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Designing with Creativity: A Conversation with Barbara Reid

Barbara Reid is an award-winning author and illustrator based in Toronto, Canada. She is famous for her unique illustration style which uses plasticine artwork and photography to bring stories to life. Her books have been published internationally, and have been translated into at least nine languages.  

One of the best parts of designing a children’s book are the endless possibilities – children’s books are only limited by your own imagination. But the creative process of bringing a book idea to life can be complicated; with so many ideas, which one should you use? Being faced with so many possibilities may be daunting, so we turned to a professional for some help.

Barbara Reid is an award-winning Canadian author/illustrator famous for her plasticine illustrations. We had the opportunity to ask her about her creative process and her thoughts on making books for children. Based on our interview, here are some tips to creating a fantastic children’s book:

1.  Make an emotional connection with the reader

Make sure that your story is focused on the reader, and get them to invest in the story being told. Stories created with this in mind are more memorable – our team members still remember stories that were read to us when we were just little children. Creating a story that makes an emotional connection with the reader is a great way to make your book stand out.

2.  Look for inspiration everywhere

Barbara Reid shared that when she’s working on a story, it’s always in the back of her mind. Constantly keeping your story in your brain means that any conversation, song, or item serves as inspiration for the book you are creating. Keep your eyes and ears peeled, and you’ll be surprised what helps you come up with ideas.

3.  Draft, draft, draft

Barbara Reid described her design process, and it involves a lot of revisions! After reading through the manuscript many times, she starts with thumbnail sketches, then makes a storyboard and develops a colour palette for the book. After sharing her sketches with her art director and editor and getting feedback, she starts on the iconic plasticine pictures that eventually get photographed.

Revisions are part of making a good story into a great one! At every single stage of the design process, asking someone for feedback and reevaluating your work allows you to workshop your ideas and improve them. Don’t be afraid of having too many versions – it’s all part of a very valuable process to making your story the best one it can be.

We would like to say a massive thank you to Barbara Reid for taking time out of her busy schedule to talk to us about her design process. Check out her work on her website, https://barbarareid.ca/

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Designing for Children: A Conversation with Susan Wilder Neuhaus

By: Kaleigh Lueske & Sarah Zahavi

Susan Wilder Neuhaus is a designer located in the New York City Metropolitan Area. She has a wide range of skills and experience as a designer and a partner at NeuStudio, including the design of children’s books, websites, and branding. NeuStudio designs children’s books and marketing materials for children’s books. I knew that Susan would have a great perspective on the publishing industry.

First, I asked Susan more about what she does at NeuStudio. 

Susan Wilder Neuhaus (SWN): Usually what happens is that the editor will acquire a manuscript and they will take it through a couple rounds of editing. They will have selected an illustrator and we’ll put together a layout for the book and figure out what size it will be. We make sure the illustrator has what they need to make the right sized book and that they leave room for the typography and other things like that. We’re at the interface between the illustrator’s artwork, the writer’s manuscript, and the manufacturer. My husband does the art direction, where he ensures that the art is the right aspect ratio.

On NeuStudio’s website, it says “We Design Wonder”, so of course I had to ask about what that meant.

SWN: I love the idea of an open-ended thought. Part of the reason why that statement is so broad is that I want people to ask me more about it. Then I can talk with them about what we do and what they need. That was a marketing choice, but it also fits. I love the idea of having a book that a child wonders about and I love surprising my clients with a new idea, so it has ramifications.

Children’s books come in all shapes and cover all sorts of topics. We asked Susan what, in her opinion, is the most important thing that a children’s book should have? 

SNW: I think respect for the child reader. Sometimes I see books that seem a little cynical, like “the kid will think it’s cute” kind of thing. I think children are very complex people with more sophistication than sometimes some books give them credit for.

Screenshot: NeuStudio Website Home Page
NeuStudio Website Home Page

The publishing industry is always changing, especially in response to new technology. What does Susan think the future of the children’s book industry will look like?

SWN: I think for very young children there’s a social dimension to a picture book. Someone is reading it to them, they’re close to a parent or caregiver. And that’s important because…the caregiver is modeling expressions and all kinds of little nuances that you don’t get if you hand a child a tablet. So, I think for very young children there’s going to be a long life for picture books. On the other hand, eBooks feel like they’re not a totally immersive experience like a video game would be. So, I wonder if there’s a future for certain kinds of books or if the future of narrative is gaming, a more interactive experience. I say that because right now eBooks are constrained by the technology and the choices technologists made up to 20 years ago. MOBI is an ancient format and EPUB does seem to be evolving, but none of it seems to make for a significantly greater immersive experience than print books. So, until that time I see an advantage to gaming over eBooks. 

