/ Parenting, Technology

Augmented reality books can’t rival a child’s imagination

Cover image of dinosaurs from Dorling Kindersley augmented reality book

The latest tech for kids is augmented reality, which brings digital animations to life when you show books to a webcam. Clever, yes – but is it really necessary when children have such rich imaginations?

Dorling Kindersley has been showing off two ‘augmented reality’ books about dinosaurs and the human body.

These combine the written word with digital information that ‘augments’ into 3D animations on your computer screen.

How augmented reality works

The books remind me of The Neverending Story, a film I recall watching on a school trip (quite a few years ago). The story follows a young boy who discovers a magical book and then discovers he’s living the story for real.

Ok, so augmented reality books can’t transport you to a new world, but they can make images appear to spring to life from the pages of a book. The technology seems to work well judging by the video we filmed at The Gadget Show in Birmingham:

Simply hold the pages of a book up to a webcam and an animation appears to leap off the page. You can even change the animation’s appearance by covering specific boxes on the page – and choose to see dinosaurs fighting or laying eggs.

Augmented reality books are clunky

But, as someone who’s passionate about books (something I’ve passed on to my five-year-old daughter), I wonder if this will fire a child’s imagination more than a conventional book.

I know it’s stating the obvious, but the animations don’t literally leap out of the page as you’re reading the book. You have to carry it over to your computer, and flash the image at your monitor screen – which all seems a little clunky to me.

Surely there are other technologies which have proved more effective at bringing dinosaurs to life, such as the BBC’s excellent Walking with Dinosaurs – still available for free online or you can buy the complete DVD.

Since the making of Walking with Dinosaurs (1999) technology’s progressed, notably with the advent of 3D. But that’s still no guarantee of a good story. Sure, Avatar was OK but there have been plenty of 3D films that have, frankly, been a bit naff.

No substitute for a child’s imagination

The bottom line is that technology is just a tool, like a pen and paper, typewriter, word processor and PC. It’s these basic ingredients – along with a good story and an interested reader – that makes books magical.

Does my daughter need augmented reality? The simple answer is ‘no’. At bedtime, when I’m reading her Bella goes to School, that small, talking rabbit and her friend are as real to her as any animation could ever be.


In all honesty – an empty cardboard box is the best item to encourage the development of imagination. Most other items restrict the imagination to the limits of the item.

A cardboard box is only limited by the child’s imagination. a house – a castle – a plane – a pram anything – Whereas a spaceship or a doll can only be a .spaceship or a doll.- The technology can only be the technology.

Rather like a plain piece of paper can be modified to be almost anything – from a highly coloured fantasy scene to an aeroplane – or even a highly complex island acquisition game I invented as a five year old that was developed over the next seven years which kept me engrossed for hours at a time – and – improved my mathematical skills!!.

I have mixed views about this. It’s well known that boys in the 8+ age group can easily become ‘reluctant readers’. While, in an ideal world, all children would be easily stimulated by books and cardboard boxes, many just aren’t. In this sense, I think that anything that encourages children to interact with books and read more is a good thing.

On the other hand, the more that technology is developed to appeal to young minds that are easily distracted, the more they expect in order to be stimulated, possibly resulting in them finding it even harder to concentrate on ‘pure’ reading.

So, I’m torn. At the moment, my three year old devours books, but at ten it could be a different matter and I may well be thankful for developments like these. Until then, I think I’ll stick to nurturing her love of reading, like Sarah.

I can only say that it depends on the book – I know ‘magic’ fairy tales didn’t interest me at all – But “Just William” (the precise punctuation of Crompton fascinated me) and similar ‘realistic’ fiction did – I devoured them avidly – My son had a similar affinity to Just William. Interestingly I was more interested in making things – though did read several books a week.

I remember well my father taking me as a five year old to the Library for the first time – leading me to the middle of the room – spreading his arms wide and saying “my boy – they are ALL FREE”!!!!!

I am sure that semi animated books can easily attract the attention initially but not sure on long term effects – sort of butterfly effect..