Interactive Children's Books

Our crowdfunding campaign was a great success!

opensourceway@flickr CC BY-SA 2.0
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.


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


Our crowdfunding campaign has begun on! 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 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+.

Book Apps: Interactive Reading on Tablet Computers

Absorbed, we follow the black chains of signs, feel the paper of the book’s pages and hear them rustle – that’s what reading has been like since the advent of printed books. So what is to become of it?

When Alice for the iPad, one of the first book apps for mobile devices, appeared in 2010, many people reacted with alarm. Nevertheless, Atomic Antelope had great success with their app adaption of Lewis Carroll’s classic: when the screen is shaken, tilted or swiped the app animates John Tenniel’s famous illustrations. Chris Stevens, head of that young British publishing house, simply consigned his critics to the corner reserved for diehards, claiming that no one in the classic book business was willing to accept that a new era had long since dawned with unforeseen technological possibilities waiting to be exploited and not dismissed. Children who would perhaps never get their hands on a printed book could well be inspired with an enthusiasm for literature by means of the technological format of an app.

Seductive Time Thieves

It has been obvious at the latest since the first iPad came on the market that digital technology’s new conception of the book extends far beyond the ebook. Unlike the ebook, a file format for electronic books the readability of which is currently still dependent on the reading device, a book app is programmed for a particular operating system. It can be downloaded from the app stores onto mobile devices using their respective system. Already there are ten times more tablets than e-readers in German households, and more and more people are reading on mobile computers. Today children grow up considering these devices to be perfectly natural. Thanks to the simplicity of their handling and their high entertainment value, they are seductive time thieves and justifiably considered as a threat to the reading of books. At the same time, however, they provide great opportunities to communicate content in a comfortable, attractive and playful way – for example, in the form of book apps.

(c) Daktylos Media
(c) Daktylos Media

In the large online stores, many apps now contain the word “book” in their designation. The term “book app” is not clear. If a media format focussed on storytelling and communicated by an aesthetically professional design is defined as a “book”, then that leaves only a few applications left in the app stores in the category “books”. Many offers for children turn out to be games. Furthermore, their graphic design is often far inferior to that of printed books. But such applications are usually free of charge – unlike the good, well-designed book apps. Products worthy of this designation offer an ambitious design and a story which can be experienced in several additional dimensions: through the physical interaction and through features like voice-over, sound-effects, music, animated illustrations and games. Programme directors, authors, editors, translators and illustrators work in a team with composers, musicians, speakers and designers of the graphics, the sound, the user interface and the user experience, as well as with game designers and computer programmers.

High cost, high risk

And the whole working process does not end with the release of the book app. The app is continually improved through close contact with clients, and often enhanced by new features. Book app projects push at the borders of classical publishing. They are complex and costly. As a result, not classical publishing houses, but companies from the fields of communications and entertainment are involved in their production, implementing commissions and disposing of large marketing budgets. The risk that the production costs, 5-digit figures on average, are not recouped after the release of the book app is great.

Book app Pioneer in Germany

Oetinger Verlag is one of the few publishers in Germany to have dared to develop their own book app. With its Tigerbook format, Oetinger has created an format for children’s book apps with which they are gradually ‘transforming’ their backlist successes, like Der Regenbogenfisch or Der kleine Eisbär, into interactive books. These can be downloaded and read through the Tigerbooks bookshop app. With the planned release of itsTigerCreate software in spring 2014, Oetinger Verlag, in collaboration with Tigerbooks Media GmbH, aims to provide the publishing industry with a much desired solution that will make it possible to export book apps for all relevant mobile operation systems.

For the classical publishing industry, a book app is a relatively new product vision that needs to be tried and tested. For a book to inspire people to read and experience the story in app form as well, it requires creative and original concepts. For readers, however, book apps will presumably not replace classical books but rather complement them. The demand for high quality content and book apps will surely increase in the years to come – at the latest, when a tablet is as common as a mobile phone in every household.

Anna Burck
(C) Goethe-Insittut January 2014
The article was published first on

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Cultural propaganda (#HerrMaffrodit)

Ruin is not caused by lavatories but is something that starts in people’s heads” says Professor Preobrazhensky so succinctly of social shocks and upheavals in Bulgakov’s “Heart of a Dog”. Today, Russian society is trying to create an identity by normalizing gender roles and sometimes finds a peg for this in the oddest of places. This does not only have to do with homosexuality.

