(and do head over and vote for your favorite poems!) I offer you a different and very special treat today. I met Julie Hedlund last year at the “Poetry for All” Highlights Founders workshop , and I’m happy to share a peek into her brand new rhyming storybook app, A TROOP IS A GROUP OF MONKEYS. It’s illustrated by Pamela Baron and offered by Little Bahalia Publishing for the iPad. (I don’t have an iPad, but my in-laws were happy to purchase it on theirs for me – and for the grandchildren!)
A TROOP IS A GROUP OF MONKEYS is a romp through the collective nouns of animals, written in rhyme. It offers a fun way to explore the habits and habitats of a variety of animals (as well as subject-verb agreement!).
A pride of lions licks monster-size paws
A float of crocodiles snaps mighty jaws.
My favorite line is:
A quiver of cobras hisses and shakes.
And my favorite illustration accompanies
a leap of leopards lounges in trees,
in which one of the leopards napping on a tree limb opens one eye and twitches an ear.
The animals on each page exhibit the behavior described in the verse, and kids will have fun touching the screen to make the colorful subjects spring to life.
Now, you almost have to sneak up on Julie, safari-like, to grab her for just a few minutes – what with her popular 12 X 12 Picture Book Challenge and her sold-out Writers Renaissance Retreat in Italy coming up in April. Let’s find out more about Julie and her work before she’s off on her next adventure.
Oh, where to start?! Let’s begin with writing, and we’ll explore other endeavors in a minute. When did you discover a love of writing, and how have you developed your craft?
I've ALWAYS loved writing. It's how I understand myself and the world. The first word I ever wrote was "HOT," and for a year or so it was how I signed all of my cards to grandparents, etc. I think it's gone uphill from there. :-)
With respect to craft, I've cultivated it by doing a lot of writing and a lot of listening. By listening, I mean attending conferences, workshops and retreats where I could learn from experts and then work on incorporating those lessons into my own work. What amazes me is how the more you learn, the more you realize you still have yet to learn. There's never a dull day in the writing life!
How did you come up with the idea for A TROOP IS A GROUP OF MONKEYS?
I came across a list of collective nouns for animals and was surprised to find how few of them I knew. I was delighted by the fact that the names for the animal groups reflected something about the animal's behavior, habitat, appearance, etc. I figured if I had that much fun learning the names, surely others would too - especially kids, who almost always love animals.
Did any verses come straight from the Muses, and were there others you had to hunt down?
"A kaleidoscope of butterflies flutters through daisies" was one of the only lines that survived intact from my first draft. Otherwise, the verses required a lot of work. I did a great deal of research on each animal so I had several options for the line pertaining to that animal. Then I had to match animals up with each other in such a way to create compelling rhyming couplets.
Let’s talk about apps. First, what’s your definition of a storybook app?
A storybook app is an illustrated book for children that contains interactions on each screen, some of which may be required in order for the story to proceed. The interactivity can be sound-based, touch-based or device-based (such as tilting or shaking the device). Ideally, the interactivity is designed to enhance rather than detract from the story and to increase comprehension.
How is composing text for an interactive app similar to writing for print? How is it different?
What's similar is that the story (or in this case poem) must be excellent. No amount of technical bells and whistles can elevate a sub-par story. What is different is that in addition to thinking about text and illustration, now you need to consider sound, movement, animation. You have to think about your story on a screen instead of a page, which changes the function of "page turns." Although you still move from screen to screen, tension and drama can come from sound and animation as well as text and illustration. There's also no set number of pages for apps, so the onus is on the author to determine how many screens are required to tell the best story.
How much input do you as the writer have in terms of the interactive elements – choosing what might be animated, layout/design, that sort of thing? Or are all visual decisions left to the illustrator and designers?
