Sunday 3 November 2013

Sycamore Family Tree

Two iPads featuring images from the book: one depicts a girl holding up a camera as if to take a picture of the reader, the other is of an old man in a chicken costume.
We are always on the look out for stylish, 
off the wall contemporary and inventive apps and this one absolutely ticks all the boxes. 

If you think your family is crazy let me introduce you to the Sycamores, the most barking family you will ever meet!

Brought to life by the dynamic duo of Rebecca and Ben Manley
, Sycamore Family Tree takes you on a guided tour of the Sycamore family home where the family are as much bonkers as they are awesome!!

With Hannah Sycamore as your guide you can explore all the rooms in the house and meet all her wacky relatives including a rock star mum, a strictly ballroom dancing aunt and a former Grand Prix driving granny!! 

Navigation of the app is simple, the home page displays a map of the house where every room is
numbered and a different colour. You then just have to tap a room and be taken to that part of the house, easy peasy!

When you’ve seen and explored a room you can either go to the next room by turning the page or go back to the home page and choose another part of the house.

Now we love storybook apps more than granny Sycamore loves Formula 1, but sometimes we can get so distracted we forget we are reading a story. So what we like about this app is that it still stays true to a book format, it looks like a book, the pages turn like a book and its even available in the iBook store…hurrah!

The illustrations and animations are charming and funny I mean what’s not to love about a grandad dressed in a chicken suit) and the story rhymes making it memorable for a child and great fun to read aloud. Each room of the house also has exciting things to explore and discover; look out for the jars full of bugs in the attic and the rabbit that pops out of the toilet in the bathroom!

Overall we loved this app and we hope we get an invitation to the next family gathering!

Highlights include:
  • A speedy sandwich.
  • Listening to rock music in the laundry room.
  • A parrot that thinks it’s an answering machine!

In conversation with creators Ben and Rebecca Manley ...

This is Rebecca.. not Ben 

The Sycamore family are a kooky bunch of folk, are they based on your own family?

Ben & Rebecca: There are bits of us in there somewhere, but we're not quite as outlandish as the Sycamores! The core idea of the book is to get children thinking about their relatives' real lives, so we tried to make their stories as unusual and intriguing as possible. 

Ben: That said, the crazy baby bears a striking resemblance to my two year old.

What was the most enjoyable part of making the Sycamore Family Tree?

Ben: They all have their moments. Collaborating in the planning is a really fun and creative time. Writing the text is short, but sweet. The coding is actually quite addictive, like solving a fiendish cryptic crossword – I was dreaming in code by the end of it all! But, the most magical part was seeing the illustrations Rebecca had put to my text. 

Rebecca: I liked the character design stage. Drawing all the family members was really fun. It was a pleasure reading each section of the story as Ben sent it to me, and imagining all their different personalities. The animation process was interesting since it all had to be done in code. It meant that Ben had to do the animation, under my direction, which was a bit topsy-turvy since he isn't an animator! Seeing the whole book come together was a great feeling as well.

When designing the app, was it important for you to keep a book format?

Ben & Rebecca: Many picture book apps feel drowned out by a cacophony of interactive bells and whistles. It was always our intention for Sycamore Family Tree to be a story first and for the interactive elements to enhance that story. We put a lot of thought into ensuring that the animations either complemented the text or added another dimension to the characters. 

In the best picture books, the text and the illustrations are distinct but inseparable and we tried to extend that idea to the interactivity.

Who is your favourite character and why?

Ben: Baby Jacob is probably the character that makes me laugh the most. On the other hand, I empathise a bit too closely with hapless Uncle Mike. 

Rebecca: Baby Jacob makes me laugh too. I like his mono-tooth and crazy, infectious cackle. But I also have a soft spot for Hannah, our narrator, in her basement darkroom. Perhaps because I can relate to her. Essentially she’s a creative young girl from an eccentric family, hidden away from the world, making images in a dark studio!

This app is APPsolutely TOP NOTCH!

You can purchase this marvelous inventive and captivating app here - Please please check it out and recommend it to your friends 

With Huge Thanks to Ben and Rebecca (@ManleyRebecca) and also to Secret Agent Amy Ellison - you can find her on Twitter @amyellison25

Wednesday 23 October 2013

Sock Monster - A Junoberry App by Lorna Freytag

It’s a well known fact that dogs are connoisseurs when it comes to sock munching and know that no nibble goes unpunished, well not for the Sock Monster

In this delightful story written and illustrated by Lorna Freytag and brought to life by the clever people at Junoberry, it appears not only is the Sock Monster eating your socks, you’re actually helping him to do so… (well who can blame you when he’s just that darn cute!)
A cross between a cotton ball and an excited puppy, the gap-toothed Sock Monster is hungry for more socks and it’s your job to feed him by touching a sock and watching him GOBBLE, MUNCH and CHOMP it down before he fades away forever!

