Tag Archives: ebooks

Best book apps: Part 2

One of the most common arguments against letting children read books on an iPad is that the stories will lose out to games and little actual reading will take place.

There are certainly interactive picture book apps available that bend over backwards to provide game-play elements, often to the detriment of story flow. How is a young reader supposed to follow a plot when they’re being urged to shave hairy tarantulas*, for instance?

My answer to the game-versus-reading argument is that when a book app is well thought out and the storyline is strong, then that magical reader immersion will still occur. Finding the outcome of the story will become more important than top scores and mindlessly groping interactive illustrations to discover what whistles or burps.

The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr Morris Lessmore by Moonbot Books is my ‘favourite and best’ example, (as Lauren Child’s Lola might say). This book app blurs the lines between short film, picture book, musical instrument and game but the story pulses through every page. When I demonstrated this app to a group of librarians, they clapped at the conclusion!

It does help that the plot promotes the healing power of books (actual printed books!) but I believe the Moonbot code poets deserve credit for their app design, too. It’s no fluke that this app is a global bestseller. In my opinion it represents the future of reading.

Meeting the books in Morris Lessmore
Meeting the books in Morris Lessmore

My children have read Morris Lessmore on iPad many, many times. Yes, they like being able to write messages in breakfast cereal and twirling a house in a tornado but they persist to the finish because the story is the pay-off.

It warms my heart that you can now buy print copies of Morris Lessmore in good bookstores. I wonder if this is the first instance of an app’s success resulting in publication of a picture book?

Here are some other favourite book apps for middle/junior fiction readers:

The Heart & The Bottle by Oliver Jeffers
Beautiful and moving story from a wonderful children’s book author-illustrator. The interactivity in the pictures isn’t always obvious but I think this encourages reading through before getting distracted. That said, there are seamless opportunities to engage with the book and most enhance understanding of the story. For example, the central character puts her heart in a bottle when she thinks she doesn’t need it any more. When she wants to get it out, it proves very difficult. We learn this because we’re helping her try to retrieve it.

I particularly like that readers are invited to draw a picture during the story. When you turn to the next page your artwork is framed on the wall as if it has always been there. To my mind, this proves you are part of the story. (Given the plot involves death and grief, we all live this story one way or another, eventually). This is a magnificent app.

The Three Little Pigs & The Secret of a Pop-Up Book – App by Game Collage
OK, there’s a risk that kids will click through this app without reading, just to interact with the images. Indeed, they may already know the story so well they won’t bother reading. On the other hand, if you sit with a reluctant reader and monitor their progress through the book, the images could be the rewards for persevering with the text.

The winning twist is that the retro ‘pop-up’ book illustrations offer an x-ray function. Touch the x-ray vision goggles button and you get to see the cogs and springs that make a pop-up image work. This is a very clever touch by the designers.

Pinocchio – App by Elastico
Based on the novel by Carlo Collodi, this is much darker than the Disney version of the story. The illustrations contain lots of interactivity, such as when Pinocchio’s wooden feet catch on fire when he sites too close to the hearth. (The reader gets to put out the flames.) This is a new spin on an old yarn.

Animalia – Graeme Base
This mega-successful picture book was an obvious candidate for conversion to app. Just as the printed book contained elements of game play (find the hidden animals, etc.), the app features hide-and-seek with the author, alphabet treasure hunts and more. Perhaps best of all, you can expand the magnificent images to look at them in high-res detail.

This Too Shall Pass – Jacqueline O Rogers (App by Moving Tales)
More story book than app, the reason for tuning in here is to see letters flow into words and enjoy the intricate, multi-dimensional images. This is a folktale-style yarn and text heavy, so perhaps not for reluctant readers. It looks great though and the app offers the book in several languages.

PopOut! Peter Rabbit – Beatrix Potter (App by Loud Crow Interactive)
The picture book classic gets a beautiful makeover for the iPad, with screens filling with autumn leaves and blackberries. There are also traditional pop-up book effects based on pulling levers and twisting dials. It should be enough to find Ms Potter another generation of readers.

