CM . . . . Volume XIX Number 25 . . . . March 1, 2013
In 2012, Elin Kelsey, a noted environmental science educator, paired with artist Soyeon Kim to create You are Stardust. This picture book works to engage children and encourage awareness of the environment. Owlkids and Think Thirty Three partnered to create an iPad app version of You are Stardust. It is such a dynamic book that it translates very well to a book app.
There are three options for exploring the story: "I'll read the story" (without narration), "Read me the story" (with narration), and "Make your own diorama." In "Read me the story," author Elin Kelsey tells the story as readers swipe to turn the pages. She enunciates clearly, and her narration is well-paced. Her book is beautifully written, and each page has a short, concise message that works well as short audio clips. There are some sound effects and background music transitions timed with her narration that can seem a little out of place in the "I'll read the story" option. The most profound part of the book, when Kelsey implores readers to "Be still" and "Listen," translates well into the app format: after her narration clip, there is a simple pause and soft music with sound effects which gives readers time to contemplate and reflect. The background music, composed by Paul Aucoin, is calm, thoughtful and fits with the look and feel of You are Stardust. Aucoin's music, Kelsey's words and Kim's illustrations work together to create an app that is both attractive and educational.
While the app uses the same compositions as the picture book, the reader is guided through the space of the dioramas in a more dynamic way than the static picture book frames. In one section, the screen zooms in tightly on one scene while, with the next swipe, the screen pans back to show the larger context of the scene. For example, when Kelsey speaks about dinosaurs and humans sharing the same water, the screen shows dinosaurs sipping from a prehistoric stream; on the next page, Kelsey explains that "the same water has been quenching thirsts for millions of years" (p. 10), and the screen zooms back to show the whole scene with a child pouring water from the stream featured in the previous close-up shot. The choice to show the same scene on multiple levels reinforces Kelsey's holistic message that all things are interconnected.
Soyeon Kim's beautiful dioramas are used to maximum advantage in the app, which uses multiple angles to highlight the thoughtful three-dimensional composition of her pieces. Since her dioramas are made up of multiple individual elements, they work well when superimposed and manipulated in the digital medium. Some of the most fun animations in the app use the movements that Kim had already rendered in her illustrations: for example, the picture book shows six images of a girl in various positions as she leaps up in the air with a sheep; in the app, the earlier images fade as the next ones appear, creating a stylized animation. Many of these animations can be replayed by the reader. A child cartwheels down a tree trunk in another animation that can be replayed by the reader tapping on the child as soon as the animation resets with the child cartwheeling back onto the screen. The animation is not so over-the-top that it feels like an animated short; it very clearly maintains the structure of a book, with discrete pages and the written word playing a key component in the experience.
In both story options, the reader chooses how quickly or slowly to move through the book. Each page has an individual narration clip, and the background music and animations loop until the reader flips the page. In some instances, the reader may flip the page prematurely during a dramatic pause in Kelsey's narration. However, using the navigation feature (accessed by an icon on the lower left), it is easy to flip back to the previous page. It is also easy to skip ahead or go back, but the reader cannot pause the narration mid-page. Navigating through the book was initially difficult since it was unclear where to swipe in order to flip the page (lower right). Dragging on the screen allows readers to change the angle of the illustrations, even though the range of motion is quite limited. The reader can also change the angle by tilting the iPad.
"Make your own diorama" is the extra feature for the app that is not available in the picture book. Through six steps, a user can create her/his own diorama using the same backgrounds, animals, kids, phrases, and diorama elements like clouds and stardust. When the icon is tapped, the element will appear on the screen and then can be moved by dragging. Because there is no way to glue the objects down, they can be moved around until the picture is finalized. The final step is to share the diorama through email, Facebook or Twitter. It is a simple activity, but it, nevertheless, allows readers to engage with the visual world of You are Stardust. App users also have the opportunity to learn more about the making of the book. While the book's website ( www.youarestardust.ca ) contains some information, the app elaborates on the creation of the dioramas. Kim provides narration on some of the slides and explains her artistic choices. There is also a note from the author for young readers.
Owlkids and Think Thirty Three's iPad app, You are Stardust, is an excellent addition to any iPad app collection.
Sabrina Wong is a librarian at the University of Calgary in Calgary, AB.
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