We particularly like the way he changes to the colour and pattern of the sock after he’s eaten it!

This delightfully handcrafted story is easy to navigate with the recurring interactive elements highlighted, so that even the tiniest of people can work the app.

Certain words in the story are capitalised for emphasis when read, making the app also perfect for children who are learning about expressions.

You can also choose if you want to read the story yourself or listen to it read by a very enthusiastic Scottish lass.

Many story book apps tend to concentrate on computerised fiddly bits and sometimes forget about the narrative 
however the Sock Monster has achieved the perfect balance.

The interactivity and animation is engaging and fun without being distracting. The sound effects are also brilliant, listen out for what sounds like a giggling Gollum at the title page and farting socks
Overall this is a great app for young children or tiny monsters) and it will make a fabulous picture book!

Just remember, next time you loose a sock don’t blame the dog, blame the Sock Monster!

  • The Sock Monster refusing to eat pink polka dot knickers
  • Stinky socks (no doubt belonging to Dad – phew!)
  • A fully functioning washing machine!
Lorna Freytag is a hugely creative illustrative force her work fuses together her love for photography, illustration and children's stories. She uses her many scribbled sketchbooks, digital camera and post-production techniques to bring her ideas to life.
Originally from Edinburgh, Lorna has worked as a photographer in New York, Dubai, London and Sydney. She applies her unique and quirky style to editorial and commercial jobs, private portraits and fine art projects. She has just illustrated her fourth children's picture book “My Humongous Hamster Goes to School” (due to be published by Piccadilly Press early 2014)

My Humongous Hamster

Lorna kindly agreed to answer some questions for us so here they are...

What was your inspiration behind The Sock Monster?

When i initially started to sketch down the idea it was for a traditional printed book. There are lots of stories out there about sock monsters (he's a bit like the tooth fairy or the easter bunny i suppose) and I felt I could do something a bit different with him so i started playing around with ideas. Mostly i just sketch and daydream until something gets me really excited. I'm a huge fan of Studio Ghibli animations and of the "My Neighbour Totoro" film in particular so the Totoro style character was a huge inspiration

What was the most enjoyable part of bringing The Sock Monster App to life? 

Creating the initial character and researching pomeranian puppies, fluffy white cats and rabbits was fun. Then i just used bits and pieces of each image and put them together in photoshop to create the monster. It took me a while to decide about his mouth though as a few people said a real mouth was too creepy but he is a monster after all and although i wanted him to be cute i also wanted him to have a little bit of a "scary edge".  I had a great time buying lots of different coloured and patterned socks too : )

Why is The Sock Monster missing a tooth? 

I wanted him to look childlike... like when a child starts losing their milk teeth around age 7- it just gave him a cute quirky look. Socks are not bad for your teeth or anything and he definitely brushes and flosses every day!

You can find out more about Lorna and her amazing work by visiting her website 

With HUGE thanks to 
Lorna and the Junoberry team 
and secret agent Amy Ellison

Wednesday 17 April 2013

The Lonely Beast ABC

The Lonely Beast - by Chris Judge 

A is for Ace

I’ve downloaded a lot of alphabet apps. By and large they’re functional but not much fun, and they certainly aren’t very easy on the eye - it’s as though all the muppets from Sesame Street have been bumped off and replaced by clip-art counterparts. Here, however, is something quite different. Picture book creator Chris Judge’s lovable Lonely Beast may be a hulking black mass with blinking yellow eyes, but his alphabet app is a thing of great beauty.

In effect, here are 26 beautifully illustrated picture book spreads that you can interact with. At least that’s how it feels. The app has been so well designed and crafted you can feel the picture book maker behind it, and that’s what makes it such a delight.

The Lovely Beast ABC has everything you’d expect and want from an alphabet game: clear letters (in a gorgeous typeface - big bonus), good examples of words that begin with those letters, the ability to tap the letter or word and hear it spoken as often as you need. But - here’s the extra special bit, I think - the scenes are so memorable that you can carry on playing and learning off-screen. Ask your child what happened when the Beast opened his (U)mbrella, or when he was on the (I)sland, for example. They won’t forget in a hurry because it’s so visually arresting and so much fun.

The colours are gorgeous, the art direction flawless, even the sound effects have been chosen with great humour (listen out for the horn exchange as the Beast drives off screen in his white van). I’d gladly pay more for an app of this quality. You want value? It essentially has a xylophone app thrown in, and a stress relief app in the form of ‘L is for Light’! (I guarantee you will click that switch at least twenty times in a row, it’s just so darned satisfying).

  • Robot disco dancing!
  • Home made farty elephant trunk 
  • The Beast as a white van driver

I urge you to ditch all other alphabet apps with their nasty cartoon critters. B is for Beast, and this one’s a keeper.