What does this have to do with a children’s story from the GDR, with a story written by Peter Hacks 40 years ago? We’ve come to the conclusion that the subject of metamorphosis, or metamorphoses, can be widely interpreted. A detailed analysis would find that much of the world’s cultural heritage doesn’t tally with current perceptions of morality. What could be more amoral than the pagan “atrocities” of the ancient world? Not only were sexual relations in no way “traditional”, such aberrations took place then that today would make some people’s hair stand!

This is all being jumbled up in the minds of people who literally do not have the right classical education. Moreover, the new legislative initiatives, which were first taken on the banks of the Neva, are not helping matters. Indeed, they are leading to “ruin in people’s heads” – and especially those of young people who seem to be more open minded since there is little pre-programming.

Drawing of parts of the human brain by Leonardo da Vinci wikimedia commons
Drawing of parts of the human brain by Leonardo da Vinci wikimedia commons

We were also suddenly caught up by reality when we were setting out our budget – completely unexpectedly! We had started calculating and preparing documents so we could invite bids from Russian programmers (companies and freelancers). We wrote a storyboard for our Meta Morfoss app to help prospective bidders understand better. We set out the whole story page by page, describing and naming all the scenes and characters in detail.

In the story, the main character – a girl called Meta – has an aunt called Maffrodit. She has a mustache and likes to knit. Although, we should have seen it coming, we had a bit of fun and talked about Hacks’ intelligent playful approach to meanings and his imagination. We sent out five requests for offers and waited. It didn’t take long: “Hello Nick! We’ve read everything. We’re completely against hermaphrodites any anything of the like. Nobody in the team wants to have anything to do with the project.”

Mosaic of Hermaphroditus, North Africa, Roman period, 2nd-3rd century AD wikimedia commons
Mosaic of Hermaphroditus, North Africa, Roman period, 2nd-3rd century AD wikimedia commons

What terrible fate would have befallen the app programmers from Petersburg  if Hermes and Aphrodite had known that they would be against their son?

There are many such “experts” when it comes to ancient mythology in Russia.

Can it really be that an interactive book about Meta Morfoss, who can transform herself into anything at all, might be considered reprehensible?


(c) Ghost Hand Games
(c) Ghost Hand Games

We haven’t had our iPad for very long. We recently downloaded The Legend of Momotaro. “When are we finally going to watch the app with the beautiful blossom?” our eldest six-year-old daughter T asked a few hours later. Till then, she had only played a few Toca Boca games, which she really loves and with whose characters she identifies. (She even wanted to ban her brother from feeding “her” blue monster in Kitchen Monsters. But back to the “beautiful blossom”: This is actually a peach with a stem that looks like a blossoming bud – the Momotaro app icon has now taken its place next to the cheerful Toca Boca faces.

The Legend of Momotaro is a storybook app created by the Saratoga Springs, NY state-based gaming company Ghost Hand Games. It is one of the interactive books that came very close to our ideal in all the descriptions and reviews, as we searched for good book apps. We haven’t found anything comparable in German yet.The app recounts a well-known Japanese legend in English. The wish of an older couple is granted when a child appears in their lives. The boy’s specialness is already clear from the fact that he arrives on Earth in a giant peach that the old woman fishes from the river. They call him Momotaro – Peach Boy. He grows up to be a great fighter and frees the country from ogres.

The design incorporates many elements from traditional Japanese culture. The story opens up on a scroll that is unrolled sideways. Each part of text has its own scene or “stage”, on which different changes that correspond to the narrative flow take place. The reader is immersed in a Japanese landscape, in which many things, such as a plum tree, wooden shoes or paper fish, can be discovered. They are depicted in kanji characters in the bottom bar and can be found either when either the kanji or the identified object in the picture are tapped. Then a small flower unfolds into a piece of origami paper, on which the item is depicted and both the English and Japanese words for it are written. Users can also hear the pronunciation by tapping the word. The Japanese word is also available in hiragana signs which represent syllables. The kanji character can be copied by users with their finger. Traditional elements of Japanese society and culture such as carps, peaches or shrines are explained on a sheet of “paper”.

