Tuesday, November 29, 2011

New Beauty and the Beast app

Hope everyone had a great Thanksgiving. We were able to go down to Virginia Beach to see my brother's family, play with cousins, work on riding a bike without dozens of cars all around, and visit Jamestown and Colonial Williamsburg on Black Friday. It wasn't Plymouth, but it was great to see the site of America's oldest English settlement and the recently excavated site of their first church, where Pocahontas was married. (At least I think the covered hole in the ground was the site referenced in the article, which came out a day or two after we visited.) Loretta's just suddenly gotten into the American Girl books, so it was nice to have two in hours in Williamsburg so that she can identify with the place when she reads the Felicity books, which she started this morning on the subway. It was a really unexpected "text-to-self" connection, as they say at her school.

Recently I've really been trying to get up to speed on all the kids' literary/narrative apps out there, like the Mo Willems app I wrote about the other week. A new one came out on 11/11 that looks really promising, Disney's Beauty and the Beat Storybook Deluxe:

Here's the description as posted in the app store:

Experience a tale as old as time in this fully interactive Storybook Deluxe app. Complete with games, movie clips, puzzles, coloring pages, and sing-along songs from the film, you’ll find a surprise on every page. Hear the story read aloud, record your own narration, or explore at your own pace.

In this unforgettable story of love and adventure, a young woman named Belle finds herself in a castle with talking furniture, an enchanted rose, and a grumpy beast. Despite an awkward beginning, Belle and the Beast gradually become friends, and Belle learns not to judge a book by its cover. A beloved Disney favorite retold in a magical new format the whole family can enjoy!

* Interactive Storybook Deluxe app features your favorite characters from Disney's award-winning Beauty and the Beast.
* Two reading modes allow you to follow along as the story is read aloud, or explore at your own pace.
* Engage in exciting activities based on scenes from Beauty and the Beast—help Belle make her way to the Beast's castle in the hedge maze, or go on a hunt for hidden roses.
* Puzzles and coloring pages for all ages!
* Record your voice reading the story and hear it played back as narration.
* Jump to your favorite page with the Visual Page Index.

I haven't been able to try it out yet--I guess I need to put an iPhone or Pad on my Christmas list--but it shows the promise of the expanding field of e-publishing. The combination of gaming and print is interesting, expanding the story world of the experience in ways that can engage new readers or lengthen the experience for established fans, and the games and coloring pages look really fun. But I'm a little more interested in the ways the app lets kids interact with the text itself. Essentially, different reading levels and reading out loud yourself remind me exactly of reading a print book, but it is a little different. Hearing your voice back, for instance, is something a book can't do, and I'd love to hear more about users' experiences--or professional research--about how this influences kids and the act of "reading" a text.

If you watch this demo video, however, you'll be reminded that the Disney Beauty and the Beast that's being adapted here to app form is not a book but a film. At first I was hesitant about the use of the full-motion video, but it looks like it actually works with the printed text quite well; the music, visuals, and Linda Woolverton's narrative innovations are obviously the strength of the film version, after all, so it wouldn't make sense to ignore those in bringing the film to the iPad (plus the performances by all the actors). What you're left with is a nice mix of video, print, and gaming, which should be a great treat for any Disney Princess fan. I hope that with future adaptations the mix becomes more and more fluid, but how to do that will be the state of the art of narrative app design.

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