Despite the increasing popularity of e-books, children's literature - particularly picture books - has been slower to go digital. There are a number of obstacles in the way, most obviously the emphasis on colorful illustrations alongside the words. As many e-readers have black-and-white screens and as many formats focus primarily on digitizing the text, you're unlikely to find a great selection of children's e-lit in e-bookstores (although that is changing).
It's more common, perhaps, to see children's literature as apps, rather than e-books. Apps are full-color. They offer interactivity, with games and narration.
Those features are important, says David Park, a former tenure-track professor who's left that world to develop his children's e-book startup MeeGenius. Mindful of what parents are looking for, he asked about their interest in digital literature for their young kids. Many said that they weren't willing pay for "just" a digital book. Parents wanted additional features: the ability to have the story read aloud, to have words highlighted as the story progressed, to have it personalized.
MeeGenius has done just this, digitizing children's stories - classic and new - and adding features that make reading along easier. The MeeGenius reading app is available for free, and there is a selection of both free and paid books (priced between $.99 and $2.99) to download.
MeeGenius is available across platforms: the web, iPhone, iPad, Google Chrome Web Store, and Google TV. Yes, Google TV. Park, a father of preschool age twins, says that he would often do development on the product on a large screen in the living room, and his children came to see books as just "another channel" on TV.
The importance, says Park, is delivering great content, no matter the platform.
"Great content" is, of course, a challenge when you're a startup publisher, and so much of what MeeGenius publishes is based on stories taken from the public domain. They've been illustrated, with the work going into digitizing, creating the audio soundtrack, and syncing the word-lighting to match that cadence.
While MeeGenius hopes to expand its offerings, this public domain content - particularly content available on the Web and not just on the iPad - does make it readily accessible for schools and libraries.