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Evan Jones is the founder of Stitch Media, an interactive media production services company focused on telling stories using new technology and timeless techniques. Evan is also the creator of Together Tales, a new platform which brings reading, games and real-life activities together. Here Stephanie Cox interviews him.

1) Tell us a little bit about your background and career

Early in my career I became obsessed with Alternate Reality Games. ARGs are a style of narrative that really couldn’t exist before the internet, because they rely on the audience as investigators who connect different types of media together to make a complete story. They’re also intensely interactive and the best ones consider the audience as collaborators – their theories and solutions inspire the creative team working behind the scenes.

I’ve had the good fortune to collaborate with incredibly talented people on projects across every genre. We’ve worked in comedy, drama, documentary, horror, science fiction, children’s, lifestyle – but always with an interactive point of view. Stitch Media is the company that you call when you want to push the boundaries. I’m always working hard to stay ahead of the curve on new technology but more importantly the media trends that are shifting around us.

2) Together Tales – what’s the premise?

Together Tales are Adventure Kits that combine physical books and artifacts with interactive challenges. Parents bring these stories to life as an insider working with the author to plant clues and create coincidences.

For kids aged 8-10 reading the adventures, it’s like the whole story surrounds you. You are a character in the books and your actions end up saving the day. We’ve had a lot of feedback that this product is perfect for ‘reluctant readers’ because it’s broken into short chapters that connect with activities both offline and online.

For parents, it’s like having a creative sidekick for those moments where you want to want to play along with your kids but don’t always have the time or energy to make it up. Adventure Kits give you all the tools you need and simple instructions via email to prompt you at the perfect moment. You’re playing alongside your kids with a cheat sheet from the author.

together tales

3) What made you, as a media and TV professional, look at the idea of interactive books? How did the idea and the concept of Together Tales come about?

We didn’t set out to make an interactive book. Our company never starts with the technology first. It’s that old adage “When all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.” Instead we started with a question: “How can recreate some of our fondest memories of childhood?”

We loved reading books, of course – books are imagination fireworks where you can do anything at all. We also loved simple games like scavenger hunts and puzzles. But the secret ingredient is the name of our product – it was those moments we spent together.

Together Tales is a platform to combine all of these things. We rely upon an ‘Insider’ who truly knows the reader. We use the shorthand of parents but it could easily be grandparents or that cool uncle or an amazing teacher. The point is that our adventures come to life in through others – they are the ones who personalise a letter online, print it out and tuck it under the child’s pillow because they received an automated email yesterday explaining that the Magician will be answering their dream questions tomorrow. It’s a system to make more of those memorable moments by connecting them together with a story.

4) What kind of success have you enjoyed so far?

Our first success was convincing a jury to give us the CMF Experimental Fund – it allowed us to build the technology and test the concept until we got it right. The one thing we needed after that was the money to pay for our first print run. We created four Adventure Kits in our first year and launched the concept on Kickstarter – that was really when Together Tales took off. We’ve shipped hundreds of kits out to families now and the response has been incredible. The five-star reviews on Amazon have really inspired us – parents talk about how excited their kids get about reading the stories and their adventures.

It’s also been a huge boost for us to be recognised by our industry. We were nominated for the BookTech prize in the UK this year and for the Canadian Screen Award for Best Original Interactive Project. These endorsements help a great deal in promoting sales.

5) Anything that has been particularly challenging?

Our biggest challenge is everyone’s biggest challenge – discoverability. Our target demographic is parents with 8-10 year old kids and I’m one of them. It’s a very busy and distracted group of customers and we don’t have a marketing budget to spend yet. We know that families love the product but we haven’t yet mastered the way we reach that audience.

6) Why do you think there’s a market for this kind of publishing?

Publishing is not going away. Yes it’s changing but all of the media industries shift when a new paradigm appears. We know this is a crowded market but we feel that Together Tales is something truly new and will strike a chord with the right type of customer.

Together Tales is also built to empower authors to write their own Adventure Kits. Our platform expands with every new book as we build a library of games and technology which are reused in subsequent stories. They’re also not tied to a particular platform. We’re not thinking about the issues of paper vs tablets because we use them all in the way they were intended. Media consumption habits for us aren’t an either/or proposition, they’re all potential for us.

7) Have you found that you have been able to reach out easily to children who may not be particularly enthusiastic about reading?

