SCBWI 2011, Part II: Beyond Picture Books, to New Media!

(Oh hey, check out this new Oliver Jeffers’ Heart And The Bottle app!)

Everyone – and I mean, EVERYONE (that’s right, NPR) – is talking about e-books and new media.  While adult e-readers are already a major part of consumer culture, childrens’ apps and e-books are still in their infancy (pun intended).  People seem to have a special concern and defensiveness reserved for the future of kids’ books – after all, who wants their kids’ future reduced to bedtime stories curled up with an IPad?

Most industry professionals and consumers alike agree that traditional children’s books aren’t going anywhere.  For one, buying a two-year-old a Color Nook is a lot less cost-efficient than a $4.99 board book, if all the toddler’s going to do is chew on the corners.  For another, people like the visceral experience of buying a hardcover book and turning its pages, reading aloud themselves instead of pressing a button.

Instead, we’re heading towards more and more options for kids books, and while we adults will have to nervously or excitedly adapt, kids will grow up expecting content on myriad forms of media.

So I commend SCBWI’s Illustrators’ Intensive for making the focus of their annual NYC event “Beyond Books: Picture Books and the New Media“.  Hey, if we don’t know about it, let’s invite some panelists to tell us about it!

As excited as I was about hearing the “Online Presence: A Panel Review of Websites, Blogs and Social Media”, it wasn’t my focus of the day.  Mostly, I was there to hear about the latest digital development shrouded in mystery: apps.  It’s something we all know is the future (SO much cooler than e-books), but we don’t REALLY know how they’re created.  First off, we sat in on the “Development of Apps from Classics” discussion, with panelists Virginia Duncan of Greenwillow Books (HarperCollins) and Colin Hosten of Hyperion/Disney Digital Books.

Ms. Duncan explained the making of Greenwillow’s first app, Freight Train by Donald Crews.  With bold shapes and different views from its companion book, Inside Freight Train, this was a perfect way to get an introduction to all that can be done with an app. Take a simple story, then add movement, games, songs… the sky’s the limit!  Check out storyboards and other making-of tidbits from Freight Train here.

Now, say what you want about Disney’s creepy corporate hold on America, but there’s no denying that they’re best suited for transitioning to new media.  Colin set the tone for the whole Intensive by explaining Disney’s philosophy like this: “It’s not about format, it’s about content.” Whether it’s a book, movie, TV show, game, or app, it’s all telling stories. Not so scary, after all, right? And those that can seamlessly translate their work to many different mediums are those that will survive the shift in technology.

As Kristen McLean said in PW the other day, “kids are omnivorous consumers of media”.  They’re not picking apps over books, they’re doing both – and why shouldn’t we?

The Intensive-closing “Practical Application Panel”, with Lisa Holton of Fourth Story Media and Rick Richter of Ruckus Media, summed it up pretty nicely with some fantastic content they’re creating, that is pushing the boundries of physical books and beyond. The 39 Clues was ground-breaking, for example, but my new favorite is The Amanda Project, a story about an enigmatic girl who goes missing from her new school, leaving 3 “guides” behind to solve the mystery of her disappearance.

On The Amanda Project‘s collaborative website, teens (um, girls) create their own character within the series’ world, discuss clues and theories among themselves, and read weekly short stories. The web stories incorporate readers’ thoughts and original plot twists, so every person on the site has a chance to be published as a part of Amanda’s life. They can even share their own writing and artwork in an online Zine… awesome!

Just as you were wondering what’s the point of it all, at the center of The Amanda Project is a book series – written by different YA authors, and published after all the buzz was created online.  It translates to IPad and IPhone apps, e-books, anything digital… but it all comes back to the original books.  Genius.

Now let’s see a picture book do the same thing!


3 responses to “SCBWI 2011, Part II: Beyond Picture Books, to New Media!

  1. Thank you for an excellent summary of what went on at SCBWI 2011, wish I had been there. A group of trade authors are blogging about ebooks at if you’re interested. Love the idea of an Amanda Project for picture books!

  2. walkinginpublic

    Thanks so much, Loreen! I’ve been following “E Is For Book” with interest and think what you all are discussing is fantastic. Can’t wait to see where all this talk about new media is leading us in the future!

  3. Hey Annie — Good points that you raise. As a library branch manager I get asked this question all the time (unfortunately the question is mostly in the context of how somebody can cut our budget). I agree with Disney and glad to see that your point is also heading in this direction – It IS all about content. Lova ya, Daddy-O

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