E-Books on Steroids

Austin author creating interactive storybooks for the next generation of readers

New kind of fairy tale: Austin author creates kid e-books on steroids

Karen Robertson
The Austin author is working to create a new generation of readers via touch screen devices. Photo courtesy of Karen Robertson
Treasure Kai E-Book
Robertson's latest e-book. Courtesy of Karen Robertson
Karen Robertson
Treasure Kai E-Book

Austin author Karen Robertson is helping write a new chapter in the multibillion-dollar children’s book-publishing industry.

Robertson is president and co-founder of the Austin-based Book App Alliance. It’s a newly formed trade association that promotes interactive children’s books designed for touch screen devices like the iPad or the Kindle Fire. Robertson describes these apps as “e-books on steroids.”

Robertson said the alliance aims to help parents, educators and others unearth “hidden gems” among the thousands of book apps on the market. The alliance has teamed up with book app review website Digital Storytime in that effort. Furthermore, the alliance strives to unite authors of book apps for kids.

“When my dyslexic son picked up an iPad for the first time and chose storybook apps over game apps, I decided to publish that book as a book app." — Austin author Karen Robertson 

“The interactive category of books brings a whole new way for kids to experience stories and content,” Robertson said. “A good book app delivers a multi-sensory reading experience that brings the reader into the story through interactivity, movement and sound.”
 
Robertson, who moved to Austin from Australia in 2012, cites her own Treasure Kai and the Seven Cities of Gold as an innovative book app for children.
 
In this app, the main character visits the seven Cities of Gold by opening treasure chests and putting keys on a map. The reader shares the character’s journey by touching treasure chests and revealing gold keys that must be placed on the map for the story to move along.
 
“Because the reader randomly chooses treasure chests, the order he visits the seven Cities of Gold will change with each reading of the story,” Robertson explained. “Toward the end of the book, the main character must remember the order he visited the seven Cities of Gold in order to get home. The reader again becomes a part of the story when he must complete a memory game to finish the story.”
 
Robertson said a number of book apps go beyond the story. For instance, a book app titled Mighty League, Vol. 1: The Terrible Taunting gives a glimpse into the world of someone with Asperger syndrome by combining the story with diary-style entries from a person with this autism spectrum disorder.
 
“Its lesson about the need to stop bullying and facilitate understanding is timely,” she said.
 
The market for children’s book apps like Mighty League, Vol. 1 is evolving, Robertson said. When Robertson began working on her first Treasure Kai book app in 2010, independent authors who were toying with the format dominated the sector, she said. Since then, major brand names like Disney and Nickelodeon have broken into the market.
 
Robertson’s own foray into book apps for kids can be traced back to 2007. That year, she launched her career as a children’s author amid struggles to entice her children to read books for fun. Those struggles prompted her creation of a format that mixed “the magic of story with the fun of little toys,” she said. The result? Her first book, Treasure Kai and the Lost Gold of Shark Island.
 
“When my dyslexic son picked up an iPad for the first time and chose storybook apps over game apps, I decided to publish that book as a book app,” Robertson said.
 
Now, Robertson is leading the push to trumpet the value of book apps for millions of kids just like her app-loving son.
Now, Robertson is leading the push to trumpet the value of book apps for millions of kids just like her app-loving son.