Nosy Crow – Three Little Pigs

One of the things I’ve said about ebooks from the beginning is “Great idea, but children’s books won’t work that way.” One of the many examples of me not thinking out of the box, as proven recently by Nosy Crow‘s Three Little Pigs iOs app.

We got this recently as a treat for Daniel as I’d heard many great things about it and when we got the iPad it was a good chance to try it out. I was absolutely blown away. It’s not the first children’s book app we’ve had, but it’s on a different level. One of my problems with the earlier book apps was that they were basically just reading the story and the interactivity was limited to the child turning the page or possible pressing a picture to get an extra sound effect. Two, if you were lucky. Now that’s all well and good but it’s why I always thought children’s ebooks wouldn’t work. Daniel wasn’t really getting anything from those he wouldn’t have got from us reading to him except the convenience of it always being there, and we were all missing out on the chance of snuggling up with a story.

The Nosy Crow app was different. On one level it can be read to the child as the other apps I mentioned. But if you press ‘Read and Play’ it comes into its own. The child is actually driving the story. It’s not interactive or reactive – it’s proactive. Daniel has to help the pigs build the house for example, or blow the house down. Even 14 month-old Emily knows that to blow the house down she has to blow on the screen (of course, she hasn’t QUITE got the hang of blowing yet, it’s more a spattering of saliva all over the iPad screen. And kudos to her daddy who winces a little inside but still lets her have the fun of joining in).

There ARE elements that are more like Easter Eggs, and they are charming, such as finding a little rabbit playing hide and seek in the hay bales, but they are extras, they’re not the whole point of the app which is how it should be.

The animation is fantastic, and it really reacts to you – for example when all three houses are built at the end tilting the iPad slightly adjusts the angle of the picture. When the truck is driving along the road, a similar effect. And I have to say the child reading the story has a great career in the media – they are not twee or affected, but inject life and drama into the experience.

I still don’t think ebooks will replace children’s picture books entirely, but unless I’ve misunderstood, Nosy Crow aren’t trying to. They have produced a complementary reading experience and other companies trying to do the same thing should really take them as an example of how it should be done. It cost Ā£4.99, so slightly less than a paper picture book and well worth every penny. Nosy Crow are bringing out another app soon and I can’t wait to see it.

And one final thing? It’s perfect for snuggling up together.

ABBA Lit Fest!

One of my favourite blogs is the Awfully Big Blog Adventure. It’s run by the Scattered Author Society, a group of very talented children’s authors who take turns writing some fascinating posts. If you’re interested in children’s writing, as a writer, reader or parent (or general busybody) it’s definitely a site to bookmark.

So imagine my excitement when I got a message to say that ABBA were running a literary festival – online! For 2 days these lovely people are going to be posting articles and interviews every half hour. I’m especially looking forward to the videos, of which Lucy Coats is definitely doing one, and the competitions. Oh rats, I didn’t mean to tell you about those. I want to win. Ah well.

One of the reasons I’m SO excited about this is because I just have this feeling that children’s literature is taking off in a major way. The children’s writers community is taking to the possibilities of the internet in the most motivating and inspirational way, and this festival is a big part of that. And it IS a community, make no mistake. As I’m finding my contacts online focus naturally on children’s writers as I become more confident in my potential to join their ranks, and as I have more ‘Real Life’ contact with children’s writers, I can say I have rarely found a group of people that support each other so much and that get excited by each other’s successes. I think writers in general seem to be this way (with the odd exception of course…) and children’s writers especially so.

So I will be joining in with the ABBA Lit Fest with enthusiasm and I highly recommend you join me!

Edited to add: D’oh! Forgot to mention the dates. 9 & 10 July 2011! šŸ˜‰


Telling Stories

One of the things I really love seeing develop in my son is his storytelling. He’s got an imagination that is taking wings right now and he spends a great deal of time either ‘reading’ the books that he knows and loves or else making up stories with his toys.

He seems to understand that stories need protagonists, antagonists, conflict and resolution. He even understands that characters need distinctive voices – he varies his voice to suit the character he is pretending to be. From some of my reading, there are adults who don’t understand that yet! (I am, of course, desperately hoping that I don’t fall into that category. We’ll see.)

What I really hope for is that he doesn’t lose that love of stories, that soaring imagination, as he gets older. Storytelling is a hugely important part of a person’s life. It helps you escape your day-t0-day life, it helps you work through problems and experiences, it helps you explore language and emotions in a safe way. It’s the reason I want to write for children, after all; to tell them stories and hope that I can help them do all of those things for a short time.

Storytelling has been around since the beginning of humanity, as far as I can see. And it’s as important now as it has ever been. Whether it’s the Young Adult books that may, or may not, be dark and dismal and depressing (cue *eye roll*) or fairytales, or repulsive yet engaging little boys or a child’s first introduction to picture book stories, the best stories engage children totally for a short time and take them somewhere else. It doesn’t matter what their own experiences are, when they are engrossed in a story; the bad experiences fade and the good experiences are put aside to go into this new and imaginary world where they are in control.

