Since the launch of the iPad, there have been many approaches to making things that are more than the traditional idea of a book, sometimes called “trans-media” or “interactive books.” The idea of creating something that uses all the capabilities of an audio-visual device is obviously very appealing. But the constraints of trying to pull emotion and expression out of limited media (dead trees and ink) has had a good track record at containing the best things that humans can do. What happens when it can be anything? To find out, I tried out three timeless stories with my six year-old.
Alice, from Atomic Antelope
This is an edited version of the original text, with the original illustrations by John Tenniel (they are in the public domain) reworked into semi-interactive scenes vaguely connected to the story. It’s fun at first to shake things, but the text quickly gets pushed aside (“let’s see the next one” instead of reading). My kid and I had been reading the free Google Books’ version of Alice in Wonderland before and she loved the illustrations. But my favorite part of reading with her is when she’s listening to some fantastical scene and smiling, imagining it. It seems sad that the text becomes an afterthought.
Grimm’s Rapunzel, from PopIris
Here, the story is more interspersed with activities that have a direct connection with the text, and it’s fun to see the pictures pop out of the book into 3-D graphics. But then each “page” turns into completing small activities that are more eye candy than story-driven. They are not difficult, or meaningful in and of themselves. For example, the story of Rapunzel starts out with a husband and wife who very much want a child, but then cuts to a flower-planting activity. It comes together (as you may remember, the husband goes to get flowers for his wife and runs afoul of a witch), but it feels odd, like the sound and picture aren’t matching up. It’s fun to see things go ‘boing’ when touched, but we found ourselves pawing at them just for that, instead of wanting to complete the activity to move on.
Peter Rabbit, from PopOut!
This has some of the same eye-candy and fun touchable things, but for some reason it succeeds much more as a story. It’s the only one where the text has a real part to play, as the book reads and highlights each word. Also uniquely, my daughter can “read” the book to herself by touching each word to hear it, enabling her to get through an entire book that isn’t an early-reader (where there are a more limited number of words). The animations are much more like an actual pop-up book, though with a nice sproingy feel. And the text and animation/interactivity have an equal billing, never one without the other. There is still a toy-factor, but it feels much less like a gimmick.
Three stories, retold three different ways. It’s probably inevitable that the media for the story doesn’t actually change the act of storytelling that much; how else would storytelling have lasted in a recognizable way from the walls of caves until now if it was media dependant? There is a great deal of possibility in building on the craft though, but as the examples above show, probably not without a lot of false starts.