Creating Interactive Digital Children’s Books With Author/Illustrator Roxie Munro
by Beth Bacon
Roxie Munro has written and illustrated more than 35 books for children and has created several interactive digital books including “Roxie’s a-MAZE-ing Vacation Adventure” and “Roxie’s Doors“. A new app, “Slithery Snakes” will be out this summer. Beth Bacon spoke with Roxie about how she moved from creating traditional books to making interactive books for children and what she sees for the future.
Beth Bacon: You’re embracing new digital storytelling technologies. Why?
Roxie Munro: I do mainly nonfiction and concept children’s picture books. They are considered interactive, and include guessing games, mazes, search-and-find, counting games, lift-the-flap paper engineering, hidden objects, and so forth. The books already use a form of “gamification” to engage children in reading, using the books, and learning. So evolving into making interactive apps felt very natural, and like the next step.
BB: When did you make the transition from children’s books to apps? What were the circumstances that allowed your first app to come about?
RM: About eight years ago I got a “fan” letter about my first maze book, Mazescapes (which was translated into Dutch, as well as French and Italian), from Omar Curiere in the Netherlands, on behalf of his then six-year-old son. He owns a graphic design company (OC Graphics) which does virtual reality video projects for architects and city planners. In late 2010 he contacted me again; he wanted to get into developing children’s apps, through a new division in his company, OCG Studios, and he thought my work would lend itself perfectly. I loved the idea.
Rather than licensing one of my five maze books then in print, we decided to do original work based upon those books. “Roxie’s a-MAZE-ing Vacation Adventure” is an animated interactive game app for up to five players, with sounds, original commissioned music, hidden objects, and much more. Our second app, “Roxie’s Doors,” was a direct book-to-app conversion; I had gotten the rights, and the electronic files, back from Chronicle Books when my lift-the-flap book, Doors, went OP. It is interactive, 3-D, with narration, text recognition, music, and animation. There are 60-second trailers for both on my website.
BB: What is the most difficult thing about this new form of storytelling?
RM: Actually, the creative part was not difficult, other than the actual act of drawing and painting a huge 5 ft by 3.5 ft intricate maze, and 400 animation spots. It was a little expensive to get it scanned; there are only a few places that can do a huge illustration at a really high rez (ultimately creating 16 screens). OCG Studios did all the fabulous coding and tech work. I’ve learned a lot! (Links: Making the Maze app; Making the Doors app .)
Some books, however wonderful they may be as a print book, do not translate well into apps. Studies have shown that adding all the bells and whistles, unless really relevant to the idea, sometimes distracts from learning and comprehension, so you do have to be careful about what properties to make into apps.
[BB NOTE: One such study was done by the Joan Ganz Clooney Center comparing co-reading using print, basic, and enhanced books.]
BB: How does the interactivity in your apps allow you to expand your storytelling?
RM: Because my print books are already considered “interactive,” it allows me to go even further… into sounds, music, and animation. My lift-the-flap book, Doors, works beautifully as an animated app, as you can imagine…children open the doors and flaps inside of flaps to discover all sorts of fun things. And the maze app allows for nonlinear action, which books do not – perfect for a random maze game.
OCG Studios has built a series of ten very cool AR iPad apps designed to interact with a huge book project I’ve illustrated, KIWiStoryBooks (Kids Interactive Walk-in StoryBooks). The apps have puzzles, sounds, recording and movie-making features, fun game-like Q&As with lots of info, and more, so this expands the illustrations and nonfiction concept enormously. They’ll be out in September.
I am working on a “secret” (read: not under contract!) book project involving a series of fantasy mazes, called MazePlay, which would make a great app, as well a fun interactive book.
BB: What technologies do you, yourself, use (which apps, programs) and what do you need help with?
RM: I use an Apple iMac desktop, iPad, and iPhone. Use Photoshop (my Photoshop skills could be improved for sure!). Just got a big Epson scanner (11”x17”) to send animation spots to OCG Studios. And have a bigger Epson printer for archival prints (nine inks; prints up to 17”x36”). Re: presentations – I use Keynote rather than PowerPoint; the iPad is great for presenting.
BB: How do you see the future of children’s books changing in 5 years? 10 years?
RM: More and more families are using devices to read and consume content. Many schools and libraries use them …there are library systems in Georgia, Vermont, and California, among others, that are spending their book budgets on iPads. So, I do think that ebooks and apps – content read on a device – will become more and more prevalent. It may take a couple more decades…As I said in an NPR “All Things Considered” interview last year, “Sadly, I think that in a generation – maybe 30 years – the average house will not have a bookshelf. Books will be owned by private collectors (like fine art prints), libraries, museums, and other institutions.”
BB: What’s the most difficult thing about being a digital storyteller today?
RM: Marketing apps and ebooks. Discovery is pathetic, particularly in the Apple Store.
BB: What advice do you have for other creative people in this industry?
RM: Just do it! I love using technology to enhance and enliven a story. But regardless of where we are going regarding technology to consume content, we will still always need ideas, good writing, and clever concepts. I think it is very exciting… showing your concept across multiple platforms – transmedia – is great fun, and if you give it a try, you may find new aspects of creativity in unexpected areas of your work.
Image from “Roxie’s A-MAZE-ing Vacation Adventure” copyright Roxie Munro.