The answer to this question depends on how you are publishing the app. If you hire a developer to create your app or use an app creation tool, all of those decisions are your own. In my case, I sold my manuscript to an e-publisher, so the publisher made most of the decisions about the animation and design. However, I did submit a storyboard containing my "vision" for the animation, and many of those ideas were incorporated into the app. I'm fortunate because Stacey Williams-Ng, the founder of Little Bahalia, has a huge amount of experience both illustrating, designing and producing apps. Because of her expertise and passion, the finished product is far better than I could have imagined had I done it on my own.
You’ve got terrific resources on your blog about the publishing industry as well as tips for creating apps. What’s the first thing you tell someone who asks you about creating digital content?
Go for it! It's the future. BUT, don't do it as a shortcut to traditional publishing. Make sure your story is the best it can be. Don't skimp on editing, illustration, design, etc. Also, evaluate whether your story makes sense in digital form. The story should drive the format, and not the other way around.
What do you think about the co-existence of traditionally published books, apps, and e-books in the marketplace – is there room for all, or do you think digital content will take over for the youngest readers?
I certainly hope there is room for all, as I still want to traditionally publish a print book! In fact, I want to publish any way I can that both makes sense for my stories and gets my work into the hands of more children. I see no reason why different types of books can't co-exist. As for the farther-off future, I do think digital content will become predominant in all forms of publishing, but I can't envision print going away entirely, especially for board books and picture books.
As a world-traveling, horse-riding, nature-loving gal from Colorado, you strike me as someone always up for an adventure. Were there any challenges during the process of creating this app that surprised you?
The challenge all came BEFORE the actual creation of the app. The biggest hardship I faced was learning about all the options available to publish the app, which direction I wanted to take, and then how to submit my idea, especially since I am an author-only and came without illustrations. What surprised me was how few answers I found to my questions. I guess that's why, after I developed my own proposal, I decided to turn it into a template for other authors and illustrators to use - to avoid the pain and suffering I endured - LOL.
You participate in “Gratitude Sunday” by posting things you are grateful for each week. How does an attitude of thankfulness inform your creative life? (And life in general?)
My gratitude practice, over time, has helped me understand that there is good in all situations, even if that doesn't seem to be the case on the surface. Spending time each week reflecting on what I am grateful for grounds me, and sometimes requires me to "dig deep" into my feelings and experiences. Rather than serving to oversimplify situations, my gratitude practice makes me realize the complexity that's inherent in people, our actions, our emotions. This serves me by enriching my writing, but it's also made me a great deal less judgmental and far less inclined toward knee-jerk reactions.
How do you balance your own creative work with the demands of nurturing not only your family, but the online network of inspiration and support you’ve created for other writers?
I'm not sure I do, but I keep trying!! Lately I've been taking things one day at a time, focusing on the most pressing things that need to get done work-wise. I'm also getting far better about "letting it all go" when I'm with my kids. Our work is of the kind that is never "finished." There is always something more that could be done. But there's no point in worrying about all of that when I'm with the kids. It's taken me a while to come to this realization, but I'm far better off spending quality time with them and coming back to my work refreshed from the break. Next on the list of "creating more balance" in my life is figuring out how to take time for me, as I've been slack on my exercising and pursuit of other hobbies lately.
Finally, any sneak peeks into projects on the horizon that you’re at liberty to share?
I'm not sure I'm at liberty to share the title yet, but my next app in the "animal groups" trilogy will be released in May, and it features animals leaving in or near the ocean. I am excited about this one because many of these collective nouns will be brand new to most people and they are SO fun.
A third app featuring insects, reptiles and amphibians will be coming in October, and before that, a print book that combines the "best" of all three apps. So it's a very exciting year!
Exciting indeed! Congratulations all around, and thank you for visiting with us today.
Thank you so much for hosting me today Robyn. I think digital publishing is going to be a very exciting avenue for poets of all stripes, and I hope my experience gets the creative gears turning for your Poetry Friday compatriots.
Told you she was fascinating! And if you visit her list of 100 random things, you'll learn Julie used to drink pickle juice straight from the jar, and that she has an MA in International Political Economy from the University of Warwick in England.
No telling what you'll learn making the Poetry Friday rounds today, but please go see the wonderful and talented Jone at Check it Out and enjoy!