Digital Stories – the New Normal in the Text Book Publishing



Today’s children are called diginatives for a good reason. However, it’s taken some time for the text book publishers and schools alike to jump on the wagon. The Finnish Illustration Association organized a seminar on 8th September, the International Literacy Day, to tackle the subject of digital stories and what they mean to the illustrators.

AR in a children’s book

A Bear Called Mur is a children’s book by Kaisa Happonen and Anne Vasko, both seasoned professionals in childrens’ culture. Kaisa Happonen told in the seminar about the creation process of this book and how her background in the most popular Finnish childrens’ program Pikku Kakkonen helped in making this new kind of illustrated book a reality.

A Bear Called Mur is originally a traditional illustrated childrens’ book, but it was relaunched as an augmented reality project after an application was created, with which it is possible for the child to step in to the world of Mur.

Kaisa Happonen stressed in her presentation the importance of testing, when building up an application. A digital interactive narrative requires new style of script writing (mind map) and it is almost impossible for the creator to anticipate all the different ways a user may react to the story without prior testing. This is especially important when creating narratives for children, as an adult creator is too distanced from the patterns of thought that steer childrens’ interests and actions. There is also a very real danger of falling in love with one’s own ideas, even though they might not receive any interest in the potential audience.

Kaisa Happonen told she’d been greatly influenced by Stuart Brown’s writing in the Play: How it Shapes the Brain, Opens Imagination.

Fast and Furious

Text book publishing is an industry pressed by deadlines. Maria Kiiso from Sanoma Pro told about the creation of the new English language text book series Go for it! There is a huge team working with each book series, starting from the teachers, who plan the contents, to the native speaker actors, who create the audios and everything in between from graphic design to marketing. Illustrators are important pieces in this puzzle, as text books include numerous illustrations.

Go for it! first part of the series was created in five months with some 10 – 15 illustrations per month. This kind of pace requires economic working methods from the illustrator and a possibility to concentrate full time to one project – not self-evident in the Finnish freelancer dominated illustrator scene.

Go for it! brings the AR world to the text books by enabling the elementary school students to e.g. watch videos connected to the book series by pointing their mobile phones to certain pictures in the book. Sanoma Pro has created its own AR application Arttu for this end.

It is interesting to see how long it takes – if it ever makes it before some new technology emerges – before the AR books hit the desks in the majority of the schools. Experience form my childrens’ schools tell that text books are reused for years. My daughter just recently wondered why her physics book talks about incandescent lamps, although they have not been used for quite some time anymore. Well, a quick look confirmed the book was published ten years ago…

From Street Art to Rovio

The last presenter of the day was Ossi Pirkonen, a multitalented illustrator, whose credits include street art projects, logos, character design and collaboration with Rovio, ice hockey emojis, cd covers aso. He told about his experiences on working on the illustrations for the text book series Vaikuttaja (Influencer, a history and social studies series). His illustration style in this book series is very relaxed and conceptual and had received good feed back as being modern.

An anecdote about the creation of the MC for the illustrations was a good reminder of how difficult it is sometimes for the illustrator to see beyond his own work. Ossi Pirkonen had created a dozen different suggestions for the main character with little response from the publisher, until he finally presented the one suggestion he didn’t think he’d even show to them. In the end, this MC was selected and afterwards it is evident that it was the best choice.




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