Together Tales is very accessible because the story is portioned out. The child never sees a huge book because the story is divided into chapters and interactive moments. The first chapter looks like a comic book, but once you’ve read it you’re hooked. The characters need your help and a game begins. It’s not hard to convince kids to play games but when the game is over you want to see how it affected the story. That’s when the second chapter magically appears (thanks parents!) and the cycle continues.

To read the full interview, head over to Stephanie’s blog: Words are my Craft.

 

 

Digital formats provide a wealth of opportunity to experiment with, and push the boundaries of, the traditional book. With much focus on what this can do to engage children in reading, here Jana Sukenikova takes a look at the origins of the interactive children’s book and why she used monsters as the topic of her most recent design project.

Monsters became very popular in this century, from Vampires to Werewolves to Dragons, Skeletons and many, many different kinds. When I was conducting research for my recent project, I was disappointed by the selection of books on the topic of monsters in the town library. Badly chosen fonts were fighting with weak and inappropriate illustrations, with everything looking ‘glued’ together rather than being well-designed. I passionately wanted to change this situation – by making a special monster book!

Book of Spooks and Jelly Monster
Book of Spooks and Jelly Monster

How monsters were born

This project was born from a coincidence when I was babysitting my little cousin. While we were draw­ing together I asked her “How do you imagine Monsters?“ I realised that her imagination of monsters is completely different to mine when I was her age. So I decided to put together a book, which will show adults and all children a completely new approach to a world of spooks.

I asked children in the local nursery school for help and the results were awesome! They produced around 100 illustrations to get started with and a third of these were bedsheet ghosts.

Skeleton by Simeon Vartik, and my illustration
Skeleton by Simeon Vartik, and my illustration

Make a toy from your book

Backgrounds, monsters and stories become a living, breathing thing by adding interactive elements. Interactive elements are the inspiration be­hind many of the books I found while researching. My Book is filled with pop-up monsters, stickers, monsters based on dress-up dolls, foils, mechanical parts, embossed illustrations, monsters base on coloring books etc.

POP-UP elements

Two dimensional objects are changed to 3D objects by folding paper mechanisms. These plastic models were used for the first time in the mid-19th century, when London publishing companies Dean & Son and Darton & Co added 3D parts into well known 2D scenes. Success came almost immediately. Pioneer of the best Pop Up books was the German illustrator and writer Lothar Meggendörfer (1847–1925) Some of his most famous books include Dolls House and Grand Cirque International.

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Lothar Meggendörfer: Doll ?s House
Pop-Up HydraDragon from Books of Spooks
Pop-Up HydraDragon from Books of Spooks

Pieces of cardboard with interchangeable fashion costumes were popular in the rich classes for both men and women in Europe and America in the late 18th century.

The first manufactured paper doll was Little Fanny, produced by S & J Fuller in London 1810. Before Barbie doll was introduced to the world, paper dolls had a significant role in the lives of children.

Tom Tierney’s Paper Dolls
Depressive Monster from Book of Spooks

Moving Parts

In mid-1700 in France “Pantins” dolls were developed to rise against french upper class and royal courts. „Jumping Jacks“ figures were something between a marionette and Paper Doll and they were made to taunt society. Jack developed into a paper element in the books for children, where the base is an illustration and the body parts and head are movable with the help of rivets.

Vintage Jumping Jack
Vintage Jumping Jack
Hugging Monster from Book of Spooks
Hugging Monster from Book of Spooks

There are many ways to make a book more attractive and engaging for children or adults (both in print and digital). Just go to the library and have a look, you will find plenty of inspiration for your next print or digital project.

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fanah shapeless janaJana Sukenikova aka Fanah Shapeless is a multi-disciplined graphic designer specialising in Book Design, Layout, Brand identity, Print and Digital Design, Boardgames, Illustrations. Check out more of her work here.

Welcome to the world of Inanimate Alice, a truly digital novel that has taken the educational world by storm. The idea for Alice first came about in 2003 and the team (Ian Harper, Chris Joseph and award winning author Kate Pullinger) published the first episode in 2005. The story is told by Alice through 10 episodes. Each adventure looks back through her childhood & into her early twenties, a bildungsroman.

The plot for the series uses Alice’s increasing interest and competency in game development to exemplify her transition from childhood to early womanhood. The first four episodes have been completed, the fifth is being released this year and the final five are still in development. With a team of creators fostering its relationship with its readers across the world, this is a novel on an epic scale.

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