Digital books for early years and primary school aged children - view as single page

Digital books: effective use with early years and primary school-aged children

This MESHGuide has been designed to provide evidence on effective use of digital books with early years and primary school-aged children.

The Guide is based on an extensive literature review (see Evidence column) and set out in a way to allow you, the reader, access to the areas of most immediate interest to you, providing links to some of the key publications and research where you can explore the topic in as much depth as you wish. It includes information on criteria for evaluating children’s digital books, the learning outcomes these might support, as well as guidance on using digital books in a classroom.

The guide was developed to provide practical guidance to teachers and is very much intended to serve as a community resource. If you are aware of new evidence relevant for this area or would like to update the guide in a different way, please get in touch with the author.



Evidence on the positive impact and effects of digital books is only emerging. We have endeavoured to list where relevant in the text those sources which you will find most helpful when considering this MESHGuide.

We invite colleagues interested in building the evidence base for practice to contact us via


The author has been researching in children’s reading particularly digital reading since 2010. She has published widely in the area (see her publication list on www.academia edu) including three years funded research for her PhD and subsequent projects funded by the literacy charity The Book Trust.

The references here are part of the evidence base for this resource and are indicative of the most recent and relevant publications in the area.

Bus, A. G., Takacs, Z. K., & Kegel, C. A. (2015). Affordances and limitations of electronic storybooks for young children's emergent literacy. Developmental Review35, 79-97.

Korat, O. (2010). Reading electronic books as a support for vocabulary, story comprehension and word reading in kindergarten and first grade. Computers & Education55(1), 24-31.

Korat, O., & Shamir, A. (2007). Electronic books versus adult readers: Effects on children's emergent literacy as a function of social class. Journal of Computer Assisted Learning23(3), 248-259.

Korat, O., & Shamir, A. (2008). The educational electronic book as a tool for supporting children’s emergent literacy in low versus middle SES groups.Computers & Education50(1), 110-124.

Roskos, K., Burstein, K., Shang, Y., & Gray, E. (2014). Young Children’s Engagement with E-Books at School. SAGE Open4(1), 2158244013517244.

Takacs, Z. K., Swart, E. K., & Bus, A. G. (2015). Benefits and Pitfalls of Multimedia and Interactive Features in Technology-Enhanced Storybooks A Meta-Analysis. Review of Educational Research, 0034654314566989.

The following references are also part of the evidence base for this resource (This list specifies extant key research studies which have studied digital books using quantitative research techniques (e.g. experimental approaches, laboratory studies, randomised controlled trials, meta-analyses, large-scale surveys) as well as qualitative research techniques (e.g. interviews with users, multimodal analysis or which offers narrative research summaries).


Colombo, L., & Landoni, M. (2014, June). A diary study of children's user experience with EBooks using flow theory as framework. In Proceedings of the 2014 conference on Interaction design and children (pp. 135-144). ACM.

Dalton, B., & Rose, D. (2015). Reading Digital:  Teaching and learning with ebooks, Chapter 24 in Comprehension Instruction: Research-Based Best Practices, edited by Sheri R. Parris, Kathy Headley, 345-355.

Deault, L., Savage, R., & Abrami, P. (2009). Inattention and response to the ABRACADABRA web-based literacy intervention. Journal of Research on Educational Effectiveness2(3), 250-286.

Hoffman, J. L., & Paciga, K. A. (2014). Click, swipe, and read: sharing e-books with toddlers and preschoolers. Early Childhood Education Journal42(6), 379-388.

Kucirkova, N., Messer, D., Sheehy, K., & Flewitt, R. (2013). Sharing personalised stories on iPads: a close look at one parent–child interaction. Literacy47(3), 115-122.

Kucirkova, N. (2013). Children's interactions with iPad books: research chapters still to be written. Frontiers in psychology4.

Miller, E. B., & Warschauer, M. (2014). Young children and e-reading: research to date and questions for the future. Learning, Media and Technology39(3), 283-305.

Parish‐Morris, J., Mahajan, N., Hirsh‐Pasek, K., Golinkoff, R. M., & Collins, M. F. (2013). Once upon a time: parent–child dialogue and storybook reading in the electronic era. Mind, Brain, and Education7(3), 200-211.

Rowe, D. W., & Miller, M. E. (2015). Designing for diverse classrooms: Using iPads and digital cameras to compose eBooks with emergent bilingual/biliterate four-year-olds. Journal of Early Childhood Literacy. Published online before print. Doi: 1468798415593622.

Salmon, L. G. (2014). Factors that affect emergent literacy development when engaging with electronic books. Early Childhood Education Journal42(2), 85-92.

Savage, R. S., Abrami, P., Hipps, G., & Deault, L. (2009). A randomized controlled trial study of the ABRACADABRA reading intervention program in grade 1. Journal of Educational Psychology101(3), 590.

