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Meta Morfoss App wants to enthuse kids to read

Dresden. On November 30th Anna Burck and Nikolay Barabanov from the Dresden startup Daktylos Media released their interactive app for childrens books. The app is based on the story „Meta Morfoß“ by German writer Peter Hacks. Founderella.com spoke with Anna Burck about the app and the business strategy of Daktylos Media.

Nikolay Barabanov and Anna Burck founded Daktylos Media. Photo: Ellen Türke for Daktylos Media
Nikolay Barabanov and Anna Burck founded Daktylos Media. Photo: Ellen Türke for Daktylos Media

Founderella (F): You’ve developed a children’s book app based on the story “Meta Morfoss” by the German writer Peter Hacks. Why did you want to create a product for children?

Anna Burck, Daktylos Media (AB): Books and reading have always been very important to me — even as a child. And today I still very much like the world of children’s literature because in it important things about us and life are said and shown in a way that can often not be expressed in adult language because it would come across as too “naive”or direct.
We have children ourselves and we’ve observed over the years how excited they are by computers and mobile devices, and the countless playing opportunities these offer.

“We were interested in finding out how we could combine reading and playing in a digital format that made sense.”

In many of the book apps that we found in the online stores, interactive elements distract from the text and from reading — children expect cartoon effects that they trigger by tapping or swiping wildly but they’re not so interested in the story itself. We wanted to create a children’s product where the reading and text on the tablet remained interesting throughout. That’s how we invented a new book app format — the Daktylos reading quest.

“Peter Hacks’ Meta Morfoss is perfect for transforming into an interactive children’s book on a tablet because Meta’s metamorphoses can be depicted extremely well.”

The app wants to enthuse children to read. Photo: Daktylos Media
The app wants to enthuse children to read. Photo: Daktylos Media

F: How did this business idea come about?

AB: There are plenty of book apps where passages are read aloud, there are animated pictures and games, and these aim mainly at small children who cannot read.

“Our main target group is children who can read — from 8 to 12. There aren’t any German book apps for them.”

F: In your app, readers have to find keywords and when they tap them the pictures are animated. They then make their way through the story which was illustrated and animated by Russian illustrator and game designer Max Litvinov, aka KClogg. Is this a completely new concept?

AB: Reading quests are unique — there hasn’t been such an app before. As you said, users have to read the text attentively and find keywords. When they tap them, the illustrations are animated and they can continue making their way through the story.

“The idea came to me spontaneously as I was thinking about how children could become immersed at the same time in wonderful literature and an interactive game without one aspect distracting from the other.”

A screenshot from the app. Photo: Daktylos Media
A screenshot from the app. Photo: Daktylos Media

F: What do children like about the app?

AB: We read Meta Morfoss and other stories by Peter Hacks to our children a long time ago. They liked the imaginative twists and the the ironic and witty use of language in the text as much as we did. All children like the idea of a quest in which their efforts are “rewarded” by changes to the original, colorful illustrations and funny noises and sounds.
Of course, they want more, so they are compelled to work their way forwards through the story. Every page has a section of text which is not so difficult for children who don’t like reading that much or who don’t read very fast.
The first time we tested the app with eight and nine year olds, they totally got into the reading quest, laughing out loud when they saw the animations and heard the sounds. They kept their focus right to the end and enjoyed every minute. (It takes about 40 minutes to read and play through the app).
Most of them asked their parents to download the app immediately. That’s exactly what we were hoping for. We’ll be testing the app again at this year’s media festival in Dresden, so please come along and see for yourselves.

F: How long does it take to produce such an app? Did you have to pay license fees to use the text and the illustrations?

AB: Till now we’ve only made one app. Peter Hacks’ text already existed and so did the Russian translation. We commissioned an English translation, which took about two months, including the proofreading. We have to pay licensing fees for the three versions.

“We used the texts to write a kind of screenplay or storyboard as you would for a cartoon. Then we divided the text into 20 screens, picked out three keywords per screen, and described what illustrations would appear, as well as the sounds that would accompany the transformations.”

We needed about two weeks for this storyboard. KClogg did the illustrations and animations in about four months, after we had created each character in the story with him. On top of that, there was the work of the programmer and the UI/UX designer who worked alongside KClogg.

