Monday, 23 July 2012

The Story Mouse Talking Books

The Story Mouse Talking Books App is like your very own bookshelf filled with all the classic Fairy Tales from your youth. Mix that up with those Audio books we all loved (you know the books that came with a CD, or for those of us who are old enough to remember, a cassette tape?) and you have an app that will bring hours of enjoyment.

At first glance you might think this app is lacking due to the absence of interactivity, but in fact that is the beauty of it. I think sometimes our kids get distracted by all the action in an interactive book app and although it is a great way to get them interested it is lovely to have an app that actually looks and reads like a real book.

The Story Mouse Talking Book App is free to download and comes with a free book The Three Billy Goats Gruff. The other 13 titles, all adaptions of classic, much loved Fairy Tales, are available as In-App Purchases. I am not usually a fan of  In-App Purchases but this is no different to adding to your iBook collection and at $1.99 per book they are great value.There is also the option to preview each book for free before you buy.

The narration in the read to me option is done by various professional presenters all with an easy to listen to English accent. As a Special Needs Mum I would love to see the option of choosing  different nationalities narrating as our children are prone to copying  accents.

My other wish is to do with the word highlighting. Although the paragraphs are highlighted during the read to me option, as an educational tool I would much prefer highlighting each word as it is spoken.

Apart from those two minor issues there isn't much not to like about this app. I frequently use it to read bed time stories to my children and the interface is easy enough to use that even my four year old can navigate it without assistance.

The Story Mouse Talking Books App is available for iPad and iPhone and  you can even download the audio books via the website if you don't have an iOS device.

Overall this is a fantastic app with heaps of longevity as they are constantly adding to the library. What it lacks in bells and whistles it makes up for with it's realistic storybook feel and is much easier then lugging around a bookcase!

iTunes Link
The Story Mouse Website

Books available for download-

    1. The Three Billy Goats Gruff  - Free! (comes with app download)
    2. The Ugly Duckling - New!
    3. The Gingerbread Man
    4. The Hare & the Tortoise
    5. Goldilocks & the Three Bears
    6. Puss in Boots
    7. Jack & the Beanstalk
    8. The Enormous Turnip
    9. The Elves & the Shoemaker
    10. The Little Red Hen
    11. The Three Little Pigs
    12. Little Red Riding Hood
    13. The Owl & the Pussycat
    14. ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas

Question and Answer with Alan from The Story Mouse
- What is The Story Mouse?
The Story Mouse is a collection of the world's best-loved stories and fairytales, all brought together in one collection for the iPad, iPhone and iPod touch. In the main, the titles we publish are those we all grew up with from Jack & the Beanstalk to Goldilocks & the Three Bears; from The Gingerbread Man to The Three Little Pigs. These stories have stood the test of time for a reason - simply because they're great tales which children love! 
All our books operate in a choice of modes: "Read it to me" (where the pages turn automatically and the voice reads the story), or "Read it myself' (where the voice is turned off and the child advances the pages at their own pace, effectively turning the app into a normal book). The feedback we've had from parents suggests this choice of modes is very popular - the former familiarises the child with the story and the latter enables them to read it for themselves, giving tremendous confidence to a young reader.

- How did the idea for The Story Mouse come about?
The demands of children! It all started with one story, told with a few funny voices to the children of our friends. The story went down so well that we were asked for more and more so we decided to develop our storytelling skills to engage children in the process of reading as much as possible. The result is a collection of stories which parents love because it gives their children confidence when starting out in the world of books. 
Our main Talking Books app comes with a free story too, so you can try what we have to offer without spending a single penny! Additionally, we licence our stories to 3rd parties - if you fly long-haul on most British Airways routes you'll find The Story Mouse in the in-flight entertainment selection (you see, mice can fly too!).

- Who are the people behind The Story Mouse?
The two people who run the business are from media and technology backgrounds. Alan has spent 20 years in broadcasting - he deals with all the content and co-ordination of authors' and illustrators' work; Philippe has a background in computer programming - he deals with all the technical stuff. 

- The Story Mouse works in partnership with illustrators and authors who are often mothers working from home. How does this work?
The people without whom The Story Mouse wouldn't exist are our authors and illustrators. They all work from home and send their work via the internet to be compiled into the finished apps. 
It works like this: We contact our illustrators to tell them about the next 2 or 3 titles we're looking to publish. They then decide which story they're most drawn to (this really brings out the fun in the illustrations because we find our illustrators come to love the characters they create!). For a 10 minute story we'd normally ask for around 20 illustrations and when these are done they're sent to Philippe who does a bit of technical wizardry to put them into the format Apple likes. They're then sent to Alan who compiles the app, matching the audio with the pictures. The finished app is then submitted to Apple for their approval and a few days later it appears around the world on the App Store!
The illustrators and authors receive a monthly share of the sales based on a percentage of the revenue earned from each story. All the contributors have access to the sales figures on a daily basis so they can see how many of their stories have been sold and in which countries.
The advantages of working this way are numerous. First it means the illustrators can work at their own pace. Working from home fits in with their lifestyles too - several of our illustrators are busy parents and being creative when it suits them gives maximum flexibility. Also, it's great that The Story Mouse is helping their talents which might otherwise go unnoticed find an audience.
One of our authors, Helen Aitken has a 4 year old daughter. Helen came to us with an idea for a completely new character, Bertie the Guinea Pig. It would be very unlikely for an established paper-and-ink publisher to take a risk on a set of stories which are completely untested, but we saw the potential in Helen's work so we commissioned an illustrator to work with her and now there are 4 Bertie stories available in just about every country in the world!   

- How do you communicate with Story Mouse fans?
We have an active Facebook page and Twitter feed ( and @thestorymouse) which keeps us in touch with people. Also, we have been delighted to be featured in Apple's "New and Noteworthy" section in the App Store several times - this gives us Apple's "stamp of approval" which customers like! We also have our own website which has lots of information about our apps, including videos which show how they work. You'll find us here:

- What would your advice be to aspiring app developers and authors?
If you have a good idea, give it a go! Make sure you test the idea thoroughly on friends and family who you can be sure will give you an honest answer. Although the barriers to entry in online publishing are low compared with traditional paper-and-ink publishing, there are still costs involved. We are lucky at The Story Mouse in that the 2 people who run the business possess the skills necessary to get the idea off the ground - technical development and content are the biggest cost areas. 

- What has been the biggest challenge in establishing The Story Mouse?
The sheer amount of hard work that's gone into creating the stories! When we look back nearly 2 years to the day we decided to make our first books, an enormous amount of work has taken place. Since then we've expanded the catalogue, introduced animation into some titles and introduced a character unique to us, Bertie the Guinea Pig. 
Looking forward we'll be adding many new stories and we are at the early stages of developing a series of educational apps which will make spelling and maths fun!