Book Apps vs. Apps Based on Books

A recent post on Twitter made me aware of Imagination Soup’s Best iPad Book App for Kids:

What I appreciated about this post was the criteria for how they came to their decisions:

“A good book app needs to have:

– an interesting story
– compelling, kid-friendly illustrations
– appropriate text to picture ratio
– easy navigation: pages which are easy to turn, way to return home, way to skip pages
– choices of read to self and read to me
– clickable elements that relate to the story and aren’t just for fluff”

Being a father of a five year old and three year old plus an iPad book app connoisseur myself, I found their choices informative. Taking off my dad hat and putting on my principal hat, are these the same book apps I would want in place in my school’s classrooms? We as a school have rallied hard to persuade parents to turn off the screen and spend more quality time with their children. With the amount of animations, bells and whistles that some of these book apps have, I have legitimate concerns about how much reading is really happening when students interact with them.

If I were to develop criteria for what makes an app truly a book app, it would actually boil down to just one criterion: Does the app benefit the student as a reader? That is, does the book app actually enhance the reading experience when compared to a regular print book? For students who do not struggle in reading, quite frankly there isn’t an app out there that can even closely compare to the reading experience one has when they are totally immersed in the author’s world on the printed page.

However, for struggling readers, I believe book apps can have a purpose in helping them be engaged in the process of reading. Going back to my criterion, here are the apps on my short list.

Top Book Apps

OceanHouse Media books
These applications are the best, bar none. The narration is good, and it works nicely with the background effects. There are very few animations or distractions as the books progress. This helps readers stay focused on the text (the whole point of reading, right?). My favorite aspect about OM books is the highlighting that occurs as the narrator reads the words. Readers may not clamor for these book apps over “Dora” books or “Hildegard Sings”, but the animations in the books just mentioned distract the reader from the text. (BTW – You know your parents are educators when they track your eye movement when reading). I can go on and on about the quality of OM products, such as the “Little Critter” series and books by Dr. Seuss, or how they have nonfiction book apps on high-interest subjects such as dinosaurs. The best part: OM products are some of the most inexpensive book apps in the app store.

Nook Kids Read to Me books
Technically, they are not apps. The Nook Kids app is an eReader. You can purchase these eBooks for kids through Barnes and Noble and read them on a Nook Color or an iPad. What makes this a top choice for struggling readers is that there are zero animations, they provide high quality narration and the books available for purchase are quality text for emergent readers. My favorite is Ray Charles’ rendition of “Chicka Chicka Boom Boom”. The price of these books are a little more expensive than what the App Store offers, but they still have the potential to enhance the reading experience of a struggling reader. iBooks also offers Enhanced Books. I have not tried them but they sound similar to what Barnes and Noble offers.

Specifically, check out the Audiobooks collection for children’s literature. I own over twenty of these recordings myself, ranging from Fancy Nancy to Blueberries for Sal. Jim Trelease, author of The Read Aloud Handbook, would concur with me that hearing the printed word read aloud is a powerful way to get students hooked on reading.

Honorable Mention

– Loud Crow book apps
The animations are more frequent, but the layout and production of these apps, such as “Peter Rabbit” and “The Going-to-Bed Book”, make them difficult to resist.

– Disney Puzzle Books/Toy Story Series
Disney is hard to avoid, especially with little kids. Thankfully, they have produced some book apps that focus more on the written word then on everything else. Their use of highlighting text in the Toy Story books is appreciated.

Apps That are Based on Books
I am not saying these are poor apps by any means. I just feel they are mislabeled; they are more of an app than a book. I know my kids still enjoy them, but I would not necessarily place them on a device in one of my classrooms for the purpose of building stronger readers.

– “Winkin”
– “Finn’s Hat”
– “Hildegard Sings”
– “Morris Lessmore” *(Even though it didn’t make the cut, this app is just too good not to experience; you decide.)
– Angelina Ballerina: New Teacher”
– “Rapunzel”
– “The Monster at the End of this Book” *(Another app based on a book that you just may want to own).
– “Hugless Douglas”

If you have more suggestions for any one of these categories, let me know. Happy reading!

Author: Matt Renwick

Matt Renwick is an 18-year public educator who began as a 5th and 6th-grade teacher in Rudolph, WI. He now serves as an elementary principal for the Mineral Point Unified School District ( Matt also teaches online graduate courses in curriculum design and instructional leadership for the University of Wisconsin-Superior. He tweets @ReadByExample and writes for ASCD ( and Lead Literacy (

6 thoughts on “Book Apps vs. Apps Based on Books”

  1. Reblogged this on iGameMom and commented:
    Came across HowePrincipal’s blog about book apps. As a school principal, his evaluation is professional. I learned from his blog that when kids are learning to read, we don’t want the animations to distract the young readers from the text. Instead, we want to have an app that help them focus on the text and better yet, remember the text. The link to his blog:


  2. Thank you so much. My 8-year-old son wants to use the iPad all the time and while we limit his screen time, I want the time he does have with it to be constructive. I’ll check out OceanHouse Media books for sure!


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