Our latest appbook in development is an adventure story with reading and adventure at its heart.
We’ve used simple techniques to encourage solo reading as well as reading together, especially for children at early stages of reading.
We spoke to the creator, Dennis Harding.
Raven and Mouse really represent the two sides to most personalities. Children know there are many times when you have to do things you don’t want to.
You are told to read when you really want to play. Often play itself needs some formality, some structure. So, slowly I evolved two characters who reflect these two sides of the same personality, the formal and fun side. I wanted the formal side to be interested in the world around us, to show that reading (books) in particular was a useful, positive thing to do and can actually help the fun side, whilst the fun side can help on the social side by presenting challenges to characters in a safe environment. Raven typifies the knowledge-driven, formal, slightly shy side, whilst Mouse is the fun, outgoing side which needs to learn that reading can open up more adventures, and especially when shared with friends.
I had a dog, called Max, who was a lovely old Golden Retriever. We used to go for walks up by Beachy Head, near the lighthouse in Eastbourne, East Sussex. One day whilst I was thinking through ideas for stories, I saw a bird overhead that made a strange croaking sound. It was a raven. I didn’t know they lived there. It just got me thinking,
‘What would be a good character contrast to a raven?’ I settled on a mouse. So at the very start of the book process, the two key characters came into being inspired by the great outdoors – looking, listening and watching what is going on around us!
Spending years teaching reading and studying how children’s minds work gave me insights into developing both the skill of reading and also the understanding in a fun way. It made me realise the vitally important role of parental support in the reading process. I combined a lot of my Educational Psychology research assessing how children learn to read and devising ways to accelerate reading with that basic understanding. But underneath I am still a big kid! Even now I still prefer to be outside getting mucky and wet. So I suspect Raven and Mouse are the two sides of my own personality!
Reading is a really hard skill to learn and we should always make it as easy as possible. That is true for all readers, not just ones who we know have problems.
Some simple things were at the front of my mind. I’ve taught children with a range of challenges and their responses have informed how we adapted the Raven and Mouse story.
The colour background should never be a brilliant white as it can look fuzzy at the edge of letters, so we made the background a beige colour.
Then the letters can be any colour which gives no fuzzy edge. Allowing the screen to be slightly less bright can help too.
The typeface, or font, is one we selected especially as it is ‘Open Dyslexic’ which is slightly weighted towards the bottom of the letter. This allows the reader’s eye to follow more naturally in one line rather than be going up and down which is very tiring. The key letters of b and d, p and q are a bit more distinguishable from each other, as some learner readers can reverse these letters.
There is also a little more space between the letters so they don’t run into each other.
All these help a reader to let their eyes flow along with the story, hopefully making what we think is a great story the focus rather than getting tired and frustrated trying to decode what the letters say. I also wanted to use mostly a restricted set of vocabulary to give a flow to the story, but also to include some words that could then be worked out from the rest of the sentence.
The narrative came first, but during my initial edits, I adjusted words on some pages once I had an exact illustration in mind. Nick’s style appealed immediately. He uses a rich set of tones which are so warm and complement the woodland scenes perfectly. When combined with the narrative, they give a soft, cuddly, cosy feel to the story. His characterisation is expressive in a way that really enhances the story. The image of Raven shows so many aspects to his personality and Mouse really does look like she would dive into a bush at any moment!
We talked through their characters, what they would do in a host of situations and how he could depict various movements and a look that precisely reflected the narrative for each page. In the end we don’t just have a narrative and a set of drawings; it is one complete, entertaining adventure within a beautiful set of illustrations.
Children are conditioned to want to be more adventurous, which is great in one sense. But I wanted to highlight that reading is also great fun and that children should not think that it is a choice of either fun or reading. It can and should be both. They go together. The two characters are at different stages. Raven is a bit like an older sibling who can read, and Mouse is the younger who wants to but cannot yet. The scene is set for Raven to help Mouse. But there is a social element to them too. Raven is shy, spends time alone, but we suspect would like to be more social. But he doesn’t know how. Mouse changes that simply by making Raven ‘get on with it’ by rescuing her. This creates a bond which I hope is similar to the readers creating friends through any shared experience, such as reading a book together.
Converting a story and a set of illustrations into a full working book with all the enhanced experiences is an awesome thing to be able to do. Their experience and knowledge is extraordinary and essential in getting through the stages seamlessly. It is one thing to have the narrative and the images, but that is only the start. If you want a truly superb book with the most professional guys around, contact Box Of Frogs Media. They are croakingly good!
Dennis has an MA from Sussex University’s Institute of Education in Education Psychology and has enjoyed a varied career as Primary School teacher for local schools as well as lecturing Education students for Brighton University. As a classroom teacher, Dennis specialises in developing language and literacy skills for primary aged children with Special Educational Needs. His Education Psychology research involved analysing how children learn to read and finding techniques to improve literacy.
His latest venture draws on his background and passion for child development and literacy for Special Educational Needs, publishing stories for children under Ravenmouse Publishing. The Raven and Mouse appbook with Box of Frogs Media will be Ravenmouse’s first publication.
Raven and Mouse is due for release to Apple in late Spring 2015.