It's finally happening! Ebooks are being used in a way that actually points toward their true potential!
Last winter, I blogged about my iPad aquisition, and my first experience reading an ebook; I was a little disappointed sure. However I see now that I was jumping the gun and focusing on the wrong things.
Ebooks weren't created simply to help nerds carry around many books at a time via one slim, über functional device. Heck no. That's just something that Kindle and Barnes & Noble are cashing in on for a hot minute with their little machines. Ebooks represent something else: a (perhaps unholy) hybrid between text and interaction. This is going to sound totally reactionary, and perhaps a little insane, but bear with me okay? Books may rarely be just books ever again. Is that overly dramatic?
Hang on, let me go back for a second.
Last week I came across this article about ex-Pixar animator William Joyce's new book The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore, produced in conjunction with Moonbot Studios.
"This iPad book is just as much book as it is animation and game, with interaction all throughout the app, such as having you draw or play a piano, participate in mini-games and even, as the children will love, play with food." -The Next Web
Immediately, I thought I wanted to complain about the book, but then I found that I really had no idea what to expect from an interactive book. After all, this is a new way to experience a book and the trailer doesn't really explain much about how the interaction. So, I turned on my handy iPad, shelled out the $4.99 for the app (it doesn't count as a book and therefore cannot be bought on Kindle, which I found strange), and got "reading."
While the book has a really lovely story about the joy and magic of books, it is pretty poorly written, and the animation–not the text–takes center stage. In fact, the sound effects, music, narration and text of the story can all be turned off, but never can the text just exist by itself. I found this a little frustrating, with it being a book about books, extolling the joys of book reading, but I'll get to that more in a second.
The interactive capabilities of the book were really neat. Yes, there are sections where you can draw, play piano, color the sky, and move characters from one side of the screen to the other. The sections of screen you can interact with even are illuminated ever so slightly, inviting you to play with them. The experience was interesting and fun, albeit a little clunky, but I'll give them a pass on that. It'll get better with time, I'm sure.
Initially I wanted to join the "mom" camp and complain about kids losing their imagination, growing up and never actually bothering to read in any real, unassisted, or unfun way, but I don't think that's the case. I think that teens will see this book and be all like "Pssshhh, that's for babies!" Which, it kind of is. By the time I was reading actual books, I had long since put away books like Pat the Bunny, or countless interactive pop-up books that I could probably never, ever recall the titles to. The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore is–and I don't say this to dismiss the years they probably spent working to create it–essentially just a fancy pop-up book. I don't find the interaction between user and book in this case nearly as insulting as Kitty Pilgrim's new novel. (Fact-based fiction? Shut up.)
These interactive books should be respected (if for no other reason) for being a real relief for parents with the need to entertain young kids on-the-go, but don't have the space or energy to tote along all sorts of toys and books. After all, why would they when these books are a two-fer?
The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore is Moonbot's first book, although you would never know by the animation or quality. The giveaway that this is their first is the story. A book about loving books? What better way to quell immediate arguments from folks who fear that the interactive book is the death of the real book. Moonbot even calls it "A love letter to books this animated short film is about the
curative power of story."
Follow Courtney Algeo @icecrmsocialite (if you dare).