Eight Examples of Innovation in Children’s Digital Storytelling

For the last 20 years I’ve had one of the best jobs in the world, serving as the Coordinator for the BolognaRagazzi Digital Award (BRDA).

The work started back in 1997 when our publication, Children’s Technology Review (CTR) partnered with The Bologna Children’s Book Fair, which is the world’s largest children’s publishing conference. The idea was to create an independent, international prize for the emerging children’s interactive media category.  In full disclosure, I want to tell you that while I very much want you to subscribe to CTR, this prize represents something quite rare: a contest that is motivated by academic, rather than business interests. For example, there are no entry fees, and each juror goes out of his or her way to find products that should be considered in the judging (even if they don’t formally enter).

Early each spring, I travel to the heart of Italy  — just a few miles from the tracks of Lamborghini and Ferrari to huddle in a small room with the other jurors.  We start our tablets and briefly test every product, as we try to narrow the list from 180 or so to just 10 in two days. If all works well, we have our list by late afternoon and can reward ourselves with a dinner in one of Bologna’s famous restaurants. It’s hard work and hard fun. I get to test the best apps, eat the best food, and talk with some of the world’s smartest authors, digital creators and publishers who serve as the jurors. For this article I’d like to shine the spotlight on just eight of the more innovative selections that we’ve made over the years.

These are products that have raised the bar of excellence and innovation that should be on the radar of every children’s librarian, author, illustrator or storyteller. It’s also fair to note that these are my own personal picks. I don’t speak for the jury, and there are many other products that could and should be on this list.  If you want more, here’s a link to the complete list

Boum! by Les inéditeurs for iPad, Android.

Boum (translation “Boom”) is a wordless, horizontal narrative experience that consists of 104 side-scrolling, musical illustrations. The art was designed for interactivity, with simple designs and contrasts in color and size to help illustrate the story, in which you follow a lonely man stuck in a boring job. One day, snow starts falling, and BOOM — things change.  This app turns the screen into a large scroll to be controlled by swiping.  The simplicity of the interaction, combined with the immersive stereo sound offer a new type of experience.  There is no language, so a non-reader can use this app. While a child might be able to use this app, the narrative is more meaningful to a working adult. See the full review at

CHOMP by Christoph Niemann by Fox and Sheep GmbH for iPad and Android.

From the brain of New York Times illustrator Christoph Niemann (see also the app “Petting Zoo”) comes a powerful, easy to use video creativity experience that combines hand-drawn animations with realtime video.  Content includes 53 spring-loaded gags that you can try out simply by swiping. There’s also a table of contents option. Each skit contains a cutout for you to work with. You can turn your face into a balloon that gets larger or smaller as you tap the screen to control an air pump, or see your face superimposed onto a classic pianist.  We tested this app with both children and dogs. Each skit has well-designed associated music. Projects can be exported as short videos to your photo library.  See the full review at

David Wiesner’s Spot by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, for iPad.

Zoom in (or out) of five, interwoven, microscopic fictional worlds from the mind of USA children’s illustrator David Wiesner.  It all happens inside the spot on a ladybug.  This app uses a “powers of ten” like navigation techniques, meaning that you pinch and zoom in (or out) of a scene in order get around.  There are five fictional worlds, each embedded in one another. At times, you run into a side-scrolling scene with animated features, including ambient sounds and limited interactivity that supports the theme. It takes six zooms (two fingers spreading apart) before you see the main branching point. From there, it takes about 16 more zooms to get to each of the five worlds.  Full Review:

Goldilocks and Little Bear by Nosy Crow for iPad.

This list wouldn’t be complete without at least one Nosy Crow app. Take special note of the quality, clean illustrations designed from the ground up for interactivity. In this case, you look at a classic tale from two points of view. You can read the story as Goldilocks, or as the little bear. To switch points of view, you simply flip the screen 180 degrees. Besides offering a new “twist” on the well known story, early readers are helped by text highlighting, an interesting topic, quality illustrations and the same wonderful child narration that has set the standard for this genre of app. This is a rich early language/reading experience; combining good interactive design with first rate illustrations and narration. It’s well worth the download.  Read the full review at

My Very Hungry Caterpillar by StoryToys for iPad and Android

A poster child example of successfully bringing a rock star children’s book character to the touch screen. Rather than go the page flipper route, this app puts Eric Carle’s famous bug inside a simple virtual life simulation. The fun starts with an egg on an empty screen. Tapping on the egg helps your caterpillar hatch.  You pick fruit from the trees feed him fruit, tuck him into his bed stump, and grow food garden.  Each time you wake him up your caterpillar grows just a bit, hungry and bored. You can pick fruit, sail on a pond with rubber ducks and grow flowers and fruit in a 3D garden. The more you play, the more surprises you’ll find, including new activities, new fruit, and new toys and bubbles to pop. Children learn that the caterpillar grows bigger and bigger, until he/she changes into a butterfly. A new egg is laid and the adventure begins again. But don’t worry… you see a butterfly in the background, which you know was once your caterpillar.  Full Review:

The Numberlys by Moonbot Studios for iPad

The Numberlys will go down as the most zany, beautiful alphabet book ever made. It comes from the studio that created The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Lawrence Lessmore. The comical narrator has a thick (perhaps Russian) sounding accent. The navigation system makes it easy to jump between pages, and there are options that let you turn on/off the help and/or the narrator. Because of the way in which the art, interactivity and story work hand-in-hand, this title was awarded an honorable mention in the 2012 BolognaRagazzi Digital awards. Read more at

Pierre et le Loup (Peter and the Wolf) by Camera Lucida for iPad

Brings the worlds of animation, film and interactive media into one orchestral experience in this retelling of the composition based on Peter and the Wolf by Sergueï Prokofiev.  Content includes 30-minutes of film, and nine activities designed to call attention to the different voices of the instruments, and the various themes in the symphony. Live video featuring musicians from the National Orchestra of France, with feature roles by a young boy and the conductor, Daniele Gattiis.  Read more at

War Horse by Touch Press for iPad

War Horse tops the list of my favorite non-fiction example because of the way it pulls in real artifacts, expert viewpoints and actual Google maps. Let’s admit it — WWI history probably isn’t at the top of most middle schooler’s “weekend fun” list. Unless, of course, you tell the story from the view of a horse. Based on the book, this app includes historic maps, photos, and a full reading by the author. The app presents the war from both the Allied and German perspectives.  Read more at

The intersection between storytelling and technology has always been full of potential, and 2017 will be no different. If you’re working on a digital storytelling product, or know of one that next year’s jurors should consider for the next edition of the prize, please drop me a note. And if you’re lucky enough to make it to the 2017 Bologna Children’s Book Fair, please say hello.


Photo courtesy of guest blogger
Photo courtesy of guest blogger

Today’s guest blogger is Warren Buckleitner. Buckleitner has been reviewing children’s interactive media since the 1980s. He teaches Interactive Design at The College of New Jersey, and is the editor of Children’s Technology Review and creator of the Dust or Magic Institute and the Mediatech Foundation. He’s covered children’s tech for The New York Times for a decade, and is a former preschool and elementary school classroom teacher who holds a Ph.D. in Educational Psychology. Buckleitner helped the Bologna Children’s Book Fair create the first award in 1997.

Please note that as a guest post, the views expressed here do not represent the official position of ALA or ALSC

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