Thursday, March 26, 2009

Books in the Digital Age

Books have really changed in the last few years. Now you can see and hear books in ways you could only read about in science fiction. From entire books online to books on tape and video, there are a multitude of choices for you and your students. Some are even free. Those that charge often have compelling reasons to purchase them. Many also come with support material. (Always check with the publisher!) Tonight's two cents is a round up of some of the digital media you might use with your students.

Complete books online
Perhaps you were a fan of Sad to say, its pages are now closed. Tumblebooks, however, is still available at a subscription rate. There are 3 categories of ebooks: TumbleBookLibrary (picture books), TumbleReadables (late elementary to high school) and TumbleTalkingBooks (for public libraries). These ebooks provide narration, music and highlighted sentences in the reading of the books. Subscribers also have access to games, quizzes and teacher resources. A free 30 day trial subscription is available.

Another resource for videos and books is provided by the Screen Actors Guild Program Foundation. Storyline Online is a non profit site, with original funding granted by Verizon. They have a website that posts videos of actors reading some of your favorite books. Related activities and downloadable guides are available. Hear James Earl Jones read To Be a Drum, for example.

If you have a subscription to Discovery Education Streaming (formerly known as United Streaming), you have access to some of the best made movies of children’s literature- Weston Woods videos. Now owned by Scholastic, Weston Woods animates the book’s illustrations, adding music, and using professional actors to narrate the story. Use the subtitles to give your ESL and struggling readers another tool for comprehension. Check out the extras, as they often have illustrator or author interviews as part of the film. You can also buy them individually from Scholastic or your book wholesaler.

Books on tape
I am a huge fan of “books on tape.” Listening to a book being read can be a lovely thing. When I drove across America to San Diego, I listened to Jim Dale read most of the Harry Potter books. I'm not sure I would have made it over those scary mountains into California without the soothing voices of Jim Dale. Many of the adults I know listen to books on their commute to work. However, we can also use these digital books to help our students.

At the IMC where I work, our readalongs are one of our most popular items. We include the book on CD or tape and 5 books. Teachers can group students to share the reading of a book at a listening center. Listening Library and Recorded Books offer great books on tape.

Playaways are another option. These small audio devices have the books recorded on them. Each Playaway is a different machine. They automatically bookmark your stopping place. Costing from 30 to 60 dollars, these teen-friendly digital books, are a cool way to listen to everything from the classics to Alcatraz versus the Evil Librarians. You can use earbuds or connect them to speakers and fill the room with the sound of a wonderful book. You can order them from Follett, Recorded Books and BBC America. Some publishers of the stories sell the Playaways on their sites as well (Live Oak Media and Weston Woods, for example). For more information see the Playaway site. Canadian libraries have a link on the Playaway site.

Which books to buy?
Start by looking at award winning books. ALA publishes a Notable Recordings list every year. These Best Recordings are chosen by a team of librarians who listen to the best of the best and selectively choose the best audio books. The Odyssey Award is given to the best audio recording of a book. That may be another selection if it fits your age group.

For books on video, try the Notable Video selections. Like the Notable Recordings, librarians watch a multitude of videos each year to select the best. Many of these are books that are animated.

YALSA, a division of ALA, has an Awesome Audiobook list. This notable list was renamed in 2009. It was previously called Selected Audiobooks for Young Adults. The awards list goes back to 1999 and selects the best books of the last two years.

Last but not least
The Kindle and the Sony Reader. No, I don’t have either. Easy to use, these digital readers allow you to download entire books into a large paperback sized tablet. The new Kindle will even read to you- not James Earl Jones, but it is reading aloud. It’s not the same as curling up with a paper book, but after hauling 8 books across Canada so I wouldn’t run out of things to read this week, I am really close to at least trying it. I'll let you know.

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