What kid hasn’t peered over a parent’s shoulder to watch messages pop back and forth, wondering at the blue and green bubbles on Mom or Dad’s pocket-size screen? For the post-iPhone generation, reading is more closely associated with messaging-style chat than hardcover books.
Amazon’s new mobile app, designed for kids ages 7-12, takes advantage of kids’ comfort with chat-based interfaces to engage them in reading. Called Rapids, the app contains hundreds of stories, all written as dialogue and embellished with custom illustrations.
“The stories are told through the lens of characters chatting with one another, one message at a time,” says Michael Robinson, director of consumer products at Amazon Education. Each one is original to the app, with categories ranging from adventure and animals to science fiction and sports. Humor pervades throughout; the chat format, as it turns out, is well equipped to deliver the kinds of punch lines that kids enjoy (and repeat and repeat).
“We want kids to read for fun,” Robinson says. “If a kid is reading on a regular basis and seeks it out, all these other benefits will accrue.” Decades of research show that voluntary, independent reading correlates with academic growth in areas such as vocabulary and reading comprehension.
Rapids costs $2.99 per month (on iOS, Android, or Fire devices), with no discount for Amazon Prime members. That’s less than reading apps like Learn With Homer and Speakaboos, both of which charge $7.99 per month, but more than video-centric, advertising-based apps that would otherwise be competing for kids’ time.
For more advanced readers, Rapids offers a no-tap mode in which all of story appears at once, enabling easy scrolling. Early readers can listen to audio of the dialogues (delivered in grating computer-voice) via “Read to me” mode, or read aloud together with a parent.
Amazon declined to disclose how it is compensating the app’s authors and illustrators, nearly all of whom are contractors. Some, like Alien Invasion author Raymond Bean, have previously written books for Two Lions, Amazon’s children’s publishing division. Many are full-time librarians and teachers by day.
Amazon plans to add dozens of new fiction titles to the Rapids library each month.