New Children's Books Teach Joy of Reading - and Touch

By Outerbridge, Laura | Insight on the News, January 16, 1995 | Go to article overview

New Children's Books Teach Joy of Reading - and Touch


Outerbridge, Laura, Insight on the News


The popularity of educational CD-ROM software and multimedia is forcing publishers to develop children's books with innovative special effects that appeal to the tactile sense.

Laser-disc books, talking encyclopedias and other computer-driven goodies filled millions of stockings this Christmas, along with the computer hardware designed to run them. But will high-tech fantasies and kid-friendly software push children's books off the shelves? Not if traditionalists have their way.

"A book is unique in many ways and cannot be replaced, no matter what you do", says children's author Sue Alexander, chairwoman of the board of directors of the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators. "I doubt very much if children will ever take the computer screen and CD-ROM under the covers with a flashlight at night, as they do a book."

Still, publishers aren't taking any chances. Many are adding clauses to their book contracts to allow for CD-ROM use, according to Alexander. Computers equipped with CD-ROM (technospeak for "compact disc, read-only memory") can display full-color photos and video footage, as well as offer music, speech and sound effects with the click of a mouse button.

Books, meanwhile, have begun to appear with special effects and tactile additions unique to their format. Several publishers offer picture books with hologram illustrations, including hardbound X-Men Adventures from Random House and Stephen Wyllie's War of the Wizards from Dial Books, which features a series of creepy, 3-D goblin faces.

Scholastic Inc. takes on the animated computer discs directly with its new Voyages of Discovery series, which the company tellingly bills as "interactive" books. The slim hardbound volumes, priced just under $20, are designed to pique a child's interest in the sciences and the arts with colorful illustrations, transparent page overlays, flaps to open and reusable stickers to attach.

"CD-ROMs are wonderful, particularly for research," says Kate Waters, a Scholastic editor who works on the Voyage books. "But we do want to ate a nation of readers. It's a different interaction between a book and a child and a machine and a child."

In the Voyage book on paintiff, for example, the reader can finger a leaf of papyrus paper and trace the ridges on a cave painting thousands of years old. The book on space has a "star clock," a wheel that allows a reader to tell time by the stars' position in the skies, and a pageful of constellations that leap out when they're viewed through 3-D specs. …

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