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(Photos via Amazon).
Stories unfold in the style of chat sessions in Amazon’s new “Rapids” app. (Photos via Amazon).

Since the beginning of smartphones, parents have been trying to get kids to put them down in favor of a book. Amazon doesn’t think the two should be at odds.

image003Today the Seattle tech company is launching a new app and subscription service called Rapids, designed to get children interested in reading for pleasure. Rapids presents stories in a variety of genres —including adventure, fantasy, humor, mystery, science fiction and sports — told in the style of chat sessions.

The short stories and accompanying illustrations unfold as characters chat back and forth. Examples include an alien texting with an unsuspecting kid about invading Earth, and two chickens chatting about crossing the road.

The reader controls the pace by moving to each new message when he or she is ready. If there’s a difficult word, kids can look up the definition and hear the word read aloud. Those words are added to a glossary the child can reference later.

Rapids also includes a “read to me” option that reads stories aloud while kids follow along.

“We know that many kids already enjoy chatting with friends and family on their devices,” said Michael Robinson, director of consumer products for Amazon Education, in an interview. “Embracing this, we wanted to see what authors and illustrators could create with an app that made it easy to tell stories that way.”

Amazon says the service will offer hundreds of stories at the outset, with dozens more added each month. The stories are designed for children between the ages of 7 and 12. Parents can test the service out with a free two-week trial or sign up for a discounted introductory rate of $2.99 per month.

The Rapids stories and features will not be automatically included in Amazon’s existing FreeTime Unlimited service for children and families. That service, which offers unlimited access to kid-friendly movies, games, TV shows and apps, is separately available for $2.99 a month per child with an Amazon Prime account. However, Amazon Rapids can be integrated into the FreeTime platform if parents pay the monthly subscription fee for both.

Rapids was built by Amazon Education with input from the company’s Kindle team. It’s available today on Android, iOS and Amazon Fire devices.

Amazon’s Robinson, for one, is pleased with the results after testing Rapids on his two children.

“It’s worked exactly in the way that I want it to,” he said. “If there’s no book in the car and they really want to read, my daughter can just grab my phone, read a Rapids story and she’s read one or two by the time we reach the destination.”

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