Cen Campbell is a children's librarian for the Santa Clara County Library District. She has developed an archetypal early literacy program, Tablet Tales, that incorporates digital media into traditional storytelling. Cen is an advocate for a librarian's use of digital media (apps + eBooks) to enhance existing literacy learning programs. She believes children's librarians should become industry leaders in evaluating, curating and recommending interactive, tablet-based technology to parents and children in their communities. You can also find Cen on her early literacy blog Little eLit.

8 Questions with Cen Campbell:

You have quite a progressive perspective of digital media – ebooks and apps – and the positive impact it can have on literacy learning. Why do feel digital media can be so impactful to a young child’s literacy development?

CC: My progressive perspective has more to do with the children’s librarian's role in the evaluation, dissemination and constructive use of digital media for young children than the media itself. While some research is beginning to emerge on the use of interactive, tablet-based media with young children, there are still no definitive guidelines for the consumption of this kind of media, and very few positive role models to show parents what a healthy media diet looks like. Our children live in a media-saturated environment; it is time for librarians to step and offer some guidance on the quality and quantity of digital media consumed by families in our communities.

What tips do you have for how best to blend digital media and traditional books to get the most out of storytime with young children (ages: 2-5)?

CC: The biggest “tip” I can give is actually stated in your question: blend digital media and traditional books. Apps and eBooks are not a replacement for paper books in storytime any more than a puppet or an egg shaker is a replacement for a paper book.  An iPad is an incredibly useful tool which can facilitate parent education, offer reader’s advisory for high-quality apps and eBooks, showcase the library’s digital collection, and project felt boards, draw and tell stories and digital books onto a large screen so everyone in the room can see them.

What would you recommend to parents who aren’t sure how much screen time is most appropriate for their child at this stage of development?

CC: The AAP recommends no screen time under the age of 2 and only limited exposure after the age of 2, while the NAEYC’s position statement states “When the integration of technology and interactive media in early childhood programs is built upon solid developmental foundations, and early childhood professionals are aware of both the challenges and the opportunities, educators are positioned to improve program quality by intentionally leveraging the potential of technology and media for the benefit of every child.”

What parents need to understand is that not all screens are created equal, and that it is up to them to be actively involved in their children’s media consumption. Sometimes “screen time” can consist of a parent and child sitting together, reading a copy of an award winning picture book on an iPad (try Olivia!) with no interactivity or animation. Sometimes “screen time” is the child sitting passively by themselves watching Dora or other commercial media while their caretaker is busy. When it comes to consuming digital media, I’d say do the former whenever you can, and minimize how much you do the latter.

I try to be realistic about the world we live in; sometimes parents (me included!) need a few minutes to get something important done, and the occasional stint with passive media is unavoidable. In my house there is no time-based rule about media, only quality-based rules. Book-based media always comes first, and I try to be as present as possible whenever my son is interacting with a mobile device. 

Parents need to use their judgement, find only the best quality media to share with their children, avoid commercialized content, and watch their children’s reactions to that content. 

One of the difficulties for parents these days is in sifting through the hundreds of thousands of apps/eBooks that are out there. What qualities should they look for in a good educational app for early childhood?

A lot of the work of finding high quality apps has been done for us already; check out some of these of review sources: Digital StorytimeCommon Sense MediaKindertownAppiticKirkusthe Horn Bookthe Cybils and School Library Journal. If any of these websites give an app a good review, you can usually trust it.

Beyond that, look for interactivity that moves the story along, avoid in-app purchases and apps with ads, avoid controls at the bottom of the screen (too easy for little hands to hit accidentally), and look for apps that allow various options for sound and text.

For the Santa Clara County Libraries, you’ve developed a program called Tablet Tales. Tell us a little bit about the program.

CC: Tablet Tales was my first foray into digital storytelling. When I began this initiative, few other library systems had begun experimenting with iPads in storytime, and as far as I knew, there had been no formalized pilot project deployed across an entire system. I took my experience performing traditional storytimes in libraries and translated various storytelling techniques into the digital realm.  I think when some librarians hear about this project they envision children slack-jawed while a computer reads a book to them; the reality is quite the opposite.  I find that the mix of singing, movement, musical instruments, puppets, paper books, digital books and digital felt boards supports more learning styles than most traditional programming and lets parents know they can ask librarians for advice on what kind of high-quality digital media to share with their children.