THANK YOU to @MicheRobinson 
for this wonderful review - TOOT TOOT
Find out more about Children's Author Michelle Robinson by visiting her website

Three cheers for Michelle, one of my all time fave mustachioed gals!

Thursday 11 April 2013

Tiger-Pig at the Circus by John Ryan - A Me Books production

Me Books is an exciting treasure trove of an app where modern classics and old-time favourites from the picture book world rub shoulders in a virtu-maginary bookcase that any child would be proud to own. The extra bit of magic that Me Books sprinkles on top is the ability to record your own audio in place of the default narration and hotspots - perfect for a parent who has to travel but still wants to read the bedtime story, or the child who wants to practice their reading or performance skills. Not only that, but the app has an intuitive interface to create new hotspots of your own, allowing you to really make the book your own.

Those brilliant folks at Me Books have just sent one of their latest releases over to the App Puppy garage, their take on the classic "Tiger Pig" by Captain Pugwash creator John Ryan. This is a timeless story of a little pig setting out to explore the world and meeting and overcoming prejudice on the way.

Let's hear from them how they picked this forgotten classic for the Me Books treatment:

'Tiger-pig at the Circus is my favourite picture book ever. It's a story about being different and as I'm the only redhead in a large family it must have struck a chord. I'm sure my poor mother read me that book 100 times! The fact that it's now a Me Book is in no small part thanks to James, our MD, who knew of my fondness for Tiger-pig and got in touch with John Ryans daughter, Isabel, who has been a great help in bringing this wonderful book to a new audience.'

- Mike Outlaw, Creative Director at Made in Me

The narration of the text is really first class and top notch, but for me, what sets it apart is the sheer volume of non-text hotspots to click on every page - every ship passenger, tiger pig and circus animal has a little bit of improvisation to share. The overall experience is like having a story read to you by the funniest uncle you've ever had.

Here's the App Puppy top five hotspots to hunt out:

1. Juggly pig
2. The confident sealion
3. Parasol wielding clown
4. The tiger calling security
5. The lioness being won over at the end

The AppPuppy says: "a long lost favourite carefully and lovingly transformed into a Me Book which stands up proud with even the most popular picture books of modern times. 
5 stars, one to be treasured"

With thanks to Me Books and Made In Me

Find out more here 

Visit the MeBooks website here to ogle their wonderful array of picture book apps!

Follow them on Twitter at @me_books AND @hello_madeinme

In addition to my review I managed to share the joy of this app with my dear chum Libs the Bichon Frise!

Here is her review ...

If you haven¹t come across Me Books before, I¹ll just give
you a run-down of their digital doings: the free app is a little
bookshop/library, to buy and store picture books that really are that ­flat pages, without animation, so it¹s similar to reading a normal book.

Then things get a dash of digital sparkle when you start experimenting with the touchscreen hotspots ­ touch the text to have the story read to you, or touch the illustration to hear what is going on there. You can also take things a
step further, deleting their hotspots and recording your own version. The instructions only took a minute to read, and even my pudgy paws could work the hotspots ­ easy-peasy stuff.

So, what does all this mean for Tiger Pig at the Circus? John Ryan,creator of Captain Pugwash,wrote and illustrated the original book in 1978, and it¹s now out of print. Hanging
my head, I have to admit I hadn¹t come across it before. Tiger Pig himself is a stand-out character (for his name along, surely?), discovering what it means to
be different, but also special. The story does begin in a slightly Basil Exposition style, really hammering home the moral, but as soon as the tale starts to unfold it is a brilliant kaleidoscope of circus animals and excitement.
After watching all the other animals perform, then being told he doesn¹t fit in with them, he wins everyone over by being able to do every act fantastically.

And the clever team at Me Books have also added a special
extra element ­ the narration of the story is lovely, the the hilarious comments that you can explore in the illustrations that really got me chuckling. (My favourite being, ³Ah, look at me! I¹m juggling ­I¹m a juggly-pig!²)

The highlight, quite rightly, of this technology are the
large-scale illustrations, where I spent ages exploring on the
touch-screen and chuckling over the opinions of the different characters. A perfect way to reintroduce this forgotten gem.

Wednesday 23 January 2013


Peekaboo: Ladybird Baby Touch 

for iPad, iPhone or iPod Touch
£1.99 Penguin Books

You might be familiar with Ladybird’s Baby Touch range of books - lovely sturdy cardboard affairs with bold, block colour illustrations, very simple texts and touchy feel-y bits. The ones in our house have been very well loved, particularly the spines which are, evidently, quite delicious.

Equally delicious, and capable of withstanding a beating from a determined baby, is the Peekaboo app. It’s a true book-turned-digital and it’s been done very well. Four themed ‘stories’ are included: Farm, Sea, Animals and Vehicles. You can pick one at a time, touching the screen at various prompts to move the animation along, or play all four in sequence as a movie.