Other titles worth a look:

  • Alice for the iPad – App by Atomic Antelope. Essentially Alice in Wonderland with attractive, retro-style interactive illustrations.
  • My Dad Drives A Roller Coaster Car – Bill Doyle (App by Crab Hill Press) An array of crazy vehicles for readers to propel across the page.
  • When I Grow Up – Weird Al Yankovic ill. Wes Hargis. (Harper Collins) This story contains five games, including the aforementioned *tarantula shaving! Boys love it but the story does get a bit disjointed.
  • Cozmo’s Day Off – App by Ayars Animation. Spectacular, effect-rich illustrations of an alien and his colourful universe.

In my next post I’ll tackle book apps for YA and older readers.

Best book apps: Part 1

Maybe all the Ian Fleming books I read as a kid are to blame – I’ve always been a sucker for a gadget.

While my eyes are still drawn to GPS watches, light sabres and night vision goggles, the tech entering our household now tends to be packaged in a tidy white box with a fruity logo. Yes, I was an early adopter of the iPad.

My initial interest in the iPad was as a substitute laptop with better battery life. There are some great writing apps (topic for a future post, maybe) and all sorts of productivity prompts and gizmos with various pros and cons. An ugly encounter with the dark side of the Cloud has left me less evangelical on the laptop front but I remain a devotee on the possibilities of the iPad when it comes to reading, e-books and book apps.

My iPad is chockers with reading opportunities. It has its own comic store (ka-ching!) and various bookshops. In this post I’m focussing on interactive book apps because:
a) I regularly get requests for recommendations;
b) I’ve downloaded oodles of book apps and watched how children interact with them; and
c) I believe this is where the iPad really shines.

For the record, I have also run the odd professional development session for librarians on new storytelling technology.

Rather than listing ALL the book apps I have purchased, I’ll start with my favourites, divided into rough categories by reader age group. It’s worth noting that older kids still enjoy interacting with books for their younger siblings. Future posts will cover apps for more advanced readers.

Apps for young/beginner readers

Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive This App – Mo Willems
If you’re familiar with Mo Willems’ pigeon picture books you will know that kids love the cheeky bird that wants to have its cake and consume it, big time. This theme is mirrored in the app. Children are urged to record soundbites that are then inserted into the story, often with hilarious results. The app also shows children how to draw the pigeon. Usability throughout is simple but, for my mind, the highlights come whenever the pigeon chucks a wobbly. Tantrums are funny if you’re not the cause of them.

The Very Cranky Bear – Nick Bland
This app lets children record themselves reading the book and play back their narration whenever they like. It actively encourages re-reading by hiding rewards in the illustrations; collect them all and you get the chance to make a picture at the end of the book and save it to your photo gallery. Recorded with Australian actor Angus Sampson, this is a winner.

Red Hat, Green Hat – Sandra Boynton
I read Boynton board books to my children until I was counting pigs in my sleep. This title was a favourite and the app maintains the magic. As evidence, Your Honour, I give you three-year-old twins going berserk on a flight from Darwin to Melbourne. I handed over my iPad and my daughter as driver and this app reduced turbulence all the way home. And who doesn’t love flooding an iPad screen with socks and undies?

There’s a Monster At The End of This Book – Jon Stone (Sesame Street)
Hey kids, I owned this app when it was a tree-book, not an e-book. I still have the original Golden Book. It was a great yarn back in the (cough) seventies and is still going strong. Watch Grover do his utmost to prevent an imminent and scary monster encounter! Luckily, things aren’t always as scary as they seem. Usability isn’t always intuitive but kids will persist and find their way through.

Harold & The Purple Crayon – Crockett Johnson
Another blast from the past! As a kid I liked knowing that Harold could draw himself into and out of any situation, limited only by his imagination. This app is not as game-ish as some – the obvious extension would have been letting kids do their own purple drawing and save it. Nonetheless, the story is still a quiet achiever and worth a look.

The Wrong Book – Nick Bland
My daughter has loved this book ever since it turned up in the school library. The app takes the winning elements of the book – a child frustrated that his story isn’t going to plan – and throws in interactive anarchy via pirates, farty monsters and much more. Narration is by Frank Woodley and there are sound effects and hidden elements everywhere.

That should be enough to keep your little people busy. The funny thing is, download these and you may soon find yourself in a real bookstore buying actual interactive, printed paper books to match. That’s how we roll at my place.

Stay tuned for interactive book apps for middle and YA readers. Maybe even grown-ups.

