February 26, 2015

10½ Questions with Reshama Deshmukh, creator of THE PIED PIPER

One of the big draws of KidLitCon is getting a chance to meet your fellow bloggers, find out what their interests are, and discover where they intersect with yours. As you may know by now, here at FW our main focus is on Young Adult fiction, with an emphasis on diverse speculative fiction and graphic novels and, a bit more secondarily, the odd Middle Grade book which catches our attention. We aren't experts in MG anything, which is why we're excited to feature a change of pace today and interview our fellow KidLitCon co-organizer Reshama Deshmukh of the blog Stacking Books. She's a fellow blogger, yes, but she's also done something we know absolutely squat about: she's created and produced a book app from start to finish--one that's aimed at helping kids learn to read with their parents and on their own.

Based on Robert Browning’s well-known story The Pied Piper of Hamelin, this app has been a labor of love to produce, and now it is available for purchase on iTunes and Google Play.

We wanted to know more about what goes into the making of a book app, and we also wanted to do a good turn for one of our fellow KidLitCon peeps, so without further ado, here is the scoop on the brand-new app The Pied Piper.

FW: Where did you grow up? What's your educational background?

I grew up in suburban Mumbai in the late 70’s and 80’s. Mostly middle class commuting, apartment community, the city was well known for its amazing performing arts center. I remember looking forward to summer drama marathons, children’s theater classes and swimming lessons.

I went to school in my hometown and graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in Commerce. I was very fortunate to attend a school with a fantastic library. My parents were voracious readers. Growing up, I remember the pile of newspapers at our doorstep each morning and number of local library visits that my mother would take me to. At school too we all read a ton! The love for reading started at school and continued at home.

In US, I completed my Masters in management with a focus on Finance and Marketing.

FW: Can you briefly describe the process of getting a book app made, from concept to a finished product ready to buy?

Creating an app is much like directing a movie. From script, art, music and voiceover, the many pieces need to be put together to make an app. But it all starts with a story :)

Our Pied Piper App story started with a re-writing of the original Robert Browning’s Pied Piper of Hamelin. Once the script was in place, we re-imagined the story book as an app. At Stacking Books, we want to make sure we inspire children to engage in literacy and excite them. That meant making a book app with incredible art, music and voice experience.

Our artist, Andrea Dailey created the original story board for the script and from there we narrowed it down to specific interactivity for the smart platform. While we envisioned the interactive aspect of a story book app to be integral, we had to constantly keep a fine balance between distracting from the reading and keeping the reader actively engaged. Andrea worked tirelessly to create the right texture, palette and characters for the story. Her high resolution art work makes it easy to fit the book for many screens.

Then came the voice over, sound and music. We interviewed several voice over artists but one voice stood out. Lucas Schuneman, with over 10 years as a voice over artist, expertly modulated his voice to suit the many characters of the book. We loved how he was able to capture the mood of the story right off the bat. Lucas successfully captures the various emotions of distress, joy and treachery of the story.

Mark Kueffner, our brilliant music and sound editor, finished the creative aspect of the app by providing original soundtrack and sound effects. We asked Mark to give this book app a sound that will take you back in time and imagine the setting of the original story. Mark experimented in his lab and came up with a tune that does exactly that. Again, our focus was to not distract but add to the experience of story- telling through the medium of an app. Mark with his many years of experience in TV and Movies, created the original soundtrack and worked from there to create mini tunes as the Piper’s magical tunes.

Parallely, at Stacking Books, we were hard at work putting all the pieces into software. Our goal, right from the beginning, was to create book apps targeting the most popular devices. Our publication as of this writing works on both iOS and Android devices worldwide.

FW: What was the inspiration for this app?

The goal of creating book apps was to create rich content for little readers. To give them a choice of reading on all platforms. Our libraries and book stores are filled with amazing literature. At Stacking Books, we hope to provide similar rich kidlit for the next generation digital readers.

We grew up reading stories by Brothers Grimm. The story of Pied Piper is one among the many stories. Robert Browning’s version of the mystery man called the Pied Piper was intriguing. Bordering on fact and fiction this was a tale that we found we could recreate with easier to understand language. We hope we got a chance to capture the same mystique from the original telling in our story book app.

FW: Who is its ideal audience?

We have seen many book apps designed for the very young. At Stacking Books, we believe that children who have a basic foundation of reading, and are engaged readers are ideal to use book apps. Our Pied Piper App, was thus designed for children 4 years and above.

FW: What made you decide to go with the app format instead of a traditional book or ebook?

The Book App is a unique story telling platform. The audio visual components of a book app are perfect for many types of readers, but especially for reluctant readers. Also, by nature book apps are interactive, which lends to more immersive experience when done correctly. At Stacking Books, we were thrilled to leverage the creative aspects of storytelling on tablets and extend, moderate and design books for this media.

FW: What was the hardest part in developing this app?

I think there was no one piece that was more or less challenging than others. Different tasks had their own unique challenges and we had to constantly re-think and re-work on our assumptions. For example, while we had worked out a storyboard, we stumbled into a particular page that simply did not work towards the flow of the story. We had to go back a re-work on the page several times before we could finally say “done”. Another time, we had a major software stumble when the software capabilities fell short of what we had envisioned as the interactive piece. We finally had to write code outside of the software and plug it in to make it work.

FW: Did you have to gain any new technological skills in order to create a book app?

Yes! In the beginning we had decided to outsource the technology piece. But we soon realized that we had less control over the creative pieces if we did so. Subsequently, I decided to simply “DIY” and dove right in. The decision paid off. We now have critical software, skills as well as processes in place to streamline the next book app production.

FW: What was the easiest part of production and development?

I wish I could actually honestly say there was an easy part :) The Pied Piper app is our first production, and it has been a thrilling yet challenge all through the way. I think once we had the software piece and skills in place, the time to create and build the latter half of the book app was slightly easier or faster than earlier.

FW: What's next for you? Is this going to be an ongoing thing, building apps?

Our fantastic group of KidLitCon organizers, including Reshama (2nd from right)
We are thrilled to release our first production. We loved every aspect of building it and look forward to making more. We are, at this point, looking for content and partnerships with publishers who might be interested to add book apps as potential extensions to their portfolio.

FW: Bonus question: What do you hope people will ask you as they interview you that no one's asked yet?

We have a wonderful blog where we share our favorite children’s books. We hope you can stop by and take a look.

Our minds are pretty well blown at the whole project -- what a huge learning curve, and what a beautiful end product! Definitely do go visit Stacking Books, and check out the charming and visually impressive Pied Piper for yourself. Our sincere thanks to Reshama for stopping by and giving us such a vivid behind-the-scenes look at creating a book app!

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