Web sites will bring books to children

Two leading children's publishers, Scholastic, Inc. and Disney, will soon discover whether the laptop compares to the lap in the hearts of young readers.

Scholastic is officially launching BookFlix, an educational Web site pairing short films based on popular picture books along with nonfiction e-books that allow early readers to follow the text online.

For example, click on the bar that reads "People and Places" and you'll find a pair of offerings on Abraham Lincoln: An animated film of a storybook, Jean Fritz's "Just a Few Words, Mr. Lincoln"; and the animated image of a nonfiction work, Will Mara's "Abraham Lincoln," with children able to turn pages, backward or forward, by clicking on an arrow on the lower right- or left-hand side.

Other books include Jules Feiffer's "Bark, George," placed alongside Alyse Sweeney's "Pets at the Vet," and Syd Hoff's "Danny and the Dinosaur," featured with Susan H. Gray's "Dinosaur Tracks."

"We're so lucky to live in an era when kids can have books in multiple formats. Each format offers something that the other doesn't," says Francie Alexander, Scholastic's chief academic officer. "The e-book offers a wonderful ability for helping children learn to read — what academics call building 'mental models.' "

Meanwhile, the Disney Publishing Group plans a similar project later this year, making favorites such as "The Jungle Book" and "Cinderella" available online. While Scholastic, for now, is sticking to the school and library market, Disney will offer books to general consumers, charging a fee, still to be determined, for downloads.

"We saw a void in the marketplace and decided to act upon it," said Jon Yaged, U.S. publisher of the Disney Book Group.

Children's titles have been a weak part of the e-book market. The problem has always been a proper reading device; a laptop screen, a familiar sight for more and more children, could be the solution.

BookFlix begins with 80 pairings, 20 of them also available in Spanish, with categories ranging from "Family and Community" to "Music and Rhyme."

"We have to look at parents today and what they're most comfortable with; and they're more and more comfortable with technology," said Suzanne Murphy, Scholastic's vice president of marketing, when asked if the publisher would make e-picture books available for general release.

"I'd be hard-pressed to say there won't be a time when bedtime reading is with an electronic device."

On the Web

www.teacher.scholastic.com/ products/bookflix

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