Shortly after we moved overseas, we started using google chat (and sometimes Skype) to video chat with the grandparents. At first, it was a little weird and awkward. Video chat is somewhere in between talking on the phone (which can be difficult for toddlers to conceptualize and enjoy) and being there in person. Sometimes it’s hard to think of good conversation topics. But they eventually got the hang of it, and soon they were taking advantage of the video component by showing drawings and special toys to the grandmas, singing them songs, or even playing games like peek-a-boo and hide-and-seek after they figured out exactly where the webcam was located. But they would still periodically just lose interest and run off. In fact, Axa went through a stage where in the middle of a conversation she would suddenly look straight at grandma, say brightly, “goodbye, I love you,” and sign off before grandma had a chance to react.
Then one of the grandmas had the idea of reading them books. And books were the magic key. Soon, they were reading multiple books with each grandma during a video session. And grandma always had to be the one to say goodbye. After their home libraries were exhausted, my mom and mother-in-law started making regular library trips just for the purpose of getting books to read on video chat.
Then my mother-in-law clicked through a Facebook ad to find Readeo. Readeo is a video chat program with an integrated online picture book reader. It has its own database of children’s books, so you just sign in at the same time as your grandchildren, choose a book, and read it together. The online reader dominates the screen, and the streaming video of grandparent/grandchild appear in little windows beneath.
I admit that at first I found it a little gimmicky. After all, they were already enjoying reading with grandma over video chat. At 164 books, the Readeo “library” is not what I would call extensive. And while some of the books are classic and beautiful (like The Gigantic Turnip or The Princess and the White Bear King), others are a bit twaddly.
But Readeo has some good things going for it too. On regular video chat, sometimes it is difficult to clearly see the book that grandma’s holding up, and the children often have a hard time making out the pictures. In Readeo, a perfect digital version of the book is displayed right on the screen, and the colors are bright and clear. Readeo’s library is also self-contained, so the books are available wherever you have an internet connection. And you don’t need to be in a video chat to read them; you can just use it as a standalone online picture book reader.
There’s a better online picture book library, though. It’s called the International Children’s Digital Library, and not only does it have over 4400 titles, but many of them are beautifully illustrated out-of-print classics difficult to find even at a well-stocked library. Even better, most of the books are available in multiple languages, making it a perfect fun supplement to any language-learning program for children. The Library is a non-profit organization, and access to the books is free. The goal is to provide quality children’s literature for families who have left their native lands and might not have access to books in their native tongue, and to promote tolerance for different cultures among the children of the world. Now that’s a cause I can believe in.
I guess my final conclusion is that I love the idea of Readeo. The reading experience is definitely superior to normal video chat. But I just am not in love with the book selection. And if you’re looking for a portable children’s library, you can do much better. Once they’ve added several hundred more quality titles to their collection of books (or if they could somehow manage a partnership with the International Children’s Digital Library), $9.99 per month might just be worth it.