I keep finding myself in conversations with people who are down on technology, especially as it tramples over the sacred ground of books. It was the mood at Book Expo this year, and it seems to be the mood among the parents and educators I’ve been talking to recently. What they’re missing is that we’re witnessing the birth of something new, and it’s amazing to watch the evolution of the eBook unfold as different people and publishers try storytelling in app form. Here are a handful that have caught my eye, for reasons both good and bad.
The Going to Bed Book is perhaps the most literal translation I’ve seen yet of a book on screen. Not only are there animated page turns (which, just for the record, I hate in digital form), but they go so far as to show in the book in an environment. Look! There’s the board book, right next to a blanky and plush doll. It’s as though the app is apologizing for having the book on a screen. Don’t get me wrong – there’s stuff to like here, like the cute interactive animations on each page and the fact that it’s based on one of my favorite board books of all time, but I’d love to see the creators embrace the form of the book on screen.
Nancy Drew: Shadow Ranch takes advantage of the mobile platform by interjecting the standard eBook with choice points like the old Choose Your Own Adventure books, as well as mini games and activities that further the storyline. The app is a bit like a hypertext adventure. There are different kinds of links for definitions, sound effects, and choice points, and it handily shows your choice points as selected links so you can read through the story in different ways. Stylistically there’s a weird mix of retro Nancy Drew on the book pages and 3-D games and animation more typical of Her Interactive everywhere else. I’d love to see something done entirely in the retro style.
The Cat in the Hat, and pretty much every other release from Oceanhouse Media, has set the bar for the straightforward eBook app. They more than do justice to these beloved books with elegant pans and zooms through the illustrations, and text highlighting while the book is read that’s easy on the eyes. You can tap on the screen to make words appear, but there’s not much beyond that. The book is what you get, and when the book is great, it’s plenty to sustain an app.
A Present for Milo is a very sweet app that is more animated than some of the others, featuring a cat and mouse chase that leads Milo, the cat, to a birthday surprise. The illustrations are adorable. The animation, though simple, does a lot to convey the movement of the book to young readers. Picture books for little kids have always tackled concept words like “around” and “through”, but what a treat to have animations help convey the meaning.
The Magic School Bus: Oceans from Scholastic is an excellent translation of a Magic School Bus book. If you read the picture books, you know how densely populated they are with facts and dialog, not to mention the story itself. When I do these books as read alouds with my daughter, we’re pretty all over the place as we decide what to read. The app gives the book some linearity, as pieces of the book page slide on to screen so you can focus on one thing at a time. The more gamey moments in this app really add something to the understanding of science concepts, as kids can use touch to interact with the different animals and environments.
Perhaps my favorite one of all so far is The Three Little Pigs from Nosy Crow. You might think they got off easy adapting a public domain story, but there was clearly so much love (and writing) that went into this app. The pigs are charming, and you can tap each character in each scene multiple times for different lines of dialog that appears as text bubbles. The production value of the art, animation, and audio is amazing. You know that feeling you get when you’re reading a picture book that’s gorgeous and beautifully made? This is the app version of that feeling.
I think we’re just seeing the tip of the iceberg, so I say rejoice in this new medium! Let’s see where it can go. (And no, it’s not going to replace books. Not now, not ever. So stop worrying and enjoy them both.)
What eBook apps do you like?
Disclosure: I received review copies of almost all of these apps (I think I paid for Dr. Seuss), and I often work for Scholastic.