Concepts And Terminology For Talking About Picturebooks

Carlton Alfred Smith - The Young Readers 1893

The terminology we apply to books, texts and reading do not seem to attach to the picturebook so readily. For example, if we speak of ‘the text’ of a picturebook, do we mean the words or the words-and-pictures together? … And when we say ‘read’ a picturebook does the word — and the process — apply equally well to the visual images and to the sentences and paragraphs alongside, or do we need another term that better represents the special relationship of picture and beholder?

from the introduction to Reading Contemporary Picturebooks: Picturing texts by David Lewis

WORDS YOU CAN USE WHEN TALKING ABOUT PICTUREBOOKS

AbecedaryAn ABC book, from Medieval Latin abecedarium (“alphabet, primer”).
Absurdismwhen highly unlikely or impossible things happen it is called the absurd, most often used for comic effect. There is purposely no logic or continuity.
Abstract ExpressionismArt that while abstract is also expressive or emotional. Abstract expressionists were inspired by the surrealist idea that art should come from the unconscious mind.
Achronywhen the temporal deviation from the primary story cannot be placed in any given moment within the scope of the story. Rare outside purely experimental prose, but perhaps all pictures are achronical.
AetonormativeDescribes the phenomenon of setting adults up as the norm. Can be a problem in children’s literature, which is written by adults but meant to be read by children.
Allegorya device in which characters or events represent or symbolise ideas and concepts. A message is communicated with symbols.
Allusions(adj. allusory) An allusion is a reference to another story, for example an illustrator might include a girl in a red riding hood in a modern story, alluding to the classic fairy tale. Allusions are good for creating new dimensions.
Anachronychronological misplacement of any kind. (You probably know the word ‘anachronistic’.)
Analepsisanother word for a ‘flashback’ or ‘switchback’. A secondary narrative precedes the primary one. For example, a grandparently figure looks back in time. This might be expressed pictorially with a thought bubble, or sepia tones, or other recognised devices for expressing retrogression. The plural is analepses.
Backdrop Setting(as opposed to integral setting) A setting exists, but it is separate from the story. The setting could be changed and the story would still exist, basically unchanged.
Callouta call-out or callout is a short string of text connected by a line, arrow, or similar graphic to a feature of an illustration or technical drawing, and giving information about that feature (comic book speech bubbles)
Cautionary talea tale told in folklore, to warn its hearer of a danger, e.g. in “Little Red Riding Hood” children are warned not to dilly-dally on the path and talk to strangers. Cautionary Tales are now outdated and more often satirised, for example by Hilaire Belloc in Cautionary Tales For Children.
Chronotope the treatment of spatiality and temporality. A word to describe the way time and space are described by language, because time and space are impossible to depict via visual signs alone. Time can be indicated only by reference. In picturebooks time might be represented by changing light as the day fades, or with clocks and calendars or seasonal changes or ageing characters. But mostly in picturebooks, the passing of time is underscored by words. (Later, at ten o’clock that night, that afternoon, etc.)
Colour Field PaintingDescribes the work of abstract painters working in the 1950s and 1960s characterised by large areas of a more or less flat single colour
Continuous NarrativeContinuous narrative art gives clues, provided by the layout itself, about a sequence. Sequential narrative without the frames. Vignettes are often presented continuously, too.
ContradictionOn Nikolajeva and Scott’s scale of interanimation taxonomy we find ‘contradiction’, in which pictures and words do not match each other – one tells a different story from the other. This sort of picturebook demands more from the reader in terms of active synthesis, and may appeal to an older, more sophisticated audience, or to a dual audience, in which young readers understand one part of the story and the adult reader understands another. Of course, pictures and words can never be absolutely contradictory. It is a matter of degree. Stories with contradictory pictures and words are also called ‘twice-told tales’.
ContrapuntalOn Nikolajeva and Scott’s scale of interanimation taxonomy we find contrapuntal (the adjective form of ‘counterpoint’)
— a useful word when talking about words and illustrations which deviate from each other somewhat. Further along the scale comes ‘contradiction’, in which the pictures and words completely contradict each other.
Dialogicrelating to dialogue
Diegetic communicates by telling. The flipside of mimetic. In a film, a soundtrack is ‘diegetic’ if it occurs naturally as part of the story, such as in the films of Quentin Tarantino, or on the TV series The Wire, in which any music must come from a radio, or from a CD that a character is playing in the background, rather than added later as part of the editing process. In picture books, verbal text is diegetic
Double Addresswhen an author intends adults to get things out of a story that children would not. (See single address)
  
