Thoughts on interactive kids books

Posted: December 7, 2011 in software, thoughts
Tags: , , , ,

I feel quite disillusioned with a lot of the latest ebook apps that I’ve downloaded to my iPad, because the narrators in many of the books are awful (often American sweetie pies) and the content is boring. A story needs to hang together as a story and the things a child can do need to be worth doing, otherwise a second reading won’t happen. I won’t name names here because I value my freedom. But I do have general comments to make (you wouldn’t expect otherwise!)

Things I wouldn’t want in my own ebook include (in no particular order – drum roll…) 

1 Musack playing on each page for the sake of it. When I read to a kid I don’t have a CD on! They need to hear the words if they’re to speak properly.

2 Tapping on an animal or man who simply turns a different way or makes a slight nod. No speech, no variation in action. No point in doing it, nor ever again.

3 Finding that much of what is on the page does zilch. Some children simply would lose interest. The point of an interactive book is interaction. Otherwise, Bring on the Mr Men.

3 Not having an obvious means of turning the page.

4 A really tiny sensitive place for turning over – some kids won’t manage to pinpoint it

5 Illogicality – if x, y and z are mentioned, why would they appear out of order? Is that weird or what?

6 Just dragging a flower around to rearrange the scene for no purpose related to the story.

7 Tapping a second area but the sensitive area for the previous tap overlaps, so the first one happens again. That’s careless coding.

8 Pages on which you have to tap to turn before the interactive bits are available. A child who has tried touching the animals with no response when the page first opens will not try touching again – they learn that it isn’t active. A bit like unresponsive parenting! And page turns should mean just that.

I do think Nosy Crow has set the bar very high indeed. Or perhaps old stories already have the wow factor that gives rise to invention around it! If you drag stuff in Cinderella, it’s because the fairy godmother needs it and it’s hidden in the picture. If there is music, it’s because they’re going to dance to it. In other words the interaction is part of the story – which is, I think, what many writers are saying: the story should be central.

Moving on


I have a early book (for reading to 4s-5s and originally published traditionally, with pictures on each page) for which the rights have long since returned to me. It is still eminently relevant to life and and it would lend itself brilliantly to really good interactive stuff. I have already made a list of what I’d want it to do. (One example – when the pumpkin plants start growing to jungle proportions, I’d want the child to make them grow all over the page by running fingers around, and they pumpkins would grow where the fingers traced – different each time. The coding would then allow the child to place the four pumpkins where he wants them to be as they grow – again, different each time, so it’s worth doing. This is one spread only from the book.)

I’m not sure the current rash of book-building apps have sufficient oomph to do a good job, and I very much doubt I could afford a top-grade outfit to do it for me. I’d also need an illustrator (or they would) because the original illustrator is not in on this now.

And finally

My highest concern, apart from standards, is about how we are supposed to sell interactive ebook/apps in schools on author visits. I really love going in and enthusing kids about my books and I don’t see how an electronic version without a paper version can facilitate this. Anyone know of a solution? Because otherwise, we’re only selling to parents. It’s the kids I want to wow.

  1. Andi says:

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts on Nosy Crow’s apps and interactive ebooks. We’re happy to have user feedback in this exciting and expanding world of children’s books.


    • There was lots more I could have said about Nosy Crow – all good! I just restrained myself from naming the bad ones in case I upset any authors who may not have had a say in how their stories were treated. It’s such a temptation to stick anything on an iPad because it will look new and shiny anyway.Maybe when the new is ordinary, people will up their game like you have!


  2. Shoo Rayner says:

    Hi Eleanor

    I’m with you on all of this. Id add a couple more things.

    9. Chinese propaganda books translated into english by german publishers with a chinese american voiceover that just doesn’t get it, but the actor has seen a LOT of Disney videos.

    and 10 – The huge rash of stuff that just doesn’t have any story or logic to it at all. So many people have got hold of content and thrown it against the wall of the internet to see if anything might stick.

    Your ideas sound lovely, but I can assure you they are expensive and just not going to happen in the near future unless you learn to code and illustrate.

    I’m now thinking – do interactive books actually have to be interactive? Can’t they just be stories designed for the iPad?

    There would be a difference in price reflecting the difference in investment .

    all the best

    Shoo Rayner


    • Hi Shoo – I’m sure they don’t have to be interactive, and that would make the experience a bit like a colour Kindle I suppose, which will arrive here one day. I think the point of specifically ‘touch’ pads, though, is to have a touching experience and be active in the story. And yes, I would need a whole lot more money than I’ve got unless a publisher sees the potential and goes for it. Preferably in time for next pumpkin/harvest show season! Er, a Christmas present if anyone rich is reading? Thanks for stopping by.


  3. Jan Carr says:

    Hi Eleanor
    Hey, we’ve chosen the same wordpress template!
    Probably the message is that whatever interactivity (is that a word?) is built into the app it should be done well and a few good ‘interactions’ are significantly better than a lot of naff ones?

    Would a page to turn with some beautiful illustrations and an excellent reader be enough for a basic but quality app?

    (My other half made interactive stories for our kids in the 90’s. He did one with Quentin Blake’s ‘All Join in’)


    • Obviously we have good taste!
      I think an ebook that just turns a page and is illustrated well is just that – an ebook version of a storybook. And that’s fine. The ones that advertise themselves as interactive are the ones that should live up to their hype! I don’t myself think that page turning is what is meant by interactive – though it clearly is in one sense. But then so is a paper book. I’ve never found one that turns automatically! Thanks for stopping by.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.