Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Space Dog's Treasure Island an Adventure

As I read Space Dog Books' Treasure Island app, I kept thinking of one of the many wonderful lines that Violet, Dowager Countess of Grantham (Maggie Smith), utters on Downton Abbey: "Electricity in the kitchen? Whatever for?"

Treasure Island, the Robert Louis Stevenson's classic published in 1883, seems to have done pretty well for itself left all alone in its paper form. And app producers have to tread carefully when enhancing classic books in the public domain -- readers can choose to download the no-frills option for free or pay for the updated one, which in this case retails for $7.99 in the App Store.

So an enhanced Treasure Island for the iPad at first begs the same question, "Whatever for?" Well the answer, simply put, is for the sake of young readers.

Artist Matthew Cruickshank's illustrations are superb and immediately draw readers in with their playful, sly style and vivid colors. They are sophisticated without being adult, yet there is no whiff of kindergarten either. The look and feel of this Treasure Island is solidly for the independent readers.

So why an app and not just a well-illustrated e-book? There are many reasons why this version of Treasure Island is so appealing. The story has obviously stood the test of time, and this abridged version is no exception. But what has changed is the reader.

I am not saying that kids these days must have whistles and bells to hold their attention. And this Treasure Island does not pander to that notion -- there are no games imbedded in the story, no links readers can follow that take them away from the narrative. There are few gimmicks here, and kids expecting to find an escape hatch might be disappointed.

Treasure Island's interactivity is amusing and meant to provide a pause in the 34-chapters of action. And frankly, who wouldn't want to hear a pirate sing, "Fifteen men on a dead man's chest. . ."? A lush illustration accompanies the start of almost every chapter, sometimes providing opportunities for readers to swipe or tap the image to move a character or hear a bit of dialogue, other times just as  animations that beautifully capture the scene. When interacting with the animations, readers will hear sound effects like chirping birds, clip-clopping horse hooves, snarling pirates, and occasional dramatic music. And since this is a book clearly geared for boys, there are burps. Many burps. In glorious variety.

Small illustrations within chapters offer simple interactivity like tilting the iPad and seeing the rum inside a corked bottle slosh around, sliding a key into a lock and clicking it open, and flicking the tiny ship at sea and having it bob in the ocean. And gorgeous full-page animations capture big scenes in clever detail.

Reading is clearly the emphasis with Space Dog's Treasure Island, and while there are no "read-to-me" options as with picture book apps for a younger audience, there are still tools to help navigate the book. A pull-down ribbon lets readers return to the beginning, jump to another chapter, and see how to interact with an animation. And while there is no tool for adjusting type size, I found the text clear and easy to read and no different from a traditional book page.

I don't think young readers are too different from the grownup kind. Sometimes they want to stretch out on the couch with a good book and few distractions. With this digital updating of a wonderful children's classic, Space Dog's gorgeous Treasure Island provides just that.


  1. Wow. Interesting. It never occured to me a chapter book could be an app. I'm off to check it out......

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