Addictive Apps

I was listening to Jonathan Storment yesterday, and something that he said really caught my attention. He talked about how we can spend hours of our day, months of our lives, pursuing things that in the end have no value. He gave the example of his obsession with the Rat on a Skateboard game on his smart phone. Jonathan was so proud when he figured out that he was ranked number 37 in the world on Rat on a Skateboard, but the more he thought about that, the more uncomfortable he became in realizing how much time he must have spent on this silly game. On thinking over our tendency to be distracted from worthy pursuits by trivial ones, Jonathan said, “The worst thing that you can do with your life is not to fail, but to succeed at something that doesn’t matter.”

– from Dr. Jennifer Shewmaker

2013-12-02-07_honestslogans_candycrush.jpg

A hypothetical situation for you: Say you downloaded a game app for free, got a good hour’s worth of play out of it, accrued lots of points, then something happens within the world of the game and you’re about to lose everything you ever played for. (Well, the last one hour’s worth.) But you have an option: Via a simple in-app purchase, you can keep all your points for  just 99c.

Of course you wouldn’t do that, right? Nobody does that. That’s blatant manipulation. You throw the phone down and get on with your day, right after you delete the app from your phone forever.

Except people do pay the 99c. I’m guessing such people walk among us. Because there are app companies out there specialising in creating addictive games, manipulating a certain percentage of consumers into paying for imaginary pixels with their expert understanding of human psychology.

Here is some required reading for the young gamers in your life.

How Puzzle & Dragons Coerces Players To Pay Big Bucks, a heart-sinking read from Games Beat

4 Design Secrets Behind Dots, the Insanely Addicting iPhone Game from Wired

How F2P Games Exploit Your Brain from Games Radar

Interview With Elizabeth Dulemba

Episode 68 of the podcast Escape From Illustration Island is an interview with Elizabeth Dulema, who has illustrated many books as well as Lula’s Brew, which was one of the first storybook apps on the iTunes store. Interviews with storyapp developers are pretty rare, so here are some of the most interesting points:

  • When going freelance after working for a company, it was necessary to discover her own ‘visual voice’.
  • Dulemba spends half her day marketing. “You have to.” She does postcards, but recently pulled out of contributing to other people’s portfolio websites because her own website was getting more hits than theirs.
  • Her coloring pages have been a really successful marketing project: Coloring Page Tuesday.
  • Constantly look at the work of other artists, in the same way you looked at other people’s handwriting when you were learning to write. You’ll end up with your own style.
  • Typical process: mostly digital now, Photoshop. Used to use Painter. Still draws by hand with pencil on most things, due to lack of that freedom you get with a computer but last book was done completely on the computer.
  • Dulemba tries to work out where the lighting is coming from, greying out an entire layer then creating a wedge, to work out where the light is coming from. Most artists have a default light source, for example top left, but one good way of adding something special to your work is to experiment with different sources of lighting. Perhaps the light is coming out of an open book, or from another unexpected place. (I do this too, but I usually choose a colour other than grey, and put a blend mode on it. It often stays there in the final product, with the colour unifying the entire picture. It makes a big difference.)
  • Next she lays in flat colour, these days making use of some excellent large spongy brushes in Photoshop.
  • It’s good to experiment with texture because this is harder to convey in digital media.
  • The perfect amount of time in which to illustrate a picturebook is six months. Any shorter and it’ll be too tight. Any longer and you might find your style evolves to the point where you have to go back and do the start of the book again. (I can definitely relate to this, having just spent one and a half years on Midnight Feast.)
  • Claim a name for yourself in one thing.
  • Differences between illustrating your own work versus illustrating for other writers: When you illustrate your own work you get full control. When working with others you have to bend a little bit.
  • Differences between a print book and a storyapp: In an app, large shapes work better. The  typography has to be better. With the backlit screen the colours are more vibrant. Lula’s Brew actually started as a dummy for a children’s book, and before turning it into an app, had to zoom in on some of the pictures. Had to get rid of some extraneous details and leave more space on things. Big brushes in PS was great because she was able to apply colour really fast. Working in the small format actually sped her up.
  • The same issues are there with regular books: It’s much harder to get found. We’re all trying to get found.
  • She calls herself a ‘storyteller’ rather than a writer/picturebook illustrator. Apps are just another way of telling a story.
  • It’s a really easy time to become an expert right now, because everything is new and you can be one of the first. It’s really easy to come up with something no one else has done right now. That’s an opportunity.
  • Colour and drawing are two completely different skills. Just because you can do one thing doesn’t mean you can do the other. Some people are good at one and not the other.
  • Picturebooks are more sculptural more than anything else. They’re not finished until someone’s flipping through the pages.
  • In a children’s book there’s a rhythm, there’s something that builds, and you don’t have to explain the whole story in one image. Likewise, pictures in a picturebook are not at all like an editorial illustration, in which you take a big idea and squish it down.
  • The aim of a picturebook is to draw the reader in and make them want to be in the picture.
  • Stay on top of what’s out there so you can come out with something new and different.
  • Dulemba usually has about six stories going on at any one time. (Wow – I’m not sure how I’d go with that. So far I’m a one-project-at-a-time person, but this gives me confidence to try two at a time.) I’m reminded of this advice:Have more than one idea on the go at any one time. If it’s a choice between writing a book and doing nothing I will always choose the latter. It’s only if I have an idea for two books that I choose one rather than the other. I always have to feel that I’m bunking off from something.

