The Reading Tent

Making the magic of reading even greater with an interactive installation: together with creative agency Morrow, we built an immersive storytelling experience for kids and their parents in the Children's Book Museum. Books come to life in The Reading Tent!

During our yearly hackathon w00tcamp we once built a connected children's book. When turning the pages, the book automatically sent triggers to all kinds of linked devices. We made reading into a magical experience with sound, colored lights and a bubble machine. This prototype was the reason for asking the Children's Book Museum (Kinderboekenmuseum) in The Hague: wouldn't we be able to further develop this original idea together into a fully-fledged immersive installation?

The idea
The idea was simple: to improve the experience of reading by creating a calm and at the same time adventurous place where young children and their (grand)parents can immerse themselves in a story. Research shows that reading to children is very important for their development. Technology and interactive elements can further enhance this effect if they add to the story. By testing a first prototype of The Reading Tent (Voorleestent) in the museum, we investigated which senses the experience should focus on, which effects work best and how universal game elements can be applied to various picture books.

An intimate magical space
We have created an intimate magical space that feels light and safe, like a sheet tent. After children have chosen a book, they go inside with their (grand)parents to start the adventure. The role of the adults is to read the story, but also to involve the children in the interaction. With the help of a rotary wheel, children can choose from different settings of light and sound. And with individual objects they can trigger sound effects themselves. The audiovisual effects are open enough to suit any illustration style, yet recognizable as a complement to the story. We tested the animations and sounds for speed and intensity so that they are suitable for younger children and not too distracting while reading a book.

Foolproof installation
To make the end product foolproof, we simplified the technology. With the rotary wheel you simply turn an NFC card for a hidden reader. And the objects also contain NFC cards, which you have to think of as a kind of magical totem that contains the reader. Behind the scenes, a PC is the heart of the system. A Node.js application reads the NFC signals and drives VLC for the sounds and MadMapper for the videos. The light projection comes from two hidden beamers that shine on the tent, the sound from a hidden 5.1 surround set. For the construction of the 'tent' we asked the help of construction studio Fiction Factory. The installation has now become a permanent part of the exhibition space and the museum does not have to worry about it.

The imaginative role of technology
Already in the testing phase we saw the impact on a micro level: children and their (grand)parents left the installation with a big smile and were talking about the next book they would read together. For us, The Reading Tent is about planting a seed for future reading moments. This museum installation promotes reading, the imagination and the experience of joint special moments. Like our other recent installation, Behind the front door of our tech for good venture Hack The Planet, The Reading Tent shows how technology can play an imaginative role.

"Q42 understands the art of creating experiences that don't feel technical, and that is a great talent. They bring technology and experience together into a harmonious whole. That's where the future lies."

Ingrid Eilander, deputy director of the Literature Museum and Children's Book Museum