Savage, R. S., Erten, O., Abrami, P., Hipps, G., Comaskey, E., & van Lierop, D. (2010). ABRACADABRA in the hands of teachers: The effectiveness of a web-based literacy intervention in grade 1 language arts programs. Computers & Education55(2), 911-922.

Smeets, D. J. H., & Bus, A. G. (2014). The interactive animated e-book as a word learning device for kindergartners. Applied Psycholinguistics22(1), 1-22.




This column outlines the possibilities for implementing digital books in the classroom. It specifies that teachers need to decide on the purpose or objective of the activity before implementing digital books. 

What are digital books?

There is no agreed definition and terminology for children's digital books. Digital books for children aged 2-8 years -- available on tablets and smartphones -- are often called story apps (or book apps). Those which are downloadable for eReaders (e.g., Kindle, Kobo), or for computers or laptops, and are typically used with older children, are often called e-books. This is not the norm, however, and publishers and digital producers often use the terms interchangeably.

This guide encompasses all digital books currently available, including Apps for mobile and tablet devices (IOS and/or Android), online or web-based experiences, CD-Roms, digital products that can be viewed on a PC/Mac or connected to an interactive whiteboard, Advanced eBooks or Transmedia (activity across multiple platforms). These digital books may appear on any digital platform, including PCs, laptops, tablets, smartphones, Wiis, LeapReaders, Kindle and similar reading devices.

Given that digital books require a digital platform (an iPad, interactive whiteboard or PC), teachers need to consider the ways in which they implement digital technologies in the classroom overall. Please view the MESHGuide “Using Tablets effectively to enhance learning in schools” for guidance on using tablets in the classroom.

What should teachers know about digital books?

Many UK schools have begun to use iPads, Google Chromebooks and other portable touchscreens in lessons, giving children more opportunities to access digital books and storyapps. Accessing an interactive digital book is a different experience from clicking through an e-book on the desktop PC and many teachers, especially those in primary schools, are legitimately questioning the value of using interactive digital books in their literacy lessons.  The current evidence (see References) says that:

  • Digital books with interactive features such as games and hotspots (areas in the digital text or image which act as hyperlinks, activated by tapping on the screen) have been found to impede children’s story comprehension and vocabulary learning.
  • Children are attracted to and motivated to read those digital books which are fun and personalisable. This may support children’s overall interest in reading.
  • Unlike paper-based books, digital books can be customised to children's reading abilities and preferences (e.g., font can be enlarged and format adjusted). They represent stories multimodally (that is through embedded audio-recordings, images and texts), which provides children with more entry points to the world of stories. 

Add-on activity

Digital books which do not lend themselves to curriculum activities can be used as part of free choice activities. For example, digital books which support creativity, encourage children’s own creation of stories or explore the digital narrative with several game elements are useful to encourage children’s motivation and participation in the reading activity.  Teachers need to be aware of possible gender differences and different levels of digital literacy among children.

Current UK curriculum

Teachers can choose to integrate digital books within their existing practice. For instance, digital books can be used as part of guided reading sessions, group reading sessions or 1-2-1 reading experiences. Here, the ‘read to me’ feature is especially helpful for children to hear the story read to them. Interactive features of the book such as highlighted new words, hyperlinks clarifying new vocabulary are useful teaching tools.


Supporting new and traditional literacy and language outcomes

The research suggests that digital books can support children’s traditional literacy and language outcomes, as well as new literacy skills. See the information which follows

Why are digital books important for children's learning?

The evidence from the research cited in this MESHGuide indicates that digital books can support children’s traditional literacy and language outcomes, as well as new literacy skills. New literacy skills encompass ‘the particular affordances and limitations of technology for enhancing early literacy’ (Miller & Warschauer, 2014, p.284).

  • High-quality e-books can promote children’s vocabulary, story comprehension and word reading.
  • When using digital books as part of an existing curriculum, digital books can promote children’s reading levels. This includes using digital books in guided reading sessions or poetry sessions.
  • Using digital books in the classroom can support children’s ability to navigate digital resources more generally, for example interactive websites.
  • The use of e-books can support children’s 21st century skills such as collaboration (online and offline), flexible thinking and critical thinking skills.  
  • Integrating photos and voice recordings with print and drawings can provide new opportunities for learning and teaching in early years

Criteria for evaluating digital books

If you would like to use digital books in your classroom, you need to first choose the right book. There are several rubrics and evaluation criteria available for evaluating and assessing digital books. The choice of a rubric/of the evaluation criteria will depend on your learning goals and teaching objectives. Do you want the app/digital book to support children’s reading for pleasure or digital literacy or perhaps writing skills? Here are some rubrics currently available.

These journal articles contain research-based guidance: (There are different ways you might access articles. For example, in England your local library can order articles and books for you, in Scotland and the Republic of Ireland, members of the General Teaching Council shave access to academic databases. )

Hirsh-Pasek, K., Zosh, J. M., Golinkoff, R. M., Gray, J. H., Robb, M. B., & Kaufman, J. (2015). Putting Education in “Educational” Apps Lessons From the Science of Learning. Psychological Science in the Public Interest16(1), 3-34.

