Friday, March 16, 2012

Betsy Bird's Top Picture Books Poll and Apps

I love lists. Making them, marking things off of them, threatening to put my children on them. Lists for top movies and songs are always helpful when I'm feeling indecisive about what to play. And lists for books are precious for addled brains like my own when I'm at the library or bookstore and feeling overwhelmed by all my choices.

So when Betsy Bird announced a new poll on her Fuse #8 blog for top picture books and chapter books, I was very excited. It's fun to consider what stories stand the test of time, and what new authors and books are essential to any bookshelf. And for dotMomming, I want to know if the best books for kids are becoming available in digital format.

The current poll repeats the enormous feat Betsy pulled off in 2009. Here are the top 10 picture books that made the list then:
  1. Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak (1963)
  2. Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown (1947) 
  3. The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle (1979)
  4. The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats (1962)
  5. Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus by Mo Willems (2003)
  6. Make Way for Ducklings by Robert McCloskey (1941)
  7. Harold and the Purple Crayon by Crockett Johnson (1955)
  8. Madeline by Ludwig Bemelmans (1939)
  9. Millions of Cats by Wanda Gag (1928)
  10. Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Tale by Mo Willems (2004)
Way back in 2009, the iPad was only a glimmer in Apple's eye. It wasn't released until April 2010, so the idea of enhanced picture books was still a ways off. But what about now? How many of these top picture books can you download in the App Store today?

Where the Wild Things Are? Nope. And judging by Maurice Sendak's feelings about e-books, it would take a lot of convincing to bring about an app.

Goodnight Moon? What you find in app format is not the picture book. Very Hungry Caterpillar? Here's the first of these top 10 books to appear in the App Store, though it's not the picture book but rather a math game featuring the adorable caterpillar and Eric Carle's lovely fruit. The Snowy Day? Nope.

Mo Willems' Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus arrived in app format in October 2011 as Don't Let the Pigeon Run This App! (Disney, $6.99). Rather than provide the same content as the paper book, Willems' app lets young readers create their own pigeon stories again and again. Willems is clearly committed to traditional reading and ventured into digital books reluctantly, describing e-books in USAToday, "With all their bells and whistles and word jumbles and assorted narrative killers, after we turn them on, they don't need us."

Make Way for Ducklings app? Nope. Harold and the Purple Crayon (Trilogy Studios, $6.99) is available in a lovely app format that made the CYBILS app finalist list this year. Madeline? Nope. Millions of Cats? Nope. Knuffle Bunny? Not yet, but there might be hope.

"I didn't want to be some reactionary luddite," Willems says in the USAToday interview. "I'm not saying everything electronic is evil."

Check out the rules for nominating your picks for the top 100 picture books and chapter books on the Fuse#8 blog and then email your favorites to Betsy Bird at The deadline is 11:59 p.m. Eastern on April 15, 2012.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Auryn's Founder on Storytelling Opportunities

We heard from author-illustrator Sue Shanahan last month about her beautiful new app, Love You to the Moon and Back, from award-winning app producer Auryn. This week dotMomming features Umesh Shukla, founder and CEO of Auryn, to find out more about the app market, picture books, and children's literacy.

Kirkus Reviews calls the Auryn team "some of the best developers in the business." And through collaborations with legendary children's authors like Rosemary Wells, it is establishing itself as a serious player in the highly competitive children's app market. Readers who are not yet familiar with Auryn's books can get up to speed quickly this month as Auryn plans to give away a free picture book app every day in celebration of National Reading Month.

dotMomming: You have come out with some lovely apps based on print picture books, such as Don Freeman's stories (Hattie the Backstage Bat, Inspector Peckit), the Teddy books, and the Miko series. Can you explain how this model – creating enhanced, interactive books out of existing print books – is successful for an app producer?

Umesh Shukla: In any content business, working with an established brand always helps; even more, when a new format like the tablet comes along. We have been fortunate to have worked with numerous established brands. It has mutually benefited both us and these brands. While we get an opportunity to showcase our capabilities with the help of these brands, they get Auryn’s expertise in maintaining their brand value, while transforming their intellectual properties to a new medium.

DM: Do you see Auryn opening the door to original stories from new authors and illustrators? Why or why not?

US: Absolutely. Every new device presents some very unique, device-specific storytelling opportunities, and we are very keen to move in that direction with the right creative partners.

DM: Auryn is one of the first producers out of the starting gate. How has that worked in your favor? Now that the bigger houses such as Scholastic are entering into app-land, what does that mean for smaller independents such as Auryn?

US: It’s still an emerging field. We believe there is plenty of room for players both big and small. Having bigger players enter the field simply establishes the validity of the new format, and helps everyone involved in creating content for that medium.

DM: What type of books do you see Auryn creating  strictly picture books for young readers, or older interactive books for middle-schoolers, too? What do you hope to accomplish as a producer of enhanced books for kids?

US: Currently our focus is in picture books, as they allow us to showcase our patented rendering technology. But we are in the storytelling business and do plan to open ourselves to other genres in coming months/years.

DM: Can you speak to literacy learning? How do you see the uptake of books and learning changing for young readers as more classrooms open up to digital media? And where do picture book apps such as the ones Auryn produces fit in?

US: I am very excited by the emerging opportunities new devices offer in every kind of learning. School bags are going to get much lighter. Now abstract concepts can be presented in so many subtle and interesting ways to help a child grasp them better. The learning possibilities are enormous.

A small example of it would be the inclusion of pronunciation guides in our apps. While the child is reading the story, he or she can learn to relate the sound to the words. I think we are lucky to be working in a medium that is being defined and redefined everyday. We hope to play a big part in shaping its future.