an iPad (or an Android tablet) and throw it up on the TV screen, it’s a nice way to read together with big, bold words and larger visual elements.
The MeeGenius app is free — and it comes with six free books that you can immediately sync to your My Books shelf. The MeeGenius folks have a pool of eight different narrators reading the books, and the Collections button allows me to find similar books (in a series) to the ones that Decker finds and enjoys. Because many of the books he finds in the bookstore run from $3.99 to $7.99, I’m really finding that the prices of these MeeGenius titles are a lot softer on the wallet. And because I’ve got a two-year-old that’s growing fast, I’ll have quite a little library ready for him when it’s his turn.
The team over at MeeGenius isn’t sitting still — they’re looking to expand the MeeGenius library and they’re asking for geek dads and geek moms help. They’ve got a great little giveaway just for GeekDad readers and all you have to do to enter is answer one of the three questions below as a comment to this post. Three winners will be randomly selected and each will receive a gift package of 10 MeeGenius titles (a value of $30). All comments must be submitted by 11:59pm PDT Sunday, April 28th, 2012.
1. What are your favorite kinds of kid’s books? What type of tales would you like to see more of?
2. What type of e-book interactivity appeals to you as a Geek Dad? Is it the more the merrier or less is more?
3. As a Geek Parent what are some tactics you employ to steer your kids towards educational apps?
(Special thanks to Chris at MeeGenius for the great giveaway and answering all my questions about the MeeGenius app.)