The Legend of Momotaro: Die alte Frau findet beim Wäschewaschen am Fluss einen Riesenpfirsich (c) Daktylos Media
The Legend of Momotaro: Die alte Frau findet beim Wäschewaschen am Fluss einen Riesenpfirsich (c) Daktylos Media
The Legend of Momotaro: Kanji für
The Legend of Momotaro: Kanji for “house” (c) Daktylos Media

When our 10-year-old son took a look at the app on his own, his first comment was “Boring!” He had hoped that by tapping on scenes reminiscent of Japanese woodcarvings, there would be more animations. But this is not an animated “playbook” like Alice for the iPad. Later on, before going to bed we finally had time to look at Momotaro’s story in peace. Our youngest daughter was already sleeping and the oldest one was cuddled up with me in bed. I started telling her the English story in German. Her brother sneaked in and cuddled up to us too. Children love fairy tales, at any time of day or night, in any situation.Apart from the clear, saturated and piercing sounds of a koto that begin the app, generally the sound is very discreet and meditative: There are a few summer sounds such as the murmur of the water and the wind, the chirping of crickets, the twittering of birds or the quiet and the homey bubbling of soup in a pot. The narrative conforms to traditional fairy-tales. We had plenty of time, so the children could listen to the story calmly and try out each interactive element after each episode. My daughter repeated the English and Japanese words enthusiastically and copied the kanjis with her finger. My son was interested in comparing the Japanese words with the English ones, many of which he already knew.

Both children had fallen asleep within about 40 minutes so we only got through two thirds. Maybe we’ll look at the rest tonight.

My conclusion: The Legend of Momotaro is a wonderful book app that can provide a great deal of pleasure, both for the mind and the senses. Adults should take a look at it with the children so that everyone can enjoy quality time together, but also so that that expectations and attention can be somewhat guided. Although, it’s impossible to tap about wildly and trigger cartoon-like experiences, it’s good if children can take their time to become curious about the story as well as the strange language and culture, so that they can have a lot of fun reading and watching.

The Legend of Momotaro
Ghost Hand Games LLC
Preis bei iTunes: 2,69 €
Size: 179 Mb

Daktylos Media will make good book apps

Girls reading Story Book Apps on a tablet (c) Daktylos Media
Girls reading Story Book Apps on a tablet (c) Daktylos Media
Children love books and being read aloud to – and contrary to widespread fears they also like to read on their own! Moreover, they are completely fascinated by mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets. Who has not experienced how a child can plunge for hours into the seductive world of apps with such a device, unless worried parents prevent him or her from doing so? Such fears are understandable but they are also stoked by well-known writers who voice warnings. We wondered how we could combine reading with new technological possibilities in such a way that their full potential was tapped but children were not only distracted and amused but also motivated to read. Our thoughts seem to have arrived at the right time since we are not the only ones to have noticed that there is a lack of innovative apps, and not only in Germany.
That’s why we founded Daktylos Media, a publishing house for creating and producing interactive children’s books as apps for iPads and Android tablets. We have invented new formats for book apps. We will start with “reading quests” and then move on to “adventure stories”. A reading quest combines e-book with interactive hidden object game. The reader can animate illustrations by finding and tapping on keywords that are located on each page of the story. Thus the animated elements of our storybook apps do not distract from reading, but provide the motivation for doing so. Our second “adventure story” app format, which is still in the planning stages, will combine fiction with non-fiction literature about human history and culture. Daktylos Media apps are available in three languages – German, English and Russian We want to be number one when it comes to buying high-quality app contents for children and youths!

Apple and Google’s stores don’t have any further search functions for book apps, which is why we’ve set up this blog. We intend to write about children’s book apps and children’s e-books in German and Russian. Anyone looking for good and sensible app contents and who wants to know more about the digital trends in children’s literature in the 21st century is in the right place.

Our first app will be the Meta Morfoss reading quest, a story by Peter Hacks about a little girl who is constantly transforming herself into something else. The app combines this wonderful story with illustrations by the Russian illustrator, animator and game designer Max Litvinov (aka KClogg). We will soon report upon our planned crowdfunding campaign, thanks to which we hope to produce the Meta Morfoss reading quest.

woodleywonderworks@flickr, CC BY 2.0
woodleywonderworks@flickr, CC BY 2.0