Moira Butterfield recently wrote a blog post about the “battle” between print and on-screen reading (something to which we are not strangers). She says, “I believe there could be more innovative computer/picture book mixes out there to discover, and I want publishers to call on us authors for ideas, not just on computer whizzes. I think we should get into the mix and offer our creativity.”
I haven’t spoken to Moira before writing this blog post, but, on the basis of this blog she doesn’t seem hugely excited about the apps she’s seen (perhaps she doesn’t know ours!): “We already have apps in which picture books are read out loud and pictures change when children touch the screen.” She seems to be suggesting something beyond/other than apps when she refers to “online”. She says, “I hope publishers will ask authors to help them with creative ideas for stretching their books to make wonderful new material online.”
So let’s deal with that first. A key reason that apps (and ebooks, but that’s a different subject) are attractive to publishers is that people are willing to pay for them. They are not always willing to pay a huge amount, and it’s certainly the case in our experience that you need to deliver more content more cheaply than you would in print. However, there’s evidence that people’s willingness to pay is increasing: Carly Schuler’s report for the Joan Gantz Cooney centre on children’s educational apps suggested that the average price of children’s educational apps had risen by a dollar between 2009 and 2011… and, as that represented a move from $1.13 to $2.14, that’s an 88% price increase.
By contrast, it’s proved hard for publishers to get readers to pay for online content (outside business, educational, scientific, technical and medical publishing – I am talking about “trade publishing”, and specifically children’s publishing, throughout this blog post). It will be interesting to see if initiatives, interestingly not taken by publishers themselves, like Magic Town which are based on reading and books, take off in the way that other kinds of virtual worlds like Moshi Monsters have taken off.
But maybe I am misunderstanding Moira. Maybe she is saying that she wants publishers to reach out to authors to create apps.
We’d love to find authors who are interested in working on apps.
But writing a highly interactive, multimedia children’s app that is a satisfying reading experience is not the same as writing a picture book. Here are some ways in which, in our experience, writing a children’s story app is different:
Creating an app is a highly collaborative process. More, perhaps, like writing a film-script than writing a book. Of course, picture book authors are used to being edited, but writing something truly interactive which accommodates other media does require a different level of flexibility and team-playing. Our apps are highly interactive and include illustration, animation, voice audio and music: the text is, just by virtue of the arthmetic a smaller part of that mix than it is in a picture book… which is not to say that it’s not a hugely important part of the mix.
Creating an app is a technical process. Moira writes about “teccies” and “computer whizzes”, and I think that authors who are interested in working into new media need to get to know “teccies” and “computer whizzes” and understand their kind of creativity, their sensitivities and what they regard as excellent in their fields. That’s not to say that authors need to come to publishers with a finished, coded app (we wouldn’t want that, for example: we have our own technical team, and we want to use code we’ve created), I do think that having some understanding of what does into animation and coding is helpful.
Creating an app is a new process. Authors who write picture books know their genre inside-out, and can draw on a huge experience of reading picture books themselves and, usually, of reading picture books to children. In August 2009 Winged Chariot launched Europe’s first picture book app (you can read about it here and elsewhere), so we’re looking at a genre that is just three years old. We began work on apps that we expected would be used on a screen bigger than the one we had available several months before the launch of the iPad, which turned out to be the name of the device we’d been expecting, in May 2010. So apps are new, and they’re developing fast. I think that authors who are interested in writing in this space need to keep up with developments, immerse themselves in this world and get to know the best of the apps that are out there, and, even better, spend time with children who are reading those apps to see how they use the screen and what they expect from it.
Apps are voracious: in our experience, they need more content than a picture book aimed at the same age-group. Writing a picture-book length text isn’t going to provide enough text for an app. Which is not to say that you can have even as much text on a screen at any one time as you can have on a printed page.
Apps are non-linear, or, at least, not completely linear: in our experience, understanding the balance of narrative story-telling and other non-linear elements is important.
The bottom line is that we get a lot of submissions of picture book texts that are sent into us as something that “would make a good app”. Often this is on the basis of just a couple of suggestions of interactivity: “when you touch the sky, the stars twinkle”, for example.
But, in our view, that’s just not enough.
In fact, we’ve written the texts for all of the apps we’ve published to date.
But that’s about to change. Our next app, Rounds: Franklin Frog, from which you can see an illustration at the top of this post, is written by an “outside author”: a husband-and-wife author-illustrator team came up with the concept, wrote the script and did the illustration. Even then, I think that Emma, who wrote the script, would say that there was a fair amount of team-work and back-and-forth involved in hammering out the final text. And, once we’d done that, there were final tweaks to be made in the recording studio: we use children’s voices and there were a couple of things that our narrator, Connie, just couldn’t say with the level of expression and fluency that we needed… so we changed them on the hoof. We kept the sense, and stayed true to the author’s intention, but we changed a word, or word-order, or the rhythm, to create something that sounded right, rather than read right.
