#lbf16: Personalised Books for Children: Blending Innovation with Education.

For those unaware, personalised books see you putting a child’s personal information in a book so that it’s special to them, like their name. Though, personalisation is a trend across the industry, from health to education too. Personalisation is the future, says Natalia Kucirkova, the event’s chair.

This is highlighted in digital – not only textual but through images too. The benefits of personalisation include language – children learn more words and speak more when reading these books. However, the talking is more self-referential, so it’s important for all of us to ensure that the interaction isn’t just about them. Broaden horizons and challenge thinking.

lost her name“We believe in the power of a book.”
Discussing how they do exactly that are three excellent panelists: Jobina Hardy (lostmy.name), Tom Bonnick (Nosy Crow) and Carrie Gregory-Hood (Mr Glue). Jobina starts by discussing the books she does, there’s two at the core: The Little Boy Who Lost His Name, and The Little Girl Who Lost Her Name. It’s a magical adventure to find their name (surprise!). Her story took her to a Jaguar, who had hiccups – she helped, and was given the letter J. An ostrich lost a bracelet – they found it and it looks like an O, and so on. It’s subtle, but for children there’s a big reveal. It’s engaging but also about the characters. Each name has a different cast of characters. It’s printed on demand and made to order (and with over 120,000 variations so far!).

They’re currently in a beta phase for a new title: Incredible Intergalactic Journey Home, which is more using a sense of place that takes them to their city, then their front door on street view. The amazing adventure is to show that home is most important – it’s an offline experience for the parent to share, and a moment that makes the child feel special without distractions. Quiet technology, they call it, because “we believe in the power of a book.”

lrrhPutting kids in the picture.
In the most basic sense, a ‘This book belongs to…’ page is personalisation. It gives a sense of ownership, it makes the book the individual’s.  It’s the simple ideas of personalisation that Tom starts with. In Noodle, the last page is a reflected page so the child can see their face. It’s so powerful for babies – the first thing they learn is faces. Then comes Pip and Posy app, which was to promote the print series. It takes toddler’s stories and gives them something to relate to: the personalisation is replicating their faces in a frame nearby.

Nosy Crow soon levelled up their personalisation. Cinderella uses the front facing camera to literally put the user in the story and frame them as part of the narrative. Their Little Red Riding Hood app in 2013 really took  it further: the user chooses the path and impacts the story. They’re asked to help pack the basket and make decisions that actively alter the story and move the narrative forward. It changes the routes, characters and even ending.

Putting the child in the driving seat.
Mr Glue combines the previous two in a sense: the interactivity of an app and a print book. The starting point is always to turn reading from a passive experience into an interactive one. They allow children to customise their own characters to be made into a print book.

Children can colour over the images and customise on the app, and that moves into the new format. They have an active say in what characters are included, and have the option to record audio bits. It’s about collaboration and getting children to think about sound in relation to narrative. The skillsets it draws from are useful: they boost self confidence, they can be part of and choose elements of the story. It’s an insight, in a sense, into the publishing process. They’re looking to do more with Mission CookPossible, which is an extension of the idea while fostering an enjoyment of cooking.

No distraction, just enhancing the experience.
One audience question considers the research on this. Personalised v non-personalised, print v digital, interruption v interaction. What’s technically best? There has been some research into the area, although for personalisation that stops at print books so far. Originally, there seemed to be several interruptions caused, but in the latest research, they’ve been redefining interactivity and it seems to be working far more effectively. Though, they remind us, the research hasn’t extended fully to apps yet.

For Tom, it’s a question Nosy Crow have grappled with a lot. They’d be more nervous actively seeking to teach from their books over creating something to read for pleasure, whose effects are in line with learning and creativity. He’s very nervous to make any educational claims for their work.

Interactivity can interrupt the reading experience – all try to avoid things wiggling and moving on the page without a point, and they’re on a timer in some cases. It’s about having a purpose: no bells and whistles without a core purpose to push forward the narrative at least a bit. There should be no distraction, just an enhancement of the reading experience.

More from London Book Fair 2016

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