Classic Computer Magazine Archive COMPUTE! ISSUE 159 / DECEMBER 1993 / PAGE S13

Electronic kids' books sampler. (Compute's Getting Started With: Kids & Computers)

As you build your library of children's software, you'll be amazed at how many books you'll find on disk. You'll find everything from an interactive version of Ruddyard Kipling's The Jungle Book to a talking version of The MacMillan Dictionary for Children.

Interactive multimedia books offer children the advantage of being able to hear and experience the words and events they look up or read about. They take the pain out of looking things up by offering easy reference and search tools--similar to those you find in a word processor. These allow kids to quickly move to words, phrases, or articles.

Considering the powerful searching capabilities of computers, it's not surprising that most of the books you'll find on disk are reference works: encyclopedias, dictionaries, and databases. It's not exactly casual reading material. But there's also a growing number of classic and popular children's stories becoming available for computers. Most of what you'll find is only available on CD-ROM, which has the capacity to hold vast amounts of text, as well as the very large digital files needed to produce sound, voice, music, video, and animation.

Here's a list of the more popular and widely available computer-based books that would be useful to children and teens. Don't worry too much about which ages. You'll find the reference works are fun and useful resources for kids of all ages, including the parents. You may even find yourself competing with your kids to use them.

Ebook (510-1331) produces a series of multimedia storybooks on CD-ROM. The discs present stories onscreen alongside lovely illustrations from classic texts such as Peter and the Wolf, Sleeping Beauty, Beauty and the Beast, Aesop's Fables, Cervantes' Don Quixote, Oscar Wilde's The Star Child, and Rudyard Kipling's The Jungle Book. These are much more like real books presented on a computer and are not as interactive as Broderbund's Living Books.

Here, as with the Broderbundbooks, children can read along with the narrated text as lovely illustrations appear onscreen. The narration is accompanied by excellent musical scores--in Peter and the Wolf, composer Prokofiev's classic composition accompanies Jack Lemmon's narration--and the books feature learning guides, place markers, and search mechanisms to help you find your place.

Living Books is a series of children's books on CD-ROM produced by Broderbund, makers of the popular Carmen Sandiego games (Broderbund, 800-521-6263). As with the Ebook series, the stories are taken from actual children's books and feature voice narration, animation, music, and sound effects. The two works that are available at the time of this writing are: Mercer Mayer's Grandma and Me, and Marc Brown's Arthur's Teacher Trouble. Other offerings, including a book of poems, are in the pipeline.

While Grandma and Me is rated for children ages 3 to 8, Arthur is for the 6 to 10 crowd. Both programs can be set to narrate the stores in English or Spanish, and Grandma adds Japanese. Children can choose to have the story read to them, or they can play inside it where they click on objects to bring them to life (they can make a starfish dance or frogs jump from a mailbox). Each screen illustrates a page from the actual book, which is included in the package.

The Software Toolworks produces a veritable library of reference works on CD-ROM, including both a world and U.S. atlas, The Guinness Disc of Records, The 20th Century Almanac, and The Animals!, which was produced in cooperation with the San Diego Zoo (The Software Toolworks, 800-234-3088).

The Animals! $199.95) is a true virtual zoo, presented with synchonized sound and video clips to introduce kids to hundreds of animals and their habitats. The 20th Century Almanac ($99.95) uses sound and video to take you through the century a day at a time. You can see the Wright Brothers' first flight and hear John F. Kennedy's inaugural address. Both titles provide hundreds of photos and hundreds of pages of text.

Discis Books (Discis, Knowledge Research, 416-250-6537) is releasing its library of Macintosh CD-ROM children's classics in a new multi-platform format that lets them run on a PC.

The first in the new format is Beatrix Potter's The Tale of Peter Rabbit. Soon all of the storybooks in Discis's three series, Little Kids Read!, Kids Read!, and Discus Books (for young adults), will be available for both platforms.

Others titles include: My Silly Book of Counting, My Silly Book of ABCs, My Silly Book of Colors, My Silly Book of Opposites, The Tale of Benjamin Bunny, Moving Gives Me a Stomach Ache, Cinderella, Aesop's Fables, and The Night Before Christmas.

Teenagers will appreciate Edgar Allen Poe's The Tell-Tale Heart and The Cask of Amontillado, and Guy de Maupassant's The Necklace.

As with other storybooks on disk, kids read along with the printed text and onscreen illustrations. They can click on individual words or syllables to listen to pronunciations. There are also options that lets parents customize the program. For example, instead of having the program pronounce the words when they're clicked on, you can have the program emphasize the syllables or provide an explanation of the word. Most titles are $39.95.

Microsoft Bookshelf ($195) is an illustrated, animated, and narrated reference library on CD-ROM. In it, you'll find reference classics, such as The American Heritage Dictionary, Roget's II Electronic Thesaurus, The World Almanac and Book of Facts, Barlett's Familiar Quotations, The Hammond Atlas, The Concise Columbia Dictionary of Quotations, and The Concise Columbia Encyclopedia. It's available in Windows and DOS versions (Microsoft, 206-882-8080).

Microsoft also has its own mutimedia encyclopedia, Microsoft Encarta ($395). This multimedia encyclopedia presents more than 21,000 articles from a 26-volume encyclopedia using words, images, animations, and sounds. Hundreds of animations demonstrate such things as the dance of the honeybee and the theory of relativity. There are about seven hours of sound and music on the CD-ROM, including 500 word pronunciations and spoken samples of more than 45 languages (Microsoft, 206-882-8080).

>From Compton's New-Media comes the Greatest Books Collection ($34.99). This CD-ROM disc, available only for DOS, includes the complete text of 150 greatbooks. The works feature everything from the Magna Carta to War and Peace and the program features tools for easy lookups (Compton's New-Media, 619-929-2500).

Compton's also offers its pricey but impressive Compton's Interactive Encyclopedia for Windows ($395), a CD-ROM adaptation of its 26-colume Compton's Encyclopedia. It features sound, graphics, and animation, along with the 32,000 articles you'll find the bound edition. There's also an interactive world atlas and the complete Merriam-Webster On-Line Collegiate Dictionary and Thesaurus. Kids can listen to historical speeches and musical compositions using a complement of easy look-up tools (Compton's New-Media, 619-929-2500).

macMillan sells its bestselling dictionary for children as a talking multimedia dictionary. It's called MacMillan Dictionary for Children ($59.95) and has its own character, Zak, who helps lead children through the CD-ROM based dictionary. Kids can hear the pronunciations of 400 of the 12,000 words by clicking on their icons (MacMillan New Media, 617-661-2955).