Last year I wrote about the future of book apps, and it seemed pretty hopeful. As well as these Christmas ones, there were excellent game books and experimental adaptations. Since then e-book sales for kids have also risen. So why does it feel as though innovation in the next generation of children’s books has gone into hibernation?
Certainly publishers like Nosy Crow are putting much effort into their app development, but so far it’s been aimed at the pre-school market. There’s no shortage of things to pull, shake and poke out there. But where are the apps that make full use of this new medium, that effortlessly blend text and image into something new and startling?
As I began to scratch around for some good Christmas story apps things didn't look good. First up the Bear and the Hare, another branch of John Lewis's latest assault on Christmas.
There's nothing wrong with the story – though it's a little Guess How Much I Love You? for my tastes. The artwork is done in a classy style, though maybe a little glassy eyed. Even the little games at the end are fun – catching snowflakes, putting the right shaped gifts on the tree and finding hidden objects.
But it feels like we're going through the motions a bit here. Everything's in the right place, but there's no connection with the story. The interactivity tacked on. Plus there's not even any Lily Allen on the soundtrack. Humbug.
If you want something less corporate, with real artistry and genuine charm then check out Angel's Great Escape by And So We Begin. Although it's no more technologically sophisticated than The Bear and the Hare (you are mainly prodding things for a response), it feels like a much better thought out product.
There's a fun snowball fight, you can also turn the snow on and off and feed Santa his milk and mince pies. Simple stuff, but it does feel like you are actually interacting with the story.
It helps too that the artist is Kristyna Lytten, who I spoke to about her work on Fattypuffs and Thinfers in October. She's fantastic at character, bringing the cast-off tree decorations jolting to life. I especially like her generously proportioned Father Christmas with his upside down face.
There's another, rather different Saint Nick on show in The Night Before Christmas; one dressed in blue furs, a Rip Van Winkle hat and pipe gripped permanently between his teeth. 'He looked just like a pedller opening his pack.' I'd forgotten just how much of the book was given over to describing the slightly alarming appearance of its protagonist, before reassuring readers that he isn't here to rob and murder us.
Loud Crow, who also adapted A Charlie Brown Christmas so sublimely last year have produced a retelling of The Night Before Christmas with bells and whistles – literally. Characters are sprung and hinged in the same way you might find on toys on a Victorian Christmas tree. Absolutely everything jiggles, rattles, snores or spews sweets. But there's also a sympathy with the source material, bringing out the textures and colours of a vintage children's book
The pictures are by William Wallace Denslow, the brilliant illustrator behind the original Wizard of Oz books. It's great to see his humorous, sharply drawn characters brought back to vivid life.
And that, my friends is how to do a Christmas book app. Appy Christmas to all and to all a good night.