Doublespread a graphic/illustration spreads across two open pages
Droodle“Droodle” is a nonsense word suggesting “doodle”, “drawing” and “riddle.” Their general form is minimal: a square box containing a few abstract pictorial elements with a caption (or several) giving a humorous explanation of the picture’s subject. For example, a Droodle depicting three concentric shapes — little circle, medium circle, big square — might have the caption “Aerial view of a cowboy in a Port-a-john.”
Dual audience a picturebook that appeals to both children and adults
EcologyUsed primarily for the life sciences, this term has also been employed by sociolinguists and psychologists to describe the ways in which organisms interact with environment. The term ‘ecology’ might also come in handy for discussing picturebooks, and the ways in which words interanimate with pictures. The term ‘ecology’ may be especially appropriate because the ways in which words and pictures feed off each other are different from book to book and even from page to page. One moment words can step forward to occupy centre stage; next moment they return to the wings or comment like a chorus on some key point of action. Ecology is far more dynamic than any kind of taxonomy.
Emergent readerdescribes readers who have not yet achieved fluency, and who may need a slightly different kind of picturebook from fluent readers
EnhancementOn Nikolajeva and Scott’s taxonomy of interanimation we have ‘enhancement’ somewhere in the middle, in which the pictures enhance the words without being contradictory. Agosto calls this ‘augmentation’.
Extraliterary Experiences the real-world experiences readers bring to the page, and that author/illustrators can assume of readers. For example, children know that some children go to school on a school bus, so this basic concept need not be explained.
Fairy paintinga genre of painting and illustration featuring fairies and fairy tale settings, often with extreme attention to detail. Fairy painting was popular in the Victorian era and made a comeback in the 1970s.
Funny animalFunny animal is a cartooning term for the genre of comics and animated cartoons in which the main characters are humanoid or talking animals, with anthropomorphic personality traits. The characters themselves may also be called funny animals.
Graphic poetrya category including acrostics, calligrams, concrete poetry and other kinds of visual poems
Hedcuta term referring to a style of drawing, associated with The Wall Street Journal half-column portrait illustrations. They use the stipple method of many small dots and the hatching method of small lines to create an image, and are designed to emulate the look of woodcuts from old-style newspapers, and engravings on certificates and currency.
Hypertext  the relationship between a given text (the ‘hypertext’) and an anterior text (the hypotext) that it transforms e.g. Snow White in New York is the hypertext of Snow White the traditional fairytale (the hypotext)
Iconotext A genre in which neither image nor text is free from the other.  A term (first?) used by Richard Wagner, who wrote the book Reading Iconotexts: From Swift To The French Revolution. Author/illustrator Jon Klassen discusses this ‘middle space’ between illustration and writing which the reader must fill for themselves, creating a much more expansive world than either the illustrations or words could achieve by themselves.
IconophorCreating an artform around a letter of the alphabet
Illustrated fictionA broad term encompassing not only picturebooks but also comics, graphic novels, illustrated magazine fiction and anything else in which words and picture work together to tell a story.
ImpressionismA movement in art which can be seen in some picture books. Impressionistic paintings make it seem as if the viewer only caught the scene with a glance.
Integral Setting(as opposed to backdrop setting) Describes a setting which is an essential part of the story. It may even be considered a ‘character’ in its own right. If the setting were anything else, the story would not be the same or would not work at all.
