Spring Changes: a book morphs into a beautifully produced app!

April 24, 2012 § 2 Comments

Auryn just released Spring Changes, my Scholastic book from 2002, as an app. It is now available at the iTunes store. It works fabulously, I think, but here’s the most interesting thing to me: the app is better than the book! It is more effective in doing what Spring Changes was developed to do (present basic facts about the season, encourage sensory awareness, and develop early reading skills) AND it is more creative in its presentation.

Ellen Senisi's Spring Changes app produced by Auryn

 Three reasons why the app is better than the book:

1 – The quality of the images is excellent –  the light from behind, while viewing on the iPad, makes the images come alive in a way they did not in the book. Scholastic did, after all, print Spring Changes as a mass market paperback and the quality of the paper and printing was never able to do justice to the images so it’s great to see them “shine”. It’s like looking at slides again (anybody remember film?). Slides were always visually superior to prints and now, when viewing photographs on a tablet, that color-saturated, mysteriously-glowing aura is back!

Girl skipping in spring from Spring Changes

2 – I also found that my original concept of using a background on each page worked so much more successfully in app form than it did in the book! While creating the book, I photographed some textural, evocative essence-of-spring images, put them at 50% or so opacity, and placed them behind the main images on the page. In the book, they look muddy on the low-quality paper and almost clutter the page. In the book, they are static but in the app, they are a dynamic part of the book’s flow! As you turn pages, the texture appears first and fills the screen before the main image comes up. The texture fills the screen again between page changes. This gives Spring Changes a beautiful and unifying flow. Plus, the textural transitions really add to the sensory awareness of the season that I originally had in mind.

pussywillows as background for a children's app

3 – There is the usual interactivity, such as word identification for lots of nouns in the photos and different reading options, but this app goes further than that: kids can actually make their own personalized Spring Changes. They have the option to type in their own text and add their own photos. They can import photos or use their own taken on the iPad camera. In doing so, they seamlessly move from reader to writer. How’s that for getting involved? For encouraging reading? And promoting creativity?

 I will produce a video trailer for the app soon that shows kids using these interactive functions. Great job by Auryn in bringing this title to life – find it at iTunesSpring Changes pushes the envelope of the reading experience, and I will be figuring out ways to push it farther in upcoming titles already under contract with Auryn. Next up, the companion title: Fall Changes!
page from Spring Changes, an app for children

Does the term “bookworm” apply if it is digital media? by Ellen Senisi

March 12, 2012 § 2 Comments

I spent my childhood as a bookworm. I remember not just the content of favorite books, but what the book itself looked like, what it felt like to hold it, where I was when I read it. I had a favorite second-floor window seat to read in and, when I would pause to think about what I just read, would look out on trees and sky. I loved, and still love, print books – even though adulthood doesn’t leave me nearly enough time to read as I would like.

I went on to become a photographer and writer of children’s books – yes, print books. But I now also read and love to create digital books.

So I’m wondering how the debate over eBook/apps vs. print books for children has become so contentious. There are homes where print books are in short supply and, from infancy on, children read (and play and game) almost exclusively on electronic devices. At the opposite end of the spectrum are print-only people, who, like Waldorf schools, shun digital devices. Waldorf schools offer a valid and superb curriculum for intellectual and creative development – but they insist on doing so without technology, even at the higher grade levels.

The anti-technology reaction stems from a very real concern, which is that children can be drawn in to digital media to the exclusion of, not just print books, but also of normal childhood play. Play (especially open-ended, non-directed play) is critical to human development and is increasingly under siege at home and in school. But technology is by no means the main culprit for decreased playtime – check out a short video I produced called Free Play in Free Fall that is a brief introduction for parents on this.

But, honestly, it’s like apples and oranges.  A balance of both digital and print media (with generous helpings of free playtime) is healthy for kids .

I totally enjoy working in both media. However, multimedia is newer to me so I am still discovering new qualities in it. As a photographer, my art requires me to work directly with children, not in isolation from them as an illustrator does. This keeps me on task and tuned into their perceptions.  Using different forms of media, I can give them a voice, and I mean that literally!

For example, the use of children’s voices in this video on separation anxiety (produced for both parents and children and called I Don’t Want to Say Goodbye) is absolutely essential to how the piece works. I created this initially as a picture book photo essay but found it was much more powerful as a multimedia video. The voices and music ramped up the emotion – and parent-child separation is all about emotion! Using voices, along with sound effects and music, greatly expands my toolbox as a creator of media for and about children.

I Don't Want to Say Goodbye title image

Link to I Don’t Want to Say Goodbye video

Writers and illustrators can give children a voice in so many ways. In whatever way they are gifted to do so, go for it! And in whatever way children are listening and reading, let them! After all, the definition of bookworm (one who spends much time reading) doesn’t say anything about the medium – it’s the reading that’s important!

BIO: Ellen Senisi is an author and photographer of 16 children’s photo essay print books. Auryn published her first app, Hurray for Pre-K!, in 2011 and more are in production. See the Hurray for Pre-K! trailer here. And look for Spring Changes from Auryn as winter 2012 ends! More info can be found on Ellen Senisi’s books website and the Senisi Multimedia website.