We’ve done it once, and you’ll be able to see the results in a couple of weeks. We are more than willing to do it again. So, come on, authors: send us your excellent, thought-through concepts, with your vision of the multimedia and interactive elements that could be added to your brilliant text. We want to keep producing best-in-class apps, and we want to hear from you if you think you can work with us to do that.
There are some intriguing clues in this rather beautiful forest scene by Ed Bryan, the illustrator and animator behind Little Red Riding Hood. What’s the significance of the empty jars? Why are there thistles everywhere? Who’s that shy-looking fellow hiding behind one of the trees? I particularly love the sunbeams that have broken through the canopy.
We’ll be sharing all sorts of exciting things from Little Red Riding Hood over the coming months – keep watching this space!
(Kate says: “I hugely admire the writing and illustration of Alex T Smith, a couple of whose books I had the pleasure of publishing when I was at Scholastic. We’ve remained Twitter friends, and, when he tweeted about how his younger nephew’s attention span had, he felt, increased through exposure to Nosy Crow’s iPad apps, I asked him to expand on the thought, and this guest blog post was the result. There isn’t solid evidence about the impact of iPad apps on children’s development, concentration and/or literacy. Lisa Guernsey has spoken about them in the epilogue to her book, Screen Time (which you can download from her website, and I hope that Joanna McPake and Lydia Plowman of the Universities of Strathclyde and Stirling will extend their research (which I mentioned in this blog post though the links to the Seven Myths doesn’t work any longer, I see) into this area. In the meantime, all we have is personal stories. This is a lovely, individual one. Thank you, Alex.”)
I love being an uncle. I’ve even invented a word for the times I am left in charge of my two nephews: “uncling”. I think it’s a useful word to describe all the things I do with them – playing games, building dens, drawing (everything and anything) on demand, wiping noses… and, of course, battling boredom.
When my niece was little (she’s now a very glamorous 14 year-old) she was really easy to amuse. Should boredom strike, you could just plonk a book into her hands, or arm her with a pile of card, some glue and a pot of glitter, and she would be entertained for hours.
Big Nephew (now seven) was pretty much the same. From a very young age he could be entertained with a pile of books. He spent ages looking at the pictures and finding all the details hidden in them. What’s more, he could, and still can, (Proud Uncle alert) spend ages writing and illustrating his own beautiful, stapled picture books or making up brilliantly complicated and imaginative games (often involving aliens and/or dragons depending on whether he is a space man or a knight at the time).
Then Little Nephew arrived.
Little Nephew is now three and, like his siblings, he is (if you’ll allow me another Proud Uncle moment) very bright, fantastically imaginative and hilariously funny. He is also, and I say this in the nicest way, completely and utterly bonkers. After spending time with him I find myself exhausted, not only from laughing so much, but also from trying to keep up with the way his brain works. There is apparently a gorilla who lives in the attic at my parents’ house who tap-dances crossly on the floorboards if Little Nephew has to brave the stairs alone. When his parents check in on him after his bedtime, he can often be found sprawled across his bed in a completely different set of clothes from the pyjamas he was put into a few hours earlier: he was once found wearing swimming goggles, with a well-packed rucksack, a coat stuffed up his pyjama top, and a toy sword down his pyjama trousers – prepared, it would seem, for all the possible night-time eventualities and adventures that he could imagine.
While all of this is as lovely as it is funny, he isn’t exactly easy to entertain. He simply did not seem to have any sort of concentration span. You’d show him a book… and he’d race through the pages and zip off to do something else. You’d give him some paper… and he’d draw a squiggle then hop down from the table and get started on something new elsewhere. Getting him to do anything for more than a few seconds was really difficult and tiring, and he sometimes seemed frustrated too.
Then we had a breakthrough: the iPad!
When my parents bought their iPad, I got them to download some of the Nosy Crow apps as I thought they would be interested in them as they had both been teachers and are both bookworms. They were very impressed not only with the stories and the artwork, but also with the ways the iPad enhanced the texts and allowed the child reader (or in this case my parents!) to explore the story at their own pace.
It wasn’t long before the iPad was spotted by two pairs of beady eyes: the Nephews leapt onto it like hungry beasties. Big Nephew typically found his way around in no time, but what really surprised us all was how interested Little Nephew became. He sat flicking through the ‘pages’ and using his little fingers to make the three little pigs hop about and talk. He loved the ballroom dancing sequence in Cinderella and Bizzy Bear on the Farm is, I think, one of his very favourite things.
He now sits for sustained periods of time reading and playing with the Nosy Crow apps and really enjoys himself. I could say that through the iPad and its various apps his concentration span has increased, but actually what seems to have happened is that his ability to concentrate has appeared. And his fine motor skills have really improved too!
From reading the book apps, he has gone on to spend time creating mini-masterpieces in a painting app and learned to play games on the iPad too.
But the most curious thing is that since learning to enjoy the Nosy Crow apps, he has become really interested in print books. He regularly snuggles up beside one of us with a pile of books and wants each book read to him s-l-o-w-l-y giving him plenty of time to enjoy looking at the illustrations. He has also developed a real interest in creating non-digital artwork. Whereas before the best you could hope for was a blob quickly scrawled on a piece of paper, he now likes drawing funny little blob people who have their arms and legs on sideways and can sit happily glueing and sticking for ages.
