Ten writers for children. All with something to say.


The picture book app and Me

My Hornbook Magazine came in the mail yesterday and I was delighted to open up to Roger Sutton's editorial: "When A is for App". He asks some very interesting questions, ("so... when do we stop calling them books?") after observing a little girl clicking through a picture book app, page to page. Later in the article he observes how "book-bound" the apps are. The authors and illustrators featured in the app downloads he mentions, (Ruckus Media and Oceanhouse), wrote and illustrated for the printed page. How much input do they have when it comes to turning their books into apps? Should these large media outfits confer with author or illustrator when creating the apps? Or should they even consider using the editor who was deeply involved with the creation of the original printed picture book?

Here I will speak for myself. The author of my illustrated book, Castles, Caves, and Honeycombs, Linda Ashman sent me an email just last week with a link to an app for our book. I don't have a kindle or an iPad (yet!), but I immediately downloaded it to my iPhone and played around with it. "Played" is the keyword here. With all of the bells ringing every time you turn a page (go here to experience how Iceberg Kids apps work.) and the recorder to make your own voice reading the story, it becomes a toy, and not the intimate experience of reading a book. I applaud the opportunity to record a favorite uncle's voice reading the story-- or even the child's voice reading aloud to his or herself, but what then? Is the child put to bed with their iPhone/iPad reading to them? What happened to the warm lap or the comforting arm around the pajama-clad child? Not to mention the interaction between child and adult as they page through the picture book together. (Check this out to see that the picture book is alive and well. )To me, it is a toy. An educational toy. Would I have bought one for my kids when they were little? Yes, especially for long drives in the car. But there would also be the box of books in the car for them to leaf through at their leisure, forwards and backwards, again and again. And at home, there would be just as many books on the shelves, because books are books, and apps are toys.

In terms of conferring with the author and illustrator about the making of the app, here is my two cents: In the Castles, Caves, and Honeycombs app from Iceberg Kids, there is an automatic zoom from a close-up of the image to the overall spread after the words have been read. The choice of "close-ups" from which to zoom does not always make sense. Had I been consulted, I would definitely have had a few things to say about the visuals that would make a better flow of text and image for the user of this app. (Note: I say "user" rather than "reader"-- it is a different experience, and I say this with no judgement of good or bad. ) It is very early in the world of picture book apps, but I would call for the inclusion of the original illustrators and authors when possible, in order to make a more integrated experience of the original picture book. This would allow each app its own unique look, just like each picture book is unique. This would be more appealing than wrestling and pulling each picture book to conform to the format of the app which tends to be rather institutional in its aesthetic. But this would take the same careful attention an author, illustrator, editor, and designer give to each picture book. This would take time. And with the speedy growth of the eBook and Apps, I don't think this kind of time is possible.


Wendy said...

I know it would all take time - but I find it horrifying that you weren't consulted about how the images were shown. (Especially knowing how beautifully you did Princess & her Panther.)

You're right - toys are great, but they can't be a substitute for sharing-a-story-time. We talk about interactive games - but there's nothing quite as interactive as holding a child on your lap, watching their reactions, and altering your reading for that particular child, mood and time.

Penni said...

I have litte people and they spend a bit of time on the iphone playing with apps, including one or two "picture book" style experiences: Strange Sam and Little Bella. As far as I know both were produced FOR the iphone and didn't exist as books previously. I don't see it as a reading experience at all. It's a toy, pure and simple. As are any of those electronic reading aids (VTech etc). I just prefer the aesthetics of the iphone to any of those awful reading "tools".

To me the parent-book-child experience is an act of enclosure, at least three bodies: parent, child and the body of the book (sometimes there are extra parents or children!). In psychoanalytic terms, I think of the book as a transitional object, one that simultaneously divides and connects child and parent, on the one hand reaffirming boundaries and individuality, on the other hand allowing the child the safe temporary return to that vibrating humming comfortable world before self and subjecthood, where meanings can drift and connect to the primordial imagination.

David LaRochelle said...

Thanks, Lauren, for such a thoughtful response to the issue of e-books and apps. I was talking with my editor just today, and she too called a recent e-book she had seen a "toy" and not a book. And I agree with everyone who cites the important bonding experience that reading a book aloud brings.

Edie Hemingway said...

This is a very interesting explanation of and introduction to apps for me! I have to admit I knew nothing about them and find it very difficult to understand why the illustrators and authors are not consulted when their books are adapted to this new media. Thanks for including all the links to further information.

Lauren said...

Penni, I love your explanation of the parent-book-child experience as an "act of enclosure of at least three bodies" -- the book being one of the bodies- I love this!
Wendy, my sense is the publishers themselves see the turning of the book into an app as just one more format for the book- like turning a hard cover into a paperback. There is always a loss even into a paperback version, because the endpapers are often not included and you and I both know how much story can be told on the endpapers. It would be nice to be consulted, but the time and $$ involved makes it near impossible... but the main point is that apps are not picture books.

Linda Ashman said...

Hi there, Lauren! I still haven't seen our book in its app format, so I really appreciate reading your description and thoughts. As we've discussed, we never imagined a child "reading" a picture book on a small electronic device, but if it keeps the book alive--and keeps kids reading--then it's certainly a plus.

It seems like a brave new world, with many players scrambling to get their products out there--I'm sure there will be many changes to these "books" as things evolve. But I agree--the product is always likely to be better if you include the original creators in the process.

And I also agree that there's no substitute for the act of snuggling up with someone you love and reading a real, live book!

Christy said...

Really lovely discussion here. Penni, may I quote you on your discussion of the act of enclosure?

Forgive me for taking this out of context, but I am comforted by Ecclesiastes 12:12, "...of making many books there is no end..."

Lauren said...

Love that quote!