Amazon turns stories into chat strings. Will it help kids read?

In developing the app, Amazon is trying to get children ages 7 to 12 engaged in reading in a way that feels natural and builds self confidence and literacy.

A previous Amazon app, the Kindle FreeTime, is displayed on a Kindle Fire HDX.

On Wednesday, Amazon released an app for children. Called "Rapids," it presents hundreds of children’s stories from various genres in the form of illustrated text message dialogue between characters.

In developing the app, Amazon wanted to get children ages 7 to 12 engaged in the reading process in a way that feels natural to the digital natives. However, while reading in any form is good for kids, some education experts wonder how beneficial and applicable this new genre of children's stories will prove in practice.

“We know that many kids already enjoy chatting with friends and family on their devices,” Michael Robinson, director of consumer products for Amazon Education, said in a statement. “Embracing this, we wanted to see what authors and illustrators could create with an app that made it easy to tell stories that way.”

While kids make their way through adventure, fantasy, humor, or mystery stories, chat bubbles ask them to think about certain concepts or give funny insights to make them laugh. Mr. Robinson emphasized the importance of making reading humorous and entertaining for young readers to keep them interested.

But the app is educational as well. A customizable glossary helps young readers learn new words and how to pronounce them. There is also a “read to me feature" where the app reads. Although it sounds very robotic, Robinson says, his own children do not seem to mind.

“He’s reading, and he’s learning at the same time. All the research says it’s great to read to your kids anyway, and so it’s reading to him,” Robinson told TechWire about his son's experience with the app reading aloud.

But not everyone is as sold on Rapids as Robinson’s son.

“In and of itself, it is always good for kids to be reading,” Kimberly Lawless, associate dean of research at the University of Illinois, Chicago, tells The Christian Science Monitor. “The more you can engage them in activities that require them to decode words and understand and comprehend story lines and do that over a lengthy duration, the better the kids are going to be able to develop those skills because they are practicing them."

But that's not the whole story, she says.

The app "may not yield much benefit in terms of improving their overall literacy skills," Dean Lawless continues, "because it is not necessarily engaging with texts that they would engage with on an everyday basis.”

Lawless says that unless the app is truly teaching kids the basic elements of story narrative and genre, teaching them to recognize character archetypes, or developing background information, the text conversation structure would likely not have much benefit to overall literacy.

“It seems like what they are attempting to do is to capitalize on the motivational aspect of technology texting in order to create an environment that will draw students in to actually engage in literacy practices,” Lawless tells the Monitor. “But those literary practices are ones they are already engaging in because they already text using a cell phone.”

Robinson says the finished product is just what he envisioned.

“It’s worked exactly in the way that I want it to,” Robinson told GeekWire. “If there’s no book in the car and they really want to read, my daughter can just grab my phone, read a Rapids story, and she’s read one or two by the time we reach the destination.”

Rapids is available for $2.99 per month with a two week free trial on all iOS, Android, and Amazon Fire devices. Amazon says dozens of new stories will be added monthly.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.
Real news can be honest, hopeful, credible, constructive.
What is the Monitor difference? Tackling the tough headlines – with humanity. Listening to sources – with respect. Seeing the story that others are missing by reporting what so often gets overlooked: the values that connect us. That’s Monitor reporting – news that changes how you see the world.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to

QR Code to Amazon turns stories into chat strings. Will it help kids read?
Read this article in
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today