The design, publication, and features of contemporary narrative picturebooks have been impacted by the digital revolution and the emerging popularity of digital reading devices. Digitally produced texts may resemble, in some basic ways their print-based predecessors; however digitally produced picturebook apps provide access to additional features, information, and types of interactivity that print-based texts may not support (Schwebs, 2014). Picturebook apps are sometimes thought of as enhanced versions of print-based picturebooks in that they offer additional content, features, and navigational options not available in printed texts.
Readers of digital picturebooks must work through the presentation of a fictional narrative using physical, cognitive, visual, emotional, and embodied capabilities, among others. As picturebook narratives in digital formats evolve and become part of the reading curriculum in more classrooms, picturebook scholars, literacy educators, and classroom teachers will need new lenses or frameworks for analyzing these texts and developing pedagogical approaches that support classroom instruction and readers’ transactions across digital and print-based platforms. In this article, we will consider the features and designs of picturebook apps and some challenges and possibilities these digital texts offer elementary grade teachers and students.
Every act of reading, whether in print-based texts or on digital platforms, can be considered to some degree interactive. Readers must evoke the text through their transactions with written language (Rosenblatt), attend to the visual images and design elements (Hassett), and work across modalities to make sense of the multimodal resources (Serafini) that are part of every picturebook regardless of their materials and/or platform. It has been suggested that picturebook apps vary according to their level of interactivity, ranging from basic electronic formats to sophisticated hybrid and cyber ensembles (Turrion). Hyperlinks, embedded video clips and animations, sound effects, background music, open-ended storylines, and voice over narrations all add to the types of interactivity these texts present the reader.
A further distinction needs to be made between enhanced texts that have predetermined paths and outcomes included in the digital file that limit readers’ interactivity, and picturebook apps that require the reader to actively co-construct the narrative based on their choices and responses to hyperlinked and open-ended selections and options (Aarseth).