The Three Little Pigs is the first iPad app from Nosy Crow, the new children’s book and app publisher set up by Kate Wilson, ex-Managing Director of Macmillan Children’s Books and Scholastic UK. Wilson is already credited with having an innovative approach to children’s publishing. She developed jigsaw books and those small hardbacks that dangle from pushchairs (normally covered in congealed baby puree) and was the original publisher of numerous bestselling picture books, including The Gruffalo.
It’s worth mentioning all this as, on opening the app, I found myself thinking, ‘well if you can’t get this digital publishing thing right, what hope for others?’ Thankfully Kate and her talented team have got it right.
The Three Little Pigs app merges computer game design with traditional book-based storytelling. What it lacks in narrative surprises, it more than makes up for in its multi-layered 21st century treatment. And Nosy Crow appreciate that their audience will be looking for something fun and educational. These apps do, after all, constitute that most slovenly of time fillers: screen time. So parents will be pleased to see options for ‘Read and play’, ‘Read to me’, and ‘Read by myself’. And to hear that Spanish, German and French editions are in the pipeline.
But back to the fun stuff. After selecting your reading option, the story begins. The voices of child narrators are beautifully complemented by original music (adding real drama to the chase scenes) and a flurry of inventive iPad features: tap the unobtrusive blue dot to make the characters talk; flip the pigs to make them do somersaults (a personal favourite and oddly addictive); tilt your iPad to peep around hidden corners; help blow the houses down; and much more. I particularly like the small rabbit – you know who you are – who hides on most pages and gives an occasional, unrelated comment when tapped. But what would this rendition be without the fantastic illustrations.
The visuals are witty, endearing and have a timeless charm that will ensure the app doesn’t date even as technology races ahead. Check out the dancing girl pig who clutches her handbag even as she’s tossing logs to build her house – a little butch but highly commendable.
The 3-D nature of the app did make me rather queasy at times. But as early adopters of these screen stories, we can’t help but get carried away tilting our devices with abandon so only have ourselves to blame.
So why did Nosy Crow use such a well-known tale for their inaugural app? When downloading music for the first time, didn’t we all experiment first with bands and artists we already knew and loved? Downloading books is no different. As consumers there is less risk involved if we’re already familiar with the story or the author. The unknown is the treatment, the digitisation. And it’s precisely this juxtaposition: the classic tale with the latest technology that makes this app a success. And might just make it commercially viable.