Colorful illustrations by Maxim Litvinov and funny noises and sounds complete the reading experience for the young readers. Photo: Daktylos Media
Colorful illustrations by Maxim Litvinov and funny noises and sounds complete the reading experience for the young readers. Photo: Daktylos Media

F: What are the staffing arrangements?

AB: Nick and I run the publishing side — both strategy and operations — from product conception to marketing and distribution. We work with freelancers for the programming, web design, graphic design, UI/UX design, sound design, editing and translation, illustration and animation.

F: How much did it cost to make the app?

AB: 20,000 euros in total.

F: Crowdfunding was part of your strategy. You were able to raise 16,000 euros via Startnext. Why did you choose this path?

“We tried to get a loan in the traditional way from a bank. Then we put our hopes on a business angel. But neither of these paths worked out.”

AB: We took out a private loan to buy an iPad and get some business coaching, so that we could fund a prototype with two screens. Then we launched a crowdfunding campaign on Startnext so that we could finish producing the app.
That was the only possibility for us at the time to get hold of any money. And because it was hard for us — a completely unknown startup company without a marketing budget to get public attention for a completely new product without help, we asked two consultants for advice — Fabian Kern from Digital Publishing Competence and Steffen Peschel from Konzeptfreun.de
They helped us a lot thanks to their network and professional strategic planning. Nonetheless, we were only able to raise the money we needed and wrap up the crowdfunding campaign by taking out another private loan. So finally we finished making the app. It turns out that our target group — parents with children of reading age — isn’t really into crowdfunding. They will buy a finished product but they don’t spend that much time online.

That’s how the app looks like. Photo: Daktylos Media
That’s how the app looks like. Photo: Daktylos Media

F: Would you recommend crowdfunding to other small startups?

AB: I would recommend crowdfunding to others if they have enough time, staff and financial resources for marketing and PR, and already have a fanbase.

F: You’re launching your Meta Morfoss app on November 30th. How much will it cost to download and will there be more stories in future?

AB: The app will be available for 5.99 euros in the App Store from December onwards and we’re releasing an Android version next year. Yes, of course we plan to release other reading quests in the future — combining good children’s literature with original illustrations and excellent design.

“If Meta Morfoss sells well, our next app should be out by the middle of next year.”

The main target group for the app are children from 8 to 12 who can read. Photo: Daktylos Media
The main target group for the app are children from 8 to 12 who can read. Photo: Daktylos Media

F: Lets talk about your business model. How are you hoping to generate revenue?

AB: Our business model is based on app sales, at a fixed price in the online stores. The app is trilingual — German, English and Russian. We’ll be selling it in the English-speaking world (US, UK, Australia etc) and the Russian-speaking world (Russia, Ukraine) as well as the German-speaking realm (Germany, Austria, Switzerland). But in the future we can envisage the freemium model for other purposes — you download one chapter for free but pay for the following ones.

F: What is Daktylos Media planning for the coming years? What are your main goals?

AB: We want to make more book apps — we’ve already got plenty of ideas for new formats. We’re also interested in different technical and distribution possibilities, aside from native app programming we’re seeking other solutions.

For their successful crowdfunding campaign Anna and Nikolay got nominated for the Virenschleuder-Preis 2014. Photo: Ellen Türke for Daktylos Media
For their successful crowdfunding campaign Anna and Nikolay got nominated for the Virenschleuder-Preis 2014. Photo: Ellen Türke for Daktylos Media

F: How does it feel to be on the shortlist of the Virenschleuder-Preis 2014, although your app had not yet been released publicly?

AB: We’re super happy about that. All the efforts that we put into the crowdfunding campaign have been acknowledged. The nomination brought us a lot of positive attention. It’s a big motivation to continue regardless of the problems we have had as a startup without funds. We are very grateful to our fans and those who voted for us — for their faith in our project.

F: Thank you for the interview.

Interview: (c) Stephan Hoenigschmid. Published first at www.founderella.com, Nov 11, 2014. Slightly edited version, by courtesy of Founderella.com.

