When I was a kid growing up in Queens, New York, when the weather was nice on a Saturday, my grandfather would drive out from Brooklyn and pick me up to spend the day together. We would go out for lunch, take a walk, and almost invariably he would buy me a small toy. It wasn’t that the toy was great, it was that Grandpa bought it, and smiled from ear to ear as he did. He spoke enough English to get by. I spoke no Yiddish, his native tongue. It didn’t matter. We had great times together, experiences I will cherish forever. But today this kind of relationship is rare.
Every day I hear my contemporaries bemoan not seeing enough of their grandchildren. In most cases, it’s because huge distances separate them. Sure they can FaceTime, but what can they really DO together? Not much. Now there’s Caribu, an app that puts them on the same page, no matter where they are. And in some cases, even if they speak different languages. Maxeme Tuchman, the founder of Caribu describes it this way,
We like to say we’re Facetime meets Kindle for kids. We say that because we’re a video call and an e-reader where there’s a shared screen and everything is in real time. So when you choose a book with the child it’s in real time. When you turn a page it’s in real time and then when you draw together everyone gets to see the same thing.
Tuchman says that for grandparents this has significant advantages over video calls,
You call a three-year-old. You’re on a video call and the child is distracted, they’re not engaged, their bored. How many questions can you ask a three-year-old?…For a grandparent who may only see their grandchild every couple of months or over the holidays, This is a way to actually do an activity together. Up until about ten years ago all you could do was call. And then you could do video calls. But now you can actually do activities and we know that the quality of time spent together is what creates memories. You’re not going to remember your time with your grandparent by just answering questions on the phone. You’re going to remember drawing something funny together.
Obviously, it’s not just for an older generation, parents who travel for business, or are separated can make use of it as well. Currently, Tuchman says Caribu is only available on iOS, though she’s trying to raise money to bring it to both Android devices, and to the web for grandparents who may not have a smartphone or tablet.
It’s All About the Content
The app itself is free. But the books cost anywhere from 99 cents to $3.99. Tuchman says this summer she aims to move from the premium content model to a subscription model, but no word on pricing yet. Caribu does offer some free books in each category so parents and grandparents can see if they like it. And they offer several free pages in every book so you can try before you buy.
Tuchman says Caribu did create one original book, but when she realized the cost and the time and effort involved, she decided to license content from other sources. Right now they have agreements with about twenty publishers including Mattel and Education.com, which provides educational workbooks.
Caribu is already available in 145 countries and Tuchman says the app has been downloaded 127,000 times and users are reading about 4,000 books a month together. Right now it’s available in six different languages, which Tuchman says is a big draw for grandparents,
We have a lot of grandparents who don’t speak the same language as their grandkids. So for example, in Latin America, we still have a lot of grandparents who still live in Latin America, but the grandkids have been learning English while the grandparents still only know Spanish.
That’s prompted Caribu to take the innovative step of making some of its books bi-lingual, which so far it’s doing in both French and Mandarin Chinese,
That way the grandparent and the grandchild can both read the book together in different languages. So for example, says Tuchman,
In the French book, the grandparent may read the text in French, so the child will hear the grandparent reading in French, but the child will see the words in English. It’s very helpful for the kid because they are now learning French, which is the grandparent’s language. And then when the kid reads in English, then the grandparent is now able to understand more English words and hear those. That’s actually how you learn a language, first from the sounds, and then matching it up to the written words.
Tuchman says the impetus for this was from the Haitian community in Miami, where Caribu is based. She says there are many families where a grandparent is back in Haiti and they don’t understand English, “this has been a huge pain point for these families and a real problem for getting across the cultural divide.” Spanish is their next priority.
This Caribu video tells the story better than I can read it to you.