Speaking of my grandmother and non-sequiturs, it's Dr. Seuss's birthday.
Before marrying my grandfather, my mother's mother was a librarian in Springfield, Massachusetts, not far from where Theodor Seuss Geisel grew up. Family lore is that she was working at a branch on Mulberry Street when his first book, And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street, was published.
(My other grandmother, by the way, was a page in the public library system I currently inhabit. I wasn't fully aware of all this heritage until I was halfway through library school - and it was the nail that sealed the coffin on any notion that I was some kind of rebel. You can wear all the motorcycle boots you want, but if you are in the same profession as both of your grandmothers, you are an acorn that has not fallen far from the tree, and there is nothing punk rock about acorns.)
Nothing punk rock about my grandma either. Despite her proximity to one of the most original minds in children's literature ever, she thought Dr. Seuss's books were worthless nonsense. I can't decide if I'm proud of her for sticking to her guns - she believed children's literature pretty much began and ended at A. A. Milne - or embarrassed by her lack of vision. She thought there was no use teaching children how to read words like 'gooey' or 'freezy' or 'tweetle beetle' - where on earth were they going to encounter those words?
Oh well. Grandma was of the old school. Dr. Seuss was demonstrably of the new. His first I Can Read book, The Cat in the Hat, was created in response to the original Why Johnny Can't Read, the 1955 book by Rudolf Flesch that advocated phonetics over word recognition when teaching kids how to read. Flesch contended that the repetitive Dick/Jane/Spot-type primers dictated by word recognition reading instruction were not only ineffective, but made learning to read a tedious chore.
Trying to so hard here to avoid jokes like "Grandma loved her some Dick - and Jane," and just failing. My mom's going to kill me.
Before I get in any more trouble, can we get to the ebook apps by Oceanhouse Media? Sheesh. Here is the segue: "Also demonstrably New School are the Dr. Seuss ebook apps developed by Oceanhouse Media."
Oceanhouse has automated and enhanced almost two dozen Dr. Seuss books, including the most popular of his I Can Read books: Hop on Pop, Fox in Socks, One Fish Two Fish, Green Eggs & Ham, The Cat in the Hat, and The Cat in the Hat Comes Back.
I'm focusing on Fox in Socks because it's the one I've played with the most in the company of actual pre-readers. My three-to-five-year-old test audience, the littles that accompany their big brothers and sisters to our weekly Under-Ten D&D Fest, were Baby A, Boniface, and Bushbaby.
So what have they done to our friends Fox and Mr. Knox? It's good: the whole book is in there, of course, but not exactly page by page. Fox in Socks has more than one verse on every page, which might make for a very static ebook app. Oceanhouse has solved this with simple pans and zooms from one section of illustration to another - in itself a nice enhancement, as we get to see these classic doodly pictures from a new perspective.
We can read the book ourselves or let the cute narrator read it to us. If she does it, each word is highlighted in red as we hear it. Tap the printed word to hear it read aloud - and tap any item in any illustration to not only hear the word aloud but see it too. (Tap items really fast to make your own Beck track: "Slow Joe-Slow Joe - Slow J- Slo-Slo-Slow Joe Crow!" Every kid I've given it to so far has.)
These kind of associations are what all those posters, tags, captions, and oversize labels are for in your kindergartner's classroom: they help a child learn to read. Fox in Socks on the iPad also motivates a child to want to learn to read, with silly (but non-intrusive) sound effects and of course classic lines like "when tweetle beetles battle with paddles in a puddle, they call it a tweetle beetle puddle paddle battle."
It's pretty tempting to let the professional read the lines like that, but it's also pretty satisfying to make a kid laugh by trying it yourself, whether you get it on the first try or not. Fun to share, but easily navigable by a three-year-old on her own if you are called away.
For iPad, iPhone, iPod Touch, and Android.