Once upon a time, when I was about 5 or 6, I was given a book called Wizwam and Miranda Under the Sea. I don’t remember much about the story itself – other than mermaids and seahorses were involved and Wizwam wore a sort of technicolour dreamcoat – but clearly etched in my mind is the thrill of appearing in a book and, along with my friends, being part of the story.
For many, personalised children’s books are rather gimmicky but for your average child they can be beyond exciting. And whether it’s a digitally-printed customised book, see www.itsyourstory.co.uk or www.penwizard.co.uk – with prices around £15 – £20), or an integrated feature of an eBook, these days publishers can enable users to personalise their product with relative ease.
There’s a touch of the Wizwam’s about the new book app, F:sh, from Brandwidth. The first page invites you to add your name and photo. The same photo appears later in the book, peeping out of the porthole of a submarine. That’s where the personalising ends but nevertheless it’s a simple but clever idea that children will love. And it will encourage them to revisit the story.
Some developers have taken this one step further. About a month ago Jackson Fish Market released A Story Before Bed. This free app allows children to watch video recordings of their mum or dad (or a grandparent – the company target this demographic as a way to ‘create treasured memories’) reading a story. A book is selected from the online catalogue then using a webcam recordings are made of the adult or adult and child reading together. The video appears alongside the book on-screen as it is read. The latest version allows you to email links to recordings made on your iPad2 straight from the app, an attractive option for parents away on business.
But back to F:sh. The story itself is an underwater adventure that follows three fishy friends whose curiosity leads them down a dark, scary hole. It’s a short, simple story with few embellishments – Brandwidth adopted a less-is-more strategy adding only those features that would progress the narrative such as the vertical descent into the hole. Scrolling switches from right-left to up and down, mirroring the journey of the fish. Another brilliant feature is when the narrator invites the child to shout ‘Atishoo!’. The fish lights up and is able to lead his friends up and out of the dark hole.
The simplicity of the app, its gentle tone, endearing characters and pared back features like the tilting water line make this a delightful app for the under-fives. Slightly older children will enjoy the option to read themselves and regular updating of their portrait photograph.