Bibliophiles can stop screaming now.
Printed books may be somewhat holding their own in the nascent age of e-readers, but the iPad -- and the other colorful, touch-screen devices that will follow -- are recasting that plot for children's literature.
Want proof? Thirteen of the 16 top book applications for the iPad are children's titles, including four Dr. Seuss novels and the Kids First Bible. Yep, our little ones may now learn about Moses' tablets for the first time on a tablet of their own.
"I don't think I could do anything to take a printed page out of your hands," said Emory Woodard, an associate professor of communications at Villanova University who specializes in children's interactions with new media. "But when my 4-year-old curls up with reading material, she's not going to make the distinction between a book on paper and a book on an iPad. It'll just be a book to her."
The top iPad book apps are an eclectic list of well-known or well-branded titles. Dr. Seuss is joined in the top 10 by books related to the films "How to Train Your Dragon," "Toy Story," "The Princess and the Frog" and "Alice In Wonderland." But unlike adult books available electronically, these are often souped-up versions that add sound effects, interactivity and sometimes even spin-off games.
The best-selling children's book app on iTunes, "Jack and the Beanstalk Children's Interactive Storybook," enhances the traditional tale with a memory matching game and instances where the pictures react when a user tilts the iPad a certain way. In the case of "The Cat in the Hat," for instance, San Diego-based Oceanhouse Media has added several features including the ability for the user to touch, say, the rain in one illustration and have the word "wet" float onto the screen. Children can read the book themselves, or have it read to them.
Such flourishes place children's books on the iPad in a gray area between traditional reading material and video games, a notion that alarms even some of the publishers themselves.
"We want it to be seen as a book experience, not a video game or a movie or even an app," said Graham Farrar, owner of iStoryTime in Santa Barbara, whose highest-charting book is currently "How to Train Your Dragon." "We have highlighted text and narration but we're trying to not go too far. We don't want to turn it into a video game. What we're trying to do is give a convenient, portable educational aspect of the text on the screen that kids can use on their own. We're trying to blend without crossing the line."
The Inevitability Factor: 'They Have to Learn Sometime'
Parents like Leister, who writes The iPhone Mom from her home in Boise, Idaho, believes there's room for both. She's a huge fan of the Seuss book apps as well as "Jack and the Beanstalk," which she said "looks absolutely amazing."
She's also quick to note that she still has loads of printed books around. But it's also easier for her to give her children a story on the iPad while she's driving, for example.
"I think of (e-books and printed books) as two different things," Liesper said. "We've got normal books, and these are more entertainment. Technology is inevitable. They have to learn sometime."
Tablet books also have the potential to dramatically speed up release times. Farrar noted that the "How to Train Your Dragon" book was available on the iPad when the film first arrived on the big screen, whereas the printed version is still weeks or months away from bookstores. This way, Farrar said, "You can download the book on your iPhone on the ride home from the theater."
There's also the savings factor. The iPad itself costs about $500, but the book applications retail in the iTunes store for as little as $2, often four or five times less than their printed counterpart costs on Amazon.
Oceanhouse President Michel Kripalani, for instance, sells the Seuss books for $3 or $4. Price, in fact, was a sticking point as Kripalani struck the deal with the Seuss estate that will allow him to create book applications for the whole Seuss library in coming years. The company's fourth, "The Lorax," was published last week on Earth Day.
"That was a tough conversation, and we had to explain to them why it makes sense, what the app market can support versus the book market can support in terms of price," Kripalani said. "A lot of the $15 that goes into the cost of a printed book includes the price the retailer is buying it for, what the wholesaler is buying it for, printing, shipping and so on."
Another Upside for Moms and Dads: 'Now I Can Have My iPhone Back'
Some publishing industry experts caution that the e-book revolution may not have quite the momentum that the iPad top apps list seems to reflect. Rocco Staino of the New York Center for Books notes that because early adapters for most Apple devices tend to be people of means in their 30s -- who, coincidentally, also have young children -- the early numbers may overstate the trend's reach.
At the same time, Staino admitted his explanations were part of an effort to comfort himself amid worrisome changes afoot in the book world.
"I'm kind of sad that you won't find a kid falling asleep holding a traditional book anymore," said Staino, former president of the New York Library Association. "Will parents let their child have the $500 iPad to flip through those pages the way you would let them hold a $15 book and flip through and look at those pictures? I doubt it."
Woodard, who believes we're witnessing the inevitable birth of a generation of "e-book nativists," said parents needn't worry so much. Tablet devices place countless books literally at a child's fingertips at reduced prices and can excite kids about reading in a way that printed material just can't in the Internet era.
He does have concerns, though.
"We don't know, for instance, whether backlighting ultimately causes damage to the eye," he said. "Also, I worry about what happens to important archival locations like libraries. With the move to more electronic means of text distribution, does the library go away?"
For her part, Liesper is unperturbed. Presenting children's books has turned out to be one of the most interesting things she gets out of the first-generation iPad, which lacks basic features that would make it more useful to adults.
"My kids are the primary users of our iPad right now, whether it's playing the game or reading a book," she said. "It's kinda nice we have it because now I can have my iPhone back."