Tuesday, October 9, 2012 at 8:20PM
I recently interviewed Mark Schlichting, original creator of Living Books. Living Books, released on CD-ROMs through Broderbund/Random House, were among the first e-books to show us the interactive possibilities that technology can bring to the reading experience. Released throughout the 90s, the books carried many hidden "Easter Eggs" - spots on the page where if the user happened to place the mouse they would be treated to a surprise behavior. Mark, along with Wanderful interactive storybooks, has recently re-released some of the Living Books titles as book apps.
Q: When I taught first grade I was a huge fan of Living Books so I was truly excited to learn that you were publishing these titles as apps. What are the titles and how are they alike and different from the interactive CD-ROMs?
A: We are very excited also. We have been wanting to resurrect these wonderful titles (in fact our new company is called Wanderful interactive storybooks) for years, and it's a delight to see them renewed and performing so beautifully as touch-based apps. The experiences are alike in that each interactive page is still full of the original high quality animation and audio from the award winning series, and most titles will come in two or more languages. They are different in that we have completely updated the delivery software and added many new support features for parents and teachers. My favorite additions are the ability to navigate easily to any page from any page, and the ability to quickly change back and forth between languages on every page.
Q: Which titles are available at the moment?
A: Currently we have released Mercer Meyer's Little Monster at School, Marc Brown's Arthur's Teacher Trouble, our hilarious retelling of Aesop's The Tortoise and The Hare, and just released (in time for Halloween) my own storybook Harry and The Haunted House. Over the next few months we will launching The Berenstain Bears Get In a Fight, and another Marc Brown story, Arthur's Birthday, with more great stories coming out next year.
Q: What makes these versions special compared to other app books that are similar?
A: The first thing is the quality and quantity of animation. Most interactive storybooks today have pretty limited animation and seldom the depth of interactive hot spots for kids to explore. The second distinguishing thing is that we very carefully recorded every word in the story separately, and in each different language, with same nuance it was spoken in the initial reading. This allows emerging readers to "build the story" themselves by tapping word-by-word, or for older readers to make-up their own silly sentences by tapping out of order. I watched kids do this over and over and believe that having individual words available as hot spots adds dramatically to the education value of our stories.
Q: How much do your apps cost?
A: Each Wanderful interactive storybook is $4.99, which I think is a great deal considering how much is in each title and that they come in two languages (English and Spanish) for the price of one. (Consider that a title like our Arthur's Teacher Trouble is 24 pages long!) And for many of our titles we offer an additional language, French, which can be added for $1.99 , or we have a Premium Upgrade that adds French and a complete (26-40 page) Classroom Actives Guide for $2.99, both as an In-App-Purchases. Currently our titles are only on the iPad, iPhone and iTouch devices, but soon we will have Android versions and make it available for the Mac and PC (something teachers have asked for.)
Q: Why do teachers love your book apps?
A: I originally designed Living Books with teachers in mind, and they were a big help. I was told, back then, that teachers didn't want to be the technologist in classroom too (which they often where). They wanted to be able to send two kids to go play with a story so the teacher could focus with a student who needed more attention. We built the original Living Books to have "no-install", they just played after a disc was inserted (revolutionary for the time). That connection with teachers continues today with Wanderful. We are very focused on teacher's needs and have added a group of special interface Settings that teachers can turn on or of depending on the specific student they are working with. I think teachers love that kids love these stories, and all the additional language play available. Every book comes with a large Classroom Activities Guide to expand the story themes into the classroom events. Additionally we have learned over the years that these stories are especially popular with special needs children who immediately feel comfortable and empowered by the interface and all they can make happen. They have been some of our biggest fans.
Q: Anything else you wish to pass on to my readers?
A: Well, the fully animated original Living Books credits are kind of a hoot, and many people don't know that there is a hidden character in each of every storybook. You find them on the first page easily, but then you have to search more find them. For instance in Harry and The Haunted House the hidden character is a spider seen in the lower left hand corner of the first page, but on the second page you have to tap in the sky above the words to find him.
Creating (and updating) these titles were an act of love and great fun, and we hope everyone enjoys them as much as we did making them. Thank you.
If people want to know more about Wanderful they can go to: www.wanderfulstorybooks.com
Mark Schlichting is a well-known pioneer of the children’s multimedia industry. He is an expert in children’s interactive design with over 30 years of design, publishing, and creative management experience, and has won over 100 awards for excellence in entertainment and education. Mark is probably best known as the creator of the Living Books CD-ROM series. The highly animated and multilingual Living Books set the benchmark for truly engaging and educational multimedia in the 90s.
Currently Mark serves two roles: one as the Chief Creative Officer of Wanderful interactive storybooks, a company delivering enhanced children’s apps, based on the original Living Books, and he also serves as the CEO of NoodleWorks Interactive, a design and production company specializing in children’s interactive design. In late 2011 NoodleWorks Interactive released its first iPad/iPhone App, NOODLE WORDS — Action Set 1, which went on to win several awards, including the KAPi Award for Best Educational Product of The Year, The Parents’ Choice Gold Award, and The Children’s Technology Review Editor’s Choice Award.
After Living Books, a Broderbund/Random House company, Schlichting served as VP of Design & Development at JuniorNet, a children’s online network where he worked with Highlights for Children, Ranger Rick, Weekly Reader, Zillions, Sports Illustrated for Kids, and Jim Henson/Disney’s — Bear and The Big Blue House, before going on to found NoodleWorks in 2000.
Mark is the author of the children's storybook, Harry and The Haunted House, and is currently completing a book on the psychology and art form of computer interaction titled, Understanding Kids – Designing Great Interactive Media for Children.