When Johnine Dugan started teaching grade school 29 years ago, she was the star of story time. But these days, she lets a computer do the work. A Web site, tumblebooks.com, reads--and displays--animated books like "50 Below Zero" by Robert Munsch, which Dugan shows on a TV screen. "It's just a better way for them to appreciate literature," says the second-grade teacher from Palos Park, Ill.
For kids who are learning how to read, nothing can replace an old-fashioned page turner. But now more book companies are trying to put the fun back in phonics with gadgets. This fall's lineup includes more books that are wired with sound chips or DVDs, and experts say some of the devices help kids improve reading comprehension by asking questions that prompt them to pay better attention. But they're not meant to replace regular reading, just to supplement it. "Every family library should have a mix to keep the kids involved," says Rosanne McManus, associate publisher at Reader's Digest Children's Publishing. Here's how the new pile stacks up.
Where's the remote? Fisher-Price and Scholastic have teamed up for "Read With Me DVD!" ($39.88; walmart.com, for ages 3 to 7), which includes "Where the Wild Things Are" and a DVD-player remote. Your kid pops in the disc, and it will read him the story. Or he can give it a try with the words on the screen. But the big selling point is extra features that let readers pause to answer questions and keep busy after the story is over. (Who wouldn't try out a shimmy called the "Wild Rumpus"?) A handful of other titles, from "Miss Spider's Tea Party" to "Giraffes Can't Dance," will also be available ($14.99 each). Moral of the story: the kids read on their own--and Mom gets a break from the same old tale.
I want more! Lots of paper books are also taking a page from kids' laptops and gadgets. "Technology is becoming less expensive, allowing us to increase our level of interactivity between the child and book," says Kerry Cunnion, executive vice president of sales at Publications International. The company's new line of books includes a title that lets kids sing along with a mike and another that scans prices as SpongeBob goes on a shopping spree ($14.99 to $21.99; pil books.com). But our favorite is "Dora's Number Games," an activity book with a built-in calculator that talks back to help you add and subtract.
Other books come with a DVD as a reward. "Elmo's Easy as ABC" ($15.99; amazon.com) follows the red puppet on a day of learning letters. The supplemental disc has songs from "Sesame Street." Moral of the story: "Moby Dick," it's not. But your child may start to think reading is fun.
What's next? Older readers will get wrapped up in Mattel's "Tangled Tales" ($24.99 at Toys "R" Us in September; 8 and up). It's like "Choose Your Own Adventure," but the story is printed on a deck of cards that go along with a talking unit. Sample entry: "Suddenly, the lights go out!" Do you reach for the keys, grab the flashlight or look for something useful in your bag? Make a choice, and the handheld tells you what numbered card to read next. Moral of the story: your kids decide.