Intraiconic textWriting that appears as part of an illustration, such as book titles on spines of books, writing on a computer screen, an addressed envelope. Slows down our ‘reading’ of the visual text and adds to the text-image tension.
IronyA rhetorical figure based on a deviation from the dictionary meaning of words. Irony cannot be expressed by pictures alone, but can be achieved when the words in a picturebook don’t match up with the pictures, creating an ironic counterpoint. In order to work, all stories everywhere need a certain degree of irony.
IsochronicalA story is isochronical if the timespan of the story and the time it takes to read the story (the discourse timespan) are the same. See also: Talking about story pacing.
LiteratureStyle is paramount, the work is thematically integrated, character is rounded, originality at a premium.
Magic realismSome people think that ‘magic realism’ is an unnecessary term to describe a type of low fantasy, for people who don’t like using the word ‘fantasy’. Others believe we should be making more use of the word fabulism. A highly political term, magic realism generally describes a story which seems grounded in our real world but which contains fantastical elements.
MetafictionFiction which draws attention to the fact that it is fictional, not attempting verisimilitude. In children’s literature, directly addressing the reader is a common metafictive technique.
Mimetic Communicates by showing. Illustrations are inherently mimetic. Mimetic is the flipside of diegetic.
Monoscenic NarrativeMonoscenic art represents a single scene with no repetition of characters and only one action taking place.
MythopoeiaThe creation of artificial myths; artificial mythology (see also: pourquoi story)
Narratology The theory and study of narrative structure.
Negative spaceMost often white space, sometimes another colour like black, common in picturebooks. In many ways, picturebooks are like film, but negative space is not an option in most kinds of films, where there has to be a backdrop. Advantageous because lack of setting means a story may not date so much.
Nonce WordsTechnically, nonce words are signifiers that lack the signified. In effect, these tend to be words used for the purposes of this story only. Also called ‘occasionalism’.
Oral TraditionSome children’s authors write in the style of oral tradition. Enid Blyton is a good example, as is folklore, making use of formulaic language, schematic and derivative characters, stories which change to suit the circumstances of time and audience and an open form. (Contrast with ‘literature’.) Oral traditions are no less valid than literary works. Stories making use of the above conventions might be described as ‘written folklore’. This type of story has a low status, partly because of its popularity.
Panoptic Narrative ArtPanoptic narrative art depicts multiple scenes and actions without the repetition of characters. Think of the word ‘panorama’. ‘All-seeing’ (pan + optic)
ParallelismSymmetry by another name.
Paralepsis (paralipsis)In a word: omission. Also spelled paralipsis. The device of giving emphasis by professing to say little or nothing about a subject, as in not to mention their unpaid debts of several million.  In picturebooks, too, a kind of paralipsis can happen when something mentioned in the text is left out of the picture, or vice versa. Negative space might be said to be the picturebook equivalent of paralipsis. For example, a page might be deliberately left blank because the character has disappeared for a time. An empty chair may draw attention to the fact that its usual occupant has died (See The Heart And The Bottle by Oliver Jeffers. Paralepsis can also be a secondary narrative in which time is independent of the primary story. For example, there’s a paralepsis in Where The Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak, when Max travels ‘through night and day and in and out of weeks and almost over a year’. This kind of anachrony is common in picturebooks which describe an imaginary journey. For example, all the happenings of Narnia can’t possibly fit into the time the children would’ve spent at the country house.
  
