The Berenstain Bears’ Bedtime Battle is the first title produced through an agreement between Oceanhouse Media and HarperCollins Children’s Books to bring more Berenstain Bears titles to the app market. Each omBook™ is created for two formats: one for iOS (all Apple devices); and one for Android devices.
Backstory on the Berenstain Bears: Stan and Jan Berenstain were already successful magazine cartoonists when they wrote their first children’s book. Inspired by their own two children, the bear family Berenstain first appeared in The Big Honey Hunt under the Dr. Seuss Beginner Books imprint of Random House in 1962.
Many more titles followed as the tales of Mama, Papa, Brother, Sister and Honey Bear garnered praise from education professionals and the reading public. The long-running series of picture, beginner and chapter books spawned a popular TV show on PBS. In 2005, the Berenstain Bears franchise moved to HarperCollins. Son Mike joined the enterprise after Stan passed away in 2005. More than 300 Berenstain Bears books have been published, and more than 260 million copies have been sold.
I was invited to visit Michel and his team at Oceanhouse Media’s new office facilities in Encinitas, California, and to preview Bedtime Battle. Development Director Greg Uhler joined the conversation.
Joy Chu: Oceanhouse Media was already producing omBooks of the Berenstain Bears/Living Lights book series through the religious publishing house, Zondervan. Did you arrive at your current arrangement with HarperCollins as a result of that on-going relationship, since Zondervan is one of their divisions?
Michel Kripalani: Certainly, the success that we had with the Zondervan titles helped. Previously, we had gotten The Berenstain Bears and the Golden Rule to #1 in the Book category on the App Store. However, we needed to strike a completely new deal for these titles. I had numerous conversations and in-person meetings with the folks at HarperCollins, including Susan Katz, President and Publisher of HarperCollins Children’s Books. It took many months of going back and forth before Oceanhouse Media was given a green light to proceed. Bedtime Battles is simply the first of many apps that we hope to deliver together.
From there, HarperCollins Children’s Books selected The Berenstain Bears’ Bedtime Battle as the first app to be developed. It’s a fun story and seemed like an appropriate title to launch the omBook series.
Written in 2005 by Stan and Jan Berenstain with Mike Berenstain, Brother and Sister Bear will do anything to postpone bedtime. Playing with dinosaurs, having a tea party and getting a piggyback ride from Papa Bear all sound better than going to bed. Thus, the great bedtime battle begins!
Greg Uhler: The mischievous antics in the story gave our team the opportunity to be especially creative with the voice-over narration and custom background audio.
Michel Kripalani: Swipe through the various pages of the app and you soon realize that the hallmark feel of the Berenstains is prevalent throughout.
As we’ve done with the Dr. Seuss apps, Oceanhouse Media maintains the original content of the book version. Every word and illustration that’s in the original 32-page print version of Bedtime Battle is included in the app. However, to display the artwork and text as large as possible on mobile devices, the app contains over 50 pages that pan and zoom to accentuate key parts of the illustrations.
Greg Uhler: We don’t take liberties with the artwork and text. What we do is enhance what is already there. For instance, we add a thoughtful narrative, custom sound effects and music, and an appropriate level of interactivity that doesn’t distract from the original story.
We also use a “pan and zoom” effect where we take a page with multiple illustrations and enlarge individual images to create single pages within the app.
A key feature in The Berenstain Bears’ Bedtime Battle is the ability to touch individual words of the text and hear them spoken aloud.
For example, if a child is struggling to read a specific word on a page, they simply tap the word and immediately they will hear it pronounced for them. We feel this feature provides an immediate and simple way for children to learn, whether reading with a parent or on their own.
Of course, Oceanhouse Media’s trademark reading modes — Read To Me, Read It Myself and Auto Play — are also included in the app, with word highlighting as the story is read and words zooming up when pictures are touched.
Michel Kripalani: HarperCollins Children’s Books, publisher of this Berenstain Bears book, reviewed various stages of the app’s development, commenting on such things as text placement and hot spots, areas on each page that allow a reader to tap on an image and see and hear the word.
In addition, Jan and Mike Berenstain reviewed the app and gave their input during the final phase of development.
One change they did request was to have the poem that’s on the first page of the book be the opening page of the app. They also asked that the treehouse image that’s on the title page of the book be its own page in the app.
They felt the addition of these two pages to the app would make it more akin to the physical book and would properly set the stage for the story. So, for the first time in an Oceanhouse Media digital book app, there’s a two-page introduction leading into the beginning of the story.
Greg Uhler: As a developer, to have direct input from the author is a tremendous opportunity. We feel honored to have the Berenstains’ stamp of approval on the app and their valuable feedback along the way to make the app feel as close to their printed book as possible.
Michel Kripalani: One challenge that Oceanhouse Media has mastered is adapting the images from the physical books to the 3.5 inch size of the iPhone screen as well as on iPad and Android tablets.
This is where our team’s years of software experience comes to play. A unique development process ensures that images are of the highest quality possible across all of the mobile devices we support.
Above, top-to-bottom: iPad, iPhone4, and iPhone3. Their screen sizes represent their relative screen resolutions. There are the same number of pages in the iPhone version as in the iPad version.
Greg Uhler: Creating apps is a software business. But you need more than just the ability to write and program code to create a kid-friendly app. A strong artistic component, attention to detail, and sensitivity to the needs of children go hand-in-hand with the technology. It’s less about what we can do on a mobile device, and more about what we should do.
Most everyone at Oceanhouse Media has kids of our own, so we’re sensitive to the needs of young readers. We create all of our children’s book apps with a user-friendly interface that allows kids as young as two years old to enjoy them.
Joy Chu: Thank you, Michel Kripalani and Greg Uhler, for sharing your hard-won wisdom and details behind the collaborative creativity of your team. And a special shout-out to Cathy Veloskey for coordinating all the details with us :)
Other news: Michel Kripalani will be among the presenters at the upcoming 40th Annual SCBWI Conference in L.A.
Check out his workshop presentation, in person or via SCBWI’s live blog this Saturday. The Conference itself happens August 5-8.
Wait, wait. . . there more! August 2, 2011 is the official pub date for The Berenstain Bears’ Bedtime Battle omBook.
To celebrate, we are giving away a free download of The Berenstain Bears’ Bedtime Battle omBook (for iOS devices only). Enter a comment below. You will be asked for your email address — which will not appear on this page. Three winners will be selected at random from comments posted by August 9th. Good luck!