The weird and wonderful world of Sandra Boynton

I’m delighted to introduce a guest review today, by the lovely Loll Kirby. Loll is a book and app enthusiast I met on Twitter, and she has been such an enthusiastic supporter of this blog I just had to get her involved. Loll is passionate about reading for pleasure, and is currently in the very early stages of developing baby and toddler classes to share her passion with other families. You can read all about her love of books (including the fascinating Loft Treasures series) and how the Storyseekers business develops at http://storyseekersuk.wordpress.com/

Here, for the Friday Pick{ture Book} slot, Loll shares her love of Sandra Boynton’s picture books and apps, and how the two different versions of The Going To Bed Book complement each other. Over to Loll…

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We’ve been huge fans of Sandra Boynton in this house, ever since we happened upon her counting book, Hippos Go Berserk, when my elder son was just a baby.  The plot is simple –  an increasing number (from one to nine) of hippos arrive for a party at which they all live up to the title of the book (we tended to throw some very ‘imaginative’ shapes on our bedroom dance floor at this point!), then gradually head home afterwards.  However, we were excited to come across a counting book that actually had any sort of plot and my husband and I also enjoyed the mathematical twist contained within the last line:

“One hippo, alone once more, misses the other forty four.”

(I’ll leave it up to you to work it out once you read the book!)

Boyton’s bold illustrative style, which almost always focuses on animals (cows, in particular, feature a lot in her work), is ideally suited to the eyes and minds of very young readers and her dry sense of humour can be appreciated on many different levels.  Thus, after this book had been such a hit, we sought out another one very soon afterwards.

The Going To Bed Book is based upon a reassuringly familiar scenario – getting ready for bed.  The animals in the story live on a boat and as the sun has recently set, they are turning their minds towards their bedtime preparations.  They must have a bath, put on their pyjamas, brush their teeth, and then – as per every child’s typical routine, obviously – rush around exercising, before turning out the light and letting the boat rock them to sleep.

Although we liked it, this book didn’t initially provide us with as many laughs as Hippos…, but that could just be down to the lack of opportunities for the boys to guffaw at my husband and I trying to dance.  At around the time we purchased the book though, I also got my first smartphone.  Keen to explore its powers, I searched for Sandra Boynton apps and discovered that four of her books had been developed already.  I downloaded The Going To Bed Book app and I have to say that it then completely transformed our reading of the book.

You have the option to read the story yourself, or to have it read to you in the mellifluous tones of Billy J. Kramer.  From there on in, prepare to be enchanted by the meticulous attention to detail that is paid to each feature.  Being based on such a simple board book, I was interested to see how much ‘value’ could really be added to it as an app.  Every tiny thing that could be done, has been done and done well.  Windows open, waves move, stairs creak, clothes fall out of drawers – the list is endless.

You are able to highlight and repeat the text in either mode and even in the narration setting you can interact with the app without interrupting the voiceover.  Little fingers can easily move the characters around, tilt the smartphone or tablet to produce reactions and join in with activities like popping the bubbles from the bath.  There are some features that might require adult guidance in the first instance, but these can be relatively easily repeated after that.

There are so many features of this app that we love, but I’ve limited myself to our two favourites to share here.

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In this one, as the characters brush their teeth, you have the option to turn on the sink’s hot tap and steam up the bathroom / screen of your device.  You then need to rub the condensation away, otherwise it remains for the rest of the story.  The realism of this feature gets me every time!

The final spread shows the refrain that has become a signature part of our bedtimes, whether or not we read this book:

‘The moon is high.  The sea is deep.  They rock and rock and rock to sleep.’

The boat not only rocks on the gentle waves, but the quick touch of a finger brings out the stars and the odd leaping fish or two.  By this point, we find ourselves so immersed in the book/app’s world that it’s a cruel blow to turn the page and actually say goodnight properly!

Before:

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After:

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It is a testament to how faithfully the developers have adhered to the original book’s appearance that my children both now tap the pages of our board book to try and make the stars come out, or tip the book from side to side in attempt to move the waves.  The app made them more interested in the book, but it was the book that got them interested in the app, and it’s not often that we’ve found such a strong and supportive relationship between the two mediums.  Neither one detracts from the other or takes prominence, which is exactly how it should be, I think, when an app is based on a book.

The only criticism I have is that the page turns within the app are a little fiddly and as there are so many interactive elements on each page, occasionally the two become confused, which has led to frustration at times.  This is a minor detail, however, and should certainly not put anyone off a purchase.

Four of Sandra Boynton’s books have been made into apps (we also have the gorgeous, Moo, Baa, La, La, La!) and if you visit her website you can browse through her vast back catalogue of books.  A recent Twitter conversation threw up the fact that Sandra Boynton’s books don’t seem nearly as well-known in the UK as in her native USA, which is a real shame, as in our house they have become well-loved classics already.

The Going To Bed Book, developed by Loud Crow Interactive Inc., compatible with iPhone and iPad. Available from https://itunes.apple.com/gb/app/going-to-bed-book-sandra-boynton/id421933225?mt=8 priced at £1.99/$2.99 at the time of writing.

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