Archive | August, 2013

Adventure Time: Classic Books Kick into High Tech

23 Aug

Robot with characterOften trolling the Internet leads to great discoveries.

The other day I got wind that of one of my favorite children’s books series had launched a Kickstarter campaign to bring a fresh look and feel to an old classic. Choose Your Own Adventure books have been a staple in my life and recently I introduced my daughter to them after discovering a whole shelf of them at the library. When learned that Chooseco founder R.A. Montgomery and publisher Shannon Gillian were aiming to raise money to create an iPad and Andriod app for young children that will transform a 32-minute cartoon into a Chooseco classic, I had to find out more. Normally I have mixed feelings about the conversion from print books to digital concepts, but in this case the vision is clear. This is not just moving the print books to a digital format, but this transition into tech feels right.

Choose ‘Toons app is based on the Your Very Own Robot book. Aimed at early readers, the app will let children enter in the story with 20 branches and 11 possible endings. Children will once again be put in control of the story outcome, incorporating role playing with new technology that kids are familiar with. There are no dramatic deaths like in some of the books toward older children, but the company is hoping that the $130,000 they raise will help them maintain the time-honored tradition of putting the reader or in this case the “user” in charge of the narrative. Currently they have raised more than $33K with a deadline of Sept. 12 to raise the rest. Click here to check it out. 

Publisher Shannon Gillian took time out of her schedule to answer some questions about the Kickstarter campaign.

When did you make the decision it was time to move from print into digital format? What sparked the move?

We have always been interested in translating the Choose Your Own Adventure series into a medium other than paper.  It wasn’t until the popularization of the tablet that we felt a device existed with the potential to provide the same immersive experience that reading a Choose Your Own Adventure does.  Amazon actually ported a number of CYOA classics to the original Kindle and frankly the experience was astonishingly dull and lifeless.  It wasn’t until Ray Montgomery, series founder, used an iPad extensively during a vacation, that we realized it provided the intimacy and immediacy that best replicates reading an interactive book.  Physical touch and movement (turning a page or swiping a screen) was actually important to emphasizing the “reality” of your decision.  Just cursoring over to a link did not do that.  Touch mattered.

Early attempts we made to digitize the books included a game on the first Atari system, an after school television special on ABC (the two characters on the show, played by Soleil Moon Frye and Chad Allen as young teenagers, to give you an idea of time period, used magical sticks at convenient plot points to “decide” what to do next), and interactive text-based stories in everything from raw HTML to the Notes feature of the first iPad.  But we always felt a compelling and individual experience for Choose could still exist in a format beyond books. 

What made you choose Kickstarter to help raise the money to launch the app? How has the Kickstarter campaign been for you?

We are a small, independent publishing company led by the series founder and author R. A. Montgomery.  Our decision to remain independent with the series has been challenging and rewarding: publishing is definitely in a period of a lot of flux.  As an independent company, we are granted a lot of flexibility to pursue opportunities and new projects.  We really felt the timing was absolutely right to launch cartoon versions of some of our best-selling younger children’s titles: our original fans are grown now, and many would like to pass Choose on to their children.

Kickstarter has allowed us to crowd-fund and for the money to do this quickly and on our own terms.  We have the support of a really interesting, varied, and informed community.  Many of our backers are original fans, some of whom work in development spaces or do other work that was inspired in part by their love of the Choose Your Own Adventure series as children.   We are trying to expand our message to parents who are new to Kickstarter.

With so many apps out there for children, how do you plan to grab the attention of young tablet users? Are you working with a specific company to develop the app?

The brand will obviously have notoriety for parents.  We have been back in print for 8 years, so it does have an association for children also.  We also really believe we’re presenting something quite unique.  When we say we want to disrupt the world of cartoons, we mean it.  In early testing with the demo, children loved being able to make choices that affected the outcome of the story and netted wacky, silly, cheerful, or disastrous endings for “you” and your robot, Gus.  We know that the format will appeal to kids and are striving to develop a whole series of interactive Choose ‘Toons featuring storylines and characters that are popular in the Choose Your Own Adventure books series.

Many of your first readers of the series are now parents, how will Choose ‘Toons live up to the fond memories that the parents have of such and iconic brand of books?

We’ve maintained the “you” as the hero of the cartoon, from the books.  In the YOUR VERY OWN ROBOT Choose ‘Toon, much of the actual decision points and plot of the story comes from our bestselling book of the same name. Shannon Gilligan, Publisher of Choose Your Own Adventure, has experience both in scriptwriting and software development from work she did in the 1990s developing some very popular CD-Rom murder mysteries that included filmed segments.  She created the interactive script for YOUR VERY OWN ROBOT Choose ‘Toon.  There was some compression of text to cartoon, obviously, so we brought in some characters from other titles and have expanded the original storyline a bit.

