Interactive Storybooks

TinkRBook is a storytelling system that introduces a new concept of reading, called textual tinkerability. Textual tinkerability uses storytelling gestures to expose the text-concept relationships within a scene. Tinkerability prompts readers to become more physically active and expressive as they explore concepts in reading together. TinkRBooks are interactive storybooks that prompt interactivity in a subtle way, enhancing communication between parents and children during shared picture-book reading. TinkRBooks encourage positive reading behaviors in emergent literacy: parents act out the story to control the words on-screen, demonstrating print referencing and dialogic questioning techniques. Young children actively explore the abstract relationship between printed words and their meanings, even before this relationship is properly understood. By making story elements alterable within a narrative, readers can learn to read by playing with how word choices impact the storytelling experience. Recently, this research has been applied to developing countries.

Collaborators on this project included:

Maryanne Wolf
Stephanie Gottwald

This study asked how tinkRability changes the way parents and children read together.

Does textual tinkerability result in parents exhibiting more behaviors that are characteristic of good reading instructors? Does textual tinkerability encourage children to exhibit more behaviors to actively explore and learn about text?

Our study followed a within-subjects design that compared two conditions: the TinkRBook (tinkr) verses the baseline condition of a traditional book (book). Twelve parents (ages 25-50) were recruited to participate in the study with their child in their home. All but one of the parents was female. Of the children, half were boys and half were girls.

In the baseline condition, each parent read to their child using a personal book of their choosing from their home library. In the TinkRBook condition, they read using the sample TinkRBook story “Baby Duck Takes a Bath”.

People spent dramatically more time, about 8 times more, on each page of the TinkRBook than on a page of the traditional storybook. All the pairs spent more time with the scenes of a TinkRBook than with pages of their familiar book.

Also, parents spoke a bit faster with the regular book; talking at about 2 words per second with their own book as opposed to 1.24 words per second with the TinkRBook. Taking into account the number of words spoken per page, slower and more dialogue occurred with the TinkRBook. Parents were much more active in pointing out the text in the TinkRBook, asked more than double the number of questions, and social communication was more frequent.

Our results also support that children engage in more active exploration of the concepts in text with the TinkRBook. Parent and child gestured together more with TinkRBook compared to a regular book.

Our study demonstrated that tinkRability enhanced the teaching behaviors that parents naturally perform while reading to their children, resulting in more social and comprehension-related conversation. TinkRability was shown to encourage parents to perform a range of positive emergent literacy behaviors by 3 to 10 times more than with reading physical books. Additionally, children were observed to take a more active role in exploring the concept of text. The results hint that textual tinkerability can make emergent literacy teaching more effective.



  • Chang, A.,Breazeal,C., Faridi,F., Roberts, T., Davenport, G., Lieberman, H., and Montfort, N.. 2012. Textual tinkerability: encouraging storytelling behaviors to foster emergent literacy. In Proc. of the 2012 CHI Extended Abstracts 2012. ACM, New York, NY, USA, 505-520.
  • Chang, A. (2011). TinkRBooks: Tinkerable story elements for emergent literacy. PhD Thesis, Media Arts and Sciences, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA. [PDF]
  • Chang, A. & Breazeal, C. (2011). TinkRBook: shared reading interfaces for storytelling. In Proceedings of the 10th International Conference on Interaction Design and Children, (pp. 145-148). ACM. [PDF]
  • Alonso, J., Chang, A., and Breazeal, C. (2011). Values Impacting the Design of an Adaptive Educational Storybook. In Proceedings of The Fourth International Conference on Interactive Digital Storytelling (ICIDS2011). [PDF]

Interactive tinkering with stories to explore and express!