Children’s book illustrators already know about interactive book apps.

They don’t confuse an app with an e-book that’s read online or through a reader like the Kindle or the Color Nook, although apps sometimes are called e-books or enhanced e-books.

What they may not know is that they can produce a digital interactive book with a free software and if they publish themselves, a most affordable platform.

The developer, Texas based InteractBooks is even sponsoring a contest for the best interactive book using their InteractBuilder software. Updated versions of the builder and the app that allows fans of their interactive books to curate their InteractBook libraries on their iPad, iPodTouch or smart mobile devices are coming out, so the contest deadline has been moved out a month, to October 15.

At the end of last year I talked with company founders Ezra Weinstein and Richard Johnson as they waited for approval of their app by the Apple iTunes Store. (They got it a few days after these videos were made.) Their objective remains what it was then: To enroll as many creative people as possible making good InteractBooks for children.

It’s why they’ve been making presentations at Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) conferences. They’re encouraging artists, illustrators, and small publishers to “bring their stories to life” with InteractBuilder tools and distribute them via iTunes and their “bookshelf” app.

Weinstein and Johnson anticipate that other uses might emerge for their publishing software. In the meantime, the children’s books show off the interactive possibilities nicely.

Hence the contest. The first-place winner receives an IPad2, by the way.

As an art form, the interactive book lies somewhere between a linear story, animated movie, and electronic game or toy. And they sell for a song. By that I mean they sell for a song’s price on iTunes (99 cents to 4.99.)  The ordinary Kindle e-books tend to hover in a price range that’s more…well, bookly (2.99 to 9.99.)

Again, to be clear in the distinction, interactive digital books are not the e-books you download on a Kindle. They’re a different critter, tied to the acutely sensitive touch screen technology of the iPad, iPod Touch, iPhone, and a growing number of smart devices with powerful graphics chips.

What does it take to build an InteractBook on your own?

A few things: The software which you can download from their site.

You should probably have Photoshop CS-4 or a later version.

You’ll want an unpublished children’s story — or a published one that you have (or can get) e-publishing rights to. Preferably it’s a story that’s been (or is now being) illustrated in Photoshop.

The key is pictures in Photoshop files, in layers.

This way picture elements can be isolated into separate layers and manipulated, combined with or substituted by other layers to create “behaviors” when they’re touched on the screen.

That’s what the InteractBuilder software allows you to do.

You’ll want to own an iPad — or know someone who does —  to test those interactive animations on a sensitive touch screen. (It’s a bit like uploading changes to a website, then visiting the site on your browser to see the result.) There isn’t a way to test the behaviors on a PC or Mac screen yet, though there maybe soon.

You’ll find some tutorial training up on the InteractBuilder site. More will be available after the version update. Students of the Make Your Splashes – Make Your Marks! children’s book illustration course will receive additional training from Ezra and Richard.

It will take some instruction and maybe some repeated exposures, but the process is more understandable and do-able than it first sounds. But if this all stills scares you, you can partner with a developer in the InteractBooks developers community.

Welcome to the era of digital book-making!

The major children’s book publishers are watching. Until now they’ve been the true pros in providing quality reading content for the young and distributing it through the time-honored channels of retail stores, classrooms, and libraries, school, and public.

Now they see feisty start-ups and aggressive alliances making end-runs around the New York centered literary establishment.

Like Ruckus Media teaming up with Rabbit Ears video and Hasbro toys and small interactive ‘booktique’ Nosy Crow of England enlisting author-illustrator superstar Sandra Boynton and Disney-Pixar huddled to bring out apps based on Disney animated classics going back half a century.

The venerable publishers noticed when ex-Pixar designer William Joyce with his Shreveport, Louisiana-based Moonbot Studios scored a touchdown with his iPad hit The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore (based on Joyce’s animated short film.)

They’re watching their old market friends, brick and mortar bookstores around the country close  and Wal-Mart sells Amazon Kindles (a big tip-off that e-readers have gone mainstream and will be with us for a while), and Toys R Us just starting to sell iPads (a sign that young families with children have accepted the revolutionary technology in kids’ playrooms.)

They’re watching e-book sales trounce sales of print books at Amazon and Barnes & Noble and — amid all the upheavals — how those sales have started pulling up their own profits.

