The initial drafts and illustrations of Shilo Shiv Suleman’s soon-to-be-released children’s book, Khoya, look promising. It narrates a tale of two children trying to change their dystopian world. But Khoya is not just a book. It holds its own secrets between the pages.If the child has access to a computer, the internet and a webcam, Khoya lets her explore a technology called Augmented Reality. Each page comes with a card that has a riddle and symbol on it.The child can visit the website listed in the book, switch the webcam on, and put the card in front of it. If she takes out a card shaped like an eye patch, slips it over her eye, and stands in front of the webcam with another card held close to her heart, the screen will identify the cards, while the child sees herself transform into one of the characters on screen. In some cases, the image serves as a clue to where the narrative is headed; in others, the child will suddenly find herself with one of the story’s characters sitting on her shoulder and cawing into the ear.Till recently, interactivity in children’s books meant encouraging participation by introducing textures, volvelles (paper discs that can be rotated and used for calculations or to solve word games), flaps and pop-outs. But the latest innovations in IT may just change children’s storytelling forever.Purvi Shah, mother of three-year-old Krutarth, is witness to this change. Till a week ago, Krutarth would jump into bed at night and ask Purvi to read out his favourite book, Annual Haircut Day, at least thrice. One night, Purvi downloaded the book onto her iPad with the help of the e-reader application, Fliplog. When she showed it to Krutarth, he was fascinated by how you could switch from English to Hindi on any page.“He loved turning the ‘page’ on the screen, the action accompanied by a swishing sound heard when you turn the page of a book,” recalls Purvi. “But he is yet to learn how to take your favourite character to a blank page and doodle all around it, or even write your own story.”Two books each, from Pratham Books and Tulika, are up for download in English, Hindi and Tamil on the iPad. Brij Singh, founder and CEO of Apptility, the Bangalore-based software start-up that introduced Fliplog, says it was high time the book did more.Gautam John, director, new projects at Pratham Books says publishers have always struggled to reach out to certain segments of children — the hearing and visually impaired, for instance. “Licensing models that allow publishers to reach out on a larger scale are a challenge. Amongst so many limitations, here’s something that enables more children to read good literature. Yes, the touch and the feel of the book cannot, and should not, be replaced, but I feel there’s no danger of that happening. A book isn’t something that will disappear — I cannot imagine a book-or-iPad situation in India for a very long time.”Purvi, meanwhile, has other things on her mind. She was amused when, the day after Krutarth read Annual Haircut Day on the iPad, she saw him standing clueless in front of the TV. He was watching Shrek 2 which starts off like a fairy tale, with pages turning on the screen accompanied by a voice over. Purvi saw Krutarth searching for a button on the right. “”Why can’t I turn the page for this story like I did with the storybook on the iPad last night?” he frowned.
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