Special St Nicolas Day Offer: Meta Morfoss at iTunes 50%

Meta Morfoss at iTunes

Meta-Morfoss-App_Nikolaus_en

Meta Morfoss app testing sessions @ 2014 media festival in Dresden

The Meta Morfoss app testing sessions on 15th and 16th November were a huge success. Around 250 children, teenagers and adults visited our stand at the media festival in Dresden and about a third of them tested and evaluated our Meta Morfoss App. We received a lot of positive feedback for the first Reading Quest in the world—you can read about it in our detailed report below.

Diego (9)
Diego (9)

The long-awaited Meta Morfoss app testing sessions have finally taken place, at the 2014 media festival in Dresden which drew a record 2800 visitors and where the German MB21 multimedia prize was awarded. About 250 children, teenagers and adults took an interest in our Meta Morfoss app; 82 of them tested and evaluated it. Many thanks to the Dresden media cultural center, which provided us with this wonderful possibility to make our app known to a wider audience. And of course many thanks to all the enthusiastic testers for their curiosity, stamina, the exciting feedback, praise, constructive criticism and ideas for developing our Reading Quest further.

I liked the app because I had to find words and tap them, which made the figures in the picture come to life. That was very funny. I’ve never done anything like that before because we don’t have a tablet at home. I like to read a lot so it wasn’t very difficult for me to get through the whole text. (Lisa, 10 years old)

The app was great. Quite a nice story. It wasn’t that hard. Except to find nouns—that wasn’t so easy. But there’s a solution sheet we can peek at. I would like to play the app again. And I would like to test another Reading Quest. (Alfred, 9 years old)

Meta Morfoß App Testing Kids Book App
Lenka und Aya (both 7)

It was clear from all the excitement and interest at our stand that almost all children are fascinated by iPads and the possibilities for playing that they provide. Our five iPads were not enough to meet demand. Many people simply waited patiently for their turn. Often the parents came up to us and told them what a great idea it was and expressed the hope that their kids would be motivated into reading even if they didn’t particularly like to read. The kids then really became totally immersed in the story and followed how Meta Morfoss went through her transformations. Only three children gave up because they found the app “too difficult” or because they had expected a game rather than a story that they had to read. A majority of the children were fascinated at least until halfway through and a large part made it to the end, even the small ones. Considering there were many other activities at the media festival, which took place on four storeys, to rival our testing session we are glad that Meta had a magnetic appeal.

I thought it was really good. It was a lot of fun. It was nice to look for the words. Sometimes it was hard, sometimes easy. (Susanne, 7 years old)

Of course, we wanted to find out more about who is interested in out app and what they really think, so we asked all the participants in the testing sessions to also fill in a questionnaire. Here are the results: A total of 81 people tested the app, of which 61 were children aged from six to 13. Nineteen of them were over 13. The youngest was barely six years old and the oldest was 77. Most of the children were aged between eight and 12. Slightly more than half of the participants were male.

Meta Morfoß App Testing Kids Book App
Lukas (23)

The app begins with an interactive tutorial, which shows users how a Reading Quest functions. Sixty participants said that it was useful, but 19 said it was sometimes helpful but difficult to understand at times. Two said that they hadn’t understood anything but we have put this down to the fact that they were too young to use the app on their own and had the rest read out to them by their parents.

It’s a very detailed app. You can learn a lot even if you can’t read so well. It’s fun because something happens in the pictures. It’s great that the app will soon be out. I would buy it for myself. I like to play computer games, preferably role games. I only read sometimes. I like computers more than books. (Johann, 12 years old)

Meta Morfoß App Testing Kids Book App
Amelie (9)

A majority (47) of participants said they found it difficult to find the key words, but 34 said it was easy to find them. Peter Hacks would surely have been as glad as we are that most users (75) liked the story about Meta Morfoss. Most of those who didn’t like it so much were older boys. (It has been proven that boys are not so interested in stories where girls are the main protagonists).

Meta Morfoß App Testing Kids Book App
The whole family reads Meta Morfoss together.

KClogg will be very pleased that almost everyone (78) liked his illustrations. However, some participants (10) thought that the animated elements disturbed the reading process.

I thought that the app was very nice but the story was a bit short, I would have liked to continue reading. The sounds were sometimes annoying, for example the squeaky swing with the crocodile. But generally I thought it was all really good. If the story in the app were longer I would download it. (Leon, 12 years old)

Most (65) liked the sounds and noises. What’s great is that some of the teenagers also rose to the challenge of reading the story in English and in Russian once they’d finished the German version! Overall, we’re delighted that 75 percent of participants said that they liked the Daktylos Media Reading Quest and would like to try out other apps of this kind – this is a great motivation and inspiration to get right on to producing our next app.

