It was with a sense of childlike excitement that I downloaded and opened the new The Heart and the Bottle app from HarperCollins Children’s Books. All the elements were in place: a poignant, beautifully-illustrated tale by award-winning storyteller Oliver Jeffers, an inspired choice of narrator in Helena Bonham-Carter, the digital expertise of BoldCreative, award-winning design agency, and the genius of the iPad.
As publishers delve deeper into the brave new world of digitisation, it couldn’t be more appropriate for one of them to select a story about a curious young girl finding her way and marveling at the world around her. As the story unfolds and you find yourself engaging with Jeffers’ words and pictures in creative and inventive ways, you begin to marvel at the new lease of life that the book has found. It’s as if it has been unlocked.
And this is a classy app. The story and illustrations are never overlooked in favour of whizzy devices, flashing lights and intrusive sounds. There is a natural balance retained throughout and, whether it’s the poignancy of the tale (spoiler alert: her father dies), the beautifully rendered characters and scenes or the clever interactive features – you find that you don’t want to rush to the end. Rather, you take a gentle stroll and simply enjoy the process. Whether you’re changing the scene from day to night with your fingertip, creating ripples in the water or illuminating a lighthouse, listening to the narration, there is something rather magical about the elements brought together in this app that you want to savour.
As this quirky, clever app has shown, as far as quality children’s book publishing is concerned, books can now go the extra mile. Their journey still begins with an original concept, then the words, maybe pictures, an editorial process and eventual publication. Traditionally this has marked the end of the journey – albeit one that continues in the mind of the reader. Yet now, the published book can go through an additional creative process; one that requires more thought, patience, imagination and vision. A digital makeover that takes the book beyond the confines of four-sided objet to another, even more engaging, level. And this is something that the team behind The Heart and the Bottle have achieved. But does this version of the book still appeal to those it was written for? This morning my 6 year old and 3 year old were fighting over whose turn it was to have a go, so on that basis alone, the answer is a resounding yes. An app with heart.