I started thinking about this today whilst listening to a discussion on Radio 4’s You and Yours programme about whether all the technology today is damaging children. I tuned in mainly because I love listening to the crazy people who phone radio stations. One woman today wanted to ban and/or uninvent both TV and the Internet because she felt they were a bad influence and unhelpful! But after laughing at that, I got properly interested in the discussion. There was a lot of talk about how playing games on their computers can actually equip children with lots of skills they will need in the future careers. There were also testimonials from proud parents saying that their square-eyed, computer-game-playing child had grown up and been able to put their skills to use, not only in the games industry, but in a wide range of jobs, many of which you wouldn’t immediately associate with playing on an xBox.
I know that there’s a lot of anxiety as to whether, with the arrival of eBooks and apps, we will see the traditional children’s book becoming a thing of the past. There’s a worry that children born today will grow up not knowing how to read properly or know what a ‘real book’ is. Personally I don’t think that will happen. In the case of Little Nephew, modern technology (and Nosy Crow’s beautiful apps) have really grabbed his interest and actually led him from the screen to the page. I think with careful parenting (and uncling!) there is room for both apps and paper books in the world and they can be used to help children who struggle initially to connect with literature to learn to love books both ‘real’ and electronic.
Now, if you’ll excuse me I’ve got a tap-dancing gorilla in the attic to deal with…
It’s a sort of truth universally acknowledged that, with a few exceptions (Penguin, for example), consumers (which is shorthand for bookbuyers, readers and the parents of readers when we’re talking about children’s books), don’t recognise trade publisher brands (as opposed to academic or educational publisher brands, whose consumers do have more publisher brand loyalty). Instead, consumers care about authors and illustrators and their names and visual identities are what matter.
But this way of thinking was particularly relevant to an environment where books were sold in real bricks-and-mortar shops. Today, when increasing numbers of print books are sold digitally, and when, increasingly, publishers’ products themselves are digital (ebooks and apps, for example) the question of the publisher’s brand comes under new scrutiny. It seems to me that it is increasingly important that a publisher’s brand does need to have meaning now. As the route to self-publishing becomes ever easier, part of what a publisher must be able to offer authors and illustrators is an association with clearly articulated brand values, and the ability to communicate those brand values to consumers, to build communities of readers, and to find and foster advocates for the list.
So, one year into our publishing journey, I was interested to find this tweet from @anne_jackson:
“Glad I did come home. Orla told me she’d been waiting for me. We read Pip & Posy: The Scary Monster. She recognised @NosyCrow. Sleeping now.”
Anne, who I don’t know, describes herself on Twitter as the “mum of one funny little girl” who “loves bread, science and football”. She lives in Scotland.
Via Twitter, I asked for the story behind the tweet, and she emailed me and gave me permission to use this in a blog post:
“We recently bought Nosy Crow’s Three Little Pigs app for our daughter, Orla, aged three-and-a-half. Three Little Pigs is her favourite story and she absolutely loves the app, especially touches like the Big Bad Wolf lurking outside the Little Pigs’ living room window! Even a technologically-adept child like Orla still loves books though, and we make regular trips to the library. She’s very insistent on choosing her own books. On our last trip she chose Pip and Posy: The Scary Monster. Being a huge Gruffalo fan, she was probably first drawn to it by Axel Scheffler’s illustrations; however when she picked it up and opened it she saw the Nosy Crow logo on the first page. “Look Mum, the Three Little Pigs”, she said. With that, she handed me the book and continued her search, satisfied that Nosy Crow was guaranteeing her a good story. Thanks Nosy Crow!”
The picture at the top of this blog post is of Orla with iPad and with a book.
It’s exciting to think that after only a year of publishing we are starting to have a brand that is recognised by the people who matter – children and their parents.
We’d already published one app, and that was The Three Little Pigs. The story of The Three Little Pigs is one of danger and destruction and drama, and we used the interactive features of the iPad to enhance these: the most obvious example is that we enabled the child to help the wolf huff and puff the first two houses down.
Cinderella, though, is a story about different things: hard work, transformation and love. We emphasised the idea of hard work by enabling the child to help Cinderella with her various chores. We used touch screen interactivity to enable the child to make the various transformations happen… and we were left with the question of love.
I have two girls, who were as princess- and fairy-obsessed as the next child, and I found two things about the Cinderella story a challenge: the first is that she’s passive, and the second is that the prince falls in love with her when she’s looking “right”: all dressed up in a ball gown.
In this app, we were keen to stick with the traditional story, so there wasn’t much we could do about the inherent passivity of Cinderella: in our app, as in most versions of the stories, she’s pushed around by her stepsisters and stepmother; she’s transformed by her fairy godmother; and she’s chosen by the prince. We did, though, have Cinderella answer back to her stepsisters and stepmother, and we had her initiate the final trying on of the shoe. At the end, she’s shown in Converse-style trainers playing table tennis against her spouse.
