- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 11, 2009

Reading a bedtime story may never be the same after diving into Disney Digital Books (www.disneydigitalbooks.com, $8.95 per month or $79.95 per year, includes one parent and three child log-ins).

This robust e-reader gives today’s technology-savvy child a portal into one of the most important skills they will ever acquire. It’s designed to encourage children’s interest in books and provide them with the tools that lead to fluency.

The kid-friendly media giant has created a virtual library filled with 500 of its classic tales, animated fables and new stories starring beloved characters easily read from a computer screen.

Books are available from the browser-based library for all ages, from picture books and books to follow along with for beginning readers to storybooks for early readers to chapter books for the more accomplished.

Preschoolers who enjoy just looking and listening can choose from 20 fully illustrated tales that are automatically read to the child; the page even changes as the story moves along.

Classic tales for young readers are found in the Disney Family story collection. They feature beloved characters starring in new fables, such as “Trouble Under the Sea” with Ariel, and stories filled with beloved heritage characters, such as “Baloo Lends a Paw” or “Missing: Christopher Robin.” These stories carry with them a moral for mom, dad and child to discuss.

Tapping into the Disney Channel brand of characters, readers will find titles featuring popular stars such as Hannah Montana and books based on franchises including “Camp Rock,” “High School Musical” and “Pirates of the Caribbean.” The site also contains books based on Disney’s animated films, including “Bolt,” “Wall•E,” “Toy Story,” “Monsters, Inc.” and “Finding Nemo.”

The collection continues with more familiar character-driven Disney stories starring Tinker Bell, the Little Mermaid, Bambi, the Disney princesses — Belle, Snow White and Cinderella — and, of course, Mickey Mouse.

Most titles, except in “Look and Listen,” include an on-page click-on-a-word dictionary to easily access definitions or hear pronunciations, and quizzes to reinforce what was read.

Books can be placed on a virtual bookshelf, an interactive area that allows children to easily return to a story they are reading or to refer a book to a friend who is also a Disney Digital Book subscriber. Children can tag the books on their bookshelves as “favorites,” which will let other readers find them.

As children read, they earn points toward Reader Rewards, printable badges, door hangers and certificates that can be colored.

Additionally, a Build-A-Story option offers a fun way for kids to learn about nouns, verbs and adjectives. As a reader chooses the correct words to complete sentences, putting their own personal spin on the story, they are enhancing their fluency and gathering a stronger understanding of telling a story.

Mom and dad can set the child up with a reading level, put books onto their library shelf, leave notes about the stories the child is reading or offer praise, print out a list of completed books and see what books their child is enjoying by visiting the site’s Parents section.

Parents should be aware that the Disney Digital Book site features a top navigation bar that allows children to access other Disney content, including games, videos, movie and television show schedules and trailers, Disney Music, Disney Parks and the Disney Store.

Once I navigated away from the Disney Digital Books site, and enjoyed the trailer for “Toy Story 3-D” and watched a Mitchel Musso video (someone tell the boy to pull up his pants!) I could not find a way back to Disney Digital Books without going back through the browser pages.

Disney Digital Books may very well herald the future of children’s reading. You don’t get the comfort of seeing a real bookshelf grow and the relationship between book and reader loses something in the technology, but it is a great way, for a minimal price, to access the ever-expanding Disney publishing library.

Joseph Szadkowski’s ROMper Room is a place for children and their parents to escape the world of ultraviolent video games and use that gaming system or computer to actually learn something while having fun. Send e-mail to [email protected]

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