Are there activities or takeaways that can be gleaned from Tablet Tales and applied in the home environment?

CC: Absolutely! One of the main reasons for librarians to incorporate digital media into their early literacy programming is to model healthy media behaviors.  Librarians sometimes joke that storytime is not really for the kids; it’s for the parents! We demonstrate how you can support the development of the 6 early literacy skills (Vocabulary, Print Motivation, Letter Awareness, Print Awareness, Narrative Skills and Phonological Awareness) with easy techniques like playing with funny rhymes, pointing out words, singing instead of saying, asking the child to finish sentences etc; these activities and techniques remain the same in the digital realm, but many parents may assume that because an iPad is already “interactive” that they no longer need to provide that kind of stimulation. The reality is quite the opposite; there are MORE opportunities for parents and children to learn together through using interactive media!

I try to remind parents (and my colleagues) that apps and ebooks are not a replacement for paper books; they are to be used alongside paper books, and can sometimes be more appropriate than paper books (ie on a long plane ride, in a room full of 100 people etc). Tablet Tales has taught me how powerful a motivator interactive technology can be for this new generation of kids; parents can take advantage of that and consider digital books a legitimate reading choice that can be shared by the whole family.

In addition to being a librarian, you write an early literacy blog called Little eLit. Tell us about your blog.

CC: I began LittleeLit.com because there were no other librarians developing best practices for incorporating this new technology into traditional library services for kids. I collect resources and success stories, provide consulting services and training workshops, and I’m always looking for partners to share their experiences with projects that have to do with literacy, kids and technology. It’s hard to find support when you’re developing a program that includes cutting edge technology; my aim is to create a community of knowledge and share my experiences so my colleagues don’t have to re-invent this particular wheel.

Who is your favorite Letter Buddies character?


CC: Chatty C loves cake. So I think I love Chatty C.

A special thanks to Cen Campbell for taking the time to participate in our KidTech interview series! Librarians have always been an important part of early childhood literacy in communities all over this country and Cen is continuing that good work in this digital era!

K + Y

Ame Dyckman is the author and creative mind behind one of the best children's picture book's of the year – Boy + Bot – with illustrations by Dan Yaccarino. Boy + Bot is the charming story about the unlikely friendship that develops between a little boy and a robot who serendipitously discover their differences and realize they can be great friends anyway. We first saw Ame's book at a wonderful, little kid's shop in Silver Lake called Yolk. The cute cover drew us in immediately with its simplicity, and we immediately knew that our 3-year old twin nephews would love the story, and love it they do. As book publishers, we always have our eye out for fun children's books and Boy + Boy has become one of our favorites. We recommend it all the time now, and it has a coveted spot on The Dragon's bookshelf too. 

You can find Ame on her website, Facebook, and entertaining twitter feed. And, you can purchase Boy + Bot here.  Read our interview with Ame below.

8 Questions with Ame Dyckman:

1. What was the inspiration for this charming story about a friendship between a boy and a robot? 


Awww, thanks!  (I’m blushing red as Bot!)  I’ve always loved “friendship despite differences” stories like FROG AND TOAD and GEORGE and MARTHA.  And I’ve always loved robots.  So when I sat down to write my own friendship story, I thought, “Why not a kid… and a robot?  Lots of differences there!”  But as I was writing the story, I realized Boy and Bot are really only different on the outside.  Inside, these two friends are very much alike!

2. What do you think about how children today are interacting with “machines” like the iPhone and iPad?

As long as it doesn’t interfere with one-on-one interaction with family, friends—including robot friends!—schoolwork or outside time, I love that today’s children have so many ways they can learn and brain-play!    

3. As a storybook author what is your feeling about storybook apps vs. actual books? Any plans to develop a mobile app for Boy + Bot?

Reading is good!  I feel anything that gets kids to read (books, storybook apps, comics, cereal boxes, Snapple caps, whatever) is good, too. I personally like to write actual picture books because it’s the medium I grew up with, study, collect, and adore.  But when it comes to reading, it’s all
              good! And while we don’t have any immediate plans for one that I know of, I
              think a mobile app for BOY + BOT could be really fun!  

4. How did you get started as an author? Any tips for children’s book authors hoping to have their stories published?

I got started thanks to the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) and my wonderful public library system!  I knew I wanted to write picture books, but I didn’t know how.  (My first manuscripts broke every picture book rule, and they were terrible!)  