Kucirkova, N., Littleton, K. & Cremin, T. (2016) Young children’s reading for pleasure with digital books: six key facets of engagement, Cambridge Journal of Education, published online before print, doi:10.1080/0305764X.2015.1118441

Roskos, K., Brueck, J., & Widman, S. (2009). Investigating analytic tools for e-book design in early literacy learning. Journal of Interactive Online Learning,8(3), 218-240.

Examples of criteria and ratings follow:

1. A rubric for evaluating the potential of digital books to support reading for pleasure (or reading for enjoyment) was developed by The Open University for Book Trust in 2015 and is currently used for judging the UKLA Children's Digital Book Award, the only award of this guide judged entirely by teachers. An adapted version of these criteria is available on the UK National Literacy Trust teaching apps website. Teacher ratings of UKLA Children’s Digital Book Award are included here:

2. Parent ratings of digital books are included here (some appear under literacy apps)

3. Professionals’ Digital media and Education experts’ ratings. These reviews are undertaken by independent educational experts.



Examples of digital books

 Free access to high-quality digital books from around the world is provided by International Children’s Digital Library: 

Magic Blox offers a special pricing program for schools interested in using their digital library which involves several digital books, as well as the possibility to create and upload users’ own books.

Unite for Literacy Library provides culturally-relevant books in more than 30 language, including narrations in English and other languages. No subscription required, the library is available from here:

These two digital books were selected by a group of UK teachers as the best digital books produced in 2015 (the digital books were awarded the UKLA Digital Book Award).

  • Nosy Crow Flip Flap Safari

Available for download here:

  • Kuato Studios Dino Tales

Available for download here:

Implementing digital books in the classroom

When implementing digital books in the classroom, you need to consider:

- the entire context, the entire classroom environment.

-the literacy skills you wish to support with the digital books

-the literacy and digital competency of individual children

-the quality and appropriateness of a digital book (see “Criteria”)

These articles contain further research-based guidance for how to incorporate e-books into the classroom. (There are different ways you might access articles. For example, in England your local library can order articles and books for you, in Scotland and the Republic of Ireland, members of the General Teaching Council shave access to academic databases).

Brueck, J. S., & Lenhart, L. A. (2015). E‐Books and TPACK. The Reading Teacher68(5), 373-376.

Felvégi, E., & Matthew, K. I. (2012). eBooks and Literacy in K–12 Schools.Computers in the Schools29(1-2), 40-52.

1.These two articles offer guidance for observing children’s engagement with e-books:

Roskos, K., Burstein, K., & You, B. K. (2012). A typology for observing children’s engagement with ebooks at preschool. Journal of Interactive Online Learning11(2), 47-66.

Roskos, K., & Burstein, K. (2012). Descriptive observations of e-book shared reading at preschool. Journal of Literacy and Technology13(3), 27-57.

 This Minibook offers practical examples of incorporating digital books into classrooms across year groups and subject areas 

Case studies

We invite case studies including video and audio. Please contact or contact the UKLA community mentioned below.

Strength of Evidence

The MESHGuide provided here draws on many years research in this area. More research is now needed to determine the impact of specific characteristics of digital books and how they influence the different contexts of reading.


Transferability - T2 rating **

The editors give this Guide a T2 rating - more research is needed in different contexts to strengthen the evidence base for practice.

Translational Research- levels used for MESHGuides

With thanks to Professor James O’Meara, President International Council on Education for Teaching (

—T1 - Local findings that translate no wider than the setting investigated

—T2 - Local findings that translate to comparable settings in the same/similar region(s)

—T3 - Local findings that translate to a comparable setting in another international region

—T4 - Local findings that translate to a comparable settings (3 or more) in one or more international  regions

Source : May 9th 2013 Minutes MESH Chief Ed. Group


Editors' comments

Clearly this is an area where more research is needed on fine grained issues related to the impact of digital books on learning and motivation and joining the UKLA community is an important way to get engaged and see also

Areas for future research

Research which would employ mixed methods (qualitative and quantitative) and which would study in detail specific features of digital books (eg interactivity, audio features, personalisation) is needed.

Some researchers work together with app designers and schools to produce empirically- and practice-based storybooks. For example, the Our Story app was developed in collaboration with teachers and is freely available as a tool for teachers who wish to create their own digital books. See here:

More collaborative research between schools and universities, especially in relation to the design and use of children’s digital books is needed.

If you are interested in taking part in research concerning children’s digital books or be part of a national network of teachers and researchers interested in this topic, you can join the Special Interest Group “Children’s digital books and literacy apps”, convened by United Kingdom Literacy Association:


Join the community

Join the Special Interest Group “Children’s digital books and literacy apps”, convened by United Kingdom Literacy Association: