Augmented Reality in a New Generation of Kids Books

Will augmented reality in picture books significantly change the way children read?

Olaf waves at the reader's camera

A book’s illustration springs into interactive life thanks to augmented reality tech.

Maybe, maybe not. But AR will certainly give parents – and teachers – another tool to make books and reading relevant to children, especially reluctant readers. Indeed, AR may increase the enthusiasm some readers have for books and actually help beginning readers to learn language basics.

While it is early days in the AR book business, our experience with it here at Mercury Connects suggests that it will prosper as publishers and readers grasp its potential.

But first I should explain how augmented reality works in books.

Simply put, AR is a digital enhancement of a real time video feed. So when you look through your iPhone’s camera at something that is real – a statue, a car, or a painting —the screen can display additional information.

A statue might start talking to you.

A car might reveal the specifications of its engine and give a tour of its interior.

A painting might come to life.

In the case of the Disney-themed books that I helped develop at Mercury Inpress, a child triggers reading games by viewing a picture in a printed book. While the actual illustration does not change form, it triggers a mobile app that creates a 3D image of the book illustration. Suddenly Olaf (the snowman from Disney’s Frozen) comes to life in 3D and the reader is invited to play an interactive rhyming game. (We also created a Mickey Mouse Club storybook.)

The AR reader can navigate through a 3D scene, changing the scale and orientation of the art.

“What’s that behind Olaf?” a child may ask.

“Well, let’s rotate the illustration and find out,” you reply.

Having written a couple of dozen conventional children’s books, I am fairly certain about two things.

  1. Hard core book lovers – authors, illustrators and readers among them — are going to resist the technology at first.
  2. Kids are going to go wild for it.

From my perspective as an author, I love this blend of old-school print and new-school mobile technology because it enhances the use of a real book rather than replaces it. It warms my old-fashion author heart to know that the book works fine without an iPhone while the reverse is not true.

(I should explain that I have been working with Mercury for almost a year now as consulting editorial director, helping put together stories and curriculum-based content for its new line of augmented reality picture books. That’s one of the reasons my own projects at Bungalo Books have slowed down.)