Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Loud Crow Turns Boynton's 'Going to Bed Book' Into a Dreamy New App

Any mother with a child under, oh, 30 years of age has probably held a Sandra Boynton board book in her hands. Since emerging on the scene with her adorable “Hippo Birdie Two Ewes” greeting cards back in 1975, Boynton has been wowing millions with her charming illustrations and wry sense of humor.

Let’s face it, her 1982 board book Blue Hat, Green Hat is comic genius.

So Loud Crow Interactive has just hit it big, think hippo-sized ginormous, by partnering with Boynton for a new line of picture book apps. The first, which has sold more than 5,000,000 copies (those zeroes are correct) in print form, paraded onto digital bookshelves earlier this month. And DotMomming was not disappointed.

The Going to Bed Book app features Boynton’s familiar menagerie of pigs and bunnies, bears and elephants as charming as ever. Loud Crow keeps them center stage, letting kids (ahem, or the adults reading with them) interact with the animals as they go through their bedtime routines.

Tap on individual critters to hear subdued animal sounds on some pages, musical instruments on another. Turn on the water during bath time, and watch the bubbles float across the screen. Little fingers will quickly figure out how to pop them, and there you'll sit for a good long while.

Boynton has a thing for pajamas, so it's only natural that her app lets kids interact with them. Tap on a bureau drawer on the "find pajamas, big and small" page, and jammies of all kinds explode onto the page and drift into piles like autumn leaves.

We linger longest on the toothbrushing page. Touch the faucet handle, and the water turns on, filling the screen with steam. We can't move on until we've both written messages on the steamed up page.

Each reading uncovers more engaging features, from hanging up the elephant along with his bath towel to lighting up the night sky one star at a time. Loud Crow has created a luxurious app that taps into Boynton's giddy sense of humor and mines it for more comic fun. It's a joy to share with a child.

For parents of infants, Boynton board books are as essential as a binky. Tuck one into a diaper bag for on-the-go entertainment (and the occasional teething moment).

But for emerging readers, Boynton books are something special to encounter. Their spare word count is just enough to let a new reader feel a sense of real accomplishment. And the language is silly, surprising, and giggle-inducing, which sure beats a boring old rat that sat on a mat.

And there is no better place to start little guys reading than Moo, Baa, La La La.

As with most apps for this age group, readers can choose how they want to experience the book. With The Going to Bed Book, they can tap “The Big Guy Reads It” and listen to the soothing, not-quite-gravelly voice of legendary British Invasion rocker Billy J. Kramer. (Visit his website to learn how Boynton and Kramer connected.) Once they’re feeling confident, burgeoning readers can select “I want to read it myself.”

With Boynton’s deep roster of books, we can only guess what’s next from Loud Crow. But one thing we can assume with confidence is that the quality will be there. And just like her wild-eyed and wacky animals, that makes us smile.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Ruckus Media's Rick Richter on Apps for Kids

Ruckus Media Group just announced it has secured $3.5 million in funding to expand its presence in app-land and across multiple online stores and platforms. Ruckus is already on the scene with tried-and-true story classics told by powerhouse actor-musician teams like Robin Williams and Ry Cooder doing Pecos Bill, Denzel Washington and B.B. King doing John Henry. We interviewed Ruckus president, CEO, and chairman Rick Richter about the company's plans for readers and buyers of digital media.

With so many app developers hailing from the land of computer programming, it's exciting to hear from Richter, who is former president and publisher of Simon & Schuster Children’s Division (1996-2008) as well as co-founder of the beloved publishing house Candlewick Press, which has a long tradition of producing quality books. (The paper kind.)

DotMomming: A lot has happened to Ruckus in recent weeks, especially with the funding boost in early March. What can we expect to see in coming months?

Rick Richter: Right now we’re focusing on our future plans and really drilling down on the apps we have in development, which I think will take us to the next level. We expect that customers want more and more from us on a technology standpoint, and right now, we’re laying the track that we can deliver on customer expectations -- not just satisfying moms and kids, but delighting them.

DM: What’s in store for the year?

RR: For the year, ultimately, you’ll see us expand our range of apps. Over time, it will become apparent what’s developmentally appropriate for your child. We will begin to express real points of view on that, taking counsel from leaders in mobile education thinking and from parents themselves. It’s important to know we’re not doing this alone.

DM: A recent Ruckus announcement said the $3.5 million in funding will help “enrich our products, expand our offerings, and expedite the development of original content with marquee titles.” With superstars like Meryl Streep doing narration and Elvis Costello providing music, Ruckus apps feature celebrity adaptations of well-loved classics.

Does Ruckus plan to open the doors to more original stories and illustrations?

RR: That is the most exciting part of what we do. Of course, originality comes in all forms, and we’re seeking out the brightest and the best storytellers from around the world.

DM: One of the biggest “ifs” with this new era of children’s publishing is quality. Many app producers have no schooling in children’s literature and no editorial staffing on their team. Ruckus is unique in that its team is made up of industry heavy hitters from traditional publishing, media, and entertainment. You, yourself, are unusual in publishing for having been a leader in both sales and editorial.

Does Ruckus plan to set the standard for quality content? And if so, how?

