Friday, 23 August 2013

Children’s ebooks 2: The Advantages

How ebooks can work for young readers.  

This post will concentrate on the Kindle e-reader, though many of these features will of course also apply to other e-readers and tablets – if you have a different type of e-reader with a useful feature that I have not covered below, then do let the unicorn know!

Advantage 1: Make any book child-friendly.
You can change the text size, line spacing, font style, and number of words on a line. Children’s publishers often use a bigger print size than that used in adult books, and will space out the text as well to make the pages look less forbidding to a younger reader. Choice of font can also be important to convey atmosphere.

For example, here is a page from the paperback edition of Sword of Light (book 1 of the Pendragon Legacy), compared to my book Spellfall, which was published for a slightly older readership.

Sword of Light (first picture) is around 60,000 words and 478 pages, whereas Spellfall (second picture) is actually the longer book at 70,000 words but only 236 pages. This could look rather challenging for a younger reader who might enjoy the story too.

On a Kindle, however, both books can be made to look equally child-friendly:

Of course if you are a more experienced reader, the opposite applies - you can reduce the text size and line spacing to your taste. (Muse: And when you get really old like Katherine, you might want to increase it again to help your eyes. But don't panic if you can't read all the words on the screens in the photos - that's her camera, not you!)

Advantage 2: The Kindle can read to you!
Yes, really! If this feature is enabled by the publisher, then you can turn on “text-to-speech” and select either a male or female reading voice. You can also change the reading speed to slow, medium, or fast – slower for younger children, maybe.

I should point out that this is not (not yet, anyway!) as natural as an actor reading an audio book. The Kindle accents are American, and stories with a lot of dialogue read a bit strangely since the robotic voice does not pause in the right places when it sees speech marks. But if you’re too busy to read your child a bedtime story, the e-reader might just render you obsolete one day...

Advantage 3: The Kindle can help dyslexic children to read.
Over at the Awfully Big Blog Adventure, CJ Busby points out that her daughter who struggles to read a printed book can read more easily on the Kindle screen using the robotic text-to-speech feature mentioned above. I also understand that the contrast of an e-reader's screen can be helpful to dyslexics - my Kindle e-ink has a pearly grey screen with black text, whereas on the Kindle Fire you can select a sepia or black background as well as the usual white.

I'm not dyslexic, but I find I do focus more on the actual words when reading my Kindle. While reading a paper book, I'm often distracted by things such as fancy fonts, words or pictures on the opposite page, the weight of the book, and the need to hold it open without cracking the spine and having the pages fall out - which can be very annoying if you lose a vital bit of the story! Also, there is no distortion from bending the pages as you read, or where the text curves into the spine, which again helps your eyes focus on the words.

Advantage 4: A dictionary at your fingertips.
When I read books as a child, I would sometimes come across a word I did not understand or had never seen before. When this happened, I'd either look it up in my dictionary or ask Mum. If neither dictionary nor Mum were handy, I’d just skip the difficult word to get on with the story. I would try to remember to look it up afterwards, but usually I would forget until the next time I stumbled over the same word.

On the Kindle, however, hovering the cursor over an unfamiliar word will bring up a short dictionary definition at the top or bottom of the screen. Pressing return will then give the full definition. (Note to parents: you can set this to American or Oxford English). Here is the first chapter of my book I am the Great Horse, with the cursor positioned on the word "tethered" (halfway along line 4).

Advantage 5: Learning a language?
In addition to younger readers using the inbuilt Kindle dictionary to learn their own language, ebooks do not suffer from territorial distribution problems so there is no reason why they shouldn't include several translations in the same edition. For example, the lovely Ana Posada has translated one of my short stories into Spanish, which is now available as a dual language edition ebook for Kindle Death Singer / La Musa de la Muerte.

On Monday, the unicorn will bring you an exclusive interview with Ana, when we have a special Summer Holiday offer for readers curious about this book… so don't forget to check back then!

Missed the first part of this series? Read it here.


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