Starting today, digital library service Hoopla Digital is introducing a new line of “Picture Books with Read-Alongs” for young readers. Unlike Hoopla’s normal ebook titles, which feature traditional reflowable text sized to fit device screens, these Read-Along titles are displayed in specific picture-book layouts, much like PDFs. And they feature an audio player with audio narration, as well as highlighting the word currently being read.

The format is launching with titles from Hoopla’s partners Walt Disney Books, HarperCollins, Lerner, Charlesbridge, and Brittanica. As with Hoopla’s other ebooks, read-along titles can be checked out for up to 21 days.

Hoopla Digital works with local libraries, offering access to a set number of titles per month based on the level of subscription the library purchased. Readers sign up using their library card. Altogether, the service offers access to 600,000 titles of movies, TV shows, music albums, eBooks, audiobooks and comics. Hoopla is also one of the rare non-Kindle ebook and media apps to find a home on Amazon’s Fire app store, so you can read these books on your Fire or Fire HD without having to resort to sideloading. (In fact, the version of Hoopla on the Google Play Store actually doesn’t seem to work properly with the Fire tablets.)

mater screencap
Mater’s Junkyard Jamboree, as seen on my desktop monitor. Note the red highlighted word as the audio track reads along.

Hoopla invited me to try the read-along feature out ahead of its release today, so over the last few days I checked out a couple of the titles. Here, I’m looking at Cars tie-in Mater’s Junkyard Jamboree and Fancy Nancy and the Boy from Paris. The books can be read/played on any platform Hoopla supports, including web browsers or the mobile apps for Android or iOS. They do have to download into your device, so best to wait until you have access to free Wi-Fi to check them out.

Top: my 4:3 Teclast K89 Kindow. Bottom: My 16:9 Fire HD 8.

The books look best in landscape format, so that the device can show two facing screens like reading a book. In portrait, it shows one page at a time, which can cut off half of the two-page spreads common in picture books. As the format of the ebook hews to the proportions of the physical book, this means that there’ll be some extra space to the sides or top of the pages, depending on the shape of the screen. Being a wider book, Mater’s Junkyard Jamboree filled the screen better on my 16:9 Fire HD, but the narrower Fancy Nancy was a better fit on my 4:3 iPad or K89 Kindow tablet.

The read-along audio is clear and easy to understand (though it was a little funny hearing the Mater book read by an audiobook narrator, instead of having the movie’s voice actors doing character voices). Readers can start or pause the narration using on-screen controls. They can also set page turns to automatic as the track reads along, or manual to let them advance at their own pace.

The service is launching the new format with about 100 read-along titles, which can be searched or browsed as their own district media category now that they are available.

Mater’s Junkyard Jamboree, as seen on my Fire HD

In any case, narrated children’s books are a great way to make use of tablets’ multimedia features. While Hoopla Digital is far from the first or only such service to offer such titles, I don’t know of any other place you can access a wide selection of titles for free on your mobile device—even if you are limited to just a few of them per month.