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Don't Judge an E-book by Its Pixels... It's All About the Features

Time spent curling up with a good book is never wasted - whether that be on the warm sandy shores of the beach or on the hearth next to a crackling fire. As adults, there is little distinction between becoming immersed in the pages of a good book that we turn with our fingers or scroll through on a tablet or e-reader. For kids, the pages of an e-book can look quite different. Just like a traditional book, no two e-books are alike and multi-media features play a big role. Knowing what e-book features are available helps steer young readers towards books that align with their needs and interests.

There's not a definitive consensus on what an e-book is, other than it's electronic. Merriam-Webster's Dictionary defines an e-book as "a book composed in or converted to digital format for display on a computer screen or handheld device."

E-books contain a diverse range of features used to make stories come alive, increasing reader access, engagement, and participation. According to Cynthia Chiong, Jinny Ree, Lori Takeuchi, and Ingrid Erickson (2012), e-books range from basic to enhanced formats based on the features within them. E-books can be used on a variety of screen-based devices: (desktop computers, laptops, tablets, e-readers, smartphones) and utilize a variety of formats (CDs, web-based, YouTube, apps, etc.).

Basic e-books Basic e-books are characterized as "simple digitized versions of print books" (Chiong et al., 2012, p. 1). Basic e-Brown Bear, Brown Bear What Do You See?books may offer some special features; however, they don't overshadow literary elements. An example of a basic e-book is Brown Bear, Brown Bear read by Gwyneth Paltrow. The format is a digitized version of the book allowing readers to see the static pictures from the book and turn the page just like a traditional paper book. Gwyneth reads each page followed by animal noises and sound effects that don't distract from the story.

Basic e-books are best for shared reading experiences where families and friends can read books together, talking about the pictures and story. Conversations surrounding books and basic e-books provide opportunities to build vocabulary and language skills, related to the story itself instead of the special features (Chiong et al., 2012).

Enhanced e-books

On the other hand, enhanced e-books are highly interactive, full of special multi-media features. The Alice for the iPad app is a great example of the creativity and fun that these features can bring to a story. However, a study by (Chiong et al., 2012) found that while enhanced e-books may be motivating for struggling readers, so many multi-media features may distract readers from the story itself.

What are these special features?

According to Guernsey, Levine, Chiong, and Severns (2012), the most popular features included in children's e-books and literacy apps are:

* Story narration where an author reads the story aloud

* Hotspots which are icons within the story that when touched activate other video and/or auditory features. These features could include animations, sound effects, word/picture labels, or a word definition.

* Music and sound effects

* Games and extension activities

* Text highlighting in which the words of the story are highlighted or light up as they are being read by the narrator

* Picture animation instead of static pictures likes the ones found in traditional books

* Actions or special features that occur when the user tilts, shakes, or turns the device

* Voice recording allowing users to participate in the story

* Language options allowing users to change the narrator's language (e.g., Spanish, French, Chinese, etc.)

* Tips and extension activities to foster parent involvement

* Opportunity for readers to earn rewards

* Social media options allowing users to share the story with others

* 3D effects

* Opportunities to take pictures using the device's camera

When it comes to selecting e-books it all boils down to what you are interested in reading and your reading goals. In order to find the best fit, evaluate how the e-book's features support your goals.

If your goal is to read a story to your child and talk about the pictures and the story, then a basic e-book is the way to go. If your goal is to foster a love of reading and the power of stories, then an enhanced e-book might be the way to go.

Whatever you decide, create opportunities to share reading's magic with others! As Reading Rainbow pointed out, lifelong readers can go anywhere!


Chiong, C., Ree, J., Takeuchi, L., & Erickson, I. (2012). Print books vs. e-books: Comparing parent-child co-reading on print, basic, and enhanced e-book platforms. Retrieved from Joan Ganz Cooney Center at Sesame Workshop website:

Guernsey, L., Levine, M. H., Chiong, C., & Severns, M. (2014). Pioneering literacy in the digital wild west: Empowering parents and educators. Retrieved from

#books #ebooks #reading #medialiteracy #technologyuse #educators #parents #literacy #apps #earlychildhood #youtube

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