    GEOFF DYER

  • On the difference between picturebooks and MG work: She doesn’t feel like she’s doing the same thing at all. It’s a little bit of a switch. She reads upper MG, and therefore writes it too.
  • She has a separate blog which is more ‘cerebral’, whereas her picturebook website is about engaging younger readers with colouring pages and so on. (Is there a case for separate blogs for separate tones and audiences? I guess so.)

 

 

Touch Interactivity And Animation In Storybook Apps

App developers would do well to remember that when it comes to providing a reading experience that is developmentally valuable for young children, it’s as much down to what the app doesn’t do, as what it does.

– a commenter on the Guardian article: Alarm Bells and Whistles

***

Many of the first digital picturebook apps (‘storyapps’ for short) produced for the tablet computer are created digital versions of real-book interactions (with the exception of scratch-and-sniff!), mimicking printed picturebooks in a retro kind of way. This is perhaps in a bid to win over reluctant audiences who are not yet convinced that digital picturebooks can create great memories in the same way physical, printed matter can. (See for example Popout! The Story Of Peter Rabbit, an iOS app which mimics a printed pop-out book.)

Skeuomorphism:

a skeuomorph is a design element of a product that imitates design elements that were functionally necessary in the original product design, but which have become ornamental in the new design.

Wikipedia

Apple themselves make use of skeuomorphism, evident for example in their Garage Band app, in which the backgrounds look like grey leather, even though devices themselves are reflective plastic. iBooks looks to be set upon wood, and readers of iBooks place digital purchases upon something that looks like a wooden bookshelf. There is no real functional reason for the mimicry of real-world materials, except that real-world parallels help intuitive navigation through an app, and also imparts to consumers the feeling  that they are not simply buying air when shelling out for bits and bytes, but are receiving an actual product, which costs real money to produce, market and update. It will be interesting to see how design principles evolve as smartphones and tablets become ubiquitous. Likewise, it will be interesting to see whether future generations feel a sense of value when spending money on digital media.

See: Why Do We Keep Making eBooks Like Paper Books? from Gizmodo

The illustrators of printed picturebooks have been creating skeuomorphs too*, since the emergence of digital art software. Few illustrators today produce illustrations without incorporating software at some part of the process, yet apart from a brief period in the 1990s when it was novel to make an illustration look digital (the art equivalent to pop-musical synthesizers), many digital illustrators now go out of our way to make sure the reader can see ‘the hand of the artist’. Hence, we might make an illustration look like a woodcut by making a ‘woodcut’ brush in Photoshop, or by erasing parts of a black layer with an eraser. (Also known as hedcuts.) And although it’s now possible to create photo-realism in illustration making use of powerful software, there seems to be still a general preference for artwork that looks as though it has been created using real-world media such as watercolours and oil paints. (Tradigital art.)

When it comes to storyapps, some of the major developers at present seem to be in limbo**, appeasing consumers who might still feel that physical, printed matter is superior to similar stories presented digitally. This applies not just to art style of course, despite the example above, but also to programming decisions.