Paratext Things in a published work that accompany the text e.g. the author’s name, title, preface, book covers, end papers, glossary, introduction or illustrations.
Pedagogical ApplicationsUsed to describe parts of a story which encourage some sort of learning, for example via puzzles, counting things, finding objects.
Point-of-ViewThe most common point of view in modern novels is ‘close third person’, which contemporary readers are used to. In children’s novels, introspective narrators are common. Picturebooks tend to be narrated (via the words), with the point of view expressed (via the illustrations) by facial expressions and body language, in particular. Pictures are very good at presenting an omniscient perspective via panoramic views of settings/various scenes of different characters doing different things.
Pourquoi storyAlso known as an origin story or an etiological tale, a pourquoi story is a fictional narrative that explains why something is the way it is, for example why a snake has no legs, or why a tiger has stripes. A classic example is Rudyard Kipling’s collection of Just So Stories. See also: mythopoeia.
ProlepsisA flashforward/anticipation. The opposite of analepsis. A secondary narrative that is moved ahead of the time of the primary narrative.
Reading eventDescribes the ‘lived experience of reading — the experience of sitting down to read a picturebook — from cover to cover — as opposed to ‘studying’ a picturebook, or examining some part of it.
Recto and Verso  the front (recto) and back (verso) of a leaf of paper in a book
RegisterA variety of a language or a level of usage, as determined by degree of formality and choice of vocabulary, pronunciation, and syntax, according to the communicative purpose, social context, and social status of the user. In picturebooks the word ‘register’ describes a kind of atmosphere evoked by both words and pictures together e.g. grotesque, nostalgic, everyday registers.
Rhymed prosea literary form and literary genre, written in unmetrical rhymes.
Simultaneous SuccessionWidely used in medieval art (in ‘hagiographies’, depicting the life of a saint), this term implies a sequence of events. Think of those cave paintings showing a stick figure with a spear, hunting down an animal. The moments are disjunctive in time but imply a sequence. For example, a series of pictures in a picturebook might show a child getting ready for bed: pulling off her jumper, taking off her shoes, brushing her teeth, retrieving teddy bear, getting under the covers. This technique of showing the passing of time works better for slightly older children, because younger children may interpret a series of pictures of this girl getting ready for bed as five different girls. (However, adult co-reading is assumed.) The books of Sven Nordqvist make much use of simultaneous succession. This is most often a type of continuous narrative art.
Simultaneous Narrative ArtNot to be confused with ‘simultaneous succession’. In this kind of illustration, everything in a picture appears to be happening at once. This kind of illustration has very little visually discernible organisation unless the viewer is acquainted with its purpose. There’s an emphasis on repeatable patterns.
Single AddressWhen an author intends only to write a picturebook for children, even if the picturebook ends up being enjoyed by adults anyway. (See double address. Not to be confused with ‘dual audience’) It may be useful instead to think of multiple addresses rather than an either/or.
 Screentonewhen lots of tiny dots are used to fill a shape. Is still used today in manga, so if screentone is used in a modern picturebook, it’s likely to evoke a retro or comicbook feeling.
Solipsism The philosophical idea that only one’s own mind is sure to exist.
Synoptic NarrativeA synoptic narrative depicts a single scene in which a character or characters are portrayed multiple times within a frame to convey that multiple actions are taking place. Synoptic is the adjective of synopsis.
SurrealismA movement in art and literature that sought to release the creative potential of the unconscious mind, for example by the irrational juxtaposition of images.
SyllepsisA poetic device, a type of zeugma. In picturebooks, this occurs when you see two or more parallel visual stories, either supported or unsupported by words. A fairly common example in picturebooks is when the pictures depict the lives of small creatures doing their own thing but who remain unmentioned in the main text. The plural of syllepsis is syllepses. See also: parallelism.
SymmetryMaria Nikolajeva and Carole Scott have created a sophisticated taxonomy of picturebook interactions (between words and pictures) and came up with a sliding scale. Symmetry is at one end, in which the pictures pretty much repeat what the words have already explained. At the other end is ‘contradiction’, in which the pictures say something completely different from the words, often creating irony or humour. The problem with having ‘symmetry’ at the ‘extreme’ end is that pictures cannot help but say more than the words, since ‘a picture tells a thousand words’ (or thereabouts). So there will never exist a perfectly symmetrical picturebook.
Teaching storiesA term used by writer Idries Shah to describe narratives that have been deliberately created as vehicles for the transmission of wisdom. Teaching stories include folktales, fables and didactic fairytales.
Vanishing Art StyleDesign created with large colour areas, enhanced in specific places with details only to suggest important features or clues
VignetteA small illustration or portrait photograph that fades into its background without a definite border. In picturebooks vignettes are often used to show the passing of time e.g. a child getting ready for bed might be depicted by the same child brushing her teeth, pulling on a nightgown then getting into the bed.
Visual motifsDecorative designs and patterns used in visual artwork, such as rabbits (to indicate various things in different cultures, such as rebirth or fertility); sunbursts, curlicues etc.
World literatureIs sometimes used to refer to the sum total of the world’s national literatures, but usually it refers to the circulation of works into the wider world beyond their country of origin. Sometimes the German word ‘weltliteratur’ is used even in English to mean the same thing.