               I Googled “writing for children” and found SCBWI.  I joined the NJ chapter of
               SCBWI and went to all the events I could.  (I still do!)  I met lots of industry
               professionals—and made lots of friends—and got fantastic advice.  The very
               best advice was, “Know your genre!”  So I went to my local library (Lawrence
               Headquarters Branch, Mercer County Library System) and read mountains
               of picture books. I requested mountains more, and my amazing librarians
               transferred them in for me.  (They still do!)  My writing improved, and I wrote
               the first draft of BOY + BOT.  Then I polished it… forever!  Finally, I brought it
               to the Agent Pitch Session at a NJ SCBWI conference, where I met my
               Super Agent, Scott Treimel of S©ott Treimel NY.  And in a very short while,
               Scott found BOY + BOT the perfect home at Random House’s Knopf imprint!
               I’d definitely encourage anyone who wants to be a kidlit author to join their
               local SCBWI  chapter and utilize their local library!

5. What has been the best part of becoming a recognized author and having your first book published?

Getting fan mail from children who love BOY + BOT is the best!  I keep and love every letter and drawing!

6. Will we be reading more about these two friends – Boy + Bot – in the future? Any plans for to make it a series?

I hope so!  I’d love to see more of their adventures. 

7. Your next book, Tea Party Rules, is coming out next year. Is there a release date? Anything you can share about it?

TEA PARTY RULES is scheduled for release from Penguin’s Viking imprint in Fall, 2013, and is illustrated by the fabulous K.G. Campbell (LESTER’S DREADFUL SWEATERS and the forthcoming THE ILLUMINATED ADVENTURES OF FLORA AND ULYSSES by Kate DiCamillo).  It’s a funny
              eventual friendship story between a rule-obsessed little girl and a tea party-
              crashing bear cub who really wants cookies.  

8. Who is your favorite Letter Buddies Character?

My favorite Letter Buddies Character is Unique U.  I love that U’s not afraid to be different—right down to the mismatched shoes!  (I do that, too!)

A special thanks to Ame Dyckman for taking the time to participate in our KidTech interview series! For those of you interested in buying a copy of Boy + Bot, you can purchase it by clicking here.

- Kevin + Yun

KidTech is our new a monthly series of interviews with key "Influencers" in children's technology & early childhood education. From authors of our favorite children's booksto influential minds in children's digital media, we endeavor to discuss what's happening in technology, and how the digital revolution is affecting our children and their education.
KidTech is our new a monthly series of interviews with key "Influencers" in children's technology & early childhood education. From authors of our favorite children's books to influential minds in children's digital media, we endeavor to discuss what's happening in technology, and how the digital revolution is affecting our children and their education.

For our inaugural post, we interview Carisa Kluver – the editor and publisher of Digital-Storytime, a review site for iPad picture book apps, and The Digital Media Diet, a smartly-written blog discussing kids, technology, and digital publishing. Carisa is a trusted voice for parents who are balancing technology and education, especially as it relates to storybook apps. You can also find Carisa on Twitter, Scoop.It, and Facebook.

1. In late 2010, you and your husband, Marc, launched an app review site, Digital-Storytime, and your blog The Digital Media Diet. What inspired you both to go on this adventure?

We were both at a turning point in our careers and Marc, who had previously been working for Microsoft, was very interested in app programming. He decided to learn to program for Android and iOS as well as take classes in web development and database management. I was spinning my wheels a bit ... having worked in research that was no longer being funded, so after getting the first iPad when it came out in April 2010, I found myself rather obsessed with book apps.

I'd always loved picture books, even before I had a child, so it was a natural transition. But the ecosystem for book apps seemed a bit too 'unsupervised' by real adult curation and the kind of vetting process that assures parents of high quality. 
I wanted to create a site that could give parents an easy way to get good titles in digital, just like they could trust that the local bookstore or library would only carry well-crafted & well-produced books in print for young readers. 

Marc, was (and is) a creative programmer ... he's been writing code since he was 9 years old, so he is also very versatile. I think my website ideas were an engaging challenge for him, worth the many hours of custom design for that reason alone. And I had no other idea of what to expect from a website, so I just naively asked for everything I could dream of in the perfect book app review site. We've grown a lot since then, but that was and is still the heart of our business plan to this day. Be challenged and dream big. I'd add that it's also better to be good at what you do, rather than be fast or big or even first. Being there for your readers consistently is worth a lot over time. We also were relatively fast, ambitious and among the first in the market, which didn't hurt a bit.