But, as a parent of girls (now older), I also felt a bit squirmy about the idea that Cinderella is chosen just on the basis of how she looks. We played with the idea of appearance by introducing various mirrors in which the reader can see themselves. The vanity of the red-haired sister is contrasted with Cinderella’s various statements about the party and the prince: “I bet the prince doesn’t care what people look like”; “All this silly fuss about clothes!” and “Aren’t parties just about having fun?” for example.
None of the prince’s responses to Cinderella are about how pretty she looks. When she arrives, he says, “She has a very friendly smile”. And when they dance together, he says things like, “You’re a jolly good dancer”; “I don’t feel shy with you”;“You seem terribly kind”. We tried, throughout, to make them feel equal to one another.
I was also aware that we’d chosen to use children’s voices in our narration/dramatisation, and our characters – and this was deliberate – don’t look quite like adults or quite like children. This meant that we didn’t want anything too smoochy or sexualised in our portrayal of the relationship. We felt that this was an app for children much too young to really understand the concept of romantic love or sexual attraction, so we made Cinderella and the prince’s relationship about companionship more than anything else.
I am not saying for a moment that ours is a “feminist” version of Cinderella (though there would be nothing wrong with that). We chose to stick pretty much to a traditional story (and I could write a whole other blog post about the importance of traditional fairy tales), but we did think hard about how we presented romantic love.
I just thought that you might be interested to know that on Valentine’s Day.
Cinderella has won several awards. People, from children and parents to teachers of children with special needs and speech therapists, love it.
2011 was Nosy Crow’s first year of publishing. We published our first book in January.
It’s been an incredibly busy and full year, and I find it hard to sort through the events and impressions of the past twelve months to write anything coherent.
But here goes…
The books and apps we published… and signed up
In 2011, we published 23 books for children aged 0 to 14. 8 were board books. 7 were picture books. 8 were fiction titles for children aged 6 to 14. Here they are in reverse publication order finishing, at the time of writing but this will update as publication dates pass, in December 2011.
We signed up a further 38 books and 8 apps for 2012, and already have projects scheduled for publication in 2013 and beyond. You can already find out about some of the forthcoming books (in publication order starting, at the time of writing but this will update as publication dates pass, in January 2012) and about some of the apps.
Selling at home and abroad
Working with Bounce, we had books sold and promoted in a huge range of UK sales outlets from independent booksellers through bookshop chains and online book retailers to supermarkets and toy shops.
We sold rights to books in the following languages: French, German, Dutch, Italian, Spanish, Catalan, Portuguese, Danish, Swedish, Finnish, Polish, Hebrew, Chinese, Norwegian, Greek and Korean.
Nosy Crow authors on the road
Nosy Crow authors were at numerous literary festivals, including Hay, Edinburgh, Bath and Cheltenham, and staged countless events in schools, libraries and bookshops.
Nosy Crow on the move
We moved offices from our second office in Lambeth to our third office in Southwark (it’s always cheaper south of the river) as our staff grew from 8 to January 2012’s 19, including part-time people and “attached freelancers”. We’ve lost members of staff too (which is a real rite of passage). Two were only with us on a temporary basis and went on to roles that they had planned before they joined us, but Deb Gaffin has just left us to take on a marketing and partnership strategy role at Mindshapes. We are very grateful to her for helping us shape our first apps and the thinking behind them. Andi Silverman Meyer who has known Deb since they were at school together, and who has been fantastic at getting us US coverage for our apps, is joining Mindshapes too.
Spreading the word
We have reached a lot of people with Nosy Crow news of various kinds.
Nosy Crow as a company or Nosy Crow books or apps have been in the Wall Street Journal, The Chicago Tribune, USA Today, The Gadgetwise Blog of The New York Times, Wired Magazine, The Daily Mail, The Times, The Guardian, The Sunday Times, The Sunday Telegraph, The Independent, The Scotsman, Prima, Junior, Good Housekeeping, Kirkus, School Library Journal, The Melbourne Age, The Australian, The Huffington Post and many great children’s book, parenting, technology and app blogs. We’ve had terrific coverage in trade press and websites including Publisher’s Weekly, The Bookseller, FutureBook, BookBrunch and The Literary Platform. The quickest look at the first few pages of a Google search result for Nosy Crow gives a sense of the range of coverage – and, where it’s third-party coverage, how positive it’s been. We’ve had more than our fair share of TV and radio coverage too, and coverage, through our Gallimard and Carlsen links in Figaro, Marie Claire and Buchreport.
It would be ridiculous to pretend it was a year without disappointments or irritations. The much-investigated drainy smell in the bathrooms at 10a Lant Street continues to baffle. The many cakes we make and eat continue to contain a lot of calories. Camilla had her bag stolen and we had to have all the office locks changed. There are one or two important UK retailers who still haven’t stocked our books. There are several countries to which we’d hoped to sell rights but haven’t yet managed to do so – Japan for example, but there are good reasons for that. We didn’t always (though we did generally) agree what books we wanted to publish and how much we wanted to publish them. We offered for some books that we didn’t manage to buy, a couple of which I still feel sad about. One or two books (and I mean “one or two”: our strike rate has been good) didn’t sell quite as well as we thought they would. We had to cancel a couple of projects because they just weren’t working out the way that we’d planned.
