Closing the App Gap

Background | What We Did | About the Apps | What We Learned | What’s Next | Who We Are | Details
Quick Tips
 | Grant Narrative | Bibliography


We’ve known for a long time that income disparity affects kids’ reading levels, and the twenty-first century has additionally brought us the digital divide, the difference in access to technology many of us take for granted between in kids low-income families and kids in higher-income families.

App Gap Title


What We Did

We decided to draw on the traditional strengths of that library mainstay the summer reading program to explore the possibilities of using app-based programming for kids eight and up during the summer. We also wanted to join the lively emerging conversation about app use with kids among scholars and practitioners.

We found a wonderful partner in Champaign’s Douglass Branch Library, a longterm friend of the School of Information Sciences that serves a predominantly minority and low-income community.

We assessed nearly 200 apps for children based on the following criteria:

  • Diverse representation of children and adults
  • ease of use
  • engaging/interesting to child
  • age-appropriateness
  • levels of difficulty
  • custom settings
  • feedback/corrective features
  • content accuracy
  • appeal to learning objectives

We ultimately chose 29 apps to use on our ten tablets:

Adventures of Captain Underpants: The First Epic AppAxel’s Chain Reaction
Barefoot World Atlas
Bats! Furry Fliers of the Night
Big Nate: Comix By U!
Bobo Explores Light
Comic Life
Even Monsters Get Sick
Gone Wishing
Grammar Pop
I Need My Monster
iDiary for Kids
Kids’ Vocab-Mindsnacks
Learn with Homer
Little Red Riding Hood
Lola and Lucy’s Big Adventure
The Opposites
Pop Out! The Tale of Peter Rabbit
Reading Rainbow
Scribble Press
Sentence Ninja
Spell with Pip: An Oxford Spelling Game
Ultimate Dinopedia
WordGirl Superhero Training

We brought our apps and tablets to the Douglass Branch over lunchtime for three days a week throughout the summer, to the considerable excitement of kids who loved to follow the adventures of Red Riding Hood or fist-pumped with excitement at the chance to play Chicktionary.


What We Learned

Yes, kids want to use apps.  No surprise there, but we were interested to see how much engagement with apps meant engagement with people.  The kids enjoyed checking up on one another’s progress or sharing what was happening, and they also loved reporting their triumphs to our adult team or just getting them to share play.

We also moved from a plan of organized introduction to the apps to freestyle play with adult support as needed.

Additionally, we had to abandon our hopes of testing kids before and after the programming—getting kids to take a test of their own free will in the summertime was an obstacle we just couldn’t surmount!

We’ve distilled what we’ve learned into a handy one-stop tip sheet for
professionals interested in working with kids and apps–click here to
read it or here to download the PDF.


What’s Next

We’re committed to continuing our research on young people and apps; we think it combines opportunity for access with educational and programming possibilities.  We’re currently putting together a new project involving not only young people using apps but also young people designing them.  If your library might be interested in participating, let us know! Contact CCB director Deborah Stevenson at


Who We Are

Deborah Stevenson, Director of the Center for Children’s Books and co-principal investigator
Kate McDowell, Associate Professor at the School of Information Sciences and co-principal investigator
Cass Mabbott, PhD student and project coordinator
Katie Boucher and Alice Mitchell, app techs and support staff
A collection of volunteers and support staff
Amanda Raklovits, children’s librarian, and Essie Harris, branch manager, Douglass Branch Library of the Champaign Public Library System

Thanks to all who helped with the project, especially the Institute of Museum and Library Services for its funding.


Want More Details?

Click here for our original proposal.
Click here for a bibliography of scholarly and practitioner articles related to app and tablet use for young people.