2. You’ve been at this nearly two years, how have you established yourself as a go-to resource for parents?

I didn't initially wonder about how to 'establish' myself, but instead tried to focus on having the highest quality content and largest number of reviews for book apps anywhere in one place online. I think we may still be ahead of everyone else on this measure. I took a leap of faith, hoping that this combination, in addition to a willingness to explore social media promotion and website development would be enough. Because we were among the first to cover book apps exclusively, we were able to make a name for ourselves early in the development of the industry; but it was as much luck and good timing as anything else.

I also assumed, based on the sheer number of hours it was taking me to review and keep up with the growing market, that no one had any real advantage over me, unless they spent more waking hours reading book apps. I was willing to spend what amounted to 18 hour days working, for nearly the first full year of our site in order to really establish it, which is basically what it takes to break into a new arena online. I have been gradually weaning myself off of this schedule, now that our site is more mature, but the real secret is being willing to eat, live & breathe your content niche on the web. It's a very busy business and many people start out with sites and then abandon them when they realize how much work it really takes to be heard above the noise online.

Overall, I try to be authentic in all my interactions on social media sites, remembering that real people trying to get good information for kids' media are my main audience. I am particularly inspired to be of service to the librarians and educators who use my site, since we are on the same page philosophically. For this reason, I made sure my site had clear info about who I am and our site's mission, not trying to hide my personal identity behind a website or random url.

I also partnered early and often with others I met online, from forums like MomsWithApps to Twitter & Facebook connections. I found a lot of people doing inspirational things around book apps and soon was part of a team co-hosting a regular twitter chat (#storyappchat, Sundays at 6pm PT). In the process, I also met other reviewers who could advise me about best practices and eventually collaborate on projects.

Both having a peer group to chat with about the industry and also understanding my audience, have really helped me make a name for our site. We couldn't have gotten this far without the support of a lot of people. Anyone as small as us with a website this popular, owes most of the credit to fans. I spend a lot of time being grateful that anyone is reading or listening. It's a great honor to be trusted with the important job of curating book apps for other people's kids.

3. How many storybook apps have you reviewed to date? With our background in educational publishing, we would like to hear what elements you think make a strong educational storybook app.

I have reviewed over 600 book apps to date. We have a 9-point rating system that includes 'educational value' and this category impacts our overall reviews a lot. I look for solid production values that include easy navigation and ideally no links that leave the app, especially for titles aimed a young children. I also highly recommend highlighting word by word for storybook apps in general, as an option.

Ultimately, the story itself needs to be enhanced with digital options very carefully, since one too many interactive elements can tip the scale in such a way that you loose the youngest readers entirely for story comprehension. It's fun to add 'bells & whistles' to an app, but for reading, these things can get in the way if not done thoughtfully. Sometimes my son will read a new book and when it's over he can't tell me what it was about, only that it was 'fun to play with'. This is one of the things I look for most ... can a young reader understand the story on the first read, or are they more focused on the enhancements?

4. For parents who are interested in using storybook apps to help their children learn to read, how can they get the most out of these products?

I would recommend for pre-readers, that parents & educators look for book apps that have simple stories with narration and highlighting at first, engaging kids with more interactive apps slowly along the way. These 'first stories' are not going to be rich narratives, but more like the 'early readers' found in print. I would also strongly encourage parents to read with their young children as often as possible. Spending time discussing a story and doing activities to extend the learning can be a lot of fun and communicates to young kids that reading is special and important.

Also, I recommend that parents & educators always preview a book app first before sharing it with a child, especially if you are unfamiliar with the publisher. There is still a lot of inappropriate material in the app store when it comes to children under 10. I used to put my iPad in 'airplane' mode when my child first used it, to be certain he didn't end up in my email or buying things in the App Store. Now that my child is older, he knows not to open windows that pop-up, but before he was school-aged, this was a big issue.

5. How should a parent balance the relationship between storybook apps and real books?

I think this is one of those 'more of an art than a science' situations. A lot of what parents do is 'balance' or 'juggle' things, to keep all the different needs their kids have on their radar. Media use adds a new dimension to this and I recommend that parents set clear limits on not only the amount but the type of media their kids use during their 'free time'.