Stories are a great leveller, too. There’s a huge gulf between a child from a wealthy family who goes on holiday, has good quality clothing, the latest toys and a child from a poor family who may never have left their home town, who feels the embarrassment of shabby clothing next to their friends, who has few toys. In their imaginations though, there are no such barriers. And stories are free – to read at at the library or to make up at home. You don’t need to be a great writer to engage a child happily for a long time with this happened and then this happened, just playacting with a few toys.

It’s for reasons like this, among many others, that we should be encouraging our children to make up stories, to act out, role play, dress up, dream, imagine, escape. Then one day, when life gets a bit too much as it has a tendency to do, they can flee into their own world for a while, working through their problems or escaping from them.

Have I Told You Lately That I Love You?

Dear Daniel and Emily

A year ago I wrote this post.

So much has changed since then. Daniel, you’re nearly four and you’re such a big boy. You can dress yourself – in fact, you insist on it – and go to the toilet andĀ even nearly read. You look after your baby sister and hold her hand when you’re walking together. Emily, you are the most independent little thing – walking everywhere, getting into as much trouble as you can and usually following your big brother round adoringly. Full of cheek and mischief and life.

But so many things have stayed the same. I’m still exhausted and there are days when that fog seems as thick and close as it ever has been. Some days I’m wishing your babyhood away, just to get to the days (and nights) when I can sleep and do more than merely function. Other days I catch myself and remember how precious and fast these days are, and I’m trying to imprint little details on my mind.

In the day-to-day business of life, I get carried away. You try to play and I say “In a minute”, “not now” or “just wait a minute, can’t you?” No, you can’t. Sometimes you should, but you can’t. I look at you and you’re both so big and grown-up I forget that you’re not even four, not even fifteen months. I expect things of you that aren’t reasonable. I get cross.

I’m sorry. I want you both to know how much I love you. I’ve just been in to see you both and whispered it in your ears and hoped that it drifted through into your dreams. I’m going to print out this post and last year’s letter and keep them for you, for a day when maybe we allĀ lose our tempers with each other.

I love you.

Mummy xxx

SATS and stresses

Many of my Twitter friends this week have children going through exams – A-Levels and SATS to be specific. I have a few years luckily before I get to that stage (although following the trend in education over the last few years I maybe shouldn’t count on that. No doubt before long there’ll be an entrance exam for primary school requiring children to submit essays and solve algebraic equations before they can go into Reception) and I’m not looking forward to it.

When I was at school, and it isn’t that long ago although it seems like it sometimes, I managed to get all the way through to secondary school without formal testing. In fact, I managed to get to Year 9 without formal testing – that’s fourteen years old. One of my favourite Twitter friends, Jane, has a ten year old who is upset and stressed because he has to undergo exams. A TEN year old. Now, I’m a freak who actually quite enjoys exams. I work better under that pressure, I have the kind of mind that suits that way of working. I prefer exams to coursework to be honest, but that’s just me. But I still found the exam experience moderately stressful, and as I said I was fourteen before I went through it. I can’t imagine how I would have reacted if they’d started at ten or earlier. I almost certainly wouldn’t have faced my GCSEs and A-levels in the same way.

It’s not like I completely escaped tests up until Year 9 of course. My teachers (and I was exceptionally lucky in almost all of my teachers) would do informal tests, spot tests, quizzes, spelling tests, mental tests (arithmetic to you old codgers). Even, as I got older, old exam papers or questions. But there was no real pressure on these. They were, quite clearly, used to see how we were getting on and to try different ways of learning – because obviously you learn things for a test in a different way to reading or listening and all three approaches are useful in their turn. But, as I said, they were clearly for our benefit.

I can’t see how the current tests and exams are for anyone’s benefit but the local Education Authority’s. They’re about league tables and school performance and teaching ability. And they’re putting undue stress on our children. They’re sacrificing children’s mental health for the sake of brownie points for the LEA. I don’t think that’s too much of an exaggeration. Exams, and the focus on exams and grades, will suck the joy out of learning. Reading will be revising for exams, leaving no time for reading for pleasure.

You know the really sad thing? Exams don’t matter. Oh, they do at the time, hugely. And each time you get to the next stage you wonder what the fuss was about, because these exams are REALLY important. But they’re not. What you end up doing can bear little relation to what grade you got for your GCSE Maths (A, if you’re wondering. To the constant bewilderment of my husband. And me) and absolutely none to your SATS.

I’m not saying exams should be scrapped – far from it. They’re an important part of assessment, particularly in the later stages of school, and they suit some people more than others and they help reinforce what’s been learned through the year. But maybe a reality check wouldn’t hurt? Perhaps removing the unnecessary exams from the earlier years and ongoing assessment (which still goes on ANYWAY) left to the teachers, who know their children best and who would then be able to give more time and attention to those children instead of cramming preparation for exams into a packed timetable.

There’s loads of discussion about issues like the early sexualisation of children and I think this is actually part of a big overall problem of making our children grow up too early. Pressures like exams and revision and results will come to them soon enough – can’t we protect them from it as long as possible? Childhood is a relatively recent concept – off the top of my head I believe the idea of ‘being a child’ rather than a miniature adult has only been around a couple of hundred years. It seems that this is just yet another aspect of life that is regressing. And that is so, so sad.