Cybils were announced today, and I am delighted to see The Monster at the End of this Book as the winner in the brand-new Best Book App category. Sesame Workshop and Callaway DigitalArts get it right with this effort, engaging young readers in the truest sense through highlighted text, hilarious narration, and a fun storyline. While often we see kids zone out with digital devices, Monster leaves no room for passive observing: Grover spends all his time trying to keep the reader from turning the page and getting to the end of the book. It is an app they'll go back to again and again.
Judging for the Cybils was an honor and a thrill because this new medium is still so wide open. And our expectations for what picture book apps can and should be are so varied. Looking at the finalists, you can see the range of styles: Hildegard Sings stays true to its picture book roots with traditional presentation of text and adorable interactivity. For young readers, it feels like a natural extension of a book, with a great deal of fun added in. Click on thought bubbles to see what characters have in mind, tap on a plate of food to feed our hungry hippo, throw tomatoes at the stage after a performance. Hildegard is a great example of an "enhanced" book, taking something that worked great in the paper world and making it interactive and fun for the digital one.
Bobo Explores Light, which is a completely original book that takes the game to a whole new level. Top-notch illustration, animation, and -- get this -- education. I felt like this was the definition of digital learning, and I see it as the future of books. If you buy anything off this list, go right this second to the iTunes Store and purchase this app. I was blown away by how much information is right there at, well, your fingertips.
Bobo is a nonfiction effort to introduce kids to scientific concepts, and it covers a lot of turf: lasers, telescopes, lightning, reflection, bio-luminescence, and sunlight. Readers are accompanied on their journey by an adorable robot named Bobo. While Bobo communicates and helps the reader navigate the page, Bobo does not narrate. So kids have to do the work of reading, and there is a lot of material. But they are rewarded throughout by pulldown screens that show videos, games using lasers and mirrors, and so much more.
Bobo is for an older audience, so it was a challenge to compare an app like this against the adorable ones for the pre-reading set. Perhaps next year we'll see a variety of Cybils app categories to even the playing field. It felt odd comparing Harold and the Purple Crayon against Middle-School Confidential, a book about self-image for tweens.
Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore prompted some great discussion. Part book and part movie, this William Joyce effort is a stunning ode to books and storytelling -- and as if proving their point, you can also get Morris Lessmore as a paper book and see the short film, which has been nominated for an Oscar. While I loved this beautiful app, it felt more like a movie-watching experience than a reading one. Again, a passive experience vs. an active one. Great app to buy right this second to see for yourself and test-drive with the kids in your life.
Pat the Bunny. I loved how this app brings us full circle. It is based on Dorothy Kunhardt's cutting-edge "touch and feel" children's book published in 1940, which introduced generations of babies to books by letting them pat the bunny's soft fur and sniff the sweet-smelling flowers. Revolutionary! With this app, pre-readers are once again engaged in creative ways through playing peek-a-boo, finding where the bunny is hiding, catching butterflies, and much more.
If you're curious about the potential picture book apps have for early literacy, these books are great examples of the best that you can find. They are definitely worth checking out. Congratulations to all the finalists.
And if you want to get involved in some of the conversations, visit the blogs of my fellow panel of Cybils judges, such as Mary Ann Scheuer's terrific Great Kid Books, as well as Alyson Beecher's KidLitFrenzy, Elizabeth LeBris' LeBrisary, and Dan Santat's website.