The Treasures of Interactive Storytelling

Our next feature this week is written by children’s author Karen Robertson, who was inspired to find new ways for kids to interact with reading by her sons who weren’t keen readers. Her book, Treasure Kai and the Lost Gold of Shark Island, brings the sense of touch to reading with little toys integrated into a treasure-hunt adventure book. Her book app of the same name sends kids on a hunt for gold using touch to progress the story, in a twist on the choose-your-adventure format, with thousands of ways to find the gold.  She’s also the author of Author’s Guide to Book Apps, an eBook for children’s writers who are considering creating book apps. In this article she highlights the point that there is more than one way to tell a story. (Note: the Treasure Kai app will be specially priced this App Friday, June 10th!)

Story creators are flocking to the App Store with story book apps for kids. We’re seeing book apps from traditional authors and publishers, game creators and even film makers. There are a lot of apps to choose from and they vary widely in how they use touch, sound and animation.

As many developers have noticed, Apple is now directing apps that are “primarily content of a book” into iBookstore instead of the App Store because they aren’t “interactive enough.” [Editor’s Note: The definition of interactivity in books is evolving, and even iBookstore continues to change as illustrated by version 1.3 enabling more interactive features than before.] 

This makes me wonder about a gap I’m seeing in book apps: interactive storytelling, where the reader participates in how the story progresses, versus more linear book apps that read in one direction from front to back. But mobile devices deliver the ability to navigate a story in many other ways, through touch! 

Most of us remember the “choose-your-own-adventure” books from our childhood where we made decisions that influenced how the story unfolded. Mobile devices are perfect for this type of storytelling because you can easily jump around within a story, based on decisions made or items touched.

Maybe we’re having trouble defining which digital books belong in iBookstore and which ones belong to the App Store because the bar is being raised every day for how a story can come to life through touch, sight and sound. I believe that a good book app engages kids with story in an interactive way, and that the picture books with a few bells and whistles do belong in iBookstore. I’d like to see more writers creating stories that really leverage the functionality of these devices, and interactive storytelling is just another string to the book app creator’s bow.

Here are some examples of book apps that are using interactive or non linear storytelling:

Treasure Kai and the Lost Gold of Shark Island – a twist on the choose-your-adventure format, this book app sends kids on a treasure hunt for gold. The child randomly taps on treasure chests to progress the story and find gold, or clues that lead to adventures. There are thousands of ways to reach the treasure.

Violet and the Mystery Next Door – Violet is “Phantom Girl” who solves mysteries. In this book app, the child is presented with a few decisions to make. For example “What do you think, did he see them sneaking up behind him? Yes/No.” 

Loris and the Runaway Ball – In “Loris,” the child has three choices for how to get her ball after it rolls into the street (all good ideas like asking her dad, neighbour or brother to help) and the story has a choose-your-own-adventure quality. Ideal for very young kids

Zoobert in Zoobert’s Bigger DayIn Zoobert, the child shakes the device after each page to progress the story, with three possible scenarios for every page turn. For example, how should Zoobert get out of the sock drawer – rope, parachute or sneeze? So the story changes with each reading. 

Choose Your Own Adventure – Return to Atlantis– The classic series for iPhone and iPod Touch. At the end of each page, the reader is presented with a choice to make and there are 18 different endings

A special “thank you” to Carisa Kluver of Digital Storytime ( who provided two examples of apps that use interactive storytelling.

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