[RESEARCH] Why have digital experiences for young people not met their audience?

French version of this article published here:


The transition from paper books to digital books in the children’s sector

The diversity of children's books is such that we find “the shortest books in the world, books without texts, books that float, that play on manipulations of the 'object-book and image, soft books or books with holes' (Prince, 2014).

In the children's industry, several genres, such as picture books, give the same importance to text and images.

A proliferation of plastic, artistic and technical projects where "all the elements of the book are [...] designed to participate in visual effects" (Van der Linden, 2014) have emerged in recent years.

These works form a complex fabric combining narrative and artistic dimensions, assisting in children's skills development. The visual dimension is crucial in children's books because "there are many aspects in a picture likely to incite reactions in children" (Danset-Léger, 1981), but also because the young reader learns to decipher the image before learning how to read.

To make their compositions appeal to children, the creators compete with ingenuity to communicate through images.

The importance of images in children's literature

The picture book is a genre that is difficult to define because it belongs to a "highly experimental" literature (Prince, 2014) where standardized creations and original productions coexist. Creative laboratory, it is a free genre that plays with codes and "[sometimes] integrates heterogeneous representation and communication devices, specific to other media practices" (Gobbé Mévellec, 2014).

Also, many picture books are based on the association between text, image and sound. In these books, the reader is called upon to press sound boxes or to open flaps triggering sounds, in order to enrich his reading experience. In these books, the reader is called upon (to press sound boxes or open flaps triggering sounds) to enrich his reading experience.

It then appears that publishers put ahead the playful and interactive dimensions of books to avoid the difficulties encountered by their audience in front of the text. This brings us to another dimension, also essential to digital content and indispensable in traditional reading experiences: the haptic dimension.

The more they are aimed at young children, the more kids books will emphasize on touch.

When a child is small, "it is by eating the book, throwing it away, tapping it, turning it over, turning the pages ..." that they discover the book (Ignacchiti, 2016).

At the heart of tactile devices, these two dimensions, haptic and visual, operate a return to the fundamentals of children communication (Gobbé-Mévellec, 2014) and explains why these new tools are intuitive for younger ones.

Therefore, it is because a large number of books designed for young people are "multi-sensory" and "intermedial" (Gobbé-Mévellec, 2014) that they seem perfectly suitable for digital contents.

In this context, the most representative artistic approach remains “Press here” by Hervé Tullet, published in 2010 by Bayard Jeunesse (Chronicle books in 2011). This picture book plays with the book perimeters by pushing the reader to act as he would in front of an interactive digital application. The vocabulary of digital devices is very present (blow, rub, click ...) and, if the child does not have an "asynchronous" profile (Pigem and Blicharski, 2002), they will have "the impression that the album is written and drawn as it turns the pages”(Gobbé Mévellec, 2014).

As a result, children's literature appears as an ideal area for developing content on a screen. However, we will see in the next article that, although some digital and paper components are common, not all reading experiences mirror traditional books.