This weekend the QVC home-shopping network will host the global launch of Sparkup Magical Book Reader, a product developed in Israel that clips on to a book and then “reads” it aloud. The lightweight plastic device runs on batteries and can store up to 50 spoken-word editions of picture books, and offers a high-tech alternative to e-books for young children. Anyone can use the device to record a book.
“With Sparkup, everyone can stay connected during story time, even when family members and loved ones can’t physically get together,” said founder and CEO Amir Koren, who came up with the idea four years ago, when he was doing a lot of traveling for his job and couldn’t physically be with his then two-year-old for story time. “Digital screens dominate our kids’ lives today. But we know families still love to read quality, printed books.”
Because the device relies on computer-vision technology – a small camera scans the page and matches the text and illustration to the audio – it can work with any book in any language as well as braille titles. “Reading-age children can practice reading to themselves aloud, and kids with special needs can also get extra help and validation,” Koren said.
As Sparkup v-p of business development Gil Hazaz sees it, “We are harnessing high tech to bring kids back to tangible objects. We’re not replacing the parents. It stemmed from the notion to keep that magical moment of bedtime reading. This [device] requires a physical book.”
Starting in September, Sparkup will offer professionally narrated editions of children’s titles from Scholastic and other presses on its Web site. The QVC package on sale this weekend comes with copies of two titles from Macmillan and the device is preloaded with audio copies of each. Stanley Tucci reads William Steig’s Shrek!, and Marcia Gay Harden reads Arlen Mosel’s Tikki Tikki Tembo.
The company plans to roll out Sparkup to big box retailers starting September 1 (Hazaz declined to confirm which ones). Those outside the U.S. will be able to buy the product on the Sparkup Web site. The reading device currently retails for $49.95.