I’d like to thank Susan for taking time out of her busy schedule for us to ask her some questions! Her last point, about the future of the industry, is definitely very intriguing. What advancements in technology may come about and change how we read books?

We invite all readers to attend our webinar on November 27th at 10:30 am, where we’ll be discussing new innovations and possibilities that will change what an interactive digital book can be. Register for the webinar below:

What do you think is the most important thing that a children’s book should have? Let us know in the comments!

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Give-and-Take: The Limitations of Interactive eBooks

By: Katarina Pokrajac & Minahil Khawar

We take a step into the world of eBooks and we realize how we’ve truly put our foot in the future. An eBook is a digital version of a basic old-school book . It minimizes the cluster of pages and puts a million words onto one simple device. It also allows for flexibility with font size and layout – something my mother and her reading glasses will be thankful for! But how else can a digital book offer more than a printed one?

Add interactivity!

Interactive eBooks are a form of digital books that allow the user to be involved in the story in many ways, which can add value to the product. Something as simple as a cookbook can become much more fun and useful if features like videos are included in it. The publisher of the cookbook can set the book apart from others by adding follow-along video clips and GIFs – something you can’t have in a basic printed book. 

Check out the interactive children’s book that Katarina, one of our graphics designers, made!

However, interactivity has its limitations. Here are some issues that come along with making an interactive digital book:

  1. Slow Production Times: Adding interactivity to digital books is a slow process, as it is very time consuming and complex to construct. While a normal book would generally take a couple of days to print, a PDF eBook would take between 3 to 5 weeks, and an interactive eBook would take somewhere between 6 to 8 weeks! This could really slow down the publication process for a new book.
  2. Formatting Issues: Interactive eBooks are made in a fixed layout to make sure that elements aren’t rearranged with every device it is read on. But a fixed layout means that if you have multiple reading platforms, like iPads, MACs, PCs, or smartphones, then you would have to reformat the sizes of the ebook to fit every possible screen size.
  3. Accessibility: Certain interactive features could make the device seem complicated to people who are not comfortable with technology. Users will need to have a basic understanding of their electronic devices to be able to enjoy all the interactive elements. As well, it might not be possible for all devices to read all types of interactive eBook. For example, if you use Apple iBooks to create an interactive eBook, then it will only be able to be viewed on Apple products. PC and Android users wouldn’t be able to view and use the eBook, which would require the publisher to adapt the eBook into many formats (see Formatting Issues, above).

With these limitations, making interactive digital books becomes a give-and-take situation; you get a book with really cool features, but it takes much more time and effort. But interactive digital books are the results of some amazing technological innovations that happened over time. Even as we write this, technology is changing and improving. What kinds of digital books will we see in the future?

We invite all readers to attend our webinar on November 27th at 10:30 am, where we’ll be discussing new innovations and possibilities that will change what an interactive digital book can be. Register for the webinar below:

Have you experienced any problems while using an eBook? Let us know in the comments!

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Choosing a book format to buy? 3 reasons to go digital

By: Sarah Zahavi & Veronica Lee

Digital books first began in 1971, when Michael Hart started Project Gutenberg in order to allow the world to have free, easy access to all sorts of books. Since then, there’s been quite a debate over which format, print or digital, is the superior medium. For some, printed is better, owing to the increased reader comprehension and the emotional connection between a book and its owner. But digital books have their own advantages, especially when it comes to children’s books.

1: Wear and Tear

One of my favourite children’s books is a story called Something from Nothing by Phoebe Gilman. In it, the main character Joseph is locked in a continuous argument with his mother as he tries to keep his old, worn blanket. His mother tells him, “Joseph, look at your blanket. It’s frazzled, it’s worn, it’s unsightly, it’s torn. It is time to throw it out.”

Photo: As children's books are read over and over again, the pages become worn, and rip or fall out.
As children’s books are read over and over again, the pages become worn, and rip or fall out.

Sadly, the same is true for the paper the story is written on. The book is evidently beloved, as shown through its detached pages and ripped cover. The more a children’s story is read, the less it can be used in the future. In comparison, a digital book doesn’t have this problem since there are no physical pages to turn or rip or ruin every time it is read. A digital book can be stored and read over and over again as many times as the reader wants, since it cannot be damaged physically.

2: Easy to Transport, Easy to Store

Physical books are heavy and take up a lot of space. While children’s books are shorter and lighter, many are often required to adequately distract a child for a reasonable amount of time. For a parent trying to occupy their child’s attention while they are out and about, it is too difficult to carry around three or four books on top of their other necessities. Digital books, on the other hand, can be stored easily on a tablet or smartphone, and eliminate the need for large carry-ons when spending a day outside the house.

Photo: Collections of children's books take up a lot of room on bookshelves.
Collections of children’s books take up a lot of room on bookshelves.

