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Guest Blogger Gerry Renert on Picture Book Apps

Happy Friday, everyone! Please welcome guest blogger Gerry Renert, a three-time Emmy nominated children's TV writer and author, who's here to talk about the gray area where picture books and apps merge. His first digital book, BRAVE ROONEY, came out recently to good reviews (Kirkus, SLJ) and is a great example of an interactive story book if you've yet to play with one. I downloaded it for my daughter and we've had a blast with Rooney's story. It's been a bigger hit with her than others we've tried.

If you'd like a chance to win the app, Gerry is honoring the search and rescue dogs of 9/11 on his Facebook page by asking parents and kids to share stories of brave and/or courageous dogs they've known or owned. If you have a story to share, or are just a dog lover, please stop by.

Finally, I think Gerry's post opens things up for a potentially great conversation and I'd love to hear your thoughts on the topic. Enjoy!

Picture Book Apps, Striking the Perfect Balance
By Gerry Renert

Like so many other children’s book writers, I’ve seen the picture book world going digital at light speed and how quickly publishers are seeing the light. Digital developer technology seems to be improving every day, making the newest digital books increasingly more interactive and increasingly more engaging.

I just had my first children’s book/app, BRAVE ROONEY, published and initially expected to end up with a book that had some interactive page turns, an animated door opening, maybe a dog bark or two. What I ended up with, though, was a vibrant hands-on experience I never envisioned. Characters flew when you touched them. A dentist office poster of a huge tooth, ‘brushed’ itself when pressed. Child constructed paper planes effortlessly flew through and around an elementary school auditorium, much as they did when I attended elementary school. To me, the animation was as dynamic as many of the flash animated webisodes currently out there or even some of the simpler animated TV series for younger children.

It got me thinking. Are we witnessing not only the slow diminishing of the printed storybook, but also the phasing in of a new kind of media – part picture book and part animated TV show? I speak from some experience in the TV animation area, as I have both co-created and produced animated children’s TV series, one of which was EMMY nominated three times for “Outstanding Animated Children’s Program.” The interactive appeal of this new book platform was driven home to me when I played a beta version of BRAVE ROONEY to an elementary school class and how quickly the kids picked up on all the interactive features (much quicker than I did, I might add.) Many of the children looked at the iPad as if it was their own portable TV screen they could control and play with. When they found an interaction they liked and one that made them laugh, they played it over and over and over – much in the same way they loved seeing Spongebob escape from an underwater cage – over and over. As the quality of digital development software and technology continues to improve, my opinion is the next generation of digital books will go further to engage the reader/viewer than current TV producers could ever imagine, meaning producers and broadcasters will have to adapt accordingly, perhaps further emphasizing their “multi-platform” strategy.

A lot of questions remain unanswered, however: Will all this interactivity make the reading experience richer and more engaging, or will the various features pose mere distractions to the story and characters? My belief is that digital developers will have to strike the perfect balance between story and animated features to be successful. Whether naive or not, I continue to believe the key determinants will come down to strong, relatable characters and a unique, likable storyline that conveys an important message in a slightly different light. A larger question regards the future role of animated TV series. As iPhone, iPads, Android devices, etc. continue to proliferate, worldwide, will children choose to get their main content from these devices, which they can interact with whenever they choose to, or will they still see TV as the primary deliverer of their content? Perhaps it will remain some combination of both. Either way, the delivery of children’s content will continue to advance at light speed, and those remaining in the dark will remain behind.


Steve MC said...

Looking back on the books I loved as a kid, interactive books have always been there - those 3D plastic sections that made the fire dance from the dragon's mouth, and the one where you pass the cut-out mouse through the mouse hole in the page.

But now, watching the video at Gerry's site, the possibilities are endless. Before long they'll have Mr. Bluebird on my shoulder.

Casey McCormick said...

That's a fantastic point, maine character. My favorite books at this age were interactive, too - the ones with sound buttons or flaps and levers!

Kathy Habel said...

My kids always loved the books with the buttons on the side that made noise when you pushed them. And pop up books were a big hit too.

Alison said...

I can't wait to check out Rooney! Loved the Guest Post!

Suma Subramaniam said...

Very interesting points on where the picture book experience is headed. Animated TV series is perhaps very popular worldwide. We've got to wait and see what the future has for creating the multi-platform strategy.

Thanks for sharing!

danika dinsmore said...

This is an area that is so foreign to me, but exciting for so many. I seriously downloaded my first app EVER just a few days ago.

(and I used to produce new media events, go figure)