Meta Morfoß App Testing Kids Book App
Dorothea (6) tests with her dad

Das App Testing ist für uns ein großer Erfolg. Es wurde offensichtlich, dass die App wie vermutet am besten bei den Acht- bis Zwölfjährigen ankommt. Prinzipiell kann jedes Kind, welches schon lesen kann, die App benutzen. Allerdings verstehen manche der jüngeren Kinder noch nicht, was mit „Schlüsselwort“ gemeint ist, trotz der Erklärung dieses Begriffs im Tutorial. Und einige Erwachsene kritisierten im Gespräch, dass es oft schwierig sei, die Wörter intuitiv beziehungsweise aus der Text-Bild-Verbindung heraus selbständig zu finden, also ohne sich die gesuchten Wörter in der Hilfe anzeigen zu lassen. Wir wollen bei der nächsten Lesequest diesen Suchmechanismus intuitiver und einfacher gestalten. Uns fiel aber die große Geduld auf, mit der die Kinder die Schlüsselwörter suchten und fanden – Peter Hacks‘ witziger Text und KCloggs einzigartige animierte Illustrationen schaffen es, die jungen Leseratten gespannt bei der Stange zu halten.

“Every year, we’re totally blown away!” Dresden Medienfestival

“Every year, we’re totally blown away!” Dresden’s media and culture center says that children and young people don’t have “digital dementia”

On 15th and 16th November 2014, Daktylos Media is presenting its Meta Morfoss app to the public in Dresden. Children and their families will be able to test the first reading quest in the world. This will be just one of the activities on offer at a huge festival organized by Dresden’s media and cultural center that encourages people to try things out, inform themselves and be amazed. Daktylos Media spoke to the head of the center’s project office Kirsten Mascher about the festival background and goals.

Pong Invaders Reality auf dem MB21-Festival 2011 / CC-BY-NC MB21 Marco Prill
Pong Invaders Reality at the MB21-Festival 2011 / CC-BY-NC MB21 Marco Prill

mb21 German Multimedia Prize @Medienfestival 2014

Daktylos Media (DM): What can we expect from this year’s media festival? What’s unmissable?

Kirsten Mascher (KM): Well, the festival itself! This year, it’s taking place in Dresden’s Technische Sammlungen museum, whose collection complements our approach wonderfully. The building will be alive with media projects, activities and workshops. There’ll be plenty for people to do on their own, to be creative, to be astonished, to try things out, to inform themselves. For example, we’ll have a laser cutter and a 3D printer, people can loeten little robots, or make siebdruck stickers or laptop and cellphone cases from different materials. On Saturday evening, there’ll be a street game in the museum’s courtyard called “Johann Sebastian Joust”. Another nice project is “Drawdio,” whereby technology transforms the human body into a musical instrument. We’re also really looking forward to the MotionComposer, a kind of interactive stage, where the tiniest of movements can trigger sounds. And of course we’ll be displaying the projects that have won the mb21 German Multimedia Prize, as well as those of the CrossMedia Tour. We’ve also invited the young awardwinners of counterpart competitions in Hungary, Austria and Switzerland.

DM: Tell us more about mb21.

KM: mb21 is the only multi media prize in Germany for this age category five years up to 25. It is jointly awarded by the Dresden Media and Cultural Center and the German Children and Young People’s Film Center. We award prizes to the multimedia-related ideas and projects of children, teenagers and young adults. We especially look at creativity and imagination and ask ourselves: “Who and what lie behind the project? How are media combined in an original way? The production conditions also play a role. For example, whether a school worked with a special needs school for instance …

DM: Who takes part in the mb21 German Multimedia Awards? Tell us about the submissions.

Kirsten Mascher, Leiterin des Projektbüros am Medienkulturzentrum Dresden. Foto: privat.
Kirsten Mascher, head of the center’s project office at Dresden’s media and cultural center. Photo: private source.