SEE ALSO

This list of art terms relates specifically to Vermeer, but includes many words that are useful when describing artwork in picture books.

Header painting: Carlton Alfred Smith – The Young Readers 1893

Description in Picturebooks

Whether an individual picture is static or conveys motion, the more details there are in a picture, the longer its discourse time. The common prejudice is that children do not like descriptions, preferring scenes and dialogue. This must be an acquired preference, imposed on children by adults, since all empirical research shows that children, as well as adults, appreciate picturebook pauses and eagerly return to them.

– from How Picturebooks Work by Maria Nikolajeva and Carole Scott

The Secret Self In Storytelling

Eastman Johnson - The Toilet

All of us have a Public, Private and a Secret Self.

The degree of delineation and the stakes depend on our individual circumstances. Because we rarely have insight into the secret selves of others, fiction functions as a useful window. Fiction shows us that we are not alone, whatever our secret self may be.

WHAT IS SECRECY?

What we consider secret depends on time and place. Historian Jill Lepore draws a distinction between mystery, privacy and secrecy, three separate epistemological categories:

MYSTERY: what we can’t know, but are asked to believe.

PRIVACY: what is known, but not to everyone.

  • the law allows us to keep what we know to ourselves
  • the right to be left alone
  • What is considered private depends on the time and culture. The invention of the smartphone challenges the concept of privacy.

SECRECY: the secularisation of mystery. What is known, but not by everyone.

  • The European ‘age of secrecy’ happened between the fifteenth and eighteenth centuries
  • This was the age of the secret sciences, considered ‘good knowledge’: everyone kept secrets: the state, nature, the human heart, trade guilds, God.
  • This culture was the perfect setting for occutism: spy networks, esoterica, ciphers and secret societies (the Jesuits, the Freemasons, the Illuminati)
  • Even into the eighteenth century, the common people had no idea about the level of state debt, details of taxation, the size of their own country’s army.
  • What is considered secret depends on the time and culture. For instance, secrets of nature were exposed after invention of the camera.

BENEFITS OF EXPOSING THE SECRET SELF

Jack will act in ways which recognise, and are sensitive to, Jill’s interests, only if he is able to grasp how things are for Jill, and understands why they matter to her; and, further, recognises that things being that way for Jill makes a claim on some of his own attitudes and behaviour.

Any Jack’s gaining access to Jill’s perspective on life thus demands a degree of sympathy. But when Jill’s interests and aims lie outside the normal range of Jack’s own experience, his ability to sympathise with Jill’s concerns enough to be considerate about them in relevant ways, will require him to see beyond his own usual range. Most people can learn about the needs and interests of others by extrapolating from their own experience and from their observation of people around them, but if these were the only resources for insight, the scope of an individual’s sympathies would be limited. And this is where the narrative arts come in. Exposure to the narrative arts overcomes that limitation: it enormously widens an attentive individual’s perceptions of human experience, and enables him — vicariously, or as a fly-on-the-wall witness — to see into lives, conditions and experiences which he might never encounter in practice. This extension and education of the sympathies is therefore the basis for a richer moral experience and a more refined capacity for moral response.

