Features | 25 Oct 2022

How Augmented Reality helps picture books tell the whole story

AR-enhanced books can help engage neurodiverse kids, while also broadening ethnic representation. If you're sitting comfortably, then we can begin.

At first glance, Buster Finds His Beat looks like almost any other picture book aimed at children, with its brightly coloured illustrations and easy-to-follow story. The difference soon becomes clear though – not only does this book’s illustrations came to life through augmented reality (AR), it features a neurodiverse bi-racial boy as its protagonist.

Load up a smartphone with the book’s accompanying app and point it at the various pages. When viewed through the phone’s screen, the once-static illustrations are now full of dynamic, animated movement. Also known as mixed reality or enhanced reality, AR blends real-world objects with digital elements overlayed on-screen. Virtual reality, on the other hand, completely immerses the viewer in a computer-generated world.

Buster Finds His Beat is the first publication from Just Like Me Books, a winner of the Great British Entrepreneur Awards and Vodafone’s Shout Out For Small Businesses competition.

The company and its inaugural title are inextricably linked to its founder, Pamela Aculey.

Books are for everyone and therefore everyone should be able to see themselves in the pages of books

Pamela is mother to three mixed-race children, one of whom is autistic. She became determined to change the face of children’s publishing after discovering that vanishingly few children’s books had characters that her kids could instantly relate to. According to the charity Booktrust, just 10% of children’s books published between 2017 and 2019 had characters from an ethnic minority background.

“Books are for everyone and therefore everyone should be able to see themselves in the pages of books,” Pamela told Vodafone UK News.

In creating AR stories like Buster Finds His Beat, Pamela hopes to engage children who can’t read, have speech and language delays, learning difficulties, are non-verbal or have what’s formally known as Autism Spectrum Disorder. It’s an approach with promise – a study by researchers from the University of Valencia highlighted the clear potential of AR learning tools to engage with, and meet the needs of children, on the autism spectrum.

Pamela also hopes that the book, with its plot about an autistic boy who has to cope with challenges posed by the outside world, will help neurotypical kids better understand their neurodiverse peers through empathy and kindness.

“We know that children’s books can act like both mirrors and windows on the world. Mirrors in that they can reflect on children’s own lives and windows in that they can give children a chance to learn about someone else’s life,” as Pamela puts it.

They’ve enlisted actor Will Poulter, star of the upcoming Marvel Studios superhero film Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3, to help promote Buster Finds His Beat.

Pamela and Just Like Me Books aren’t stopping there, setting themselves the goal of placing a copy of Buster Finds His Beat in every primary school in the UK.

“There are over 20,000 primary schools in the UK, so we are under no illusion how big this goal is. We have made community the heart of this campaign. We’re actively reaching out to schools, friends, parents, school governors, parenting forums, libraries, charities, businesses, basically everyone!” said Pamela.

Just Like Me Books not only has plans for more titles; it is also offering its AR expertise to other authors and publishers.

At the heart of it all is Pamela’s mission: “We need to start young and ensure children accept disability as part of reality. Adding diversity into their daily diet of stories will create a society where no one feels disadvantaged or restricted by their ethnicity, their gender, their background or their disability.”


Just Like Me Books

Just Like Me Books Instagram

National Autistic Society

Autism Society

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