We posit that when storyboarding for a storyapp, there is no real need to be limited by the constraints of printed matter. When stuck in limbo, storyapp developers end up compromising between what is digitally possible, and what consumers will accept in a definition of ‘picturebook’. For example, storyapps do not need to be either 32 or 24 pages to accommodate printing restraints.  Yet readers have been primed to expect a standard picturebook of 32 pages***, so how far either way can storyapp developers push the boundaries before a reader feels a storyapp is either too long or too short? Does interactivity lengthen the reading event to the point where shorter picturebooks are preferred? Will readers happily accept a longer one? These are all questions currently being put to the test.

*There is another way of thinking about the different types of interactive stories, this time making use of film terminology: Native Interaction, to describe stories which have been created from scratch with the touch screen in mind; and Post-Processed Interactivity, to describe printed matter, often with a wide, adoring and attentive audience, which has then been adapted for the touch screen.
**It would be a mistake though, to assume that printed picturebooks are immune to evolution. Picturebooks have undergone consistent reinvention along with printing technologies, exploding to life after the introduction of offset lithography. Printed matter will continue to evolve along with digital storybooks.
***In principle, a storyapp can be as short or as long as it needs to be, with restrictions coming not from paper and printing but instead from memory allocation, in a rather nebulous guideline from Apple stating that apps need to play nicely with each other.

Moving The Story Forward

Knowledgeable folk of storyapp world — reviewers and developers — advise frequently that interactivity in a storybook app should move the story forward. I have spent the past few years unpacking this simple sounding phrase. ‘Meaningful interactivity’ is a ‘I know it when I see it’ kind of a term, but do we really know what it means?  It pays for we as developers to unpack it fully.

Below, we make a case for various reasons for interactivity, where not all kinds of good interactivity ‘move a story forward’. Some interactions and animations exist purely for world-building; others for humorous effect. Some of the most sophisticated interactivity in storyapps may in fact contradict both words and pictures, providing an extra layer of meaning, and an added challenge for increasingly sophisticated readers. Hypothetically, storyapps can require more of a reader than printed matter can. (Digitisation of picturebooks certainly does not equal ‘dumbing down‘.)

The Various Purposes Of Touch Interactivity

1. Educational

For example, a reader touches an item on the screen and the written word appears. (Pop-out words.) Since the Mercer Meyer book apps became popular I see this from smaller publishers too. But developers need to be careful that there is genuine benefit here. If a reader touches a chair and the word ‘chair’ appears, the app is obviously aimed at either young readers or at NESB (non-English speaking background) readers.  (Obviously I’m writing from an Anglocentric point of view — same is true for any language.)

If a reader cannot be expected to be fully familiar with the written word ‘chair’, however, it should also be assumed that the audience has very emergent language skills in general. Such a story should unfold mainly in pictures, with text pitched at the basic level expected of a reader who has yet to learn the word ‘chair’. But is it really adding anything for older, native readers? Pop-out words need to match the general level of the app. It’s easy for a developer to add this sort of faux-educational interactivity, but much thought should be given to which items of vocabulary the reader is likely to know. Otherwise, it’s all just distraction. I feel that kids recognise pedagogical intentions, even if it is just vocab and spelling.

That said, pop-out words may indeed result in an educational outcome, if done properly. In cases where text expands the picture (most often it’s the other way around), if parts of the picture are labelled on touch, the reader is encouraged to find all the words mentioned in the text, in a fun,Where’s Wally sort of a way. The pop-up words provide a sort of confirmation (‘You’ve found me!’), allowing the reader to move on.

Pop-out words can also be useful if the words are in fact new to the reader. For example, a storyapp adaptation of Elsa Beskow’s Children Of The Forest (1910) might teach the reader the names of the plants, which are botanically accurate. In order for this to be useful, I feel that the pop-out words must be at least one level of specialisation above the vocabulary used in the main text. So the reader would be expected to know ‘flower’ and ‘tree’ (main text) but is guided to learn more with a pop-out ‘snowdrop’ and ‘lingonberry’. I learned my hues from a 64 box set of Crayola crayons, so I know from experience that labeling can work to expand vocabulary, but only if the child reader has fallen in love with the story in the same way I fell in love with my crayons.

