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Bologna Children's Book F

On History, Creativity, Serendipity, and Gelato


On History, Creativity, Serendipity, and Gelato

Once upon a time, my memories of Florence fell to hunting for treasures in and around the top 10 tourist attractions with a four-year-old. And, of course, gelato. My favorite flavors were the citrus sorbets, like lemon, lime, and blood orange.

Then, exactly two years ago in April 2014, both my gelato preferences and my association with Florence changed. Radically. That's when Mary Hoffman and I, as co-faculty of Julie Hedlund’s Writer’s Renaissance, first brainstormed, over una coppetta di gelato tre gusti – this time cioccolato, pistachio, and nocciola, how we might bring my time traveler tour concept to life in Florence...


Breaking Boundaries: The State of Children’s Apps in 2015

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Breaking Boundaries: The State of Children’s Apps in 2015

At this year’s Bologna Children’s Book Fair (29 Mar – 4 Apr), I had the pleasure of experiencing the top five BolognaRagazzi Digital Award winning apps before they were announced to the public. All beautiful works developed specifically for the screen, they prove that 2014 was the year children’s apps truly broke from the boundaries imposed by the page.

The five are all beautifully rendered, technologically innovative, and intuitively engineered. They are all developmentally appropriate to their target age.

What's more, they get extra kudos for putting the power of choice and exploration at the tip of the child user’s finger. But the operative word here is “user,” not “reader.” Indeed, all the gab around these titles at the Fair used the verb “play,” not “read.” 

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A New App Journey Begins: Come with Us to Renaissance Florence


A New App Journey Begins: Come with Us to Renaissance Florence

Ciao! Buongiorno! This week I write to you from Florence, Italy, where I'm busy hunting for traces of Michelangelo for our coming Kickstarter Campaign video. I'm gathering some lovely donation rewards as well ;).

I began my Italian sojourn at the 2015 Bologna Children's Book Fair, soaking up all there is to be learned from my Dust or Magic colleagues and friends.

As evidenced by the top five Digital Ragazzi Award winners, 2014 will go down in history as the year children's apps broke forth from the boundaries imposed by the page. But 2015 finds the form still searching for how best to incorporate narrative...



Time Traveler Tours & Tales Achieve Lift Off!

Speaking to fellow SCBWI authors at the SCBWI stand of the Bologna Children's Book Fair.

Speaking to fellow SCBWI authors at the SCBWI stand of the Bologna Children's Book Fair.

Sorry to be so quiet of late, friends. There's a reason I haven't blogged in a while.

I've been busy these past several weeks traversing the globe to attend events surrounding the coming launch of Time Traveler Tours & Tales.

My first stop was Bologna, Italy, and the Bologna Children's Book Fair. That's where I first announced the coming of my burgeoning twin imprints, Time Traveler Tours & Tales, and where I revealed that my Team and I are now open for author submissions.

Un-agented authors, don't be shy!
All are welcome to submit.
Click here for our submissions guidelines.


My next stop was New York City and a Kidlit Meet & Greet hosted in my honor by Julie Gribble and Roxie Munro.

This is where I announced that Team TTT&T is now offering its expertise and experience, developing interactive apps and books for educational tourism and travel, to cultural organizations worldwide.

Coincidentally, on that very day, 5 May 2014, I landed the first museum client for Team TTT&T: Hildene, The Lincoln Family Home. Can't wait to sink my teeth into this project!


Back in Paris, it was my turn to co-host, along with my dear friends, Sue and Bob Greig, the Paris Thank You & Pre-launch Party.

Invitees included everyone in my Paris life who has thus far played a supportive roll in my circuitous journey from teacher to writer to accidental entrepreneur and now digital publishing maven. They included...

  • my teachers and coaches,

  • early readers and critique group partners,

  • pilot tour guinea pigs,

  • app tour beta-testers,

  • Kickstarter campaigns donators,

  • French translation partners,

and of course, the most important and supportive people of all: my loving husband, Jim, and our darling daughter, Lily.


At the Paris Thank You & Pre-launch Party, I introduced Team TTT&T.

I announced that I am now in partnership with creative development agency, Bluespark Labs, to power up the TTT&T publishing engine.

I spoke about our goal of building a network of international educators, the TTT&T Teacher Vanguard. And how we intend to donate a percentage of future annual profits in support of literacy education in development nations, organizations like Room to Read and the Uganda Community Libraries Association.

I made public our coming official launch of Time Traveler Tours & Tales -- now slated for late October in New York City. And I shared with my esteemed guests our latest, greatest piece of news: that we're merely days away from signing our first author (besides me, that is).

For more on that exciting development, do stay tuned. Details will come...



What Makes a Bologna Ragazzi Digital Award Winner?

2014-03-24 11.46.57.jpg

On the evening of my Bologna Children’s Book Fair launch of Time Traveler Tours & Tales, I had the great fortune of being present for the 2014 Bologna Ragazzi Award celebration and prosecco toast. This was only the 3rd year for the digital category of the Ragazzi Award. To date, it is the closest thing the digital book world yet has to the Caldecott or Newberry.

