Tag Archives: interactive books

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.

Back to the blog

I fielded a complaint recently. “You never update your blog,” my provocateur wailed. “You’re just doing this flash fiction stuff … and I haven’t read that.”

OK, you know who you are now. Please rest assured that no offence was taken and your observations were accurate. Although you really should read the flash fiction stories. Each one is a pearl, I tell you.

Seriously, my intention this year is plunge into another novel – or at least the detailed outline for a graphic novel, following the ASA Masterclass in penning comics that I took late last year. But before I immerse myself in such a project, I need to get fit again. And by that, I mean writing fit.

If I hadn’t ridden a bike for 18 months or so, I’d need to start with small outings and build up my endurance. It’s the same with writing. I haven’t done much creative writing since Five Parts Dead so the mind muscles need to regain their stamina and flexibility. Flash fiction is perfect for this, like sprint training for the brain.

Basically, I snatch an idea and set myself the task of finishing a story in one sitting, ideally under two hours. Yes, it’s rough and ready writing. But you should still get some sense of the character(s) and, hopefully, enough of a plot to propel you through the yarn. Yes, you.

That’s the rationale for the flash fiction. It’s unlikely to be the best stuff I’ve ever written. But if I rediscover my writing mojo, it’s a win.

But what else has been going on? Here are some random observations on the year so far:

  • I led a PD session with librarians on the different types of interactive books and e-books available for iPad. I’m more than happy to be evangelical on this topic and could talk (and demonstrate) for hours. Great fun.
  • I was rapt to be invited to take part in a ghost stories session in the upcoming Emerging Writers’ Festival. Can’t wait. Will be brushing up on my creepy tales.
  • I met NY author and publisher David Levithan at the 21st birthday of the State Library’s Centre for Youth Literature. David, along with Rachel Cohn, wrote Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist – one of the books that convinced me I should write for young adults. Apart from a great author, David was an inspiring speaker and thoroughly nice guy.
  • After various school visits this year some of my bugbears have raised their ugly heads again. One is computers. Believe me, as president of the Crap Handwriting Association, I understand why laptops and iPads make life easier for people. But for goodness sake, instant-messaging-Internet-apps-games-social-media seem all too tempting for some students. I’m going to sound like a dinosaur but kids won’t learn while these shiny distractions are beckoning to them. I can say I’ve seen students doing online shoe shopping and banking, updating their Facebook status, playing Temple Run and Pong, texting, sending emails and much more, when they’re supposed to be otherwise occupied. Perhaps it means I’ve failed as a speaker when this occurs but it’s a big ask to compete with those sorts of toys.
  • Weekend sport is consuming an ever larger slice of our weekends as the kids play two sports and I greet dawn on my bike. Last weekend I covered the Little Dragon’s first cricket final on Twitter as an exercise in instant storytelling. The writing was crude – particularly when things got exciting – but hopefully the drama shone through. Stay tuned for a semi-final tomorrow.

I’ll stop there as other tasks beckon. The writing year, although already well underway, is bubbling with possibility. Who knows, 2012 might be a year for big decisions.