Do interactive books offer young readers more?

There are plenty of spirited discussions going on about what interactive ebooks mean for the future of reading, or for that matter, what they mean for the future of books. Of course, this usually refers to the future of printed books. We often hear people talk about the tactile pleasure of the printed page, or the electronic coldness of an iPad.

Back in January, 2012, Apple embraced the textbook market. By doing so, Apple showed us what interactive books could do not only for learning, but for encouraging exploration and building curiosity.

What about the illustrations?

Of course, some of this is not new to us. Let's take illustrations. It is well recognized that repetition promotes learning. Illustrations that replicate text information provides repetition that can improve the readers's memory of the text. Pretty simple. But illustrations can also improve memory for text information that is not in the illustrations. Information in illustrations helps the reader integrate the text information, making it memorable and interesting for the reader.

In one study, when children were presented with descriptions of the physical characteristics and habits of unusual animals, for example, pangolin and kinkajou, children who saw a simple picture of the animal remembered the habit information that was not in the pictures better than the children who did not have a picture.

This effect of illustrations extended to more advanced readers. In a study of college students and illustrations that had no overlap of information with the text, those students who saw portraits of psychologists as they read about the psychologist's work recalled more of that information than students who read the text without a portrait.

But in addition to memory recall, illustrations can engage the interest and curiosity of young readers. By using illustrations that provide information not easily expressed in writing, readers are acquiring visual information and are challenged to find the relationships between the verbal and visual.

Anyone who has struggled to remember a word that just stays on the tip of the tongue knows that memory is not always immediate; it can take effort to retrieve our knowledge! Associated visual cues can lessen the search effort and time for recall of information.

Learning to read and becoming literate builds as children acquire content knowledge. At Beebliome, we recognize that relevant content knowledge makes reading more meaningful and memorable. Illustrations, in the form of pop-up facts, maps and images, promotes not just comprehension and information retrieval, but also curiosity.

Can young readers explore the world while reading?

Until they read about other worlds, a child's world is the only one they inhabit. Historical fiction introduces children to worlds beyond their own experience. They not only learn facts and circumstances but also how other people feel and act, how the characters think and solve their problems as they function in another time and culture. Children are by nature curious; nothing piques curiosity like novelty. Reading about others in unique and strange cultures gives children the opportunity to satisfy their curiosity at a safe distance.

Readers not only learn as they read but also actively identify with the content. Brain scans of readers demonstrate that as they read fiction areas of their brain are activated that match the feelings and actions of the characters. So, for example, when a character picks up an object and moves it to a new location, the reader's brain areas jump into action as if picking up the object as well! Readers are actively engaging in the feelings and actions of the fictional characters.

Can reading build social relationship skills?

Readers also develop empathy for characters as they come to know them. As characters go about their business, readers acquire knowledge about social relationships and relevant social skills. Psychologists have found that the more fiction read, the better an individual's social reasoning. With development, children acquire a theory of mind, recognizing that the other person has thoughts and feelings different than their own. Brain scans indicate that the brain network involved in theory of mind, in understanding others, is activated as we read fictional stories.

In reading fiction children acquire emotional connections to characters and learn how these characters try to solve their problems, use knowledge of others in their social relationships, and even that misunderstandings and errors of judgment are part of social relations. Research has demonstrated that we typically learn more from our errors than repetition of established behaviors. Reading fiction gives children the opportunity to learn from the mistakes of others, without personal consequences.

The young adult fictional protagonists in Beebliome books offer readers characters who are challenged in interesting ways, making tough choices as they make their way through different times and cultures. Just the kind of people young adult readers can relate to and learn from as they explore new worlds.

Visit Beebliome for more information on great titles for young adult readers.

Want references to know more?

The Herff Jones Achievement Series (February 2012), Broad knowledge drives literacy: Building a diverse academic knowledge base contributes to the ongoing development of reading and writing skills.

Lindquist, T. (2012). Why & How I Teach with Historical Fiction,

Oatley, K. (2011). In the mind of others, Scientific American Mind, November/December, 63-67.

Palumbo, A. (2012). Unlocking literacy for intellectual growth, Education Week Spotlight, http:/

Small, M. Y. (1990). Cognitive Development. Harcourt Brace Janovich.

Small, M. Y., Lovett, S. B. & Scher, M. S. (1993). Pictures facilitate children's recall of unillustrated expository prose, Journal of Educational Psychology, 85, 520-528.