But it’s been a very good year.
Whatever we achieved in this first year, we did it in partnership with our many authors and illustrators, new and established, and with other artistic collaborators, such as composers, audio experts and paper engineers. Without them, we have nothing to publish. We threw a party to say thank you. You can see the pictures at the top of our Facebook page.
Our author party in The Crow’s Nest in Lant Street a few weeks ago
And whatever we’ve achieved in this first year, we did it thanks to the support of publishers abroad; booksellers of many kinds; librarians; reviewers; bloggers; literacy organisations; literary and illustrators agents; printers and print managers; talented freelancers; and, of course, the parents and grandparents, uncles, aunts, friends, teachers and librarians who have bought and read our books and apps to, with and for children.
We’ve decided to lower the price of our first app, The Three Little Pigs, over the holiday period, as a way of introducing people to our work. We’re taking the price down to $1.99 US/£1.49 GBP/1.59 Euros from now until the end of the day on 2 January 2012.
We think that many people will get iPads and iPhones and iPod touch devices this Christmas (and we know from multiple reported surveys that many people want one). We also know from what we’ve seen of sales of eBooks post-Christmas that many people who get a new device at Christmas seem to spend the days immediately afterwards loading it up with content.
One of the challenges of making apps is getting people to find your app, and, once they’ve found it found it, getting people to buy something that (lite versions notwithstanding) they can’t try before they buy. We think that new iPad, iPhone and iPod touch owners may be particularly cautious about buying apps if they haven’t bought them before. We hope that, by lowering the price of our first app, people will be encouraged to find out about Nosy Crow and maybe even try out the other two apps we’ve published this year.
We’ve just released Bizzy Bear On The Farm. FutureBook described it as “unmistakeably Nosy Crow in design and quality … The app will further Nosy Crow’s reputation in this field, which can only bring relief to ‘bizzy’ parents looking for quality and safe content for their children.”
And, by the way, The Three Little Pigs was no slouch on the awards and critical acclaim front, and is – because it’s been on the market longest – our bestselling app.
We’re confident – based on the five star reviews that we’ve received from people on the app store apart from anything else – that once you’ve shelled out for a Nosy Crow app, you won’t be disappointed. Lowering the price of The Three Little Pigs for a limited time is a bit of an experiment. The app market is still in its infancy, and developers like us are still working out what the best way of selling our products might be.
So wish us luck!
If you have an iPad, iPhone or iPod touch and have managed to withstand the temptation to buy a Nosy Crow app, we hope that this offer will just nudge you over the edge.
We are thrilled to announce that our third highly-interactive storybook app, Bizzy Bear on the Farm, is now available on the App Store for iPad, iPhone and iPod touch.
Using the touchscreen, children aged two and up can explore the farm and help Bizzy Bear with all his chores. They can, for example, feed the pigs, put sheep into their pen, pick apples, gather eggs and drive the tractor!
This is our first app based on a Nosy Crow book series – our popular Bizzy Bear board books for children. But we’re not just squashing the books onto a phone or tablet. While the board books feature chunky tabs to push and pull, the app includes lots more simple ways for little fingers to explore the story, and the words are different too. The children’s voices reading the story, the farmyard sound effects and the specially-composed music make things even more fun.
We’re excited to bring the interactive features we’ve developed in apps (like The Three Little Pigs and Cinderella) for slightly older children to a younger audience.
The app is designed for toddlers and focuses on listening skills, following directions, and completing tasks. Bizzy responds to every touch with encouragement and help.
I know it’s a bit late (for reasons too complicated/embarrassing to go into) to be posting this now, but, just for those of you who missed it, I went, on Monday, to the second FutureBook Conference in London, run by the FutureBook team at The Bookseller. Well-organised and informative, with (for me) stand-out speeches from Stephen Page of Faber and Jon Ingold of Inkle, I, and many others, live-tweeted throughout, and you can find our tweets (for now, at least) here, several of which have links to stats and blog posts.
I will have a shot at posting a blog posting my impressions of the day if I have time over the weekend.
Immediately after the conference, the FutureBook Innovation Awards were presented. I was on the jury, but, because Nosy Crow’s Cinderella was on the shortlist for best children’s app, this year, I had to recuse myself from that part of the judging, disappearing to another room and biting my nails… and we won our category!
Above you can see our very smart and glassy award.
Most Inspiring Digital Person: Rebecca Smart of whom the judges said, “Under Rebecca Smart’s leadership, the Osprey Group’s businesses have demonstrated success across the range of digital publishing – including apps, online services and ebooks – that many larger houses would envy. In giving this award to Rebecca, the judging panel also took into account her generosity in sharing her knowledge through conferences and industry events, and her open and informative use of social media. This willingness to inform and inspire others makes her a deserved winner.”