KM: The younger children submit stop-motion animation films, bringing to life cuddly toys in their kindergarden for example. Or we receive delightful stories that they’ve written themselves and adorned with their own images and sounds. The older age groups use YouTube as a forum and channel for communication, inspiration and reflection. Every year, we’re totally blown away by the number of computer games that are made and submitted. Teenagers also find playful and practical approaches to making apps that improve everyday life for example, like mobile games for discovering a city. Participants also submit installations that bring media into the physical realm, raising questions and confusing visitors, inspiring them to reflect. This goes in the direction of media art which is something 12-year-old participants are already thinking about. And of course every year there are plenty of computer-animated films that enchant us. Overall, I would say that it’s sometimes the simplest ideas that users and visitors are most attracted to and enthusiastic about.

DM: What do you say to parents and educationists who are worried that children are consuming too much media, or are skeptical towards new devices and would prefer it if children spent less time in front of screens?

Auf dem Medienfestival 2014 kann jeder die Meta Morfoß App testen. Foto: Daktylos Media
Anyone can test the Meta Morfoss app at the 2014 media festival. Photo: Daktylos Media

KM: We recommend that they allow children to use media instead of banning it but that they guide them. Forbidding it would restrict children’s access to an area that has become important in our social life. Media is part of our daily life. It’s important to find time for media alongside other activities in family life. We recommend consuming media together, to showing an interest in what children find exciting and in what they’re doing with their computers. It’s important to maintain a dialogue and to make sure things are explained. And to set aside time—for spending outside, for eating, for sleeping and for media.

Dealing with media in a competent way

DM: What do you think? How seriously should we take the the skeptics who warn against a digitalization of the lives of children and teenagers? Some even talk of “digital dementia”. …

KM: Every year, our work for the German media awards and our daily work show us a different picture. It’s important to look at what children and youths have to say and what they’re doing with media. It’s important for us all to be aware of what’s going on in terms of media in order to understand new developments, to categorize them and to draw attention to risks. Not all children and teenagers receive the necessary support from their social environment to be able to deal with media in a competent way. That’s why it’s very important that schools, extra-curricular establishments and parental home be open and that they receive support in terms of media education.

SolarKreaturen basteln auf dem MB21-Festival 2012. Foto (c) Philipp Baumgarten
Making solar creatures at the 2012 MB21 festival. Photo (c) Philipp Baumgarten

DM: Why are such voices given so much attention in the German media?

KM: Actually, history repeats itself. There have always been “new” media and they’ve always been accompanied by a sense of unease. Books were considered with distrust for a long time. It’s also a question of age when it comes to new media and the attitude depends on whether someone grew up with something or has to catch up on knowledge at a later stage in life, in a way that costs effort. One of our goals is to support this interaction with media, to help people recognize structures and how the media function. This makes it possible to recognize positive and negative aspects and how media can be used. Media competence is also a means of negotiation and action.

Das Team des Medienkulturzentrums steht bereit fürs Medienfestival 2014. Foto: Medienkulturzentrum Dresden
The media and cultural center team are all geared up for this year’s festival. Photo: Medienkulturzentrum Dresden

Media education – there’s always something new

DM: What do you most like about your job?

KM: I like the fact that there’s always something new. We always come across new subjects and that’s wonderful. Every year, it’s overwhelming to see what subjects interest children and young adults. There’s no place for pessimism at all. Instead, you can see how many important thoughts they’re having and how seriously they are dealing with certain themes. That’s the nice part. The negative part of my job is that I’m constantly having to catch up, to learn more and to grapple with new technologies and that can be annoying at times. It would be nice to just stick to one subject and build up my knowledge sometimes. But we try to do that by organizing other projects.

DM: Many thanks for the interview. Wishing you lots of fun and success at the media festival. See you there!

logo MKZD_wybór drugi_druk

Crowdfunding @Startnext – Thank you, Anne!

Daktylo_Media_Anne

Our book app for iPads and Android tablets combines the wonderful story “Meta Morfoss” by the German writer Peter Hacks (1928-2003) with illustrations by the Russian illustrator, animator and game designer Max Litvinov (aka Kclogg).

What’s special about the app is the “reading quest” format. Users read the text and search for particular keywords, which are animated when tapped, making something happen in the picture. Thus readers gradually make their way through the story. Users can switch between versions in three languages: German, English and Russian.

