Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Picturebook app resources

I've been giving talks on picturebook apps and decided it was high time I posted some useful links for people interested in learning more.

As a children’s book author and illustrator, and now academic, I’ve been seeking out information on apps and the possibility of making picturebook apps myself. I believe the best ones are uncluttered and have actions, interactions, and sounds that not only support the narrative but add dimensions of meaning through these additional modes. The best one I’ve seen to date is, apart from a couple of design errors, The Heart and the Bottle based on the print book by Oliver Jeffers. Unfortunately, HarperCollins has not offered any updates to fix the bugs in this wonderful app, and hasn’t replied to my emails.

Here’s a youtube preview of the app. And here's a very nicely written review

A good article introducing picturebook apps as a genre by New York Librarian Elizabeth Bird on School Library Journal

Speaking of Reviews. There are a lot of reviewers but not a lot of thoughtful, intelligent reviews by people who understand picturebooks and early literacy.

Kirkus reviews are okay - descriptive, rather than enlightening. I find their ratings unreliable. http://www.kirkusreviews.com/book-reviews/ipad/

Digital storytime http://digital-storytime.com - lists everything, but has very little to say except praising apps for being bright, busy and selling lots

Children's Technology Review editor Warren Buckleitner, a PhD in Educational Psychology and the founder of the Dust or Magic Institute is a wonderful writer on the children’s digital space. He doesn’t mince words and calls digital products evil if they have in-app selling. He has written extensively and brilliantly on what constitutes a great app and hosts the wonderful Children’s Technical Review youtube channel:


However, he doesn’t seem to have a lot of interest in picturebook apps.

The august Horn Book online doesn’t have a separate app review section, but mixes them in with books and other children’s materials in their Out of the Box section.

Touch and Go on Library School Journal site

touch and Go’s top apps of 2011

The Guardian online has arguably the best children’s book section in any paper anywhere. It is absolutely fabulous. Wonderful articles and multimedia features on all children's materials.

Children's App Awards

The indispensable and indefatigable Warren Buckleitner is also behind the KAPi (The Kids at Play Interactive ) award

The other award for children's digital materials is the Bologna Ragazzi Digital Award given out at the Bologna Children's Book Fair.

Major developers (aside from Disney)

Vancouver's own Loud Crow - responsible for Pop out! The Tale of Peter Rabbit and the delightful Sandra Boynton books such as Moo Ba La La La

Nosy Crow - London's book and app publisher of Cinderella and The Three Little Pigs. Very exciting company who know their kidlit.

Zinc Roe is the developer of the apps for Marie Louise Gay's Stella and Sam books. They use the voices and art from the TV cartoon. I love Sam but I think they've turned imaginative kidlet Stella into a knowing mom figure which really offends me on a number of levels.

Toca Boca - brilliant Swedish company. Their Robot Lab is huge in Saudi Arabia. Is there a reason for this? Speak up, Saudi fans.

HarperCollins - Book publisher and responsible for commissioning the app of the Heart and the Bottle. Why oh why can't they fix the bugs? I'm begging, please.

OceanHouse Media - massive output of apps of limited interactivity geared to teach reading. Oceanhouse has acquired the rights to Dr. Seuss, Dave McKee's Elmer, and Mercer Mayer's Little Critter books.

Moonbot - started by an old lady children's literature academic (like me!), famous illustrator, and a tv producer. Responsible for the animation-heavy The Fantastic Flying Books of Mister Morris Lessmore

Making your own picturebook app

I confess that I’ve only been labouring on the design of an app for Tradewind Books since September and haven’t made one yet. But I’ve been researching, reading the blogs of other author/illustrators and following their experiences with do-it-yourself software. I’ve been going to seminars, webinars, and online chats, as well as learning how to animate with Anime Studio Pro which seems particularly good for making cut-out animation from existing illustrations.

So if that's where you want to go too, first look at this brilliant slideshow by Dutch team, Visser and Verplancke.

Okay, now that you’ve looked at it, you’ve seen how many steps and different kinds of expertise are involved in making apps. Developers usually have teams of people working on them. However, there are a few people developing software for people who don’t know how to write computer code and who want to make their on apps. Many of them are free but then charge you a bundle to publish the app. The one I like best so far is Kwiksher, a plug-in for photoshop CS5. The interactivity is limited but the big news is that they are working on putting in physics - code that imitates falling, slingshots and sliders, amongst other mechanics. If you don't know what those things are, here are a couple of little demo videos:

For following authors and illustrators who are working on creating ebooks and apps of their books, the best blogs to follow are e is for book and Brooke Jones. Both these blogs are amazingly generous with information and tips. A very interesting community!

Research into Children and Digital Media

A year ago there weren’t many articles written by scholars on children and the ipad (it only came out in 2010!) but more is being written all the time. Unfortunately, you need to be searching Google Scholar while logged into a library site to be able to see the complete text of articles published in scholarly journals if you’re not a subscriber.

However, there are several wonderful organizations doing serious studies on digital media and children and the troubling amount of time kids are spending glued to a screen of some sort.
You can download very reliable and recent studies from The Sesame Street Workshop's Joan Ganz Cooney Center, and from Commonsense Media.


  1. Thanks, Cynthia! Much to look through and think about!

  2. Thanks so much for this, Cynthia! Fabulous info. Loved your presentation on Monday at CWILL.

  3. Hi Cynthia, I just heard you speak at the children's literature conference today at UBC, and was eager to check out your blog. I work with grade two children, and will be starting a unit on fairy tales soon. I am looking to incorporate more multimodal methods and plan on using graphic novels, and would love to use the nosy crow apps you introduced me to!! Thanks so much for your work, and I will be checking out your blog on a regular basis!

  4. Thank you so much for sharing this valuable list.

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