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.
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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,” explains Shukla. “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 with conviction. “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. Says Agrawal: “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, assures Shukla, “but the storytelling soul will stay the same.” And Auryn will be there to give it shape.
Bruno Hächler, illustrated by Birte Müller, developed for the iPad by Auryn, Inc.
Auryn / Dec. 23, 2010 / $7.99