RR: Absolutely, if you look at the background of not only me but the people who are associated with us, including some very prestigious editors, we think that we are reacting to what we observed as a real hole in the market as far as quality. The reason why apps are as expensive as they are, and why people like free apps, is that you can’t count on the quality. So we intend to raise that standard and raise the bar, and there are two or three other companies like us, who will emerge like us. There will be a few brands that pop out, creating products of outstanding quality. That’s where we want to be.

DM: For many authors and artists of traditional picture books, the app world presents a whole new publishing frontier. Could you talk about author/illustrator Mike Austin and his picture book app, A Present for Milo? The Milo app morphed into a few traditional books for Austin. How did this happen?

RR: One of the most interesting reviews we received on our app is that one reviewer hoped the books would be as good as the app is. It really does fall back to "a great story is a great story," regardless of how it is presented. You have to ask yourself, Is a book its body or its soul? We maintain that it’s its soul. Print books very much have their place, and app books do too. For us, it was never either/or, it was always either/and. And we want kids to enjoy great storytelling wherever they are.

DM: One of your mantras has been “books you can play with and games you can read.” For this digital generation that doesn’t feel an affinity to paper books, apps are a natural extension of their screen experiences. What does Ruckus see as the future of reading?

RR: I think for us, we see today’s on-the-go culture as wanting to enjoy media wherever they are. It’s historically how media has evolved. Typically, one form of media has not eclipsed another. People still read books, they go to movies. Video was predicted to crush movie theaters, which never happened. It’s really about where people are when they enjoy the media. Statistically, it isn’t that one kind of media is replacing another; it’s about multi-tasking. One thing that does stand is the ability to find print books, which is becoming more difficult with the closing of Borders and independent booksellers. We hope to provide that kind of curation service for parents, so we give guidance on what is not only a great app but a great story.

DM: It’s a cluttered market for iPad apps right now. Competition is stiff and – as an Oklahoma gal, forgive me – it’s like a land grab. How should parents make their way to quality apps for their kids?

RR: What you will find is that there will be curators that step forward and offer their insight. Awards are evolving. Reviews will become more and more solid, and people with real review experience will step in. People forget that we’re in the early days of apps; the first digital reading device was created in 1970, but it’s only been three to four years that e-books have really exploded and hit a tipping point. We’re really in the early days. There are 70,000 developers and 350,000 apps. What you’re going to see is people stepping in and helping you decide where to go and what constitutes a great app.

DM: Apple’s iTunes is the main player for app distribution. But Ruckus plans to expand distribution to include Google’s Android Market, Research In Motion’s Blackberry App World, Amazon’s App Store, and the Barnes & Noble Nook.

What does this mean for Ruckus as far as establishing a beachhead in the highly competitive app market?

RR: For us, we want to be able to be available on every device possible. You’ll see us developing apps on multi-platforms. You can also add that to our goals for the year. It’s very exciting, but it’s also very expensive. It’s probably going to be what weeds out the smaller developers from the larger developers.  Interesting enough, you have to recode an app from the ground up to be played on an Android device, so you’re incurring twice the cost. If you’re talking about four to five platforms, you’re talking $200,000 in development costs. So two things have to happen: the company has to be funded to do that, and the market has to be evolving.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Loud Crow's "Peter Rabbit" Tops Kirkus Reviews, and for Good Reason

Not long ago we wrote about Kirkus entering the world of app reviews. And not a moment too soon, when I think of the picture book stinkers now collecting dust on our iPad.

I recently downloaded the app ranked in the No. 1 position with Kirkus. It’s PopOut! The Tale of Peter Rabbit, by one Beatrix Potter. Even though I’m committed to my great-new-app-by-a-talented-new-author quest, I went ahead and queued up what Kirkus considered the best.

And whaddaya know? It is. Heads and shoulders, in fact, above any picture book app I’ve bought so far. Check out the video to see for yourself.

What makes Peter Rabbit such an enjoyable reading experience? The list is long.

First of all, it’s the British narration. Think Emma Thompson, but more Howards End than Nanny McPhee. The voice is smooth and gentle, which jibes perfectly with the clean, understated piano accompaniment.

I loved that the pages, when our iPad was turned to landscape, seemed to be the exact size as the real book in our hands. And the pop-out components were a terrific blending of old school and new: paper flap pullouts, spin wheels, and springy elements were planted on every page.

They were infinitely engaging, and my kindergartner recognized them immediately from traditional pop-up books. Pull on this flap, and Mr. McGregor blocks Peter's path. Turn this circle, and Flopsy, Mopsy, and Cotton-tail gobble up their supper.

What delighted Junior most of all were the unexpected new pop-up elements. The rabbits come across blackberry vines, and when we touched the simple watercolor image, the berries popped into realistic, true-to-size blackberries on the screen. We spent quite a while playing with the blackberries, gooseberries, and lovely fall leaves, piling them on different parts of the pages and bouncing them back and forth. When we spent too long away from the story, the blackberries squished beneath our fingers.

It was a gentle reminder that Peter was waiting.

Developed by Loud Crow Interactive, Peter Rabbit is for iPad, iPhone, and iPod Touch. It was followed at the holidays by PopOut! The Night Before Christmas.

Loud Crow on Friday unveiled the first app in its new line based on Sandra Boynton's adorable board books. Stay tuned for our review of The Going to Bed Book app, which makes us anything but sleepy.