Another use for labeling parts of pictures is when making use of text within pictures (a.k.a. intraiconic text) without the intraiconic text competing for attention with the main text until the reader is good and ready, ie, on user touch. An example of intraiconic text is when, for example, an illustration depicts books on a bookshelf, which each have their own titles, or when illustrated shops display billboards. Ticket stubs, restaurant menus, letters, computer screens… there are many, many plot-advancing reasons for displaying intraiconic text within an illustration. The iPad screen does not afford the real estate of the larger printed picturebooks, so a developer might get around this limitation somewhat by having a magnified view of a sign or letter on user touch — too small to be seen beforehand, but read easily on iPhone sized screens on touch.

Capture.PNG
Breaking Research: Most apps bad

 

2. Novelty

There is a place for humour and pure fun in story apps. Ideally, novelty interactivity should marry with interactivity that moves the story forward, or it should at least lead the story off into its own mini tangent. For example, the farting teddy bear in Teddy’s Night (by Bruno Hachler) is mainly for novelty value. I’ve noticed with my own toddler (and heard from other parents) that young children are inclined to skip straight to this page, then linger on it, presumably without getting into the story itself. So overly attractive novelty interactions are a double-edged sword: they encourage children to go back to your app over and over, but as far as brain candy goes, they aren’t necessarily any better than having them watch junk TV. It might be argued that these sorts of interactions inspire a love of reading. I’m inclined to think they inspire a love of novelty. But this is nothing parents can’t fix by guiding children through the story from start to finish.

As far as novelty interactions go, there is the full spectrum. The best seem to advance the setting of the story. An example is the floating swimmer in Heart And The Bottle, in which the swimmer shoots up a small fountain of water from her mouth on touch. The words on the page say, ‘With wonder at the sea’ — nothing about floating in the ocean, shooting seawater from your mouth. In this case, the shooting water is both fun for the reader to do and also adds to the atmosphere of the setting: lazily relaxing in the sea. This mood is reinforced with the sound of the ocean and cry of seagulls which autoplays in the background.

Another way in which novelty interactions can add to the setting is when, say, the user touches a bath tap which fills the bath with water. It can be fun to fill a virtual bath with virtual water, and perhaps draws readers into the story by helping them to feel that this storybook world is real. Novelty can add to the verisimilitude.

Some interactivity offers a surprise, reminiscent of that scene in Tim Burton’s 3D Alice In Wonderland movie, in which a ball flies toward the audience as the characters are playing a game. I remember ducking in my seat. Annoying as that was, it was memorable.

Interactivity can be used to create a ‘pageturner’ — a book that children must read to find out what happens. This sort of novelty, which encourages movement forward through the story, is a positive thing, though not when it comes at the expense of comprehension. This is a difficult balance to achieve, and depends somewhat on the age of the reader and all sorts of external things an app developer can’t control for (like the presence of adult co-readers, slowing the child down). The issue storyapp developers face is, where to put the interactive ‘pageturner’? That’s the conventional place to put something charming or interesting, to encourage the child to turn the page. Interactive story apps require that space for actual digital pageturning, be it push-button or swipe (which is even harder to incorporate). It’s likely that readers of digital stories need to learn a slightly altered story code. This will only work if it can happen intuitively and subconsciously, just as it happened when we all learnt to decode printed picturebooks.

One thing is clear: Developers should be able to rationalise every hotspot on a page. The ‘distraction issue’ isn’t limited to storyapp developers, though. The producers of printed picturebooks are equally capable of unconscious distractions in their work. From How Picturebooks Work:

In pictures…with many details, our reading is arbitrary. The artist may deliberately or unconsciously place a detail in the picture that will attract our attention and compel us to start reading the picture from this point.

While the developers of picturebooks are often great lovers of the form, and have spent so much time immersed in them that even the unconsciously placed details are meaningful, our choice to include interactions and animations in storybook apps is best if it’s the deliberate kind. The medium is perhaps too new, even for lovers of the form, to have developed a purely intuitive sense of what’s right. Besides, studying the form can never hurt.

 

3. Animation

“One of the things we love about the still image is the way in which it can stimulate the imagination to create a fiction around an image,” said Robin Kelsey, a professor of photography at Harvard. “The fact that we can commit a single image to memory in a way that we cannot with video is a big reason photography is still used so much today.”