No rest for the weekend

Cue nefarious laugh. Weekend… wicked, geddit? Sigh. OK, I apologise for the bad pun to launch this post. It seems that one of the unspoken rules of ageing is that your humour takes a hook turn toward Dodgyville.

Then again, perhaps it’s a sign of stress. Busy I am. This week, extraordinarily so. Here’s a sample of the current and prospective action along the Thunder Road.

  • Sun: Cycle 110 km as part of a training ride for the Ride to Conquer Cancer
  • Mon-Tues: Work on a massive project for the federal government, deadline mid-November
  • Wed: Research/writing time on TWO book proposals. Exciting stuff! Then off to the State Library to discuss the future of the Dromkeen Dragons.
  • Thu-Fri: Back to the aforementioned mega-project. Pressure on, big time. Lots of stressed people. Also, judge the short story competition for the Whittlesea Agricultural Society annual show.
  • Sat-Sun: Riding to Conquer Cancer, approx 100 per day, raising money for the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre. Camping overnight in the chilly Yarra Valley.
  • Mon: Back to project land, briefing a crucial agency on the action so far.
  • Tue: As above but throw in a panel discussion with two brilliant bookish people at an eastern suburbs school.
  • Wed: A return to research & writing.
  • And on it goes.

Better to be busy than bored, yes? Man, I should not be posting, Yoda-style, on a Friday night. It’s three parts tripping, one part blogging.

OK. Deep breath. There were, cough, three valid, rational reasons for attempting this post.

1. My annual short story competition them round-up.

I’ve been judging the WAS competition for umpteen years. I see the topics year 7 to 12 students tackle in their stories as a geiger counter for the issues occupying teen minds. For all those people who say my books are too dark, check out what the kids are writing about this year:

Dementia; disobedience; detention; death; parenting (good & bad); death; birth; bullying; ageing; Rhonda & Katut; drought; fire; manslaughter; domestic violence; murder; alien invasion; asylum seekers; poverty; death; racism; divorce; disability; murder; murder; murder; dystopia; fast food containing rats tails; fire; domestic violence; refugees; dementia; dystopia; alien invasion; fairytales; road trauma; racism; bullying; corrupt religion; broken hearts; dishonesty.

It’s a good thing that stories are a safe place for young writers to explore the dark and the light in their lives.

2. Big news. Five Parts Dead is now available on iBooks, Amazon Kindle, Google Books, ebooks.com. Kobo and ReadCloud. That makes me very happy. Tree-books are good too, though.

3. I wanted to tell you about my recent experiences crash-testing new work with real live, Impro Melbourne actors. Blimey those people can think fast. Way faster than me, late on the eve of a big bike ride. So, I’ll end with another apology. My time on stage with the actual actors will have to wait for a future post, sorry. Good night.

Pathways to publication redux

Not all that long ago I was an unpublished author. Now that I’m not, I get lots of questions about how to make that miraculous transition and earn the right to slash the prefix.

Here’s my first attempt at answering.

Having been asked again recently, I wondered if my late 2008 post had aged well. I reread it and there’s not much I’d change. But I would caution that publishing prospects are gloomier than they were two years ago.

How so?

Well, I know of several very talented writers, published, multi-published and unpublished, who have had rejections in recent times. I suspect that publishers are becoming ever more risk averse and, as a result, it’s also a tougher task to gain representation from a literary agent. Some of the major bookstore chains are in strife and less likely to buy as many books or as wide a range of titles. I’m talking globally, not just in Australia.

Then there’s the e-book phenomenon. My sense is that no one in the publishing industry really knows how profits will be affected by this trend or what the future of books looks like. Will printed books become collectors’ items, only published in small numbers where there’s proven demand for a title? Will there be an ocean of e-books, many of them self-published, where it becomes harder to find the pearls?

Articles like this one in the Wall Street Journal give little cause for optimism and suggest author incomes will be halved.

On the other hand, e-books could mean it’s easier to find, afford and read an author’s work.

So yes, the pathway to publication has veered somewhat in two years. That doesn’t mean you should throw in the towel. Strong, unique stories will find their way to publication. Success stories do happen (as any parent trying to find the latest Wimpy Kid book in time for Christmas would know).

If you’re none the wiser at this point, I’d recommend aspiring authors read Give Up Your Publishing Dream by noveldoctor. Why? Because you should be writing for yourself. First, foremost and forever.