Because the Choose ‘Toons are aimed at younger children, the gory death endings that some older kids (and their parents) once reveled in are toned down a little bit.  These aren’t cartoons intended to give nightmares.

Right now the app is geared toward early readers, are there any plans launch an app for more experienced readers?

We do currently offer traditional eBooks in both the iBookstore and for Amazon Kindle, and these are aimed for readers 7-14 and are based on our classic titles.  We are always working on new projects and we will have more announcements in the near future!

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Tales of an Awkward Mom: First Day of School

21 Aug

The first day of school is always tough for any parent, but for folks like me it can be downright brutal.

I am not the most graceful person when it comes to social interactions and being surrounded by a bunch of parents who you are secretly judging doesn’t make me into a functioning member of society by default. I have no filter on what is appropriate conversation – do you talk about the amazing photos your friend took of a riot or that you are really close to paying off your student loans? I am 10 to 15 younger than most parents at my kids’ school – not to mention a whole lot poorer. It makes for a bad combo when I have only had one cup of coffee and I have some super mom breathing down my neck to join the PTA or volunteer 1-2 hours a week doing database entry on the school’s massive phone list. Responding “Does it pay?” is frowned upon – learned that the first year.

I have gone through the first day ring-around before, but this year I felt like I was starting from scratch. My daughter is entering 3rd grade while my son is going into Kindergarten, so it was double the awkward social interactions. The parents and kids in 3rd grade I feel like I have gotten to know. I have settled into truth that some kids have parents who I don’t like and some parents have kids that I don’t like; its just that simple. And if your mom or dad still don’t know who I am (and no I am not the nanny) then more than likely they never will – sorry buddy. 

But the pressure of having to do this all over again for another set of parents is too much for me. I don’t like making new parent friends, I am not good at it. Somehow I always end up sticking my foot in my mouth or leave feeling that I am never going to be good enough to hang out with a certain crowd. It’s like high school all over again, but this time I can’t just cut class and hang out with the stoners (I draw the line there, got to set a good example). 

Dropping my son off at his class, I found myself avoiding eye contact with the other parents. For crying out loud, I will talk to the little children before their parents. I rushed off once the drop-off was done, not sticking around for the chit-chat. You will not find my name on the volunteer lists in the cafeteria either, not because I don’t want to help out – I just don’t want to talk to people. I feared being cornered by some parent who is a Realtor and spends the next hour telling me how it is a great time to buy a house, ignoring that I have said multiple times I can’t afford a $800,000 home right now (yes that is the average price around here). My fear of Realtors and interior designers is holding me back from contributing to my children’s education – help me Oprah!

There is no Glamour quiz to take that will help the situation either. So what is a socially inept mom to do? 

Well, I can apply what I have learned from my daughter’s years in school. Save everything till the last minute or as a wise mom told me once embrace becoming that fruit tray mom. There is nothing like showing up to help out on the last school party or field trip with a fruit tray to have the other parents ask you who’s mom you are. This is always followed by some wonderfully pleasant story about my kid. By then they have gotten to know my child, I have gotten out of some dangerous situations. I always follow up with “Let’s get the kids together over the summer?” We look at our calendars and it never works out since our schedules are already full. Easy peasy as the kids would say. 

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Empty House: The Twilight Zone

14 Aug

For the past week I was given a taste of what it is to be an “Empty Nester”. My husband took the kids to go see his father on the East Coast. Bound to my work, I stayed home.

The build up to my family-free week was amazing. I had dreams of lounging in my pjs every night, eating in front of the tv watching highly inappropriate shows that are not suitable for young audiences or even ears for that matter. Boy did my bubble burst.

On the first night home, I settled in from work – turning on music, starting up dinner and all around enjoying an evening free of sibling fighting and picking up after everyone. After dinner was finished, dishes washed and episodes of Mad Men consumed I headed to bed. That’s when it hit me, cue music, it was just too quiet. I felt like I was on an episode of The Twilight Zone or the movie 28 Days Later. Was I going to reach for the bathroom light and be assaulted by a flesh eating zombie or would I wake up the next morning to an eerie silence since everyone in the world vanished?

I cannot count the times that I or one of my parent friends has wondered out loud what it would be like to not have a family. After this experience I can tell you that its too creepy. I love the noise, the bickering, the physical bodies that take up space. Each night they were gone my fear of being eaten alive diminished, and my longing to hear my kids voices (even if they were fighting). It took a few days to get used to them being gone, and I never got around to doing everything on my kid-free list, but for all its worth I am happy to welcome them back into the house.

Now ask me in a month and I might have changed my tune and will be begging for a day off from being a parent.