Thursday, October 30, 2008

"That Book Doesn't Talk"

Recently while watching TV, I saw a commercial for the following product. The talking book is tested by a line of kids who really enjoy the neato gadget that talks to them in character voices when they point a magic wand device at words on a page. They are testing this alongside a "regular" book of the non-speaking variety. The company mascot (a cheerful frog) asks the final kid, who is looking at the regular book with a dismayed look on his face, if he is missing something. The boy says, "That book doesn't talk!"

This commercial disturbs me on so many levels. I never really had a problem with talking books until I saw this ad, but I am now boycotting all books that so much as utter a squeak at my child.

I want to teach my children that books do talk. The don't talk in character voices and they don't tell stories about Sponge Bob or Dora. They tell stories about Prince Caspian, Achilles, and tortises and hares. My kids will learn that they get to make up the voices, and the characters and the landscapes all on their own (did I just say I want voices in my kids' heads?).

I'm not saying that I want my kid to sit through The Illiad at age 3 and understand it all. I'm all for finding children's versions of the great books and starting my kids on those. Starting them with picture books and simple words. I want them to be read aloud to at the youngest age, hearing the stories told by Tolkein and Lewis and learning to use their imaginations.

I don't ever want to hear my kids complain that their books don't talk.


Steve Bremer said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Steve Bremer said...

I don't know why you're so against this product. You must be against progress. This thing is the wave of the future. I do, however, have some ideas for this company to improve on their talking book invention:

First, get rid of the wand. It's a great idea - the kids can hear the words pronounced as they point at them, which will greatly improve reading skills, much like Microsoft's spell checker has improved spelling skills (instant feedback and all) - but the wand poses too many risks.

The wand will eventually become tedious, maybe as tedious as reading and sounding the words out. After all, they'll have to carefully run the wand over every single word and not skip lines and who knows how many will suffer from carpal tunnel syndrome. No, get rid of the wand, pick a safe speed to have the different characters speak their lines in the book, and incorporate a pause, fast forward, and rewind feature.

Second, why have multiple pages when we can have an LCD screen in high-definition that can display all the pages. That way there's no extra bulk with all that paper and no torn pages. It's better for the environment too - save the trees!

Third, why stop at having the book talk? We're trying to get the kids interested in books, right? Animate the pictures in the book in accordance with the story line. It will look great on that HD screen and the kids will eat it up. They'll be begging to read books.

Fourth, get rid of the written words. They'll probably distract from the animations and they're being spoken, anyway.

My fifth and final suggestion is to load this talking book device with streaming access to multiple audio books via a coaxial cable, electromagnetic waves, internet - the possibilities are really endless. Then you could prop this book up on a display or wall somewhere, give the kids a remote control device, and they can pick and choose which talking book they want to watch.

Why hasn't someone thought of this?