SLJ Reviews Playaway's Wonderbook | Tech Review

Playaway products have long been a staple in libraries as an audio option for accessing materials. SLJ reviews its Wonderbook, a preloaded audiobook device.

Playaway products have long been a staple in libraries as an audio option for accessing materials. The company has recently expanded its offerings to include the Wonderbook.

This preloaded device is an audio player permanently bound inside the front cover of the book, and children can listen to the audio as they read the print book. Wonderbook partners with the world’s top publishers to produce a high-quality content catalogue. While being accessible to all, Wonderbooks were developed with reluctant and emerging readers in mind.

There are approximately 750 titles in the Wonderbook collection, and 15–25 new titles are added each month. A wide selection of genres is represented, the content categories of: picture books, leveled readers, early chapter books, chapter books, comics & graphic novels, nonfiction, and Spanish. There are 41 Spanish-language titles currently, with more to be added. Spanish language is a declared growth area for the company.

Picture books are the core of the Wonderbook’s product line and are produced with the highest quality. There are two types of picture books available, the first being the traditional picture book, which has the book’s audio along with a Learning Mode that asks questions specific to the title’s content. Examples are “Who was your favorite character?” and “Would you like to write a book one day?” Available options include several “Pete the Cat” titles, Newbery Medal winner Last Stop on Market Street, John Klassen’s I Want My Hat Back, and Carole Boston Weatherford’s Standing in Need of Prayer.

The other type of picture book offering is a Read-Along with an included Sing-Along, replacing the Learning Mode. Typically, these are books that are also songs, such as “Wheels on The Bus.” Read-Along and Sing-Along selections include titles that are bilingual in English and Spanish.

A wide selection of Leveled Readers is available. These help boost comprehension, inspire deeper dialogue, and introduce new levels of reading to emerging bookworms. They are available in fiction and nonfiction. As with picture books, there is a chime when the page needs to be turned. The audio reader allows for rewinding and fast-forwarding. Leveled Readers include a variety of titles, such as the “I Can Read,” “Ready to Read,” and “Step into Reading” series. Early Chapter Books typically have short chapters with light illustration to appeal to readers with some independent reading.

Chapter books in the collection are available in regular and large print. These also include middle grade novels. The Learning Mode is still available and asks deeper questions for discussion. Vocabulary, reading speed, and retention are key skills that can be developed by the chapter books as well as the other types of Wonderbooks. Titles include Aisha Saeed’s Amal Unbound, Daniel James Brown’s The Boys in the Boat, and Newbery Medalist The Last Cuentista by Donna Barba Higuera.

Graphic Novels

The Wonderbook graphic novel is the most intriguing product offering in this mix. It is difficult to translate this format to an audiobook, so when it is done well, it is a marvel, and these graphic novel versions certainly fit the bill. The books feature full-cast narrations that enhance the artwork and the story. It makes an already accessible format even more enjoyable, especially for comics fans who are also developing readers. These books would be a great pick for students who need both the audio and the visual, sequential storytelling experience to enjoy reading. Other graphic novels include Jarrett J. Krosoczka’s “Lunch Lady” series and Ben Clanton’s “Narwhal and Jelly” books, as well as stand-alone graphic titles.

Overall Wonderbook offers another option for readers who want or need access via audio in conjunction with print. All of the titles reviewed had excellent production quality; the sound effects and music enhance the audio and do not overpower it. Although many titles are licensed from print publishers, Playaway has several that are produced specifically for Wonderbook.

The devices include both a headphone jack and a micro-USB charging port. One is included for every four readers purchased. It can be fully charged in one hour for 10 hours of use. The battery life is impressive, as each book will provide approximately 50 listens before the device needs to be charged. The speakers are strong, and there is a range of volume that makes it a comfortable read either aloud or with headphones. They are quite durable and withstand a great deal of use.

Verdict Wonderbooks offer an engaging way to enjoy audio and print material simultaneously. With an ever-expanding selection, these are great products to add to a library’s collection mix.

Shannan L. Hicks, North Little Rock Public Library, AR

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