3: Interactive Elements

A key part of reading to children is making sure they engage with the story being told. Reading to children helps them build their vocabulary, understand different emotions, and make connections between their lives and the characters—but not every parent is able to devote half an hour every day for storytime. Creating interactive digital books can help with this: stories can be set up to include narration (see last week’s blog post), pictures can be animated to show what is happening in the story, and activities supporting reading comprehension can be added, among other features. By adding interactive elements, a child’s reading experience can be greatly enhanced, much beyond what a printed book offers.

Which kind of book do you prefer more, and why? We’d love to hear from you in the comments!

Sources:

Kris, D. F. (2018, May 15). Why reading aloud to kids help them thrive. PBS. https://www.pbs.org/parents/thrive/why-reading-aloud-to-kids-helps-them-thrive

The Guardian. (2002, January 3). Ebook timeline. https://www.theguardian.com/books/2002/jan/03/ebooks.technology

Kraft, A. (2015, December 14). Books vs. e-books: The science behind the best way to read. CBS News. https://www.cbsnews.com/news/kindle-nook-e-reader-books-the-best-way-to-read/

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Interactive Storytime: How BookTrust is Incorporating Interactivity and Accessibility into the Perfect Story Experience

By: Katie Tucker & Veronica Lee

One of the most important memories in an individual’s childhood consists of “storytime” with a parent/guardian, creating a warm, bonding experience. Many people associate this reading experience as a part of a child’s bedtime routine while they drift off to sleep. These storybooks are sometimes read with great dramatic flair, or oftentimes simply read in a calm manner to create a soothing atmosphere. So how can this storytime experience be enhanced using a digital book?

An online platform published by BookTrust in the United Kingdom has a “read-along” feature at the simple click of a button. This allows users to listen to a narrator tell the story from a pre-recorded audio track. Furthermore, the interactive platform also allows a child to decide how the story is read to them, as many unique characteristics come into play. The options include the following:

  1. an audio only option where the story text lights up as the text is being read out loud from the pre-recorded track; or
  2. including the same features as option 1, but with the addition of American Sign Language (ASL) 
Main screen of the interactive children’s picture book. Two options appear for the user to select either “Read with Signing” or “Read Along”.

When using the first option, the audio is activated when the user flips to the following page to hear the next part of the story. Otherwise, there is no audio and no further interactive elements included in the book. There are, however, some technical difficulties when using this option. If the reader decides to switch into another browser tab, or simply clicks away from the digital book for a short period of time, the website experiences a malfunction in which all interactive elements are defective. Therefore, the user must remain in the browser in which the story is open to ensure that there are no errors. Additionally, the story is read with more dramatic tones which may not be ideal if an individual is attempting to fall asleep. A few things to consider when choosing this option are: the story cannot be paused unless the audio-track is finished reciting, there is no playback speed option, and there is no additional volume adjustment within the digital book. As the audio track contains both the music and dialogue, an innovative addition would be to include volume controls for each setting so that the user can adjust volume levels accordingly. There is also the option to read the story without sound and the text will continue lighting up at the same pace. This is good for reading practice at a constant pace or if the user wants to keep engagement between oneself and the digital book. 

Screenshot: BookTrust - Read Along option of interactive digital book
Option 1: Read Along only. The text lights up purple to match the pre-recorded audio track.

The second option displays accessibility traits which could benefit many users wanting to engage with BookTrust’s products. Incorporating an ASL interpreter alongside a “read aloud” option sets this organization apart from others. This element allows children with a hearing impairment to experience the excitement and engagement of a story being read out loud. The interpreter is able to gesture the tone and nuances of the text that otherwise may not be portrayed if the text is simply being read by children on their own. This option is presented in the form of a YouTube video with the ASL interpreter situated in the foreground of the book. Similar to the first option, the text continues to light up along with the pre-recorded audio track playing in the background. This experience creates a much more accessible version of “story time” as the YouTube video can be played back at different speeds, the video can be paused at any time, and YouTube has an auto-generated closed captioning feature, although in this instance this feature may be redundant as the original story text remains.

Screenshot: Option 2: Read Along with ASL interpreter
Option 2: Read Along with an ASL interpreter.

This inclusive experience is incorporated into several digital books through the online platform. It is free to use and has many other features and capabilities, such as pausing in order to adjust the pace of the story. Overall, BookTrust gives any individual the ability to engage in the exciting, digital world of reading, while creating an educational and welcoming environment.  Check out BookTrust’s Read Along platform over here!

What other interactive features should a storytime reader have? Let us know in the comments below!

All screen captures and images courtesy of: https://www.booktrust.org.uk/books-and-reading/have-some-fun/storybooks-and-games/open-very-carefully