Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Children's Book Apps... What's worth your money?

Hey folks! My name is Joe Spadaford of Brainfreeze Inc.  Over the past year I have been working with my friend Tod Carter to make a children's book that was the next step in what we wished we had when we were young.  I remember my mother once bought me a collection of classic tales drawn up in comic book form.  Why? I was not willingly reading around the age of ten.  Had she not bought those books for me I might have never read the Invisible Man, War of the Worlds, Count of Monte Cristo, Moby Dick, and so many more.  Why did I read those books back then..? Simply, they were fun.

Reading does not have to be a labor. In fact, reading needs to be a pleasure. Teachers everywhere and everyday are looking for the best ways to get kids started on the reading path.  Steve Jobs opened a new gateway for us once he invested in the iPad.

At first, nobody I knew wanted an iPad.  I was singled out.  One friend put me on a blog called, 'Lonely people with iPads'.  I got it so I could paint or draw on the fly.  It was great for that.  But, as I was looking for new drawing apps one day I came across some children's book apps.  I won't name names, but what shocked me was the amount of gimmick apps that were out there.

As a kid, I would not have been engaged by playing with a physics engine on a machine to enhance my reading experience.  Nope, it would just facilitate my ADD, and soon I would drop the Book App.  A bunch of bouncing objects would say to me that playing with digital toys was more fun than reading the words they cover up.  Not to mention, playing with tilting your iPad gets old after a short bit of time...

I wondered why so few people, artists and writers failed to fully utilize this new technology. Then I came across an app that worked.  It was a book, and it was a story. Not one bit took precedent over the other.  It's a fine line between making a cartoony app and also engaging the reader in the words of the book. We all want pretty pictures, but we all need to learn to read.  How this guy managed to balance it took me a few months to get my head around.  His name was Frank Ayars, and his book is Jack and the Beanstalk.

Jack and the Beanstalk set my engines rolling. Tod and I wanted to be the first ones out there to make an animated version of what Frank did.  We played around with different story ideas, and settled on Mother Goose stuff.  We are calling our App Goosed up Rhymes.

Now, in trying to make an app you learn very quickly to survey your competition.  Week after week I was shocked to see books that were less and less like Frank's Jack and the Beanstalk, despite its great story telling, not to mention high sales.

I did run into a few gems over the past year though.  I have no problem praising other books in the app market place.  Also, I will tell you which ones, in my humble opinion, are not worth the money or the time.

There is junk out there.

These books are NOT junk.  They are quality.

Food Fight

This book has a funny story and great illustrations. It has been updated a few times and the updates keep making it better.  The subject focuses on getting kids to eat their veggies. I, myself, had some interest in this topic since I have worked on drawing for the Veggie Tales cartoon show for 10 years.  Why is it good?  It engaging and funny.  The story is as funny as the visuals. At Brain Freeze our motto is, 'Make reading hilarious!' I think food fight does that well.

Little Bella's I Close My Eyes

This book is a lullaby. It focuses on reading alone on one page, then shifting over to a wonderfully animated sequence next.  Its sooo charming.  Thumbs way up!  Its a simple premise but works so well.  Plus, the Little Bella voice is charming as all get out!  I can't say enough about this app.

Peter Rabbit Pop Up

This is an app that brings to the table the simple charm of what pop up books gave us way back when the only technology around to stimulate us was paper tabs and pop-up pictures.  I loved those books then, and I love this book now.  When I started on Goosed up Rhymes I told Tod, 'It has to be a moving pop-up book.  The kind you watch move on its own, but can also interact with.'  Its classic even though it does have some of those gravity engines... blaahhh.

Lastly, check out Frank's newest book

Cozmo's Day Off 

What Ayars animation learned from the interactivity on Jack and the Beanstalk has been built upon greatly. What was great is now better.  You follow this little alien around in his fun space world and get the experience of interacting with a world not your own. It's a charming and funny little story that has surprises all over the place.  Kids and adults will keep going back to it for a fun tale and the curiosity of, "If I push this, will it do something?" Often times it will, and it will make you laugh.  Frank's done a great job of making reading and games interplay perfectly into the story, and has some real innovations using the physics engine that is not way too gimmicky.  One page lets you look around at a monster in space, but also gives you the option of hiding the big monster alien character from your kids view by tilting the iPad... I wouldn't though. My little girl loves this stuff!

Thats all for my first post.  Thanks and have a great day!

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