Travel Guides, Revolutionized

Our feature this week is written by Sarah Towle of Time Traveler Tours, who recently launched Beware Mme la Guillotine: A Revolutionary Tour of Paris (produced in collaboration with SmartyShortz LLC and Beth Lower Design). Sarah unveils a new genre of app: the “StoryApp Tour”. Her travel guide + history lesson + unforgettable protagonist + mobile platform = a whole new way to access travel information. Thinking about Paris? Got teens, or just curious yourself? Maybe this one is for you. 

What do you get when you cross The Magic Tree House series with the Lonely Planet tour guide? You get Time Traveler Tours interactive StoryApp itineraries, an idea whose time has come thanks to the digital revolution.

Our interactive StoryApp Tours marry the oldest human art form – storytelling – with the latest in human ingenuity – mobile technology – to bring history to life for teens, ‘tweens and the young at heart. Time Traveler Tours StoryApps take you on a journey back in time and enable you to discover history in the company of those who made it.

Central to our tours is the story. And who doesn’t like a good yarn? Once upon a time we received our stories from the oral storyteller who moved from community to community reciting the tales that were passed down from generation to generation – stories that revealed our shared past or taught a moral or set in motion new traditions. When the printing press was invented, the way we consumed story shifted from our ears to our eyes but the story continued to thrive and we could access more of them. TV gave us another way to experience story; then came the Internet and digital media. And now we have eBooks and enhanced books and interactive apps.

Time Traveler Tours’ debut StoryApp Tour, Beware Mme la Guillotine: A Revolutionary Tour of Paris, tells the story of the French Revolution through the eyes of a well-educated 18th century girl of noble birth, Charlotte Corday. Charlotte died by guillotine at the age of 24 for the crime of murder. She assassinated the revolutionary pamphleteer, Jean-Paul Marat, as he soaked in the bath, blaming him for the Reign of Terror and its bloody excesses. In so doing, she martyred her victim and perished in ignominy, failing to reverse what she believed had been an honorable cause gone wrong. What about that story isn’t compelling?

Even in our advanced digital environment, with all the visual bangs and whizzes and interactive gadgets and activities that vie for our attention, the story remains supreme. A dramatic tale told by a flawed but sympathetic protagonist, recounting a personal journey with extraordinary stakes cannot help but engage anyone of any age born in any era. The elements of good story are immutable, no matter the format in which they are delivered.

Thanks to digital mobile technology, the story can be dropped into your bag or slipped into your pocket and taken with you. We can heighten the reader/users’ involvement in the story, bringing them beyond the virtual and into the real, to the actual scene of the crime. With Charlotte’s story in the palm of your hand, you time travel to her era and follow in her footsteps from the Palais Royal, a focal point of 18th century Parisian life and where Charlotte bought the knife she used to kill Marat, to the Conciergerie, the prison in which she prepared for certain death.

Another advantage of the mobile StoryApp Tour is that it can reach various types of minds at the same time. You have several interaction options: listening to the audio narration, turning the text on and reading along as you listen, turning the audio off and narrating the story yourself, or reading silently on your own. Wedding the oral and literary storytelling traditions in this way, we meet the visual and aural learner on their own terms. But the kinesthetic learner is not forgotten, for peppered throughout the StoryApp Tour are interactive activities – hunts for historical treasure, map challenges and trivia teasers – that both engage and entertain the reader/user while further enlightening the history revealed by the story. Though the story remains linear, with an obvious beginning, middle and end, you have the opportunity with our apps to consume the history that supports it in myriad ways, depending on your age, stage, mood, available time or developmental level.

Highly contextualized and educational, yet attractive and fun, our StoryApps not only enrich the young traveler’s experience but also complement the curricula of homeschoolers and high school teachers nowhere near the City of Light. There are wonderful connections to be made to the American Revolution, to Benjamin Franklin and Lafayette, to the Bill of Rights and Declaration of Independence, for example. And Charlotte’s story supports any survey of the history of ideas that includes the Enlightenment.

In addition to the central narrative and story-enhancing treasure hunts, quizzes, map searches, and historical sidebars, the mobile format also allow us to introduce reader/users to the original art dating to the period, bathed in context. A French-English bilingual version of Charlotte’s StoryApp Tour, due for release in October 2011, will hold great potential for use by the language teacher and learner. And I hope to soon re-package the app as a ‘virtual tour’ for use on the home computer or school smart board by those unable to travel to Paris due to personal finances and/or physical disability.

As a writer, educator and parent, my principal objective with this project was to create the greatest content possible for mobile format. Memorable stories are those that show you new worlds and places, that transport you through the details and by virtue of your senses so that you might stand in the shoes of the narrator and see the world through her eyes. I hope I have achieved that with Beware Madame la Guillotine, not only so that you will find your journey to the French Revolution vivid and exciting, but also so that you might wish to return to the story again, on the ride home from Paris, in the classroom, or from the comfort of your own living room sofa.

Interested in learning more? The School Library Journal posted an interview with Sarah on August 15th – great read! We’ll also be featuring her app this Friday, so stay-tuned!

1 thought on “Travel Guides, Revolutionized”

  1. I feel so in-synch with everything Sarah states in this post. (And I was precisely in Paris when she wrote it, pity I didn’t see this earlier, to download it for my own kid to use during airport and restaurant time! ) I’ve read on this web page about several independent developers who have great ideas, an ideal background, or an admirable philosophy that I totally empathize with….but I think the lack financial resources is what’s keeping some of these products from having a “final finish” that can compare large companies with big budgets (but who are not so creative or willing to push the bar). By this I mean top-notch illustrations, Voices or musical background, or games programming that is sophisticated enough to engage children more than mindless commercial stuff does. (I don’t mean to say this is the case with this app, by the way). An idea might be great, but if I’m discouraged by the illustrations in the App icon or the screen shots, I probably won’t buy the appp for my kid, despite good reviews.

    I wish we had more “virtual” meeting places, where we could find and partner (i.e. not for-hire work) with professional illustrators, animators, editors, programmers, marketers, business gurus, that were interested in app-making, to form teams that could produce top quality apps independently. I’m a being unrealistic? Is it absolutely necessary to obtain external funding? (I’m a bit amazed at the money a couple of companies have attracted in terms of venture capital, and the fact that their children’s products are not so cutting-edge as some of the ideas from independent developers).

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