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Can digital picture books support children's literary development?

A father sits on the sofa with his young daughter. Both are immersed in the content of a laptop screen and the girl is smiling.

Digital picture books have become increasingly popular with children and parents and, with low-cost access, are more readily available to students from disadvantaged backgrounds. But how do digital books perform in comparison with traditional print versions in supporting children’s learning development?

Natalia Kucirkova, Professor of Reading and Children’s Development in the School of Education, Childhood, Youth and Sport at The Open University, has co-authored a meta-analysis of previously published research on digital picture books for young children, aged 1-8, now published as a report in Review of Educational Research (RER). The authors conclude that, without the right enhancements, digital books are inferior to print versions and could in fact interfere with children’s understanding of the narrative. However, with the right enhancements -such as prompting children’s background knowledge to understand the story- they can outperform print books on children’s story comprehension.

Professor Kucirkova worked on the report with colleagues from the University of Stavanger where she is Professor of Early Childhood Education and Development.

She says “If we want to support all children, we need to understand the impact of digital books and make them of higher quality. We can customize digital books to a child’s level of learning by including interactive features responsive to the child.  Makers of children’s digital books need to be careful about the enhancements they make, and educators and parents need to choose carefully which digital books young children read.”

Read more on OU News.

The how and why of children’s digital books

Professor Kucirkova was awarded a Fellowship from the Jacob’s Foundation last year in recognition of her research into the impact of multimedia personalised stories aimed at children. Her book How and Why to Read and Create Children’s Digital Books has been shortlisted for the UK Literary Association (UKLA)’s Academic Book Award 2021, with winners to be announced at the UKLA’s Literary Conference in July.

She is a founder member of the OU’s Centre for Literacy and Social Justice which addresses inequity for young readers and writers.

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