(Just as a very silly aside, Philip Ardagh was so intrigued by the FutureBook conference and the tweets emanating from it that he “ran” and tweeted (aided and abetted by others who should really have been working), his own non-existent publishing conference, Non-Conference, the following day. You can find the tweets (again, for now, at least) here.)
These are just two of many, many instances when I, or others of us at Nosy Crow, have defended digital, as opposed to print, reading for children.
So we were interested to see this article in the New York Times last weekend which suggests that adults who have discarded print in favour of their Kindles or Nooks still prefer traditional print books for their children.
We don’t see the choice between digital and print reading as an either/or scenario. Instead, we think that some reading experiences suit the page, while others are right for digital devices.
We aren’t very interested in creating digital reading experiences that are simply squashing an existing illustrated book onto a phone or a tablet.
Like some of the parents in the article, we agree that there is something special about paper – the touch and feel of it, the heft and three-dimensionality of it, and the size of the page – that means that reading a picture book, or a pop-up book, a lift-the-flap or a touch-and-feel book is a great experience. And there are many print picture books, pop-up books, lift-the-flap and touch-and-feel books in our existing and forthcoming book publishing plans
But we are also very aware that children spend increasing amounts of time using screens. We would like some of the time that they spend using those screens to be reading time. But that means, I think, that the reading experience we offer on screen needs to be as multimedia and interactive as the gaming experiences they will encounter in the same space.
I take our responsibility as people with decades – in my case 25 years – of experience of telling stories on paper very seriously. I think that we should be bringing that experience – and adapting it and building on it too, of course, as we learn new skills and bring new skills, such as games devising and programming skills into publishing – to screen-based story-telling. If we don’t create really engaging reading experiences for children who will spend increasing amounts of their leisure time on screen, I think we are failing them.
And it’s that wish to create really engaging, multimedia, interactive iPad experiences that are also, crucially, reading experiences, that is behind apps such as The Three Little Pigs and Cinderella.
While we can’t give away all of our secrets, we thought it might be fun to share a “behind the scenes” look at how part of our Cinderella app came to life. In this video, Ed Bryan, Head of Apps-Creative and the illustrator and animator of Cinderella, explains how he created Cinderella’s moonlit garden.
It’s been very exciting here at Nosy Crow. Last week we launched our second app, Cinderella, and we’ve been thrilled with the overwhelmingly positive response. We have received great feedback from parents, teachers, bloggers and app review sites.
And now, best of all, Cinderella has been recognised in the App Store. Yesterday Cinderella appeared in the list of Staff Favourites on the homepage of the App Store in the UK and Ireland. We took a screen shot because we just couldn’t believe our eyes!
Thank you for all of your support and your thoughtful emails and posts about Nosy Crow apps. Please spread the word, and keep the comments, fan photos, videos and feedback coming our way. We love to hear what you think of Cinderella and her adventures with her fairy godmother, her mean stepsisters and her shy, table-tennis-loving Prince.
In the past, we’ve written here about some of the best books for boys and girls, and have received lots of comments about what makes a great book for a boy or girl and suggestions of titles to add to each list.
And given the wide gulf between these lists, it’s always gratifying to see a book or app enjoying real crossover appeal, and even more so when it’s particularly unexpected. We’re very proud of our Cinderella storybook app, but equally, we are under no illusions – Cinderella is clearly skewed towards girls (though evidently that was not always the case).
And yet, rather pleasingly, this doesn’t seem to have discouraged male readers. Boys who would, in usual circumstances, most likely have no interest in a fairytale like Cinderella, have taken to it with gusto. In the photo below, you can see that Thomas, aged 6, has proudly helped the King stack up over 100 invitations to the ball:
Perhaps we shouldn’t have been surprised that the app has proven to be such a hit with both sexes – it boasts great music and amazing artwork (which girls certainly don’t have a monopoly on liking), is highly interactive, and you can make the stuffy old stepmother do somersaults – a prospect that evidently holds universal appeal.
So if there are any male fans of Cinderella in your family, please – let us know! And – boys or girls – we’d love to know which parts of our Cinderella app are among your favourites.
It’s been a day since the launch of our second app, Cinderella, and already we’ve been blown away by the response – not just by bloggers and the press, but by everyone who has bought the app, and the parents and grandparents who’ve got in touch on our Facebook and Twitter pages to tell us what they’ve made of it.
We were particularly pleased by this great profile of Nosy Crow in the Guardian, as well as the coverage of Cinderella on Lauren Laverne’s BBC 6Music show (though I fear I may have hurt Kate’s feelings by tweeting that our workplace had become “exponentially cooler” by virtue of having been mentioned by Laverne. Sorry, Kate.) On the 6Music blog, Stuart Dredge describes Cinderella as an app that “blends animation, interactivity and plenty of humour into something that’s genuinely beautiful”. Elsewhere, Digital Storytime have written that “Like their previous app, Nosy Crow has not forgotten a single detail in this delightful title … My child has been completely enthralled with this book from the moment I downloaded it.” On the US site iLounge, Jeremy Horowitz writes that “Three Little Pigs was great; Cinderella is even better”. You can read more of the reviews for Cinderella here.
