I've always reviewed every kind of children's book from board books for babies to adult books that teens will like - and now I'm adding ebooks!
Not really the books that you can download to your Nook or Kindle or Reader - although I can now vouch for the fact that The Call of the Wild is just as engrossing on an electronic reader as it is in hardcover - but the enhanced book apps that people are developing for the iPad, and that Nook is just dipping its toe into, and which Amazon is trying with its "enriched" titles (which currently only play on the iPad or iPhone).
See, I bit the bullet and bought an iPad. For a variety of reasons - well, scratch that - there's only one reason to buy an iPad, and that's because you want one. It's not like there are no other portable devices upon which one might check one's email and read the newspaper. No, people buy the iPad because it's pretty.
But I did have a number of rationalizations: firstly, I had been asked by the folks at Maryland Morning to take a look at ebooks for kids for an upcoming show (airs Friday Feb 18 at 9am on WYPR, 88.1 FM!), and I was having a heck of a time finding an iPad to borrow so that I could evaluate iPad apps. Of course, that's not reason enough to spend north of $500 for a fancy game-playing video-watching book-reading device... so after a brief chat with my husband, who has no more discipline than I do when it comes to these things, we decided that since we've never sprung for an XBox or Playstation or Wii, we could buy the iPad... FOR THE KIDS.
There are so many educational apps! Reference books! The human brain in 3-D! You can read books using every service and platform ever invented: iBook, Kindle, Nook, Overdrive, Bluefire. Marvel and DC serve their comics up on the iPad! NASA has an app that is like a deep well full of images and data. PBS, too. National Geographic magazine is lickable on the iPad's shiny screen.
But. The apps are there. The beauty abounds. When it's time to look up the moons of Jupiter, they will look up the moons of Jupiter, and, captivated by the glowing planetary objects, they may stay awhile. Spin Saturn every which way. They will receive the impression that science can be glamorous.
Meanwhile, thanks to my Maryland Morning assignment, in between tending those accursed frogs, I have spent a huge amount of time with the book apps that people have written for the iPad. And, as is my wont, I have developed opinions. And, as is my further wont, I plan to share those opinions. In the Kidlitosphere, Monday is for Nonfiction and Friday is for Poetry, but I have yet to find a concerted use of Thursday.
Here's a taste:
The Three Little Pigs and the Secrets of a Pop-Up Book by L. Leslie Brooke and GameCollage - review
Jaw-dropping, n'est-ce pas?
Here's how I imagine this thing happened: some game developer in the great Pacific Northwest got tired of using his art and design skills to paint misty texture-mapped off-world environments for first-person shoot-em-ups, and started doodling around in his off-time making pop-up books. Enjoying the tactile nature of working with paper, exploring the physics of gears and springs. Researching old and beautiful illustrated books that he can cut up and animate.
One morning, idly playing with one of his pop-ups and dreading another day spent in a cubicle adding condensation effects to dungeon walls, he sat up straight, like a squirrel who thinks he's heard something. An idea has struck. And then, unlike a squirrel who thinks he's heard something, he sat back down, called in sick, downloaded a couple of open source programming tools, and began to code.
Or not. Maybe he just graduated from computer school - maybe they offer a joint degree in paper engineering and iPad development nowadays and he's been preparing to do just this since middle school. Or maybe he is in middle school! It's a brave new world.
Anyway. I am going to use three words to describe The Three Little Pigs and the Secrets of a Pop-Up, and I am going to support each of those words. Are you ready? The words are inspiring, fun, and outrageously charming.
Inspiring: This winsome app is one of the first things I like to show off when I'm giving people a tour of the iPad. Not because it gives the reader fun things to touch, wiggle, and toss around - all the newer apps do that - but because it shows how these movable elements would work. There's a little pair of x-ray specs on every page, and touching them shows you the gears and spinners and springs behind the illustrations.
I showed The Three Little Pigs to a friend of mine this morning and she observed that her kids would go straight from looking at this app to creating their own pop-up book. Those kids are five years old. Okay, so their pop-up book might not work, but they would have a terrific time trying.
Fun: Not to denigrate the action of the book - no way. The moving elements are appropriate to the story, and sometimes even advance the action. OF the books created with the Chipmunk physics engine, such as Alice for the iPad and PopOut! Peter Rabbit, this book contains the most ambitious, most creative wigglies I've seen. Well, it's the newest. I imagine that for a while, the newest is always going to be the most mind-blowing. It's going to be a hoot.
Charming: Using 1930's illustrations, yarn and buttons, and simulating (or photographing) textured watercolor paper on the bright and shiny iPad screen gives this amazing app a homemade quality. Personalizes it, imbues it with craft. It's no accident that my fantasy of the app's genesis involves a guy sitting at his kitchen table.
As an informal student of children's illustration, I happen to know that L. Leslie Brooke was published by Frederick Warne, the home of Beatrix Potter for these many decades. Mrs. Potter caused a small revolution in children's publishing when she insisted that her books be priced inexpensively, so that children could afford to buy them with their own money, and printed in a small format, so that little children would not find the books too unwieldy to hold and read by themselves.
I hear an echo here. This app is priced at $3.99. It works on the iPhone too. Hm.