Meet Heckerty is a delightful British children's story starring Heckerty, a "zany, 409-year-old, upside-down-on-her-broomstick, green-faced witch," and her sidekick cat Zanzibar. The traditional story has made its way to the iPad with a wonderful adaptation that takes advantage of the interactivity offered by Apple's tablet device.
Children can choose to read the book themselves or have the voice of Jan Ziff read the story to them. Each page is filled with at least one tappable element that'll jump, move or make a noise when your child touches it. The storytelling is outstanding and the story is the perfect length for the younger set who can only sit still for a short period of time. My children loved the iPad storybook, and there's little doubt that Meet Heckerty sets a high standard for other children's books to follow.
We got a chance to speak to Jan Ziff and Allan Davidson, the husband and wife team that brought the Heckerty series to the iPad. We asked them about their experience in adapting the popular children's story to the iPad and their future plans for the series. You can read the interview below. You can also find out more about Heckerty on her website. The Meet Heckerty app is available from iTunes for 99-cents. At that price, it's a must-have for parents with young children.
Q: One the first things I noticed about the book is its excellent storytelling. Can you tell me a little bit more about the Heckerty story and the storyteller behind the app?
A: The Heckerty stories do have a "secret sauce" - it's the great British oral storytelling tradition that goes all the way back to The Canterbury Tales through Alice in Wonderland to Beatrix Potter and Winnie the Pooh, and recently to Harry Potter. Ann Rachlin created the Heckerty stories and refined them for many years in her renowned Fun With Music classes in London.
Jan really was the original Fun With Music student, along with her two siblings, and often served as a test audience for ideas that were later integrated into Fun With Music, and became part of Ann's many records and books for 2-9 year-olds.
That's where Jan learned to combine words with the rhythms of music, which you may not always hear but is definitely part of the what creates Heckerty's magic. And Ann's wonderful storytelling skills made all the difference as we developed and recorded the stories for this series.
But to your question - it was in late in 2010 that Ann asked us whether we thought Heckerty could be brought to life on an iPad or iPhone. We loved the idea, did some research, thought about it and decided to do it.
It's been a fascinating ride with all kinds of unexpected turns and plot twists but Heckerty's now out the door and everybody that's seen the app so far has loved it, something we've all found tremendously rewarding!
Q: Did you use iBooks Author to develop the book? If so, can you summarize your experience with the tool? If not, how did you bring the book from printed pages to digital format?
A: No, we didn't use iBooks Author for several reasons - first, it wasn't available when we launched, second, even though iOS was the dominant and most creative platform, it was clear that there would be other competing operating systems and that we'd need to serve them. That's how we ended up using Flash for this project.
And Flash turned out to have been a great decision - it let us go straight from the original text and Ann's storytelling to the "living" graphics and child-friendly form factor that distinguish the iPhone and iPad and other mobile devices. We could really bring out the rich interactivity and audio that these devices are so perfectly suited to.
From a production and technical perspective, we had to shorten and tweak them so that they'd work well, then let Colin and Dave, our extraordinary programmer and animator team do their magic with the images, design and the audio we had developed -- the collaboration turned into Meet Heckerty and additional stories that are already in production.
Q: As someone who now has experience with both traditional and digital media, what do you think of the iPad? Will it replace or complement printed books?
A: We think the iPad is arguably the most exciting development in the history of personal computing. From its form factor, the screen resolution and the superb audio in the latest version, the iPad is changing the way stories can be told and the way they are told.
Will the iPad and similar devices completely replace the printed book? We don't think so but it will continue to rapidly take over many of the functions that many print products like books, magazines and newspapers have traditionally provided. And the reason is simple, we think - where the iPad offers a substantially better experience, people will naturally gravitate to it, and over time, the capabilities of the iPad will both grow rapidly and the cost will drop dramatically.
There will always be people who want a book, who enjoy the smell and the heft of a book, and love to see rows of spines on shelves. And then there are the voracious readers who could never take 12 printed books on vacation with them, but who can easily take an iPad - each sees different benefits in the book experience, each for different reasons.
We also believe that the iPad is changing the way stories are told. And that rather than replacing or even complimenting printed books, the iPad and similar devices will have material written and produced for them, bringing the best of the story and leveraging the strength of the device to better tell that story .... that's what we've tried to do with Heckerty.
Q: What was your biggest challenge in producing the iPad version of the Heckerty story? Did you have to modify the storyline (make it longer or shorter, for example) to accommodate the digital reading experience?
A: We shortened and tightened the story to suit the iPad and how kids use the devices - the most pleasant surprise was how well-suited the Heckerty stories turned out to be for the iPad and iPhone - the biggest challenge on from a story perspective was letting the story's strengths come through and let the iPad make each one a unique experience.
Q: Do you have plans to bring additional titles to the iPad?
A: Absolutely!! Several stories are already in production - the next one to appear will be "Heckerty Cook" (that's the working title). Let's say that Heckerty's cooking skills and menus leave a lot to be desired ... and her cousins decide to fix the problem. Until you see the story, we'll leave the ingredients of the story to your imagination, but we can tell you that we still break down laughing every time we come to some of the scenes as we work on them!
Hopefully, you and your audience will have time to talk about Heckerty again once Heckerty Cook ships!