Bookyboo Co-founder and CEO Hetal Gandhi and Co-founder and COO Neeraj Gulati

Bookyboo Co-founder and CEO Hetal Gandhi and Co-founder and COO Neeraj Gulati

It is a common scene nowadays, when family members sit down together for a meal at home or in a restaurant. The kids might be playing games or watching videos on their tablets, while the parents are busy staring at the screens of their smartphones. Physically together, but virtually apart.

I am also guilty of this at times, which is why my wife Ellen always reminds me and our daughter Sam to spend less time staring at a screen, particularly during family meals. In a digital world where humans have a shorter attention span than goldfish, according to a Microsoft study, it is important to set aside gadgets, disconnect, and spend quality with each other in the real world.

Which is why it is great that startup Bookyboo creates personalised physical storybooks that make the child the hero of the adventure, helping instill a love for reading at an early age.

“We all love to feel special. What better way to make a child feel special than to make him or her the hero of his or her own storybook? And it’s not just the kids but parents too who experience magic when they cozy up with their kids to read this personalised adventure story. The children feel totally loved while bonding and reading with their parents. These are the memories that children cherish forever,” Bookybook Co-founder Hetal Gandhi told e27.

“Each story is designed to inculcate life values like teamwork, determination, courage, kindness, friendship, and even sibling love. The books work at many different levels – as a picture book with panoramic illustrations, to improve language skills with easy rhymes, and as the engaging story that helps the child to build confidence and beliefs.

“We bring together cutting-edge technology, gripping stories, world-class illustrations, and premium textured paper to deliver a fantastic personalized experience to a child anywhere in the world,” she said.

The books are available for a free preview online, and the stories offer incredible variations of personalisation.

“Our books are not just personalised for each child, but we are also the first to personalise books with more than one child in the story. For example, our Fun Family Bookyboo is a story in which one or two kids (siblings) go on a jungle adventure to rescue their parents from the cruel Evilor. This story’s personalisation works for any family – even if there are twins and a single parent!”

Bookyboo, which has offices in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia and New Delhi, India, was founded last year by the couple Hetal Gandhi and Neeraj Gulati, who left their successful careers at Omnicom and IPG, respectively.

How they founded the company is an interesting story in itself.

“We all know how much kids love getting gifts, right? And of course, we love indulging them. So, Neeraj and I would often be looking out for the perfect gift for our niece, Vaani – quite a perplexing situation in today’s times of excess. We wanted to give her something meaningful, something she would cherish.

“At the same time, we noticed her increasing screen addiction and tried to pull her away with good old books – but they didn’t really excite her. That’s when we came up with the idea of creating a personalised book for her, which she simply couldn’t resist. We created a gripping story with Vaani as the hero. She loved it so much that it became her favourite book. And that’s how Bookyboo was born,” Gandhi said.

While technology has changed the world for the better, it also has spawned new problems. One of this is the way electronic devices have hijacked the lives of people, reducing bonding time, particularly between parents and children.

Just as previous generations used television as a babysitter, now different gadgets act as pacifiers, getting children hooked on screens at a very young age. Gandhi pointed out that it is important for parents to find the right balance so that children can enjoy the benefits of technology without sacrificing real-world activities.

“For all rounded physical, mental and emotional development, kids need a balanced exposure to real play, reading, social activities and screens. The best way for parents to manage this is by planning a daily schedule for their kids to ensure all of these are included. It may be a little troublesome initially but kids adapt easily and it will soon become a routine. We have seen many kids as young as 2.5 years old whose parents read out their personalised storybooks every night and the kids have memorised the entire book,” she said.

The reality is that at no point in history have people enjoyed greater access to books as we do nowadays. It is a question of whether we will decide to make reading books a priority.

“It’s ironic that while our access to books now is much more than ever before, we have much less time and inclination to read. Most of us want to read a book but get swamped in social media,” Gandhi said.

Can Bookyboo encourage more children to read books by using digital technology to enhance the traditional physical storybook?

Now that would be a great story, indeed.