“Children love to relate to the characters within narratives in books; that is what captivates them,” said Shilo Shiv Suleman, an illustrator who is attempting to turn that fascination into an actual immersive experience by creating books that kids can “interact” with. A final-year student of animation from the Srishti School of Art, Design and Technology, the 21-year-old, who has also worked extensively as a freelance artist, will soon publish Khoya, a book which she wrote and designed. Khoya is a traditional fantasy story about a boy and a girl in a dystopian setting in which all the spirits of the natural world have been banished. Where it differs from other children’s books is that Khoya is an experiment in interactive storytelling incorporating a technology called Augmented Reality. “Khoya came about as an attempt to bring together two very distinct, yet similar, narrative experiences – that of animation and that of books,” said Suleman.
Describing how AR works, Suleman said that each page of her book has a card with a symbol on it. The child has to hold the card up to bring this symbol in front of a webcam, which reads the image. On the screen the symbol transforms into an animated story element which takes the story forward, or provides answers to riddles on the page. “By adding an interactive element, one feels not just like an observer but a participant in the magic of the story,” said Suleman, who was helped in the software and tech aspects of the work by Dhruv Nawani, also from Srishti.
Childrens’ books publishers Tulika recently introduced two of their popular titles as downloadable books that can be read on the iPhone and iPad. One of the titles they chose were Who Will Rule? ,by Meena Raghunathan, illustrated by Harsha Nagaraju, which is based loosely on an Australian aboriginal tale about what happens when a group of creatures decides that the largest sect amongst them should rule the world. The second title, Ekki Dokki, is a bilingual tale in Hindi and English written by Sandhya Rao, accompanied by Ranjan De’s illustrations, adapted from a Marathi folktale about two sisters named Ekkesvali and Dhonkesvali who meet an old woman living alone in a clearing in the middle of a forest. With the help of Fliplog, an e-book publishing framework designed and developed by Apptility Software, Tulika developed e-versions of the books with page-by-page audio (the text can be accompanied by audio, with multiple language options) and a feature where readers can record their own voices for dialogues and narration to accompany the story.
When asked if children are moving away from reading traditional books, Suleman said that she does notice that children prefer to google information rather than sift through books in libraries, and that movie versions of tales catch on much faster than their book counterparts. However, she remains convinced of the encompassing power of stories, regardless of their format. She recounted the origins of Khoya in a childhood fantasy she had that if she ate a seed, a tree would sprout from her stomach or her head. “This seems to be a very common childhood fantasy,” she said. “It’s this collective consciousness which makes Khoya an engaging read. So nothing much has changed.”
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