– The Death Of Photograph Has Been Greatly Exaggerated

3.1 Animation That Matches The Text Exactly

You might call this ‘Paratextual Movement’. This kind of animation is not necessarily ‘interactive’, because animation can autoplay after the reader turns onto the page. Or it might be ‘semi-autoplay’, for example the reader taps anywhere on the page and something starts to move, regardless of whether the reader has engaged with that part of the picture.

This kind of animation can fulfill a limitation of picturebooks: animation to depict the flow of movement, long employed by film-makers.  The words might say, ‘The boy jumped’. Then, when the reader touches the boy, he indeed jumps. This doesn’t advance the story but it does help with story comprehension in readers whose language skills are in the emerging stages. In other words, the reader doesn’t need to be able to read the text at all. This kind of interactivity is of limited value to older readers who are able to read the text for themselves and who remain unchallenged by paratextual movements.

For books aimed at competent readers though, I prefer animation to exist without the redundancy of words. If the boy on the screen jumps, then the words don’t need to tell us he jumped.

3.2 Animation To Advance The Plot

You might call this ‘Extratextual Movement’. The animation adds something to the picture which the words do not duplicate, thereby making it redundant.

This is the sort of interactivity to aim for in stories for older readers who are better-versed in reading pictures. At times this sort of interactivity creates a gap between the story and the text; at other times it helps the reader to fill it in. What results is a story in the reader’s head that is bigger than the sum of text/pictures and interactivity.

Printed picturebooks sometimes rely on a series of pictures to depict the passing of time and a series of events, which may or may not be dependent on each other. (Simultaneous succession.) But younger readers need time to decode this convention. A younger reader may look at five pictures of a dancing bear and mistakenly believe that there are five different bears rather than a single bear in five successive poses. Animation does away with this confusion, and therefore animation has its place in storyapps for younger readers.

On the issue of depicting the passage of time, this is one area which may be made easier for stories with animation and touch interactivity, as it is a difficult thing to convey in static pictures, without specific reference to a clock. But an interactive book can dim the lights or show hands moving round on a clock or have a cock crowing outside a window or something like that to show that time has passed.

 

5. Interactivity to Depict Internalised Thoughts/Emotions Of A Character

Something picturebooks and film must do differently from chapter books and novels is the depiction of a character’s inner life. This is not easy in visual media, and interactivity allows the possibility of helping with this task. I’m not seeing much of it, though.

For example, emotions can be depicted by changes in hue and saturation. This is a customary technique in visual media and sometimes in print picturebooks the reader turns the page to see a new colour palette. This change in colour could become part of the interactivity, with a slow fade out of saturation or with a rub-to-reveal portion, or with isolated areas of colour blending to create a new picture. The possibilities are endless, and these are just a few examples that spring to mind.

Or the user might ‘zoom in’ on a character to switch from omniscient to close-third-person point of view. Or developers might borrow from different graphic codes such as photography and camera work, making use of pull-focus, blur, motion lines and distortion of perspective.

Story app developers can also take advantage of comicbook conventions, with thought and speech bubbles, or with mimesis and onomatopoeia emerging from objects on touch. (See Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics. TED Talk by author here.)

6. Pure Animation

 

Some interactivity exists purely to give the storybook an animated feel. Blinking eyes, nodding heads, walking legs can give a storyapp a polished feel that places the genre somewhere between printed book and TV. Sometimes these movements are not interactive but autoplay. This may be a better option. When planning interactivity, I do wrestle with where to draw the line. If you start out animating too much, the reader will expect the same level of animation on following pages. Do we really need to make eyes blink? Or should eyes blink only when there’s a reason to, for example because the scene has changed. Maybe the character’s eyeballs could move because the thing that’s drawing her attention has moved to the other side of the page. There is a certain amount of intuitiveness necessary when planning for animated interactivity. The blinking eyes are necessary in Teddy’s Night because the teddy and girl being awake when they’re not meant to be is an integral part of the story. Blinking eyes in other storyapps won’t necessarily move the story forward.

Other examples: clouds move across the sky, wind blows leaves on the trees, small animals peep out from bushes, birds fly across the sky.

Some storybook apps with higher budgets pull off entire animated scenes. Many of these are made from movies and short films. An example is The Amazing Flying Books Of Mr. Morris Lessmore. These sequences tend to have very high production values and turn a storybook into something between printed matter and a short film. Although these animated sequences tend to be set off by the reader, who turns a page or touches somewhere on the screen, I don’t consider them true interactions, because all that is asked of the reader is to sit before the screen and watch, immersed. As long as these sequences create immersion rather than impatience and distraction I don’t take issue. Here at Slap Happy Larry we both have a personal preference for story apps which function closer to printed matter than to film, but we are film lovers equally.