Inspiring kids to read by Lisa Dunn Dern

February 14, 2012 § 1 Comment

When my daughter was in elementary school, I volunteered at the school book fair. About two minutes into my shift, an irate father marched up and demanded to know why we were selling the book “Captain Underpants“? He said his son purchased it the day before and would not put the potty humor book down. This father felt the story featuring the underwear sporting hero, was teaching students bathroom humor and to disrespect their principal. When I told him the principal in the book actually hated children and our principal didn’t, he was not amused.  As I looked around the gym I saw a cluster of 4th grade boys in an impromptu book club hysterically laughing and the pages. I thought, how could this be a bad thing. Kids finding a topic that thrills them, having a pleasant experience with a book in their hand oppose to feeling like reading was a job. Kids reading a book written for kids! Would Scholastic Book Club approve something that would damage young minds? No they would not!

Was it the fact the hero wore tidy whitties with his cape? I bet many men make life changing decision’s or even acts of heroism in their under ware. What I know for sure is any way you can inspire a child to love books is worth it. Some kids fall in love with books because they see their parents’ passion for reading, others by the guidance of an intuitive school librarian, some because they see the movie first. Who cares why they love to read, as long as they read, because nothing matches the feeling you have as a parent when you see your child curled up reading for pure enjoyment.

5 tips to inspire kids to read

  1. Model for your children that reading is enjoyable and is something you do often and with gusto.
  2. Read aloud to your children every day.
  3. Label everything in your child’s room on a flashcards like bed, bookcase, closet. This makes the connection that learning to read simple words leads to learning to read books.
  4. Show children how useful reading is in their everyday life. For example, when children discover that reading is necessary to understanding directions for putting a toy together, playing games, or following a recipe, they will be more excited about it.
  5. Figure out what they are interested in a find books that support it

About the author: Children’s Lifestyle Expert and Author Lisa Dunn-Dern is a multi-faceted talent whose skill and expertise shines over many different areas of arts and education. Her second children’s book, “Dr. Duncan Dog On Duty!” published in 2007, features a family and their therapy dog that visits children in the hospital every week. This book received accolades from Yolanda King, daughter of Dr. Martin Luther King and Coretta Scott King.

That Thing Called Inspiration by Sue Shanahan

February 7, 2012 § Leave a comment

A favorite quote comes from jazz and blues great Duke Ellington. “Every time God’s children have thrown away fear in pursuit of honesty — trying to communicate themselves, understood or not — miracles have happened.” I have it hanging by my drawing table as a reminder to honor the still, small voice within.
As an artist, I’ve based my work on sharing what is real and important to me. My inspiration comes from dozens of ordinary children who have crossed my path at one time or another. Although every illustration I do is based on an actual child, my art is not exactly realistic. I do magical realism. A child once told me I “take real kids and make them magic.” I like that. Now more than ever, the world needs magic. I have always believed that it is our uniqueness that makes us beautiful. There was a time, however, when my perspective was not well received. When I began my career, art directors informed me that my subjects were not marketable. There was no political correctness at the time, no inclusiveness. The powers that be in the art industry believed, ironically, that for everyone to relate to my images of children, those children must be “stylized.” That meant no children of color, no children with disabilities, no children who were not rail thin. That did not sit well with me, so I found my career as an illustrator at a standstill.
Fast forward 25 years, and my perspective is being embraced the world over. Honoring the whisper within is finally paying off.
The most common question I am asked about my art is, “Where do you get your ideas?” I love the written word and quite often quotations inspire me. I can read or hear something that strikes a chord and images begin popping up in my brain. I illustrated such words quite literally in this illustration below from my book app, Love You to the Moon & Back.
However, my artistic process does not always work that way. I am currently working on the illustrations for my next book app for Auryn. It is the story of a little girl who finds a fairy in her garden. After I completed the illustration below, it struck me that the image was also autobiographicalI had unwittingly illustrated a quote by Maya V. Patel that my sister Ann had given me. “She takes my hand and leads me along paths I would not dared have explored alone.” That describes our relationship perfectly. Ann and I always felt we were traveling companions through life. I feel the painting is a metaphor for my life, where I am the fairy following my sister, the bluebird. Together we are moving on to the next great adventure. I lost my dear sister suddenly a few years back. I miss her everyday. Inspiration is a wondrous and mysterious thing.
About the author: Chicago-based artist Sue Shanahan is best known for creating portraits and illustrations that capture the essence of her subjects on canvas. In addition to illustrating children’s books and digital apps, she has been commissioned by such clients as Walt Disney World, the state of Illinois and Cricket Magazine. Oprah Winfrey purchased Sue’s art for her private collection and featured her as a guest on her “Favorite Things” show. Sue’s work also found its way into the  White House, where her portrait of Chelsea Clinton hung in the former first lady’s private study. Visit Sue’s website at: www.sueshanahan.com

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