My fellow judges and I were handed a quite varied list of five short-listed titles, including two apps for the very young, Endless Alphabet and Wee You-Things, and two apps for a much older audience, To This Day and Cornelia Funke’s Mirror World.
But we all agreed that the standout app among the five was a gorgeously rendered and extremely intuitive app that is sure to appeal to the whole family, from pre-readers to grandparents, alike.
We therefore proudly offer the 2013 CYBILS Award for the Book App category to Disney Animated by Touch Press, the leader in book app design and production today, IMHO.
Here is the judges’ collective statement:
For more information on this year's Cybils honorees, head on over to our official website. There, you will find titles to keep you and your young readers happy and occupied with great content for a long time!
Big thanks to all the many volunteers -- judges, panelists, and organizers -- who made another successful Cybils year possible. And to Mary Ann Scheuer of GreatKidBooks for herding us all to the finish line!
Technology + Learning Theory + Play Theory = Magic.
A major focus of the Dust or Magic Institute is to bring educators and technologists together in the same space, and to provide the latter with a crash course in Childhood Development. Why? So that they may create age- and developmentally-appropriate products for kids, steeped in sound educational theory. The most important one being that all of us, kids and adults alike, learn best through play.
As a teacher of 20+ years, I was gratified to discover educational theory being applied to children’s interactive media in this way.
However, lacking in the above equation, I felt, was the time-honored lesson to be drawn from the world of children’s publishing: that the visual element serves a valuable role too, and one often neglected in today's interactive media for kids.
As a children’s author and a connoisseur of picture book art, I was shocked by the low visual quality of some of the media products we studied at Dust or Magic. Many of them, I’m sorry to say, were just plain ugly, with illustrations that looked little better than clip art.
Anyone working on behalf of children must appreciate the role that great illustration plays in communicating with and teaching children. In illustrated books, the story and images weave seamlessly together to create something better than the sum of their parts. Indeed, great illustrations tell at least 50% of the story and can make an already great text shine even brighter.
Yet, this is not often the case in today’s digital products.
Not all children’s digital media will contain story. They don’t all have too. But digital media are nothing if not visual. It is imperative, therefore, that we developers make our products visually appealing. To make them works of art.
Beware Madame la Guillotine, for example, is illustrated with great period masterpieces as well as propaganda and popular lithographs dating to the French Revolution. While we place an emphasis on the history as revealed by the story and accompanying treasure hunts, and not on the art per se, the app is also a subtle lesson in Art History. And we trust that this will be understood on some level by each of our user/readers.
Our kids deserve the total package. It’s not enough to be age appropriate and steeped in sound educational theory. Our products must also be beautiful.
Nosy Crow and Touch Press set the standard in this regard, as do the apps by OCG Studios, illustrated by Roxie Munro. Their products combine great storytelling with gorgeous illustrations, topped off with interactive gaming elements that enhance the narrative and extend learning.
At the Dust or Magic Institute, participants rate demoed products on a scale of one to ten – one being “dust” and ten being “magic”. Judging criteria are not provided, so it’s hard to know what’s behind each participant’s decision. But I'll admit to aiming my laser beam low (see video above for explanation) for any product – even the most educationally sound – if it did not deliver a quality visual experience as well.
As a children’s author, app developer, educator, and burgeoning digital publisher, I feel most days as if I am contorted on a Twister board, struggling to maintain a viable position; or drifting the northern seas with each of my two feet and hands clinging to a different iceberg, each ice floe representing one the four elements -- educational theory, great story content, and compelling visuals -- I hope to bring together in my ambition to produce quality interactive product for kids.
But it can, and must, be done. As Warren Buckleitner, himself, beseeched us at the close of the 2013 Institute: “Go forth and do right by the kids!”
It is my hope that developers of children's interactive digital media will take a minute to hire a proper illustrator for their future projects. Following on that, I hope that the opening equation of Dust or Magic 2014 be modified as well to read Technology + Learning Theory + Play Theory + High Quality Visual Art = Magic.
What do you think? Should digital media for kids honor a visual aesthetic? Please leave a comment and tell us what you think.
For 14 years, researchers, reviewers, and thought leaders in the world of interactive media for kids convene at Dust or Magic events to discuss, dissect, discern, and determine where the magic lies – and where it doesn’t – in digital products for youth.
They are helping to chart the way forward for our field, while providing tried-and-true advice to developers as to what constitutes developmentally appropriate learning tools for young people.
I was thrilled to be a part of the Institute for the first time this year.
The overarching goal of the Dust or Magic Institute, I quickly learned, is to define the factors that contribute to making child-focused interactive digital media – whether apps, games, TV, web-based tools and programs, eBooks or toys – worthy of our esteem or otherwise, that is: Magic or Dust.
Products are demoed, analyzed, and critiqued through the lens of childhood development, learning theory, and what can be considered educational play.
At Dust or Magic, the judgments aimed at today’s offerings are binary. But that’s not to say it's all clear-cut. For the world of children’s interactive media is in its infancy – the equivalent of the silent picture show days in the evolution of film – and what makes something “best in class” is changing all the time.
Factors that made magic even five years ago may tend toward dust today. As the devices (hardware) evolve, so must the software, and with it the content. As we learn more about what we can do with our tools, so too expand the myriad options that suggest what we can do with pictures, stories, words, and games to engage and educate young people and lay the foundation for lifelong learning.
Magic-Making Factors #1, #2, & #3
One conclusion we reached this year is that the earliest digital products sought to create one-to-one relationships with users, mirroring the experiences one might have with a book. Also like the book, these products tended to be linear.
Today, however, the strongest products succeed in bursting linear boundaries. They also encourage group experiences and empower users to jump off the screen and relate to each other and their environment.
This can be seen in the many offerings of Toca Boca that inspire creative parallel play among the pre-school set, the screen being their starting point. In Tinybops’ brilliant interactive exploration of the human body, aimed at an older audience, navigating through the app is anything but linear. The same can be said for most of the apps coming out of Touch Press, including their latest: Disney Animated. And Time Traveler Tours’ own innovative approach to educational tourism, in which the screen and story launch users into an exploration of their physical surroundings, was also validated.
The video above shows me demoing not just Beware Madame la Guillotine, but the Time Traveler Tours & Tales concept in general. We came out with a strong 7 out of 10. Pretty good for a first-timer at the Dust or Magic institute, don't you think?
I hope you’ll take a look at it and give us your rating.
Do you have any questions about Dust or Magic? Ask them in the comments. I’ll be happy to address them in future posts. Meantime, stay tuned. More #DustorMagic musings to come!