“THE NEXT ONE SHOULD BE A TIGER!!!” I still remember seeing this subject line roaring at me from my inbox. I blinked twice. Huh? And then I clicked and realized it was an email from a librarian requesting a new animal for my Peek-a-Zoo series (on behalf of a child during a digital story time). I remember thinking, “What a great idea!” And then I remember wishing I could ask the child what other animals he wanted see.
As an indie app developer, thoughts and feedback from children (and librarians!) are like gold–precious, sometimes hard to come by, and something you can never have enough of. It’s valuable in that I can often see my questions answered almost instantaneously. Is the lion roar too scary? (No.) Will they tap on the faucet? (Yes.) Is it too hard to tap on that arrow? (Yes.) But even more precious are the things blurted out during play. Why isn’t there a tiger?! Why doesn’t the tractor move? I want to hear the train whistle! So many updates to our apps were inspired from questions like these. The idea for “Peek-a-Zoo Underwater” was born from one disappointed user’s adamant declaration, “I only want to see underwater animals!”￼
These kinds of heart-felt reactions are what actually inspired me to start making apps. When my son was a year old, one of his favorite books was Dear Zoo by Rod Campbell. The story is simple. It starts with, “I wrote to the zoo to send me a pet. They sent me an……” and then with each subsequent spread, we are greeted with special deliveries from the zoo–a basket, a box, a blue crate, a green crate, each represented by a durable flap that encourages the child to discover for himself what’s hiding in the box. Every night, my son and I would sit down with Dear Zoo, and with each new page/package, my son would grab the flap and open it with such zeal, it was as if it were opening it for the very first time. We read so many books, but nothing seemed to capture his attention and his imagination like Dear Zoo.
These kinds of reactions are what I strive for with every app I make–a desire to see more (a tiger!!), to do more (“I want to see a real sting ray!”), and to discover (more underwater animals!). And it’s in this regard that I feel apps and books go hand in hand. A digital app is a natural extension of a physical book, and like books, there are thousands (and perhaps soon millions) of titles to choose from. Who better to cull the pile than a librarian? And who better to inform app developers on what kids (and librarians) might enjoy or need from their apps?