Wish list: That more children’s book authors and illustrators would make apps.

Recently, on Facebook, I did a “small rant on a snowy day,” and thought I’d post it on this blog…

“I wish more of my children’s book illustrator friends would do apps. You are needed! The ‘art’ in most kids’ apps these days (particularly the ones purporting to be educational) looks so much alike – computer-generated, bright primary colors, cartoon-y… Children recognize good art, and deserve it. Children’s book artists have so much more style and variety.”

To expand a bit: Art makes content. Kids love and appreciate beauty. Why shouldn’t they have well-crafted and elegantly-made visuals, seamlessly integrated?

An anecdote: On a school visit once, after the program, we had a Q&A. Later, as I was packing up my materials (which included big spreads of the original art – this was before Powerpoint), a teacher came up with a 3rd grade girl, and said, “Ellen had a question – you didn’t call on her.”

“Oh,” I said, “What is your question?”

Ellen asked, “How do you make them so pretty?”

I almost teared up, and kept her question on a post-it in my studio for years. I have never forgotten that girl.

Do not underestimate the power of beauty.

Here is a quote from a great recent post by the app developer and author, Sarah Towle:

“…However, lacking in the above equation, I felt, was the time-honored lesson to be drawn from the world of children’s publishing: that the visual element serves a valuable role too, and one often neglected in today’s interactive media for kids.

As a children’s author and a connoisseur of picture book art, I was shocked by the low visual quality of some of the media products we studied at Dust or Magic. Many of them, I’m sorry to say, were just plain ugly, with illustrations that looked little better than clip art.

Anyone working on behalf of children must appreciate the role that great illustration plays in communicating with and teaching children. In illustrated books, the story and images weave seamlessly together to create something better than the sum of their parts. Indeed, great illustrations tell at least 50% of the story and can make an already great text shine even brighter.

Yet, this is not often the case in today’s digital products.

Not all children’s digital media will contain story. They don’t all have too. But digital media are nothing if not visual. It is imperative, therefore, that we developers make our products visually appealing. To make them works of art.”

You can read the rest of her post here:


The 13th Annual Dust or Magic Institute: Magic-Making Factor #4

So lots of illustrators and authors responded to my FB mini-rant (we also need better and well-edited writing in apps! I’ve seen purported “educational” apps with spelling and grammatical mistakes.). They are very interested in doing apps but many don’t know where to start. Here’s a kind of “basics” post I did about a year ago for Digital Storytime…of course, things have changed in the last year, including the fact that you now get 100 free promo codes with each app publication and update, and I now have a new app out based upon the maze app, called “Roxie’s Puzzle Adventure.”

An a-MAZE-ing Transition: Roxie Munro Talks about Print, Digital & Lessons Learned


But the main problem, of course and sadly, is money. There are various issues re ROI (return on investment) – a few, of many (also discussed in the Digital Storytime blog, above):  development costs are high/price point for apps is low; marketing is very difficult; discovery is an issue; there are too many kinds of devices out there which require different platforms, and so on …

And children’s book authors and illustrators, who have so much to offer the app world in creativity and originality, have to eat and support themselves, their families, and their art too.

But, I just wish more of these talented folks could make apps! The industry needs them.

  1. Have a look at alicewinks 12 early 20th century illustrators, full length animation, rich narration.

  2. Hi, Roxie …

    I read your article with interest, because as a writer and incessant story-teller, I’ve often thought of creating some children’s books, but it was always the illustrations that hung me up. I have many years of graphic design experience, but that certainly does not make me an illustrator by any means … but if there were apps that could up my game a bit, that might change things significantly.

    Anyway … i enjoyed your article and I agree that many children’s books do not exhibit particularly elegant illustrations, and like you, I think our children deserve better. This is especially important if they are being read to, even more so than reading on their own … because while they’re hearing the story, the illustrations become their ‘movie’, page by page. The more dimension and detail there is, the deeper their imaginations will stir – and isn’t that the whole purpose of a children’s book?

    Thanks for re-posting your FB rant and sharing your thoughts with the rest of us …


  3. Hey there, Roxie! You make some good points, especially the unfortunate one about money. I offer myself as a case in point. As you know, I worked with PicPocket Books 2.5 years ago to publish my first children’s book app (and first published story). My experience working with PicPocket has been very positive but sales have been negligible. I have written three more children’s picture books, at least one of which I think is probably good enough to start working on the illustrations. However, what exactly should I do with it once I finish? I know it would work great as a printed picture book and/or a straight ebook (that is, little to no interactivity beyond a voiceover narration). I’m not sure it makes sense to throw in some animation and other interactive features in order to make it into an app (which is what Apple wants), especially considering the long years I would probably have to wait before sales take off, if ever. Sales of all my digital offerings aren’t nearly enough to support myself from, so it’s a tough question. Any advice you might have would be greatly appreciated, and as always, I LOVE the work you do.

