In the digital era, printed media hasn’t been doing too well – except for one category: children’s books. The classic story time hasn’t lost its magic. Children still love to touch paper, to turn the pages themselves and to treasure the book as a physical item.
Nevertheless, the countless digital screens around us with flashing games and responsive animations bring a challenge to the traditional story time. How can we make the good old books even more interesting, interactive and engaging, without losing the magic of paper?
In recent years, there’s been fascinating development in one particular field of literature: personalised children’s books.
A personalised children’s book is more than just a book
You might have heard about them and they’ve been around for a while. Some parents recall personalised books from their own childhood but for many, these are still rather unknown products. Personalised children’s books have always been popular in the UK for example, but in the rest of the Europe they are still quite a novelty – and certainly in Luxembourg too.
There are two main reasons for this: firstly, printing personalised books has been a pricey business up until the recent years. Secondly, it is only now when bigger publishing companies have become interested in the potential of personalised books. Still, many personalised books out there are made outside of the traditional publishing industry by start-ups and self-publishers.
So what is a personalised children’s book?
It’s a printed book where the child is included in the story! Commonly, the child is the main character of the adventure and you can add the child’s first name into the story, sometimes also their address, country, photo, name of the grandparents, favourite food… you name it!
So how does it work? Usually you personalise and order your book online. Then the book is digitally printed on demand and shipped to you. Handy!
As the child discovers their name and other familiar elements in the story, a personalised book indeed makes a very special reading experience. The mystery of how the child ended up inside the book is truly captivating for them. Thus, a personalised book can actually keep the child more engaged to the story than a traditional book.
Personalising a story can make a story book more educational.
We know that children love to see their name! On their door, school bag, on a bumper sticker – and in personalised books. A child pays more attention when they are directly involved, and this applies particularly to stories. This is why a personalised story can encourage early readers to read more, and thus to learn more.
Dr Natalia Kucirkova, one of the leading researchers on personalised children’s stories and books, has stated that “personalisation [thus] adds a layer of playfulness, authenticity and immediacy to the story and can be a great way to engage children and caregivers in the process of shared book reading. Parents and teachers can harness the motivational power of personalised books to engage reluctant readers or challenge bookworms.”
Personalisation carries other benefits too: it can help the child to learn how to spell their name or address, where to find their country on the map and more, depending on how the book is personalised.
So personalised children’s books are great – but could they be taken to the next level?
Personalisation brings a particular challenge to the publisher: how to integrate these personalised elements to the story in a way that they don’t feel as mere gimmicks? It’s perhaps fun to see a photo of your child’s cut-out head attached to a body of an illustrated princess, but does that serve the story? Is it aesthetically pleasing? Would you still like to return to that story over and over again? Can you make a personalised book a timeless classic?
For years, the personalised children’s books have remained more or less the same: the child is the main character and their name is integrated in the story. Certainly there’s room for far greater imagination and surprising stories to utilise personalisation.
Dr Kucirkova has spotted another challenge of personalised stories: “Personalised books serve as a starting point for children to get hooked on story creation with themselves as heroes; but they need to learn to understand and feel empathy for others’ viewpoints and behaviours.”
I was personally intrigued by these challenges and they inspired my partner and me to create a new kind of personalised book: a story where the child is not the main character, a story that is ‘designed’ personalised from the very beginning and where also the giver of the book is part of the adventure. And so was Luxembourg’s first personalised book born: Message in a Bottle.
There’s so much more to be explored with personalised books but it requires courage from both publishers and children’s authors. Personalised children’s books still carry misconceptions, and it’s not the first type of story that authors think about creating.
After all, the rules of a good book haven’t changed: it’s all about the story, whether it’s personalised or not.
What will the future adults treasure from their childhood today?
At the end of the day, it’s hard to imagine that a child would treasure an e-book or a tablet game for decades to come. A personalised book in particular, makes an unforgettable gift that lasts. Children’s book aren’t going to disappear just yet but it doesn’t mean that they couldn’t be made even more magical. You have to admit, finding yourself part of the story is always magical.
About the author:
Native Finn, Tuire Siiriainen is an illustrator and the founder of Blueberry & Pie, a self-publishing company. She published her first book, a personalised children’s adventure Message in a Bottle, through her company in August 2016. Currently she resides in the beautiful countryside of Luxembourg. You can follow her and Kiki’s (the hero of Message in a Bottle) adventures on Instagram @messageinabottlebook and Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/messageinabottlechildrensbook/