A.C. Grayling, The Reason Of Things

Grayling goes on to explain that educating moral sensibility through education ‘has a general tendency, not a universal effect, and works by heightening morally relevant insight in at leat many cases, in not all of which will the insight necessarily conduce to the good (after all, the sadist has to have insight into his victim’s circumstances in order to dow hat he does; so mere possession of the insight is also not a guarantee of such goods as kindness and consideration).’

INTERIORITY

Interiority describes parts of a story that convey a character’s thoughts, feelings, and reactions. Storytellers achieve interiority when they let the audience inside the character’s head, revealing the part of a person normally hidden to the outside world. Written stories are especially well-suited to conveying interiority. On screen it is much more difficult.

Because interiority is one huge advantage of the written word, writers would be silly not to make the most of it. 

In terms of interiority, I am always begging writers for more interiority, and less Bad Telling, and less Physical Telling (which we will get into next week and which I do admit to using once in my rewritten examples below). But I think for writers unused to writing good interiority, you can cross the line over to telling every once in a while and we won’t really notice it that much or fault you. It’s when interiority is missing that telling becomes a problem.

One of my most frequent comments on manuscripts is highlighting a piece of telling and writing “Interiority instead.” I harp mercilessly on all of my clients to include more interiority.

KidLit, Mary Kole

DENNIS FOSTER’S FOUR STEPS TO SYMPATHY

When writing, a storyteller decides how much of each character’s secret life to expose. The more of their secret and private selves are exposed, the more rounded the characterisation. By allowing readers insight into a character’s secret self, readers tend to understand, judge, forgive and then sympathise with the ‘confessor’.

A four step progression comes from the work of Dennis Foster who wrote Confession and Complicity in Narrative (1987). Though these steps apply to fictional characters, they apply in real life as well. This is the astounding power of fiction — when we learn that others have a secret self, and when we learn to empathise with fictional characters via this secret self, we tend to apply these skills to real people.

Secrets bind and separate in strict accordance with who’s in on them.

Lionel Shriver, We Need To Talk About Kevin

PRIVATE, PUBLIC AND SOCIAL CLASS

Freedman and Hellerstein (1981), write of “the doctrine of the separate spheres” which prescribed British women’s “personal lives centre around home, husband and children”. These values were of course exported to the colonies by British settlers.

What happened with the separation of home and work? Families became more private and a refuge from the world. This reinforced the Victorian middle-class Cult of Domesticity. Women were idealised as “the angel of the house”. Home was the woman’s private sphere; the public world was a male domain. This was not disrupted until women demanded emancipation. With emancipation came a natural blurring of the public/private divide.

But this was a middle-class thing. For working class families, there was no clean distinction between public and private life. Judy Giles (1995) suggests that the concept of privacy for these groups means simply ‘not public’. The middle-class ideal was to ‘keep yourself to yourself’, so some understanding of private self and inner life was required. Middle-class women understood privacy and what was their own business.

THE USEFULNESS OF THE CONFESSION

Stories which focus on a character’s Secret Self are often described as confessional. There is a huge advantage to writing confessions — the confessions themselves lend suspense. This suspense is caused by the reader’s desire to acquire certain information from the character. Each new piece of information functions as a reveal. Reveals are a necessary component of any suspense story.

Confessional stories have the quality of immediacy, especially when a character conveys information directly to the reader. Readers feel like the special chosen ones, with characters conveying secrets directly to them.

RELIGION AND THE SECRET SELF

I’m in no position to offer a comparative analysis of how various religions deal with the concept of the secret self, but I’ll offer this from an anthropologist studying supernatural beliefs and Pentecostalism Papua New Guinea. In short, sin is thought to exist in hidden areas of the body, especially in the uterus. Hence, women are blamed more often for concealing things they shouldn’t. This plays into an historic, enduring, cross-cultural notion that women are basically liars:

Pentecostals often describe two types of Christian—“spirit Christian” (the truly devout) and “body Christians” (those too concerned about material things, those who do not truly “believe” or have “faith”)—a sort of interdenominational pejorative that condemns doctrinal emphasis on outward ritual rather than inner belief (Keane 2007). The outer body should ideally reveal an inner “spirit body,” as, for example, through the kinds of ecstatic experience often associated with Pentecostal religious fervor.