    • Ah, Brooks, re: your fun app, “I Don’t Like Pink,” yes, as we discuss on #StoryAppChat, marketing is a nightmare and most apps do not ever get a decent ROI. So I can see why you are wondering which way to go. Doing an ebook (or even an enhanced ebook), though easier and faster and cheaper, still has the marketing issue. So, for income, that leaves selling a print book to a traditional publisher. First, are you a member of SCBWI Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (you do not have to be published to join)? If not, join! If yes, then you know how helpful that organization can be. There, you can join a critique group, which at least won’t cost the money that an editor might. Which is my second suggestion. To get your manuscript (and storyboard/dummy) in as good a shape as you can, and then pay (if necessary just a one-time consultant fee) a decent editor (I have some names) to look it over and give suggestions/advice. Or, if you get it in good shape, send directly (may have to do a query first) w/a good short cover letter to a batch of publishers who put out a similar genre (letting them know it is a simultaneous submission). There are submission standards, which you can find at Harold Underdown’s Purple Crayon website (http://www.underdown.org/) – he has all the info in the world re: cover letters, submissions etc. He is also a freelance editor…You can also attend conferences, which cost $ of course, but there you network with editors and agents and authors and learn a LOT!!! There are all sorts of conferences, all over the USA, of varying costs/professional levels/times etc. SCBWI lists a lot of them. So certainly you can start … And also, what do you have to lose, except time, to start this process? (BTW, I do not have an agent, so not versed in that part, although getting an agent is as hard as getting a publisher. But most publishers DO accept some work that is not from agents.)

  4. Roxie, I used to be a member of SCBWI–perhaps it’s time I re-joined…something to think about!

    • I love SCBWI – they are so helpful regarding the children’s book industry.

  5. giazzpet said:

    I am really new to this business but am hoping to do an app soon. I think your local musicians would also be interested if music is part of the book.

    • Yes, music is often an important part of apps!

      • Musicians are a pain. They are either on the road, at their day job, or too tired to play.

  6. Actually, my take is that there are way too many (poor) book apps and quick and dirty ebooks out there. If I may take “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” as a case study, there are literally dozens of “make any ebook” available for free to several dollars. Many look like they just copied and pasted the Project Gutenberg ascii text file. Then there are versions where the text is dumbed down to where it completely misses the point(s) of the story. And the poorly executed cartoon illustrations. Then we get to something like “Alice for iPad” that made a huge splash in 2010. But what is it? It shows that you can tilt the iPad and make things move on the screen! And this helps the story somehow? (My guess is that most kids skip the story and go to the illustrations and shake the iPad until they tire of it, never reading the story at all.) Our experience with showing and talking about Alicewinks, our multimedia Alice, is that most people don’t know the real story and many know it only as the Disney mashup. And with the current discovery mechanisms, that’s about all they will ever know of this wonderful, culturally significant book. We will be continuing to change that as time goes by, up to and including 2015 which is the 150th anniversary of publication.

    • I totally agree, David. That’s my point – a lot of bad work out there, most of which was done by developers who did not use professional, experienced, and talented children’s book illustrators and writers.

      • So how do we put together folks like me who can produce multimedia with the right authors and illustrators?

  7. Well, like everything else, I guess it comes down to marketing yourself, and letting folks know what you do and that you are available and interested. There are all the social media sites and groups, many geared to kidlit. And there are organizations, like SCBWI (children’s book writers and illustrators). Or, you could approach writers/illustrators whose work you like, and offer to work or partner with them. That is how I began working with my wonderful developer, OCG Studios (http://www.ocgstudios.com/)… they approached me, and we started working together.

    • If I spend any more time and money marketing myself, I’ll end up broke and unable to do any real work. I’m already close. There must be a better way!

  8. Hi Roxie, LOVE this post. I couldn’t agree with you more. Interactive digital meeting for kids needs to pay better attention to the visuals. Now. The kids notice. And they deserve better. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Sarah

    • Yes, most of the apps and ebooks are thrown together quickly in hope to get some $ Luckily, if history is any guide they will disappear just as quickly. Can you say floppy disk or cd-rom? When Apple turns off the App Store, bye bye apps! Precedent? Power PC emulater md’d with osx lion I believe. Any old Mac apps from that era are history.

  9. Thanks, Sarah. Kids are very sensitive to art, and visuals. And YOU know what you’re talking about, with your Time Traveler Tours series.

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