It’s also been fascinating to track, on platforms like Twitter, the word-of-mouth buzz and instant responses to Cinderella in real time – evidently some fans were up at the crack of dawn to buy the app on iTunes!
Thanks to this amazing cumulative response, Cinderella is now the number one-selling book app for iPad in the UK and number seven in the US, which we’re simply overwhelmed by.
So a heartfelt thanks to those who’ve shown such enthusiasm for Cinderella already – we hope you continue to enjoy it!
You can buy Cinderella for iPad here.
And for iPhone and iPod touch here.
Cinderella has everything so many of you loved about the Three Little Pigs app. A traditional story plus cool interactive elements. You can help Cinderella clean up the kitchen. Gather items the fairy godmother will turn into the magic horse-drawn carriage. Change the color of Cinderella’s dress. And even pick the music for the Prince and Cinderella’s dance. Classical, disco or Bollywood style? It’s up all to you.
And there’s a special surprise for those of you who have an iDevice with a front-facing camera, like the Pad2, iPhone4 or the fourth generation iPod touch. The camera will capture an image of your face and insert it right onto the screen of the story. You’ll actually appear right there inside the “magic mirrors” in Cinderella’s house, next to her and her stepsisters.
So what else can we say? We hope you love Cinderella, and we’d love to hear your feedback. Leave a comment below, or on Twitter @nosycrowapps, or on our Facebook page. Better yet… leave a review on iTunes and help our version of Cinderella rise magically to the top of the app charts!!
That’s right, Cinderella, our next 3-D fairytale app for iPad and iPhone will be available starting September 13! Needless to say, we’re very excited.
It’s taken a bit longer than anticipated, but I assure you, it’s well worth the wait. We’ve built upon the functionality in our Three Little Pigs app to make Cinderella a truly magical experience.
Cinderella combines Ed Bryan’s beautiful illustrations and animation with open-ended activities that actively engage children in the storytelling. As the story unfolds, readers can gather items for Cinderella’s fairy godmother to transform into the coach and horses, select the dance music at the ball, and help everyone try on the glass slipper. They can even choose the style and colour of Cinderella’s gown!
And those using an iPad2 or iPhone4 can see themselves in the fairytale.
We saw The Three Little Pigs app entertain and delight young readers. Parents sent us videos of their children reading along and talking about the story. Cinderella takes this engagement to a whole new level. As you can see in the video trailer, reading Cinderella has inspired some children to dance!
I thought that I would share this cartoon which appeared yesterday in a local Brazilian newspaper following a verbal fracas in front of 3,500 people at the 14th Jornada Nacional de Literatura literary festival in Passo Fundo in the South of Brazil, to which I was invited. The row – and it really was quite heated – was between me (I’m in the blue jacket in the cartoon) and Alberto Manguel, a highly-respected Argentinian writer for adults (the bearded guy in the cartoon).
Alberto Manguel on the panel
It took place on the last day of what is a truly remarkable literary festival for adults and children. The festival draws audiences – in a huge circus tent – of up to 5,000 people, with a range of smaller seminars and children’s events in other spaces too. The event happens every other year. It was created 30 years ago and driven forward even since by the remarkable Tania Rosing. You really don’t need to speak Portuguese to understand the energy and dynamism exhibited by her here ! Passo Fundo literacy rates are significantly higher than those elsewhere in Brazil, and that’s part of Tania Rosing’s achievement.
The argument is reported – not entirely accurately from my point of view! – here, and we’ll try to get a translation out shortly.
The topic of debate was The Contemporary Reader.
It was a demonstration of our forthcoming app, Cinderella, that enraged the Argentinian writer. As soon as I’d finished my presentation, which ended with the demonstration, Alberto Manguel seized the microphone to say he thought that he’d come to debate what was forming the contemporary reader, not what was deforming the reader. He said that the app was a terrible thing and that children exposed to apps like it were not reading and would never learn to read. I asked to reply, and was handed the microphone, but as soon as I’d said two sentences, he interrupted in English saying, “That’s nonsense!” I am afraid, blog readers, that it was here that I got cross. To have a negative view, however expressed, about apps and digital reading altogether is absolutely fine by me, even if it is based on a very, very limited understanding of technology and today’s children. But to interrupt a response to it is just not acceptable. And I told him so: I’d listened to him, so now he had to listen to me.
Me on the panel
Of course, the crowd in the tent – a terrifying 3,500 strong, remember – just loved the whole thing, and every time either of us spoke, there were huge cheers from supporters of our point of view. My point of view was that technology supports reading and conversations about reading. Alfredo Manguel’s was that technology was an assault on literature, and, importantly, that the book was something that was above commerce and that technology somehow made it commercial.
Much of what we talked about is already controversial, as this Guardian article makes clear.