 Our crowdfunding campaign for the Meta Morfoss App (16.000 euro) was a great success and we’re hoping to have the finished product available for you by December 2014.

The first T-shirt! #HerrMaphrodite

Meta Morfoss’ aunt Herr Maffrodit is very attractive, don’t you think? This gem has just arrived and will soon be sent to Martin, one of our crowdfunding supporters for our first children’s book app.

T-Shirt Herr Maffrodit

Our crowdfunding campaign was a great success!

opensourceway@flickr CC BY-SA 2.0 http://tr.im/5lnhs
opensourceway@flickr CC BY-SA 2.0

Dear friends, lovers of literature and app fans: Our crowdfunding campaign for the Meta Morfoss App was a great success and we’re hoping to have the finished product available for you by December 2014. Follow us and keep up to date with our news, here in our blog, via Twitter, Facebook or Google+.

Daktylos Media at the Leipzig Book Fair 2014

“Just App-etizers?” Daktylos Media participated in the Leipzig Book Fair 2014. Anna Burck (Daktylos Media), Karen Ihm (Stiftung Lesen) and Henrike Friedrichs (University of Bielefeld) discussed what makes a good book app for children. The panel was presented by the journalist and audio book narrator René Wagner.

Daktylos-Media-Leipzig-2014

“Children? I don’t know any at all.” A discussion about Peter Hacks and his writing for children

Our first book app brings Peter Hacks’ story Meta Morfoss to iPads and Android tablets. Daktylos Media spoke to the publisher Dr Matthias Oehme about Peter Hacks and his wonderful texts for children.

Peter Hacks, 1976. Foto: Bundesarchiv
Peter Hacks, 1976. Photo: German Federal Archives

Daktylos Media (DM): How did you meet Peter Hacks?

Matthias Oehme (MO): I had known him as a poet for a long time, but I met him much later on. It happened when I took over Eulenspiegel Verlag, about 1994, and I was trying to acquire Hacks as an author. And although this didn’t take place immediately, he was very friendly, open and really interested in what was happening with the old GDR publishing house. I had the impression that our meetings and talks, sometimes in the office, sometimes at his home in Schönhauser Allee or outside Berlin on his land, were overwhelmingly filled with sympathy and consent. He did want us to publish him.

DM: What particularly has stayed with you?

MO: Even if it’s only one aspect, it should not be underestimated: I had the impression that he was extremely curious; he always wanted to know the latest about issues and people, whether this had do with the publishing industry, political developments or literary gossip – it just had to be new. He was easily bored by anything else. And of course he had a judgment to make about everything; I’m not saying opinion because his judgments were usually better founded than simple opinions.

T. reads Stories about Henriette and Uncle Titus, Kinderbuchverlag's second edition 1982 (c) Daktylos Media
T. reads Stories about Henriette and Uncle Titus, Kinderbuchverlag’s second edition 1982 (c) Daktylos Media

DM: Hacks, who didn’t have any children himself, wrote wonderful children’s literature. What in your opinion makes the texts so timeless and so powerful?

MO: They don’t overshadow children, they’re not didactic, they’re full of coherent logic and amusing wisdom, which children like very much. These are powerful, imaginative fables, and in terms of language the texts are clear and original and highly poetic, and confident attitudes and actions are always expressed. This is not literature for times of crisis or phases of decline only. What remains true is: “A thing of beauty is a joy forever.”

DM: Do you know what significance writing texts for children had for Hacks, what role this played in his life, what he associated with it?

MO: He wrote about it in his essay: “What is a drama, what is a child?” and I don’t want to presume to know better than he did. But I think that in terms of literary aesthetics writing for children was not so important to him, and to that extent these texts are flowers from the margins of poetry. However, producing these things did come naturally to him, i.e. he often enough really felt like doing it apparently. The way some great playwrights sometimes wrote poems or narrative texts. He also had a highly developed sense of genre so that it was clear to him that certain subjects could only be treated within the realm of children’s literature. In 1977, he gave this answer to a question posed by the GDR Kinderbuchverlag about why he wrote for children and how come he knew them so well:

People ask: ‘Of course, you have children?’ And I respond: ‘No’: So they ask: ‘How come you know them then?’ I answer: ‘I don’t know any at all.’ And then people get confused and say: ‘But you seem to like them!’ – Is that really so difficult? I have no children and therefore I don’t know any and for those two very reasons it thus takes very little effort to keep my good opinion of them.

