WASHINGTON — Four rare children’s books were unveiled as digitized editions on a new storytelling app at the Library of Congress on Wednesday.
Children from the Smithsonian Early Enrichment Center experienced the tales for the first time on Cricket Media’s Story Bug, an app that allows two people to experience a book together through a combination of interactivity, video-chat and a shared reader.
“The app includes both the digitized book as well as a Skype-like interactivity,” said Lee Ann Potter, 48, the director of educational outreach at the Library of Congress. “You can have an iPad, and I can have an iPad and be 3,000 miles away, but we can be reading the same book aloud and seeing each other. When we saw the app we got very excited about it.”
Cricket Media is the parent organization of the children’s magazines Cobblestone and Ladybug, which occasionally runs article contributed by the Library of Congress. The Northern Virginia company approached the Library about publishing historic books through their new technology.
While a “small percentage of the Library’s collections” are available in digital edition through Read.gov, this is the first time a technology such as Story Bug has been applied to their children’s books.
A group of about two dozen children sat in a circle around Potter as she demonstrated the app on a television screen. The kids, ranging in age from three to six, laughed as they watched a fellow student’s face appear on the monitor and read the pages out loud from another room.
The four rare books now available are “Shadow Pictures for Young and Old” (1896) by Ruth McEnery Stuart and Albert Bigelow Paine, “The Song of Sixpence Picture Book” (1909) embellished and illustrated in full color by Walter Crane, “The Slant Book” (1910) and “The Rocket Book” (1912) both by Peter Newell.
The books were chosen in an agreement between the Library and Cricket Media based on criteria of appeal to kids, no longer being in print, and exemptions from copyright issues.
“They’re all very clever,” Potter sad. “The books themselves are fabulous. The artwork is beautiful and the text is marvelous.”
A priority of the Library was to make sure not only the app, but the books available on the app would remain free and accessible to the public, according to Potter.
The app is currently only available for iOS devices, but Cricket is working on an Android application. The “sweet spot age group” for the app is newborn through six, according Cricket Media CEO, Katya Andresen. She hopes “to expand the platform” to older ages.
This technology is something educators are looking into implementing in their classrooms to make reading more engaging to students, said Tina Brimo, 31, a teacher for three-year-olds at the Smithsonian.
The Library is hoping the app will help make a connection between readers and the history behind the books.
“Thinking that our great, great, great grandparents may have read these stories, and now we have a chance to read them, is an opportunity to connect with those earlier generations,” said Potter. “We’re connecting through a technology that is enabling something to happen that those generations could never have even begun to imagine.”