Tag Archives: junior fiction

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.

Rust free

I’m embarrassed by how neglected this blog has been lately. Apologies to anyone who has tuned in and failed to find anything new.

The truth is that my work status has changed and, with new responsibilities and deadlines, I’ve had to cut back on non-essential tasks. Blogging and tweeting are among those. As for writing, sigh, let’s just say you shouldn’t hold your breath waiting for Book 3. I have the ingredients, characters and a good chunk of the plot – but no time to knead and bake.

Indeed, this post is being tapped out in a lull between cooking dinner, doing dishes and wrangling the kids towards their beds. Storytime beckons and I’ll soon be plunged into fictional worlds of noisy new babies and lusty vampire ninjas.

So, please find below a bulleted list of things that have consumed the first quarter of 2011:

  • I’ve had a week’s residence at a secondary school where the Yr 10 English students studied Five Parts Dead. That was impressive on several levels. 5PD is a novel that’s less than a year old but the staff found it somehow and felt it would connect with their students, including reluctant readers. The feedback has been incredibly positive and the college is looking at studying the book in 2012 with a fresh batch of Yr 10s. I’m indebted to a group of teachers and teacher-librarians who were willing to think outside the usual bunch of school texts. As for the students, they certainly came up with probing questions about character and plot. I reckon I understand my own work better, thanks to their dissection.
  • I have sold three short stories, two of which will be used in literacy tests. The third will feature in a school textbook for Grade 5 to Year 8 students. I haven’t had any junior fiction published before so I’m quietly chuffed about this.
  • I attended my first interstate speaking engagement, joining the smorgasbord of storytellers at the Newington College Literature Festival in Sydney. I applaud Newington for generating so much enthusiasm and interest in words and writing from their students and staff. And it really was fun to meet and spend time with other speakers.
  • My family booked tickets for Japan – and then watched in horror at the devastation wrought by the earthquake, tsunami and subsequent nuclear contamination. Our holiday plans are on ice but this is inconsequential. My heart goes out to the generous people of Japan as they grapple with a social, environmental and economic toll we Australians can’t possibly comprehend. I heard a father interviewed last week who lost two children to the tsunami. Every day after work he returns to the wreckage to search for even the smallest sign of their bodies. There must be thousands of other heart-breaking stories like this.
  • I spoke to a group of 250 Yr 12 students just off the buses at their first day of study camp, in Week 1 of term. Chances of them remembering my words? Slim if not nil. Apologies to the student that asked for tips on writing short stories that I haven’t posted yet. (I haven’t forgotten though – and will do so ASAP.)
  • I’ve spoken to Yr 7 and Yr 8 students about finding and reading great books – and launched the Premiers’ Reading Challenge at two schools.
  • I spoke to a large group of fathers and their Yr 7 sons about Books for Boys and how to get their sons reading.
  • At my editing job, which is basically full time now, I’ve hired four new staff and begun an intense six-month project.
  • I’m now booked to speak at (in chronological order) the Emerging Writers’ Festival, an exciting Booktalkers event, the Melbourne Writers’ Festival, the Ballarat Writers’ Festival and the 1000 Words Festival. There’s also a guest lecture at RMIT, another at NMIT and sundry other luncheons and chats. Please come along to one or several of the public events and say g’day.
  • While work on Book 3 has been rare or non-existant, I started a short story that seems to be begging to be something bigger. That’s kind of exciting.
  • I’ve cycled in excess of 850 km and have actually come to appreciate the beauty of dawn, dammit.
  • And I’m slowly rebuilding our front fence in my “spare” time.

As my grandmother used to say, it’s better to wear out than rust out.

My online library

My attempts to post a little bookshelf at the right of screen (to show what I’ve been reading) have failed so I have opted for Plan B – Blogroll links to LibraryThing.

For those who have asked what I read and recommend, please click WHAT I’VE BEEN READING in the Blogroll box in the right-hand column. I will tag all Young Adult, Junior Fiction and Children’s Books so that you can search these categories. I’ve now also added a Books for Boys tag in response to queries from parents and schools I have spoken to.

NB: I’ve opted to use LibraryThing rather than some of the more commercial-focused, social or book networking sites. Why? Because I love libraries and can see the benefits of this site for librarians around the globe.