For book apps vs 'real' or print books, I am personally a bit ambivalent. My child is now working toward 'fluent' reading, which requires quite a lot of time reading without narration. It is hard to enforce this on the apps, but easy with our stack of library books, so I make sure we always have 20-30 new print books every few weeks on the coffee table, where my son can be directed when he says, "I'm bored ... can I play on the iPad?"

6. How do you use technology (devices and apps) with your son to foster learning? How much screen time is he allowed to have?

We are very careful with the kind of media our son is allowed to use. We have no commercial TV connection at all, so everything he watches (TV & movies) is from Netflix or the PBS Kids App, primarily. We are especially averse to anything that advertises to our child, which includes much of the mainstream media for kids. I'd like my son to form his own organic attachments to media characters, if he has any at all, based on his interests, not on who advertises the most.

Our child is allowed an average of 30-90 minutes a day of screen time, depending on homework and other activities. This includes about an hour of book apps that he reads before bed. We end our bedtime reading with a few print books or I choose the least interactive or most relaxing book apps, for the very end of our routine each night. Marc often will just go to my website & sort by bedtime to find good titles. Everything there is 'mommy-approved'. But we aren't perfect, sometimes letting him read these bedtime stories by himself now that he's school-aged.

On weekends & holidays, our 6 year old son is also allowed to 'earn' screen time with chores around the house or by playing educational game apps I've pre-selected. We have a rule where 30 min of an educational app earns 15 min of 'free' play on his new iPad mini. We won't buy games for him, but he is allowed to use iTunes giftcards from his birthday & Christmas to buy the games he wants for this free play time.

I also download free apps, including games, for him to try a lot, while stocking my deal page. The games I approve are primarily physics based, where some critical thinking skill is required to solve a puzzle or challenge, rather than 'platform' games where it is just about quick reflexes and remembering a map. Overall I want my child to engage his mind with media, not dis-engage, as much as possible. We only get to have this level of influence over our kids for a short portion of their lives, so I guess I'm eager to make the most of the time I have by being very involved.

7. Do you have a favorite educational storybook app that you like to recommend?

I have so many favorites, it would be very hard to choose just one. I often get asked this and have a 'Sophie's Choice' feeling of panic, knowing I have so many very favorite apps. I love 100s of them! Overall, the ones I usually mention for questions like this are the book apps I consider serious 'sleeper hits'.

My first year reviewing I absolutely fell in love with "A Fine Musician" - for instance, but most people have barely heard of this lovely app. My other favorite sleeper hit is one without any sound at all, no interactivity & just a splash of animation, but it charms your socks off with a simple story and illustrations. It's called "RobotSquare" or "Little Robot Lost His Square".

8. Finally, tell us who your favorite Letter Buddies character is.

We love the Letter Buddies! My son is now reading fluently most of the time & not as interested in those cute little guys as he was in Kindergarten & Pre-School, but we definitely have a favorite. The letter "Z" of course. My son's name starts with "Z" and "Zany" is something he does well. ;-)

Thank you so much to Carisa Kluver for taking part in the first ever KidTech interview!  Also, check out Carisa's review of the Letter Buddies AlphaBooks iPad app on Digital-Storytime - you can see it here (4.5 Stars!) and read our recent take on balancing technology and learning, here.

- Kevin & Yun

As previously tweeted, Yun and I are in New York City this week to, amongst other things, attend her little brother's graduation from NYU. It has been several days of celebration culminating in yesterday's commencement, New York University's 179th. With the forecast calling for rain all day, we were a little less than thrilled at the prospect of spending three cold, wet hours in Yankee Stadium. 

Morgan Spurlock, the documentary filmmaker best known for his movie, Super Size Me, that explores the dangers of fast food, is about to create a whole lot more conversation with his latest film Pom Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold, with limited release starting today.

Spurlock was recently featured in the April edition of Fast Company (the greatest magazine, in my opinion!) talking about the movie and its focus on how brand sponsorship permeates every part of our daily existence...but the article itself, echoing the movie, exemplifies Spurlock’s mission by focusing on the sponsorship of the piece itself. Definitely makes for an interesting story, and I’m sure an even more intriguing movie. I can’t wait to check it out myself! — Yun

(ps- I've added his entertaining TED Talk on the KandY Shoppe too!)