In contrast, sin is understood as hidden in the body. Sermons that focus on sin as hidden thinking or emotions are interpreted by people listening as themselves a form of veiled speech referring to a problem of great consequence in communities: witchcraft. Through notions of hidden resentment or unseen discord, this Christian discourse associates sin with the gwumu witchcraft …. Following the sermon on Cain and Abel, church members told me that the visiting preacher was referring to witchcraft by using a local metapragmatic category of talk called tok bokis (literally, “box talk,” but usually referred to as “veiled speech”) or gramiyi harekeneve (“hidden talk”) in Dano. Ideas about hidden sin are extremely common in Pentecostal services and discourse, and the idioms in which hidden sin is described are frequently also associated with witchcraft. Sin is often described in the local language as hidden in the bilum (“netbag”) of the self, where the word bilum (ro in Dano) also means uterus, the location in the body where gwumu lives. This is a gendered, but flexible, discourse, as some accusations are also made against men. Nevertheless, Sunday morning altar calls seemed to me to be directed mainly at women congregants; speakers might even turn toward the side of the church where women sit when discussing hidden sin.

Becoming Witches

FOR FURTHER INVESTIGATION

Nikos Aliagas is a photographer of celebrities but he doesn’t ‘know how to use photoshop’. He shoots famous people in natural light, aiming to show something that isn’t visible with all the other, modified, highly staged photographs which abound, and which are more familiar to us all.

Header painting: Eastman Johnson – The Toilet

Decisions To Make When Storyboarding For Interactivity

First things first: Does this story require an active and alert reader, and do the interactions reward interactivity and alertness?

1. Should interactions be user-initiated or autoplay? A mixture?

I prefer narration to autoplay, with the option of turning it off completely from the main menu. When I have to press a button to start the narration on each page it takes me out of the story. As for the rest of the page, a mixture of autoplaying actions and user-initiated interactions works well in many cases, as long as any auto-play noises are not too irritating. Irritating = loud, unpleasant tones or even a pleasant sound that’s on too short of a loop.

2. How much animation, if any?

Too much animation and the storyapp runs the risk of emulating a film, losing its true interactivity. For small development teams, too much animation is costly and therefore not an option. When simple animations are utilised, which ones help to tell the story?

3. Should interactivity be allowed before the narration is over, or must the reader wait?

I still get frustrated when I can’t start the interactivity when I want to, regardless of whether the sound that accompanies the interaction drowns out the narration. It’s about user control. Also, I prefer gentle sound effects, which don’t drown out the narration even if played simultaneously.

4. After an interactivity has played out, should the user be able to cycle through again, or will the page fall inactive, waiting for the reader to turn the page and move on with the story?

The advantage of looping is that readers can linger on a page for as long as they like, which makes the reader feel more in control. The disadvantage is that younger readers in particular may lose the thread of the story, derailed by the interactivity. We used both finite and infinite loops of interactions for The Artifacts on a case-by-case basis. I’ve grown to slightly prefer finite looping, because if readers really want a specific page they can jump to it via the navigation pages, or simply turn onto the page again from the previous, losing no control — only a small bit of convenience.

5. Should the developer offer hints with flashing/arrows, or should the reader have to find all the interactivity themselves?

We believe young readers are more than capable of uncovering any interaction we think we’re hiding in an app. We hear quite a bit from parents that children find Easter eggs in apps that they never suspected were there. We don’t believe everything needs to be handed to a child on a plate, and goes with our general philosophy of ‘try it and see’ — an important attitude when using any type of technology.

The best children’s apps are successful because of a pair of more traditional qualities. Great storytelling. Strong characters. It seems apps aren’t so revolutionary after all, but that’s a good thing.

Stuart Dredge at The Guardian