My own views on interactive reading experiences are outlined here. Children are spending more and more time in front of screens – as a look at the survey reported here would suggest and much of the Strathclyde and Stirling University research mentioned here covers. If we don’t provide compelling, exciting reading experiences on screens, then, because children are spending more and more time on screens, they will, it seems to me, simply read less. And if those of us with real expertise and understanding of children’s reading don’t create those reading experiences then others will fill that gap with either inferior reading experiences or with games with no reading component.
English children 7-11 report the frequency with which they read in 2005 and then again (second darker column) in 2009
The research also suggests that children are enjoying reading slightly less:
English children 7-11 report how much they enjoy reading in 2005 and then again (second darker column) in 2009
When they do read, much of what they read is on screen:
English children 7-11 report what they like reading in 2009. Red indicates material they are accessing on screen, blue is print: dark blue is books, and light blue is other printed material.
Our many blogs about great children’s books (most recently, our blog about books for summer), make it clear, I hope, that we value and applaud great writing for children in whatever form and want children to have access to it whether through libraries, bookshops, or supermarkets.
But the idea that technology and literature are somehow “opposites” or at least in opposition seems to me to be sloppy thinking.Technology’s just a tool and we can use it to open up conversations about reading, to facilitate access to reading, and to create new kinds of reading experiences. Packing to come for Brazil (and with the salutary memory of the number of books my family took on holiday still fresh), I just brought a paperback and my Kindle. The paperback I brought was The Observations and I tweeted about it, stimulating a Twitter exchange which involved the author, Jane Harris: technology enabled a conversation about reading, including providing me, the reader, with access to the author. Having finished the book, I decided I wanted to reread Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood… and, in a hotel room in Passo Fundo, I downloaded it in seconds: technology facilitated access to literature. And anyone doubting that an app like The Three Little Pigs is a reading experience might be convinced by this video showing a pre-schooler reading our Three Little Pigs app as a known text sent in to us by a parent.
George Dugdale, policy adviser at the National Literacy Trust, was recently quoted in the Glasgow Herald as saying,“In today’s digital age, we believe that all reading experiences must be embraced, whether children are reading text messages on their mobile phones, on-screen or a physical book. Our research has shown that children who regularly use technology, such as Facebook, actually have more positive attitudes towards reading and writing than those who don’t.”
In fact, Brazilian writer, Affonso Romano de Sant’Anna, who was on the Passo Fundo panel said smartphones and reading devices might, in a short time, achieve what Brazil has, over the years, failed to do: make a wide selection of reading widely available. He said that, while the government still hadn’t established enough libraries in all the decades of trying, perhaps electronic devices could be the libraries of the future.
The debate touched on another (largely artificial) polarisation too: between literacy and literature. I think that our apps are great, empowering, beautiful and carefully thought-through reading experiences – literature, if you like – but if I have to choose between literature and literacy (and, in this polarised debate in Passo Fundo, that’s exactly what I was forced to do), I choose literacy. In the end, what matters to me is less what children read, but that children read, whether it’s in print or on screen. Many children won’t grow up to read Alberto Manguel or his English-language equivalent, and that’s maybe regrettable, but not as regrettable as many children growing up unable or reluctant to read at all, given how essential literacy is to improved life chances. And you become a reader, quite simply, by practising reading.
“Jornada” means “journey”, and I’d be the first to say – in fact, I said at the end of my presentation – that we are all are just at the beginning of a journey when we are creating digital reading experiences. But we think what we are doing is worthwhile. We know, from blogs, emails and iTunes reviews, that many teachers and parents welcome the apps we’re creating, and that they are also being used by teachers and parents of children with special needs, such as children on the autistic spectrum, or find it difficult to learn to read.
Tom and I are just back from the Edinburgh International Book Festival, having carried the quite-light-but-hugely-bulky Pip and Posy costumes (as seen in previous blog posts ) there.
Our visit to the Book Festival over this weekend was fleeting, but Nikalas and Tim were there earlier this week for what was, by all accounts, a stonking Mega Mash-up event while the Nosy Crow staffers were cleaning the loos and unpacking crates in the new office.
On Sunday, though, we had three great events, thanks at least in part to the redoubtable Book Festival staff, Janet, Sian and Hannah. The first sell-out event was a Pip and Posy event with Axel Scheffler (pictured above, signing the flip-chart drawings he created at the event) attended by Sarah Brown, last seen and written about by Kate at Cybermummy 11, and her sons.
We then had a Dinosaur Dig event with Penny Dale – also a sell-out – which included a draw-your-own stegosaurus (on roller skates) session.
Here’s Penny’s stegosaurus:
And here is a stegosaurus from a talented member of the audience:
Lastly, I did a session on apps as reading experiences, impeccably chaired by Nosy Crow author, Simon Puttock.
And then we went out to dinner. Scotland is another country: they do things differently there (I should know: I am a Scot, though I have lived in London for a long, long time), and it is really interesting to see the connections between individuals in different parts of the vibrant and committed Scottish children’s book community.
Tom and I were back on the London-bound train as the early morning sun shone on the coast of East Lothian… and I’m writing this in a bit of a rush as I prepare to leave for Brazil tomorrow.