Friday, February 1, 2013

Valentine Mystery Critters: a digital picture book

As a picture book author-illustrator, I've been intrigued by the advancements in digital books, especially features that aren't possible in printed books. After looking into book apps and other technically arduous and expensive ways to add motion, effects such as appear/disappear, and other fun elements to my picture book making toolbox, I recently found a much simpler way. The video shows how adding simple animations can allow a book to exist that would be impossible otherwise. And I made it myself without a lot of unnecessary fuss.

As the video mentions, Valentine Mystery Critters was made in PowerPoint, of all things. I used the built-in vector shapes to keep the file size small and also just to see what could be done with simple circles, triangles, rectangles, and of course, hearts. Optional speaker notes are included in case a teacher or parent wants to extend the book beyond reading and watching it. For example, you can discuss the different kinds of shapes, their colors, their orientation, and so on before proceeding to watch the shapes assemble themselves into a critter.

Naturally this format has advantages and disadvantages, so here goes:

Pros
  • PowerPoint is installed on zillions of computers.
  • The book can be read on Mac or Windows computers with or without a projection system.
  • It can be viewed on iPad with the free app SlideShark...it's easy to use and even has a built in laser pointer, which is always fun.
  • While it was tedious work to get the animations working right, it was relatively easy and straightforward to make the book in PowerPoint compared to hiring a developer and trying to enter the labyrinth that is the Apple iTunes/App story, for example.
  • You can include printable activity pages.

Cons
  • PowerPoints have limited interactivity compared to book apps and the various formats for interactive whiteboards.
  • PowerPoints don't have digital rights management like iPad apps do, so somebody could steal my work and post it online. What can I say except let's hope the pirates have bigger fish to fry than to steal my digital children's books...! Also, people who use pirated versions don't have access to updates.
  • The book won't function properly on old versions of PPT. Someone has tested it for me and it works fine on the Windows 2007 version. Of course, most digital products run into this issue.

There probably are other "cons" but I can't think of more at the moment.

Here's the cover and the link to the book on my TeachersPayTeachers store.

No doubt I've only scratched the surface of what can be done in PowerPoint...the program has been around for a long time, but it's new to me. One thing that is on my list is to make a non-linear something or other, because you can have multiple links on a slide that take you to different slides.

Update: I've also made a version for Mac Keynote. (It won't work on the iPad, but the PowerPoint book will with the SlideShark app. Ironic, I know!)

Have a great Valentine's Day!
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