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Patricia Benesh Headshot

Picture Books Move Over -- Here Comes the Vook

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With the recent hubbub over picture books, I thought it timely to look at the latest technology that takes picture books to an entirely new level -- the vook. A vook blends the text of a book, with video, audio, and Internet linking to enhance the content. With this innovation, your child can read the book, listen to narration, watch videos, connect with the author and friends -- all on one device -- without switching between platforms. Vooks can be viewed on the iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad by downloading as an app through the Apple iTunes store. Or view it on any web brower by purchasing it through the Vook online store.

A search at the Vook site shows 20 titles in the children's category, ranging from The Three Little Pigs, Humpty Dumpty, and The Frog Prince, to The Sherlock Holmes Experience, the Phantom of the Opera, and The Lincoln Letters. In helping your child choose a vook, you'll find a description, author bio, publisher and filmmaker details, and reviews. In most cases, your child can be the first to write a review. The handiest feature at the site is the video trailer that provides an immediate look and feel for what's "inside" each vook.

In sampling the various vooks, I was captivated by The Lincoln Letters, described as "This rare compilation of four very personal letters penned by Abraham Lincoln provides powerful insight into the man himself. Vook explores the letters in seven compelling and insightful videos that illuminate the meaning behind Lincoln's carefully selected words." The trailer depicts an inked pen writing (as if the hand of Lincoln himself), as well as beautiful illustrations, thought-provoking narration, and classical music -- the quality of a PBS documentary. Price: $1.99

Also fascinating, Gaston Leroux's The Phantom of the Opera. It combines the classic story with the original black and white, silent film created by Universal Pictures in 1925. As described, "The original videos helps recapture the chilling tone of the original novel."

I sampled two vooks. My purpose was to suspend judgment and just experience the vook as a child might. First I viewed, The Brothers Grimm: Tales to Read and Watch by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm. As described, "...storyteller Tim Ereneta, brings these classic fairy tales to life for children of all ages! Ten delightful and educational videos and vintage illustrations are included in this Vook Classic collection of five of the most well known Grimm's fairytales: Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, Rumpelstiltskin, Rapunzel and The Golden Goose."

The Golden Goose begins with with a brief (53 second) video introducing the question about how to make someone laugh -- that having seven people stuck to a golden goose isn't funny. What would be funnier is a pie in the face or slipping on a banana peel. As for the story, the text is easy to read and navigate and includes links to many words, such as, "despised,"" flask," "prudent youth." Each link opens to a new window at a site such as FactMonster or Google dictionary. At one point, a 49-second video provides a factoid about laughter.

The Rapunzel 41-second video introduction takes a humorous approach to the main character's name and the "hair thing" going on in the story. In the text, the links open to various dictionaries and readers are treated to a one-minute factoid on hair.

The other three stories are structured similarly: humorous video introduction, story content with links, and factoid video on a related topic. For $1.99, parents and children can spend hours interacting with this charming vook.

Next, I sampled The Sherlock Holmes Experience which features two stories by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, The Man with the Twisted Lip and The Adventure of the Speckled Band. As described at the Vook site, "... 15 compelling videos take you back to the gas-lit London streets where Holmes would pull on his deer stalker, summon Doctor Watson, and set out from 211B Baker Street on another crime solving adventure. The videos help you envision the world of Holmes and highlight details and historical facts that further immerse you in the mystery. Go to London's Baker Street, made famous by Doyle's stories. Visit Holmes' sitting room where so many mysteries were solved. Learn more about Holmes' crime solving techniques from the experts who have studied them. The videos in this vook provide a glimpse into the world of the famous detective and what inspired the innovative crime fighting series written by Conan Doyle."

The Man with the Twisted Lip trailer/opening video focuses on the opium myth, specifically opium dens in England. The text hyperlinks to more information, for example "laudanum" and "hansom" (Wikipedia), related books (Confessions of an Opium Eater by Thomas DeQuincy). The 2-3 minute Sherlock Holmes Experience, video starting each section takes the reader to the Sherlock Holmes Museum and Baker Street with narration by archivists and journalists specializing in the author's life and writing. Topics include the search for the remains of Sherlock Holmes, the Strand Magazine, Doyle's observational powers, and the many artifacts associate with Holmes, such as his pipe and magnifying glass.

Indeed, my Vook experience was delightful. Not owning an iPad or iPhone, I chose the web browser versions of both vooks. The Vook browser was user friendly with clear navigation bars and links for viewing options: watch the video in full screen, view a mix of text and video, view the text only, and share comments on Facebook and Twitter.

In reading a vook with your child, you might enjoy the content purely as a reading experience, then consider the links and videos. Or deepen the reading experience with immediate interaction with the multimedia material. The options allow you to use the vook as it fits your child's style or mood.

Vook was started by entrepreneur Bradley Inman and launched in October 1, 2009 with four debut titles. One year later, Vook boasts some 100 titles. Partners include No Limit Publishing, Filipacchi publishing, Woman's Day Brand Group, Simon & Schuster, Atria Books, HarperStudio, HarperCollins Publishers, Perseus Books Group, Lark Productions, The Chopra Foundation, Vanguard Press, Waxman Literary Agency, and TurnHere Internet Video.

Early adopters include two giants: Deepak Chopra and Seth Godin. Deepak Chopra's Buddha Guide is a companion to his novel, Buddha: A Story of Enlightenment. As described, "The vook presents a practical guide with ten inspiring videos. Deepak Chopra guides us through the stages of Buddha's life and teaches us how to implement the principles of Buddhist practice into our own lives." Price: $6.99

In the vook, Unleashing the SUPER Ideavirus, Seth Godin has taken the most downloaded ebook in history, Unleashing the Ideavirus, to a brand new level. The "mixed media mind blower" features 18 videos and links to the Internet. As described, "Seth speaks about marketing, innovative ways to spread your ideas out and companies that have succeed with unexpected techniques. .. The videos give you access to Seth's most recent thoughts and perspectives. The digital text has links to new companies and individuals who can teach you some surprising lessons. It's fun to watch, easy to use, and fresh from the digital idea factory -- the most recent, most relevant information for anyone who wants to start spreading their own ideavirus." Price $4.99

Picture books have a time-honored place in childhood. And now the vook will add a new dimension in reading and learning for children--and their parents. As for me, I'm hooked on the Vook ... now it's back to the Sherlock Holmes Experience ...