What a crazy, exciting, and yes, scary time to be a children’s book publisher — big or small, old or new. Or an illustrator creating art for one.

InteractBooks founders Richard Johnson and Ezra Weinstein

InteractBooks’ Richard Johnson and Ezra Weinstein

Late-breaking news: The InteractBuilder 2.0 version software has just been released and an introductory training session has been set for 9 a.m. this Saturday, September 10. Register for a virtual seat in the classroom here. Learn to build a digital book with interactive behaviors — and enter the contest!

Think I’m exaggerating?

From Publishers Weekly, August 26:

“The Penguin Young Readers Group is expanding its line of enhanced e-books and releasing a series of apps based on such contemporary bestselling picture books as Judy Schachner’s SkippyJon Jones and Jacky Davis and David Soman’s Ladybug Girl and on classic works like The Night Before Christmas and Peter Rabbit. In November the series will also feature a simultaneous print/app release of Marcel the Shell with Shoes On by Jenny Slate and Dean Fleischer-Camp, based on a wildly popular YouTube video. See the story.

A book’s new life as a PicPocket app

Here’s a great account of an out-of-print picture book’s journey to new life as an app for the iPhone and iPad — by the book’s author Lindsey Lane in the blog Cynsations. Lane explains how Snuggle Mountain, illustrated by Melissa Iwai, originally published by Clarion, metamorphosed into an interactive product by her, Iwai, and PicPocket Books.

St. Edward's University - Austin, Texas

St. Edward’s University – Austin, Texas

A digital publishing “symposium” in Austin

Lindsey Lane and Ezra Weinstein are among the featured presenters at a special symposium to be hosted Saturday, October 8 by the Austin chapter of SCBWI and St. Edward’s University, Storytelling in the Digital Age: Embrace the Change.

It’s just the one day with the following discussions on the agenda:

SCBWI and Digital Storytelling with Lin Oliver, SCBWI Executive Director, via Skype

Creating and Maintaining Your Web Persona presented by Erik Kuntz

Standing Out in the E-book Crowd: Storybook Apps, Enhanced Content, and Digital Marketing Extras presented by Deanna Roy

Your Story as Electrons: Breathing Life into Words in the Digital Age presented by P.J.Hoover

There’s an App for That presented by Amanda Williams

How Do They Do That?: Creating Digital Books presented by Meridith Blank Taylor

From Oop to App: The Transformation of Picture Books to Apps presented by Lindsey Lane

Paper to Pixels: The Art of the Digital Paintbrush presented by Clint Young

Xtranormal: The Storyteller’s Dream Software presented by Zack Gonzales

YouTube and the Science Behind Visual Learning presented by Joel Hickerson

Storytelling in the Digital Age: Imagine presented by Ezra Weinstein

The Indie and Age of Digital Storytelling presented by BookPeople

Children’s Book Illustrators and Technology presented by the Girllustrators

Social Media 101 presented by Nick Alter

Getting Discovered: Why You Should ABSOLUTELY Give Your Stories Away for Free presented by Bear James

Our Uncovered Cover contest winner!

Artist Susan Sorrell Hill, a student in the Marks and Splashes course has won the Undercover Cover Show and Tell Contest with her make-believe children’s book cover for the Grimm’s fairy tale The Girl with the Silver Hands.

The Undercover Cover blog by children’s book editor Heidi Kellenberger has been touted by NPR’s Fresh Air, School Library Journal and the Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast blog.

“Each of these artists contributed totally distinctive and book-worthy work,” Kellenberger writes. The winning selections were based on the number of comments received ratings and Facebook likes.

Congratulations, Susan! (See hers and all of the other fabulous imagined covers here!)

It’s back to school with you!

An online course on illustrating children’s books, Make Your Splashes – Make Your Marks! shows you how to draw nearly anything, unlock beautiful design and color in your art, and what to do, step by step when you land that assignment to illustrate a story for a book, magazine, or digital product. You can read more about the course here.

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Mark Mitchell, who wrote today’s post is the author of the Make Your Splashes – Make Your Marks! online course on how to illustrate children’s books (in changing times) and the award-winning book for upper elementary and middle grades Raising ‘La Belle: The Story of ‘La Salle Shipwreck.’

See more on the InteractBooks contest.

Discover “the secret” for making better drawings.