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Amazon's new reading app for kids combines humor and text messages

Amazon Rapids just launched for iOS, Android and Kindle Fires.
Chris Velazco, @chrisvelazco
November 2, 2016
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Amazon has been obsessed with the act of reading for years, and now it's trying (again) to get kids obsessed with it too. That's why the company spent the last year building Amazon Rapids, a reading app launching today meant to help youngsters understand the joy of reading. So, what does $2.99 a month actually get you? A surprisingly fun, focused way to experience stories.

As you might've been able to guess by the name, there's no exposition in these stories, no paragraphs of intense introspection. In fact, there are no paragraphs at all. Rapid stories unfold as dialogue between two characters, represented as avatars in what looks like a text message conversation -- all too appropriate since it seems like kids start texting the day after their born. Each story lasts for between five and ten minutes, and manages to sneak some beautiful art in, too. Colorful backgrounds sit behind those conversation bubbles, and every once in a while, one of the characters will send the other a selfie.

The format lends itself well to new readers: they can tap through these stories at their own pace, with the freedom to stop and giggle for minutes at the humor pervades the Rapids library. Michael Robinson, director of consumer products for Amazon Education, told Engadget that his team chose this back-and-forth format for more than just its familiarity.

"With dialogue, it's not just about what's said," he pointed out. "It's also about what isn't said, and that creates a lot of room for problem solving and interpretation."

Ultimately, Robinson stresses that the Rapids app is less about teaching kids how to read, and more about making them look forward to reading. That seems pretty crucial: getting a kid to wrap their hand around the mechanics of reading happens in classrooms every day, but instilling in them the appetite for new words and perspectives is infinitely trickier. Amazon Rapids' focus on humor and decently broad launch library -- hundreds of short titles are now available -- should help.

That said, there are tools in place to help readers of different ages get by. Younger readers, for instance, can press and hold on a word they don't know to see a definition, and that word gets added to a glossary for later review with a parent. More experienced readers, meanwhile, can toggle a No Tap mode that gives them the full conversation up-front.

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