However you play, you’ll follow a short, linear story structure (‘Who’s there? Peekaboo, cow! MOO!’ etc.), with no nasty distractions or demands to buy another app - very baby friendly. The sound effects are cute, the tinkly music is gently paced and the very simple animation is smooth, eye catching and fun. Like its cardboard counterpart, it’s hard to argue with.

I do have one niggle, though, and it’s a moral one: like many others, this app’s been deliberately designed for babies aged 6 months plus. Should babies really be spending time interacting with screens? Digital is part of all our lives, and it’ll be a much larger part of our children’s lives as they grow than it ever was ours. I guess it’s down to each of us to make decisions about how much of it we want to use, and how soon we want to introduce it to our children.

We’ve had this particular app for a couple of years now, and it’s been used a lot because we all like it, my one year old included. But in truth, it does nothing that I can’t do by reading the paper versions with my baby on my knee. She prefers that, every time - and not just because she gets to eat tasty paper. She can watch my mouth as I make the words and sounds, developing her own language skills at the same time. I guess I could moo along with the app, but with someone else narrating I’d feel like I was interrupting, like the cow in that joke. You know the one. You don’t? Oh, go on then...

Knock knock.
Who’s there?
The interrupting cow.
The interrupting cow wh-

With THANKS and snarfs to Michelle Robinson (and her side kick tuckshop)  for writing this guest post ....

Monday 3 December 2012

A very exciting new App Project - Introducing Edmund and Cecilie

Here’s an exciting thought.

A BAFTA nominated animator and special effects expert (that would be a certain Matt Howarth, formerly of Granada Television) teaming up with Author Illustrator Chris Mould (of Yorkshire Life magazine), and backed by those wonderful peeps at Puffin, Coming together to create an interactive storytelling experience that might just be about to create an electrical storm in the app world.

Edmund and Cecilie is still in the early stages of development but because I can’t wait to get my paws on it I decided to find out some more top secret inside information.

So what’s all the fuss about?

Well, here’s Cecilie (the small non-dragony one). 

Cecilie LOVES stories and having just worked her way through an entire library she’s eager for more. 
Her inquisitive and adventurous nature leads her to an old blue storytelling dragon called Edmund who might just be the right kind of beast to solve the problem.

Edmund introduces Cecilie to the enchanting storyforest and through the door of every tree, lies one of Edmund’s tales waiting to be told. 

Together they encounter whacky wizards, snotty old witches, bumbling brave knights, cool castles and much much more.

Here's a sneak peek at the storyboard in progress ...

A simple but seemingly effective concept that sounds well suited to the functionality of the iPad (other platforms will be available)

Edmund and Cecilie is set for release in June 2013 and quite frankly I can't wait. 

More coming soon...

Saturday 10 November 2012


We've got lots of exciting app reviews coming up very soon including a feature on Chris Mould's amazing new project but we thought it might be interesting in the meantime to hear about apps and app development from an alternative perspective and in this case from straight from the mouth of a student studying apps at University. 

So here is a guest post by student Pedro Kirk

My name is Pedro and I am a student at Goldsmiths University studying music computing, which is essentially a creative computer course. 

I have just started a creative computer project that will span the full year and I wanted to work on a project that has potential to be more than just coursework. I hit upon the idea of creating a digital book app for children after seeing how adept my young nephews were in playing with a musical game app I created last year. 

I am really interested in how the children's digital book market is going to grow over time, as I think it enhances the experience of reading paperbacks. It allows children more options and can contain further fun activities to accompany the book they enjoy.

I have created a questionnaire for my current project as over the next few months I have to research the market in this area and gain feedback to help inform my design decisions from the people who will be the potential users. The market is very unsettled at the moment with no real way of knowing if digital formats of childrens books will really take off. One of the main reasons for this is the huge number of free apps available from companies who don’t expect a return on them, just more exposure. I personally think there is room for creative original art works to be seen in app form. If the illustrations and story are strong enough one would hope even small developers would see interest through word of mouth and online exposure.

My partner Chloe Douglass recently wrote and illustrated an original children's book called The One and Only Pablo as her final project for her Masters degree at Kingston, I thought to combine our skills and I’m using her story for my app. (
Read Chloe's blog here!)

The current market seems so hard to get into for smaller independent illustrators and writers, so I see this as a brilliant way of getting more exposure. 

If the app is successful then it can raise the profile of the illustrator/writer and bring in a larger audience for the book. Diversity of platforms is a good way to interact with new audiences, and from my research so far children are using iPads almost as much as their parents.

THANK YOU Pedro for giving us this interesting insight. GOOD LUCK with the rest of your course.

Images (c) Chloe Douglass

You can participate in Pedro's questionnaire here