Ordinary children's books, watch out. "The Tree I See" is an interactive storybook that shows how much further the learning and engagement aspects of children's literature can go in tablet format. The app for iPad has a target age range of two to eight, and mixes classic narrative with moving scenes and interactive elements to truly bring the story to life. 100 percent of net proceeds right now are going to Autism Speaks.
After downloading the app, you're taken to the Start screen, which has the title, author, illustration and a Start button. An acorn button in the top right of the screen opens a top navigation bar, where you can skip pages throughout the book. Leaf arrows let you go to the next page or return to the previous. Page-turn times average about two seconds.
Although the storybook is available only in landscape mode, that is the way the narrative was meant to come alive.
The rhyming text of the book is outlined bit by bit in white, and after it's done with that effect, it recedes into a menu in the upper left corner of the screen. By tapping on the diagonal arrow, the text comes back in a larger format that takes up the screen, and clicking the play button "plays" the text again.
You're taken to an interactive image with constantly moving images such as leaves, tree branches and the blinking eyes of a tree. Upon tapping on different elements, the illustration comes even more alive. For example, touching the smiling cloud makes it rain and swiping him left and right moves him across the scene, and tapping on a log reveals a skunk hiding inside.
The illustrations act out what is happening in the text as the story progresses. For example, a skunk happily bounds up a tree after the tree invites him to climb his branches in the narrative.
Different characters and events enter the story as it progresses, but the tree is in every interactive illustration. This was done deliberately, to help with the development on a working memory as a child reads.
By double tapping on certain elements, the illustration focuses on on one aspect where readers must concentrate to complete a task. For example, upon clicking on a bluebird in his nest in a tree, the image zooms in on the bird and you must drag the floating twigs to help the bird finish building his nest.
Although these aspects of the storybook may seem difficult for a two-year-old to understand and interact with, there is an autoplay feature for children to watch as the story automatically reads.
Author Robert Mascarelli hopes to raise $15,000 to $25,000 in net proceeds from app sales, and is offering 100 percent of that to Autism Speaks until that goal is reached.
The interactive storybook wasn't designed for children with Autism, but it does help with problems common to Autism, such as trouble with focusing, recall and cognitive development.
The overall message, that generosity and loyalty are two strong traits in friendships, is a good one. And its strong delivery through a charming blend of narrative, interactive elements and activities makes this interactive storybook a good read for young readers everywhere.