HarperCollins has announced the launch of their I CAN READ series in digital format, available at the Apple iBookstore and Barnes & Noble’s NOOK Bookstore. Both formats offer full color, so they do make sense for illustrated stories.
The idea, announced on PR Newswire, is to “[take} children through the process of early reading together to advanced reading alone.” I suppose that early reading together will often mean together with the device, rather than together with a parent or teacher. They are marketing the new product with an audio read-along feature.
I imagine the official line from the publisher would be that this new tool is intended to supplement, rather than supplant, the critical roles of parents and teachers in teaching children to read. I used the I CAN READ series with my own children, and I thought it was great. With classics like the Frog and Toad series and the Frances books the I CAN READ books provide terrific stories for cozy enjoyment, not just literacy tools.
I think that providing distracting interactive features takes away, rather than enhances, the imaginative elements of the reading experience for children. I’m pretty sure most young children prefer to hear stories read by their parents, not narrators. The portability and storage benefits of digital books are something I embrace for adults and independent readers. I just don't care for the potential to remove the human element from young children learning to read.
So far, the digital titles are available only through Level 2 of the 4 reading levels in the series. More titles are planned for release by the end of the year.