The iPad: Rocking My Picturebook World?

by Ghada Al-Yaqout

A Bump In the Road

Until last October I was ‘diligently’ [:)] in research mode. I was reading, writing, thinking, editing, and fretting. It was a familiar cycle. Comfortably in motion, I knew that, I was ‘surprisingly’ moving right along with my research. That is, until I was suddenly sidetracked by technology. The culprit: Apple’s iPad.

In terms of hardware camps, I am a disciple of the Apple Empire - primarily since it is easier to use. I work on a Mac; but beyond that, the technicalities of technology are as much a mystery to me as quantum physics.

More iPad to Contend With

It seems only months since the iPad was first launched, yet here we are a month into the launch of the iPad version 2. This time around the people at Apple have, among other technical upgrades (thinner, lighter, etc.), incorporated a microphone and camera. Both the platforms still download the millions of Apps available from Apple’s iTunes store.

The iPad and Children’s Literature: An Unusual Union?

What, you may rightly ask, does the iPad have to do with a children’s literature PhD student at Cambridge? Well the extent of influence has, surprisingly, turned out to be staggering! For my research, the device has developed into a section of a chapter of my dissertation, a forthcoming journal article, and a paper at a conference. (Side note for those snickering ‘others’: Yes, we children’s literature people do venture beyond!)

My ongoing PhD research is concerned with the picturebook series and their paratexts, (Genette) and one of the ideas I am thinking about is Genette’s notion of epitext. My EUREKA! moment happened when I realized that The Cat in the Hat iPad App was an epitext and that there must be much to be said about it.

Indeed there is. Initially there is the debate about what this means for established picturebook scholarship. How will picturebook scholars receive this new mode of interaction? That is yet to be seen, but if the sales of the picturebook Apps are anything to go by, then what we have in the iPad is a force to be reckoned with! The iPad is revolutionary; not only for its technical specs and ease of use, but because it has managed to stay true to many of the long held conventions of the book, and of the book reading experience. You can use it almost anywhere, the tablet easily rests on your lap, its dimensions are closer to a picturebook than a computer screen or Kindle (which so far is not available in color); and the iPad has incorporated the essential page turning mechanics.

Instant gratification is another perk. Nothing beats snuggling on a sofa and not having to venture to the bookshop or library when the weather outside is below zero. With the iPad, almost any book you want is a mere click away – whenever, and wherever you are.

And the Apps Keep Coming…

With regards to children’s literature, and, more specifically, the picturebook, new Apps are continually emerging. Whereas only a year ago there were merely a few dozen picturebooks available today there are over a hundred. Just as with conventional picturebooks, these electronic versions are rated and reviewed. There are many familiar titles to choose from. Many of the Dr. Seuss titles have been developed into Apps. Recently one of my favourites, the Olivia series by Ian Falconer, had been adapted into Apps. The list of picturebook Apps continues to grow …


Discussing the pros and cons of new technologies is always a tricky task. Most views are only relevant until the next version obliterates whatever one found important or otherwise about the previous version. What can be said, though, about both the iPad ‘classic’ and its successor is that children’s literature experts and enthusiasts will certainly be closely monitoring the eventual reverberations the device poses to the texts and readers they have been talking about for years.

Have you been affected by the iPad? Embraced it? Dismissed it? Let us know!

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