6. Extra-textual Interactivity

In some storyapps you find some dalliance that takes you out of the story for a while. Jigsaw puzzles are one common example. Heart And The Bottle has a page in which the reader draws on a piece of paper. The drawing appears on the wall in the next scene, which has some novelty value. It also shows that the main character is using her creativity by drawing pictures, and is therefore connected to the story. Similar interactivity exists in Teddy’s Day, in which the user touches the girl’s paper, flipping to another screen. Another page in the same app shows the girl building a block tower. On touch the user is taken to a different screen in which the physics engine has been employed to show the blocks floating midair. I have thought about how this advances the story, but concluded the developer enjoyed the novelty of the physics engine.

I do feel developers need to be careful though, because in being asked to draw a picture, apropos of nothing, the story turns temporarily into an art app, and the reader is first expected to work out how the mini-app works, and then to come up with something out of thin air before moving back into the story, which they’ve just been pulled out of. I liken this to a classroom experience in which a teacher gathers the class onto the mat for storytime, reads half the story, then asks the children to get out paper and pencils, draw a picture, then draws them back onto the mat to finish reading the story. Obviously this is not good teaching practice, and obviously it takes less time and organisation for a single child using a single iPad to move in and out of story/artistry. Nevertheless, I wonder if at the most basic level, we’re doing exactly the same by embedding fancy technologies into the middle of stories. At the very least, we’re changing the reading experience, turning it into metafiction by drawing attention to the fact that it’s a story.

I prefer to see puzzles, colouring activities and other kinds of gamification at the end of a story, or available only via the main menu, if at all. I hope extras do not become an expected part of story apps. I hope they don’t become a cheap drawcard to get children opening an app.

6. Marketing

But while certainly a little peculiar, the toilet-paper-selling and jeans-hawking ultimately aren’t all that weird. In fact, they’re actually a reminder, kinda strange and kinda funny, that books are part of a commercial ecosystem that moves stories and steam cleaners in very similar ways. That may be especially true of the Kindle, considering Amazon’s totalizing ambitions and aggressive merchandising, but it applies more broadly, too. Books are, in many ways and in many contexts, simply commodities. They aren’t sacred, and they aren’t just disembodied ideas; they are things (whether of paper and ink or bits and bytes) first of all, and they move around like things do.

My E-Reader Is Selling Me Toilet Paper, Book Riot

It’s worth pointing out from the get-go that advertising in children’s literature is far from new. (See Advertising In Children’s Literature, a paper by Afsana Kahn.) Unfortunately, interactivity, and the need to recoup funds spent on producing expensive storyapps lends an extra dimension to all things kidlit, not least in the advertising opportunities. Also, as pointed out by Nikolajeva and Scott in How Picturebooks Work, authors have long amused themselves by including references to their own former works, for example by drawing a picture of one of their own books lying on a bedroom floor.

Several developers have done a similar thing in their apps. In Teddy’s Day, for example, if the reader touches a bookshelf they are taken to a page advertising Teddy’s Night, the companion story. Yet unlike the print equivalent, the reader has touched the book expecting a different kind of interactivity: There is no warning that this is going to take the reader out of the story.

While this sort of promotion is common and almost expected in gaming apps, it’s unfortunate for story app developers that literature has a revered position in most people’s hearts, perhaps to an unreasonable degree. Nevertheless, marketing embedded within storyapps  is something we hope consumers learn to avoid. Unless consumers boycott such practices they are likely to continue.

Related: BOOKS ARE NO LONGER AN AD-FREE ZONE from On The Media

7. Non-story Related Activities

“BY ITS VERY NATURE THERE CANNOT BE A PLOT IN A GAME.”

– from Lucas and Spielberg on storytelling in games at The Verge

That’s not to say that there isn’t a place for non-story related activities embedded in the same app as the story itself. After all, teachers have always made use of extra-narrative activities when guiding students through the understanding of any given work of art. Also: Playing With Books Is Important Step in Path to Early Literacy. Might this apply to the digital literacy of eBook reading as well?

