Thursday, February 24, 2011

Soupy Sales Taught Me to Read

Junior and I were snuggled in the rocking chair last night, iPad before us, great British narrator's voice reading the words of our bedtime story aloud. I was watching my son follow along, whispering quietly to himself as each word became illuminated. He was enthralled, loving that he could keep up with the narrator and feeling quite big for "reading" the story himself.

It took me back -- waaaay back, I have to admit -- to the pink and green bedroom I shared with my big sister in Oklahoma and the Fisher-Price record player that stood beside my bed. I was a huge Soupy Sales fan in those days (who wasn't?), and my parents presented me with a great new find: Soupy Sales Reads a Wonder Book.

It was a simple children's book accompanied by a 45 record. Pop it onto your record player and voila!, Soupy Sales was right there in your room reading Silly Sidney or another title aloud. I could not get enough of Soupy. I holed up in my room each evening to get my daily dose, and before long, I was venturing off to read other things beyond Sidney.

And it will be the same for my little guy. He looks forward to reading time, whether it's my voice or anyone else in the family reading to him, or even this anonymous Brit who joined us last night. He simply loves to have a story read to him. But soon -- all too soon, I fear -- he'll be ready to climb into the rocking chair on his own and read a book like Silly Sidney all by himself.

He'll have his own Soupy Sales to thank.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Kirkus Revs Its Discovery Engine for iPad

Kirkus Reviews, the curmudgeonly review journal that looks at more than 500 books each month, has moved into app-land. And not a moment too soon, when I consider some of the stinkers I've recently purchased in the iTunes store.

Last month Kirkus began reviewing picture book apps -- from tried-and-true classics to brand new titles created just for the iPad. About 50 apps are already reviewed on the site, and a Top 10 list highlights their faves. Also in the works, according to a press release, is a discovery engine for the iPad that will feature app demonstrations along with interviews with authors and developers.
"Parents will have the opportunity to hone their search by answering 5 quick questions about their child. Kirkus will then return a selection of book apps to match their child’s interest. The questions include gender, age, price range, visual interests, and interactive elements."
Think of it as your neighborhood children's bookseller, who has gotten to know you and your child's interests over the years, only now the chit-chat is cut a little short.

That Kirkus is venturing into this terrain is not all that surprising, as this is the future of reading. But that it is reviewing -- and giving stars -- to material that some diehards would not dare call "a book" does raise an eyebrow. Here's an excerpt from a starred review of Bartleby's Book of Buttons:
"Less a straight-ahead storybook than a combination of story and interactive puzzles, each page includes lighted buttons to press, keys and cranks to fiddle with."
The book app discovery engine, which will be available in March, is part of the journal's repositioning since its purchase last year. While some authors still smarting from scathing Kirkus reviews quietly cheered its seeming demise in late 2009, parents, teachers, and librarians who need help slogging through bookshelves (both the wooden kind and the digital ones) have a lot to be grateful about.

I hope to make good use of it. Now, if only I could take those stinkers I downloaded earlier this month and resell them at Powell's.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Does Borders' Failure Mark the End of the Traditional Book?

Stopped by our gasping Borders bookstore yesterday to check out the fire sale. Everything was marked down 20 percent. And though I am typically more of a 50-to-75-percent-off kind of gal, in the end a sale is a sale, no?

As I picked up early readers for my little guy and some fun new titles for my older kids, I couldn't help but feel like this was a real turning point. In my mind, the death of Borders marks the end of the book as we know it.
I got this sense that, as the stacks and stacks of hardback Olivia and Pinkalicious books were being pushed out the door, so too was the notion of hardback books themselves.

It was spring 2009 when Borders decided to pull CDs from the shelves. Why? Because of competition from iTunes. We were downloading our music instead of popping it into the CD player. And at garage sales across the nation we saw great deals on CD racks and other storage systems.

Buying those hardback books yesterday felt like a quaint exercise, even though I have been doing it every week over at our local Indie bookstore, 57th Street Books. Thumbing through the stacks of Junie B. Jones and Ivy and Bean yesterday felt a lot like when I'm at a flea market and poking around in the piles of cassette tapes.

I still love the feel of a traditional book in my hands. And I love curling up in our cushy old chair and turning the pages of a picture book with my kindergartner. But I think he would be perfectly fine if we snuggled in together in the glow of an iPad.