This was the first full calendar year after the introduction of Apple's iPad, and it saw tremendous growth in the market of storybook apps available for the tablet. Great new apps are aplenty out there, and we have highlighted many as the best of the year. But there is one developer that has distinguished itself by its innovative practices and dedication to quality.
That developer is Auryn Inc.
See all of the Best Apps of 2011.
From its 2010 charmers, Teddy's Day and companion Teddy's Night, with their ever-so-cozy interactions, it moved on to its stunning and subtle presentation of the Hans Christian Andersen classic The Little Mermaid. Working with Lisbeth Zwerger's illustrations, Auryn eschews the now-familiar tap-and-tilt interactions in favor of a literally immersive experience, placing the "pages" of the book underwater, allowing readers to view the text through filtered sunlight; when readers draw their fingers across the screen, they create ripples and gurgles that further evoke the mermaids' world.
Their Aesop in Rhyme apps mark yet another departure, with Lear-esque 19th-century verse paired with black-and-white silhouettes that animate the action, "Scanimation" style. Hare and Tortoise and its companion, Lion and Mouse, are fresh and delightful in their combination of the old and the new.
Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes marks the beginning of a collaboration with Rosemary Wells and presents one of her signature bunnies performing the titular rhyme in English, French, Spanish and Japanese (with attire changing to match). As more of these are added, they will constitute a beguiling digital complement to Wells’ two traditional Mother Goose books edited by Iona Opie, My Very First Mother Goose and Here Comes Mother Goose.
And Van Gogh and the Sunflowers, from Camille and the Sunflowers, written and illustrated by Laurence Anholt, both gives young readers the opportunity to animate scenes themselves and beckons them into a virtual museum filled with van Gogh masterpieces. (Read our Q&A with Anholt to find out more about the process of making his traditional book into a digital one.)
For each of these projects, Auryn has studied the material closely and devised interactions and enhancements that both honor the source material and extend it into a meaningful digital experience.
Without further ado, then, please revisit our February profile of this talented team and get to know some of the best developers in the business:
There’s a charming scene in app-developer Auryn Inc.’s Teddy’s Night that finds the titular teddy bear, his adoring little girl and a pair of mischievous mice all sprawled on the floor reading. That pretty much says it all about the approach the young company takes in adapting and creating stories for the iPad and other electronic technologies: The story comes first. Company cofounders Umesh Shukla and Amit Agrawal, together with business partner Sangam Pant (“I’m the good-looking one,” he jokes), recently took time to talk to Kirkus about their work.
Auryn’s earlier app, the companion Teddy’s Day, wowed us with its treatment of Bruno Hächler and Birte Müller’s What Does My Teddy Bear Do All Day? The 2004 picture book featured large double-page spreads in which the teddy’s owner speculated about its secret life but missed seeing what all her toys did behind her back. The app went to town with the premise, animating not just the teddy bear but the little girl’s doll and the pair of mice, using now-standard devices such as iPad finger-painting to help tell the secret story. Their December 2010 adaptation of What Does My Teddy Bear Do All Night? is similarly inventive.
The two picture books, European imports, seem to have been tailor-made for adaptation to interactive media, but the Auryn team readily admits they happened upon them more out of luck than design. “We’ve known their publisher, Michael Neugebauer, for a number of years, so it was easy to sign the rights. The rights these days are a mess, and we wanted to get into the market as soon as we could,” Pant says.
Even if practical rather than artistic considerations found them their first material, the developers approached their subject with the utmost respect. “Apps are very different from picture books, but if you want to make an app that will fulfill the same functionality, you have to go back and think about what a picture book is,” Shukla says. “It’s a very linear experience, like a long tunnel of doors. We wanted to make sure we were being faithful to the children and the way they experience picture books.”
This care led to what amounts to a revolutionary decision in the app world: Children hear and read each page before they can begin to interact with it. Once the narration is finished, gentle highlights cue what elements can be touched in order to trigger animations (still others remain undocumented as a gentle challenge to children to engage). It’s a very gutsy move in a medium that seems to reward the impulse to instant gratification, and it leads to an enormously satisfying experience for patient readers.
“We didn’t want to take away from the storytelling experience,” Pant says. “We imagined the way we would like it used, with the parent and child curled up together in bed, reading. We wanted to make sure the story experience was carried over into the app experience.”
It’s no surprise, then, that the creators readily credit their own experiences reading with their children as inspiration for their approach. Agrawal says, “I have two 3-year-olds, and their feedback went into the development of both Teddy’s Day and Teddy’s Night.” Shukla adds, “My youngest is 11, and sometimes she will still come and cuddle up for a story.”
He continues, “I am a lover of paper books as well, but one of the things that brings me to work every day is making apps that will help the bond between the parent and child become stronger. You can’t outsource the parent-child storytelling experience.”
What’s up next for Auryn? Their adaptation of Hans Christian Andersen’s The Little Mermaid is poised to hit the app store any day now—“Amit’s been sleeping half an hour a day getting it ready,” chuckles Pant—and they are actively working with Rosemary Wells and Fourth Story Media to develop a new character for a series of original story apps that will be organic to the iPad.
The format may be changing, Shukla says, “but the storytelling soul will stay the same.” And Auryn will be there to give it shape.
Vicky Smith is the Children's and Teen Editor at Kirkus.