leap book 88 298.
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LeapPad, a talking book system in English for children aged seven and up, NIS 350 for device and first book, NIS 100 more for each additional book, by LeapFrog, represented in Israel by MIND Toys Ltd. (03-6871320, www.leapfrogisrael.com). - Rating: ****
Those who oppose children's use of computer games argue, among other things, that it discourages them from reading books. If this is so, then a new product - an interactive talking, English-language book system imported from the US - can alleviate some of their trepidation. You don't need a personal computer to enjoy the activity - which is a relief for parents concerned that their younger kids might be tempted to stick a cookie into their own PC's floppy-disk drive opening when playing computer games for preschoolers. But you have to buy a plastic case, which looks something like a laptop computer.
Each book, whose quality-paper pages are attached by a metal spiral, is inserted into the frame of the open case. Insert the small cartridge that comes with each book and press the on/off button at the upper righthand side.
You and your child will receive a quick aural explanation on how to use the LeapPad. A special electronic pen made of plastic is attached by a plastic string to the device. Touch the green GO circle on the side of a page with the tip of the pen and then an icon at the beginning of each paragraph, letter or word. Triangles facing up and down can be touched to raise or lower the volume. There are also icons at the bottom of the pages to play games, pronounce each word or spell it out letter by letter. "Hot spots" in the form of characters, figures and letters react to the player's touching them.
How does it all work? There are no electronic chips in the leaves of each page. A little ingenuity will uncover the secret of how the narration is perfectly coordinated to the spot on the page you touch: There are sensors inside the plastic case; the cartridge contains all the data related to the book; the GO circle is located at a slightly different spot for each page, thus when you touch any point with the pen, the LeapPad "brain" knows what page you are on and can identify the paragraph, word, letter or illustration from that base location.
Of the two dozen LeapPad books on sale, some were designated for native English speakers aged four to six or six to eight. MIND Toys Ltd. also sells smaller devices, called Little Touch LeapPad for toddlers and My First LeapPad for ages four to six; these (which were not sent to me for tryout) are somewhat less expensive than the regular LeapPad.
Since English is not the mother tongue of most young Israeli children, the age groups for the various types of hardware were adjusted upwards by the importers. The Lion King LeapPad book, for example, is meant for native English speakers up to age five, but Israeli kids who learn English as a second language - which is the whole point of this reading system - would be unable to follow the rapid-fire narration. The only way they could slow it down is to touch each word with the pen one at a time. And seven-year-old Israeli kids are likely to feel the LeapPad is too babyish for their age, even though they are new to English.
The Pre-Reading LeapPad book teaches the English alphabet one letter at a time, with single sentences containing a lot of the same letters from Anna Alligator to Zelda Zebra. Young children will certainly enjoy learning the alphabet, hearing how they are sounded and following the text. Other books include a "Paper Piano" that lets kids play music on simulated piano keys, display a bear in overalls for learning the parts of his body, or a "Map Master" to learn 43 different national flags and match them with their countries on the map (Israel, alas, is not included).
Although these books are undoubtedly educational, parents will have to consider whether the rather steep price for the 25-page books are worth it, especially as the hardware will become useless when the books become tedious and children outgrow the medium. Parents who prefer that kids read rather than play computer games and can afford enough LeapPad books can be assured that their younger children will enjoy them. But if they are not so insistent on the book medium to teach English as a second language, the other option is to choose among a large variety of English-teaching PC computer programs (costing NIS 40 to 150 each) that offer interaction using the mouse.