Electronic books have made inroads with gadget-hungry consumers, science-fiction fans, even some libraries. But they have lacked the pizzazz needed to hook tech-savvy kids on reading, says Ron Zevy, president of Toronto-based Tumbleweed Press Ltd., which specializes in children's books with a message. So last month, Zevy launched a division called TumbleBooks Inc., which blends electronic texts with animation, sound and music for children. “Our feeling,” says Zevy, “has always been that kids who grow up on Sega, GameBoy and computer games aren’t going to be satisfied with the static e-book format.”
The books can be read on a PC loaded with TumbleReader software, available for free at wwiv.tumblebooks.com (a Mac version is expected later this month). Children can also read the animated ebooks on a Palm VII or any Pocket PC handheld. There are currently 10 titles available at no cost from the Web site, with 50 more on the way (at a price). With a simple click, a child can follow the words on the screen as the computer reads the book out loud, or read silently as images dance on the screen. “It doesn’t replace a book, it complements it,” says Zevy. “It’s just a new reading experience.”
It looks like a cross between a lawn chair and modern Scandinavian furniture, but Sony calls it the Active Sonic Chair, and describes it as “a personal entertainment experience unlike any other.” For $1,300, buyers get a chair that plugs into a DVD or CD player, PlayStation game console or any other audio source. At the end of the armrests, there are two “near field” speakers aimed at the occupant’s head. Behind the chair, at the small of the back, are two low-frequency vibration units. A power amplifier under the seat ensures there’s enough juice to ratde you to your bones.
There are Web cams, digital cameras and now a digital microscope. Intel’s QX3 microscope for kids magnifies 10, 60 or 200 times, and displays the results on a home computer. Children can do time-lapse photography, snap individual images, add music to the pictures and e-mail their creations to a teacher. Price: $149.
Stumped by your computer game? Help awaits at the Universal Hint System site, uhs-hints.com. It offers an exhaustive list of computer games and an equally exhaustive series of tips, arranged in sequence. Visitors can click on such questions as “How do I help Joia?” in the game Baldurs Gate. This allows a player to learn as much or as little as desired, without spoiling the game. There are game reviews and previews, too.
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