DM: Hacks’ stories, such as Meta Morfoss or Stories about Henriette and Uncle Titus, emerged from playing with language and its different meanings. Sometimes they come across as absurd. Can one say that there was an absurd narrative trend in East German children’s literature comparable to such developments in the English-speaking world or in the early Soviet Union? Or is Hacks an isolated case?
MO: I would presume that the similarities are very superficial. The absurd label does not fit the workings of Hacks’ imagination. Hacks is indeed an isolated case, I do believe that, but he is definitely grounded in realism; perhaps it’s his range, the fertility of his understanding of realism, that makes him unique. Everything that seems so fantastical, even absurd, like a bear who has the say at a rangers’ ball, is found in stories that are steeped in reality and adapted from reality with wit and twists and humor that children do not mistake for the countless grumpy products of anthropomorphosizing half-teachers? They have an unerring nose for these.

The Bear at the Hunters' Ball. Illustrations by Walter Schmögner (c) Eulenspiegel Verlag
The Bear at the Hunters’ Ball. Illustrations by Walter Schmögner (c) Eulenspiegel Verlag

DM: A Russian team of developers that we had approached to program our Meta Morfoss app refused with the excuse: “We don’t want to have anything to do with ‘hermaphrodites’.” Do you know whether Meta Morfoss has ever been considered offensive in the past?

MO: I find that refusal funny but not only funny. No, I don’t know of anything although there were always some objections to Hacks right from the start, including to his texts for children. It’s teachers, the real ones and those who purport to be, who often have their problems with him. But I don’t know of such a sophisticated prejudice; and that’s all that is. I don’t know if it can trigger a socio-political debate. Don’t forget that a GDR child was less easy to deceive than a West German one. Thanks to Hacks in the end!

DM: Thank you for taking the time to conduct this interview with us!


Matthias Oehme, Geschäftsführer des Eulenspiegel Verlags und Peter Hacks Verleger. Foto: Simone Uthleb (c) Eulenspiegel Verlag
Matthias Oehme, CEO of Eulenspiegel Verlag and publisher of Peter Hacks.

Photo: Simone Uthleb

(c) Eulenspiegel Verlag

The publisher and literature specialist Dr Matthias Oehme was born in 1954. He studied German in Leipzig and was awarded a PhD in 1984 for his examination of dramaturgy and drama theory in Schiller’s late works. In 1993, he and Jacqueline Kühne took over the publishing house Das Neue Berlin and Eulenspiegel Verlag, which continued to be run together by a new company. He still works as an editor occasionally (Herder, Schiller, Brecht, Hacks).

Crowdfunding for our Meta Morfoss App – the starting phase begins!

Startnext-banner

Our crowdfunding campaign has begun on startnext.de! With your help, we’re hoping to fund the making of our Meta Morfoss App. We’re currently in the starting phase – that’s the phase when a project draws attention and acquires fans. When we have 100 fans, the funding phase can begin.

And here at long last is our long-awaited pitch video! Watch it and you’ll see how our app prototype works!

Please help us to realize our project, which transforms Peter Hack’s wonderful story Meta Morfoss into a unique book app for all lovers of literature, young and old. There are many reasons for supporting us and here are just a few:

  1. Our Meta Morfoss app combines good literature – not retellings or adaptations – with original illustrations and good design.
  2. We have developed a totally new app format – the reading quest. The animated illustrations do not distract users from the text like other children’s book apps do, but instead they can only be activated through reading.
  3. The app lets users switch between German, English and Russian. Our stretch goal – if more money is donated than expected – is to develop other language versions, such as Spanish!
  4. So far, there are few book apps in German for children who are of reading age, let alone innovative ones.  Our Meta Morfoss  book app is for children aged 8 and above. It is also a box of treasures for literature lovers and experts of all ages!
  5. We hope to combine the fun of reading with the fun of technology with our original experiment.

And now we need you! Please go straight to www.startnext.de/meta-morfoss-app and become our fan! We need 100 so the funding phase can begin. And you don’t have to make a donation to become a fan! Nor do you have to register with startnext – you can simply become a fan on Facebook or Google+.