It's a unique contest in that it's free to enter, there are no gimmicks, and both entrants as well as judging panel are international. What's more, the judges are particularly interested in discovering unknown talent.

The annual Digital Ragazzi Award shortlist has become my go-to source for all things cutting-edge in story-based interactive media for kids. As soon as the lucky 20 shortlisted titles are announced, I run straight to the appropriate distribution channel – the app store, iBookstore, etc. – to download the winners, mentions, and finalists in both fiction and non-fiction categories.

I play with them. I study them. I try to glean everything I can from these standard bearers in the digital publishing space. I pluck from them every trick, tidbit, and tantalizing technique that might inform the look and feel of the future Time Traveler Tours & Tales media library.

I most appreciate the cross-cultural perspective the Digital Ragazzi Award collection provides. This year’s candidates included 258 products from 37 countries. As the judging panel is also multicultural, it is particularly interesting to discover what resonates within such international diversity.

But, lucky me!, this year I didn’t have to guess how the winning titles made it through the judges’ screening process to rise above the rest. Because on the eve of the Bologna Children’s Book Fair, I joined an intensive master class sponsored by the Dust or Magic community and facilitated by Bologna Digital Ragazzi Award judge Warren Buckleitner (USA), supported by Klaas Verplanke (Belgium) and Cristina Mussinelli (Italy). Only Chris Meade (UK) appeared to be missing.

Master class participants and speakers comprised Ragazzi Award finalists, including Touch Press, represented by John Cromie, and Nosy Crow's Kate Wilson. Together along with the judges and honorees, we studied what constitutes best practice (Magic) and worst (Dust) in today’s interactive media for kids.


First, the winners. This year’s top prizes went to the following six titles:


  • Pierre et le loup, Camera Lucida, Paris, France

  • ABC Actions, Peapod Labs, LLC, Chicago, USA

  • Double Double, And Then Story Designers, USA/Venezuela


  • Love, The App, Niño Studio, Caba, Argentina

  • Midnight Feast, Slap Happy Larry, Murrumbateman, Australia

  • Jack and the Beanstalk, Nosy Crow, London, UK


What made the judges' feel they were in the presence of Magic?
The judges placed heavy importance on interactive innovations. These did not have to be numerous or even necessarily advanced (see Double Double). But they did need to suit the age and developmental stage of the target audience. They also needed to be seamlessly integrated within the narrative and visual content. In short, they needed to make sophisticated tech look easy by not being noticeable at all.

With the exception of Shaun Tan's, Rules of Summer, the judges tended to prefer works developed specifically for the digital environment, as opposed to digitized duplicates of print publications. Despite cultural differences between the judges as well as personal preferences for illustration versus narration, all four judges agreed without reservation on this singular point:

Digital media offer new ways for children and youth to access and experience content, and learn from it. Digital formats demand, therefore, that developers go beyond the limits of print and explore with their new media publications the boundaries that come with each and every format.

Other features that caused magical titles to shine through the crowd were:

  • Innovation, products that did something new or did something new with older tech

  • A new story, so many ideas are recycled

  • Quality in all product elements, from illustration to narration to audio to technical craftsmanship

  • Multi-touch technology used naturally to tell a story

  • Seamless integration of tech and storytelling assets

  • Responsive to touch

  • Intuitive to use

  • Scaffolds learning for the user

What broke apart and crumbled to Dust in the judges' hands?
In addition to mere digitized print content, other things that constituted Dust for the judges were:

  • Buggy products that crashed or took too long to load

  • Clumsy or obviously templated design

  • Art that doesn’t do anything

  • Good illustration with bad narrative, or vice versa, good narrative with bad illustration

  • Clunky mechanics, ex. pages turn accidentally, interactive elements in for sport, slow to load, not responsive to touch

  • Stuff already seen before, lacking any new innovation or surprising uses of older innovation

  • “Jabby” products, i.e., sprinkled with hotspots that don’t serve the content

  • “Flippy” products, i.e., when page advancement mimics a print book

  • “Evil” products: i.e., cash traps or peppered with links to web content

  • Wordy, especially egregious in products for non- or emerging readers

  • Background music that loops over and over and can’t be controlled by user

  • Content containing ethnic stereotypes

  • Endings that makes no sense

  • No credits – left the judges asking, who made this?

The Dust or Magic masterclass, called Generation Remix, concluded with facilitators restating that quality in all areas is paramount. This validated my mantra that storyapp craft is a team effort. It requires the combined efforts of storytellers, visual designers, interactive user design gurus, and dynamic coders, and let's not forget savvy marketing professionals, to make magical Interactive media for kids.

You can’t make a good salad with bad lettuce. Exceptional quality never goes out of style.
— Warren Buckleitner

Great products can be simple, as some of this year's winners are. But they must be beautiful and well conceived. Indeed, it's the best ones that make it look easy.


How do you know if your product is Dust or Magic? Put it in the hands of kids. They’ll show you, or "home" you. Every time.

But don't take my word for it. Take a look at the video below to hear from the 2014 Digital Ragazzi Award judges themselves.

Stay tuned for my next blog post -- an Interview with Pablo Conti, developer of Love, The App.