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PopOut! The Tale of Peter Rabbit raises the bar for interactive children's books

David Winograd

PopOut! The Tale of Peter Rabbit
(US$4.99) is the first of what will be a series of PopOut! books published by Loud Crow Interactive Inc. It tells the well-loved tale of naughty Peter Rabbit getting into Mr. McGregor's garden, eating his fill of all the yummy vegetables, and when he's discovered, escaping back to his family. Many of us have a warm place in our hearts for this story, having enjoyed it as children. It's an old story, dating back to 1902. The app is similar to the wonderful Alice for the iPad in both the old world look and feel and in the sheer elegance of execution.

The pages look like they were printed on old parchment, and the Beatrix Potter watercolor illustrations are both intact and improved. On most of the pages, the backgrounds, when tilting your iOS device, come alive and move. Most of them were created on two or three planes that move at different times, creating a multi-plane illusion of depth that is both gentle and effective. Most everything you touch moves, revealing hidden objects while appropriate sound effects play. A lovely touch is that the interaction often varies. For example, tapping on a bush drops a large blackberry but subsequent taps only produce berries intermittently. Tilting the device allows the berries to "roll" onto the next page, and tapping a berry itself squashes it.

Similarly, on a page with leaves, every few taps brings up a different leaf that moves. This is all done to the perfectly chosen strains of Claire de Lune by Debussy. Options are given to have the book read by a wonderfully expressive and appropriately British female voice, or you can read it yourself, keeping the music and sound effects intact. When having it read, each spoken word is highlighted for young readers. Either way, tapping on a word speaks the word; that's a nice feature that more and more interactive books have adopted.

The PopOut features of the books are not what I expected, having grown up with traditional pop-up books. Books with movable objects have been around for centuries and have taken a number of different forms. In Peter Rabbit, characters seem to be attached by springs and, when touched, bounce around along with sounds. There are many hinged objects that can be moved either by tilting or moving them with your finger. Often you can see the metal hinges on the page, which look and feel just right. On many pages, you'll find tabs that create action or uncover hidden pictures. One especially nice one is a wheel that causes the Rabbit family to eat when turned. The more it's turned, the more they eat.

All of the effects are layered, enhancing the sense of dimension. Moving backgrounds are layered with falling leaves that are also layered with animations containing spring-loaded characters. It's effective without seeming overdone. There is always something new to discover. Never does one get the idea of the page-to-page sameness, which is apparent in other books of this type.

This is a long book of well over 50 pages, but there is never a problem in navigation since a tab on the top of each set of pages brings down a card showing thumbnail pictures of each overleaf. Tapping on one brings you there. This is quite helpful because when you leave and reenter the app, your place is not saved, and the first page is what is seen.

PopOut! The Tale of Peter Rabbit is a universal app, but it really shines on the iPad. The smaller iPhone display makes it nearly impossible to see the navigation pages from the pull-down tab. However, the pictures and interactions work wonderfully on either device. A wise choice was made to only have it display in landscape mode since it's important to see the illustration page and the written page at the same time.

I recommend this app quite highly. It's wonderfully done and quite calming. The interactivity really brings one into the story. iTunes lists the book as being appropriate for ages four and up, but I think that smaller children will be taken in by the world it creates. Loud Crow has done very well in its first outing, and a Christmas PopOut! book is expected in a few weeks. I'm really looking forward to seeing it, since I was totally entranced by PopOut! The Tale of Peter Rabbit.

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