ONE THING IS FOR SURE: COMPUTER PROGRAMS WILL NEVER really supplant great storybooks. Software simply can't replace the special "multimedia experience" of the imagination. So what role can computers and software play in a child's literacy development? The answer is that, with electronic storybooks, they can supplement the reading experience. familiar characters can serve as informal reading tutors by labeling objects in a story(helping children make symbol/sound relationships) and by reading a word or phrase if the child wants to hear it spoken aloud. here are five of the best-ever electronic storybooks that make great additions to any early childhood software collection. 

Arthur's Reading Games

Ages 3-7/Teaches: strategies for word recognition

Arthur bets an ice cream cone with D.W., his little sister, that she can't read 10 words. By using context clues, resourceful D.W. wins the wager for instance, she reads the "bank" sign on the bank building. Broderbund/ The Learning Company, 800-522-6263; Windows/ Mac; $29.95.

Just Grandma and Me

Ages 3-6/Teaches: early reading strategies

Two of Mercer Meyer's lovable characters, Little Critter and Grandma, spend a day at the beach. Kids listen to the waves and get to make their own sand castles. They can also activate a sticker option available on each page of the story that transfers some of the objects from the page's illustration to a display panel on the left of the screen.

Children then click and drag each object from the panel to the appropriate space in the picture. As the object is highlighted, its name is read aloud so that early readers can see the object, hear its name pronounced, and learn the spelling of the word. Broderbund/The Learning Company, 800-521-6263; Windows/Mac; $19.95.

Disney's Animated Storybook: 101 Dalmatians

Ages 3-7/Teaches: pre- and early - reading skills

The classic tale about 101 adorable dalmatians and the nasty Cruella De Vil is nicely adapted to software. As in typical e-book format, the story text is highlighted as the computer reads it aloud. The original feature here is that each page also includes a clever "interactive thesaurus" that introduces kids to synonyms. Disney Interactive, 800-900-9234; Window/Mac; $19.95.

Dr. Seuss Preschool

Ages 2-4 /Teaches: early-reading skills

Dozens of Dr. Seuss characters lead children through eight three-level activities that teach early-reading skills. Children match letters as they help Horton the Elephant find baby Elma Sue's mother. The program is engaging and fun and immerses children in witty and playful Seussian language. Broderbund/The Learning Company, 800-521-6263; Windows/Mac; $19.95.

Midnight Play

Ages 4 and up/Teaches: creativity

Simon & Schuster has brought this 1999 Bologna New Media Prize winner to the United States. Based on Czech illustrator Kveta Pacovska's picture book, the program allows children to explore and experiment with the story's images and music by moving the mouse. The graphics and music are beautiful, and there is a surprise around every corner. Simon & Schuster Interactive, 800-223-2336; Windows/Mac; $19.95.