See also:

Sesame Workshop’s ideas about best practice for touch devices, with a preschool demographic in mind

 

Picturebooks and Age-Appropriateness

“A children’s story that can only be enjoyed by children is not a good children’s story in the slightest.”

― C.S. Lewis

When I wrote The Artifacts I didn’t give a thought to the age of the reader. I just set out to make a picturebook. Of course, the publishing world can’t run properly unless books are connected to the right readers and when it came time to upload the app onto iTunes we had to decide what age the ideal reader would be. We guessed the category of 4+, because younger kids seemed to enjoy playing with the caterpillars. Older kids and adults would understand the themes. But once again we’re about to upload our next storyapp onto the store in the coming weeks, and I’m scratching my head about the age category thing because until the story’s out there, really out there, you don’t actually know how it’s going to be received.

I think Midnight Feast is darker than The Artifacts but it does include some slightly bizarre humour, so I’m not sure if that will override or counterbalance the dark ending, or possibly make it feel even worse.

Do picturebooks need an age category at all? (Excluding board books, of course, which are clearly for toddlers and babies.) To my mind, picturebooks are for everyone except for maybe adolescents, who self-identify as too old for kid-lit and are keen to identify as adults. Adults, especially adults with children and grandchildren, often revisit picturebooks and derive as much pleasure the second-time around.

The ideal picturebook must surely appeal to all ages. Yet it feels like hubris to announce that ‘this is for everyone!’ when we all know that no book can possibly be for everyone.

On picturebooks and ages, Maria Nikolajeva writes:

Even today in many countries children’s books carry age recommendations: “7 to 10 years”. The same practice in mainstream literature would seem ridiculous; no one would suggest recommending an adult novel “for men between the ages of 35 and 45.” These recommendations and genre markers, however, have arisen out of the common prejudice that “children” are a homogeneous group with homogeneous preferences, tastes, interests and previous knowledge.

– from Children’s Literature Comes Of Age (1996)

Philip Nel writes similarly:

Books “for children” or “for teenagers” are books for all who are ready to listen to them.

And in an article headed ‘How Not To Write About Children’s Literature‘:

Children’s literature is quite unique in that it has to appeal to both the ‘adult’ and the ‘juvenile’ reader in a way that, say, Chesil Beach never can.

And that pretty much sums it up.

See also: Children’s Books For Adults from Brainpickings, Cynical Children’s Books For Adults at GOOD, and Are Chidlren’s Books So Stylistically Different From Books For Adults? at Educating Alice, What it means when kids aren’t allowed to know about bad things from Real Social Skills

Weird book title

Weird book titlev

Suitable for ages 5 - 10.

) :

 

The Opposite Of Beer Brewed By Monks

Episode 55 of 99% Invisible goes into the strange psychological phenomenon whereby certain consumers will pay huge amounts for a scarce commodity. Alcohol and handbags seem especially open to this marketing manipulation, and in this case beer, not because beer connoisseurs are being manipulated per se, but because there is a monastery in Germany whose monks brew beer — but only enough to generate funds for the monks to get by on. Turning a profit is not their business. The beer is good, apparently, but adding to its goodness is the story behind it: the monks don’t brew on Sundays of course. Nor do they brew on Fridays, because they don’t eat on Fridays. To pick up a box of the stuff you have to phone first and make a reservation. It’s hard to get through on the phone, especially since the lines are only open at certain times of the week. Then, if you manage to get through, in order to pick it up you have to drive and drive and drive through the countryside. Consequently, the beer fetches a very high price, even for its high quality, and there’s a blackish market on eBay.

I mention this because apps are the opposite of monk-brewed-beer.

Apps are available anywhere, anytime, to anyone with a device. Apps are the opposite of ‘limited supply’. They are the opposite of exclusive. The opposite of exclusive is ubiquitous; the opposite of expensive is free, and there seem to be a lot of consumers who expect good apps to be free, knowing that when they’re downloading an app, they’re not depleting any sort of resource. A traditional point of view, based on years of evolution.

The difference of course is that in order to deliver an app to the end-user, unless the end-user spends significant time scanning the long list of new apps list coming onto iTunes each day, the developer has had to spend time and resources (probably both) making the end-user aware of its existence. That long country road is no shorter, but it is traveled instead by the marketing team, not by the end-user.