Animating An ePicturebook: First Thoughts

In 2009 I was invited by the Thoreau Society to present one of my picture books at their Annual Gathering in Concord, Massachusetts. I had just finished Henry’s Night, the fifth book of my “Henry Series” that began in 2000 with the publication of Henry Hikes to Fitchburg (Houghton Mifflin). Each of these books introduced kids to an important idea of Henry David Thoreau: living small and simply, working at what you love, and living close to Nature.

The Annual Gathering program was to include a workshop to engage the audience in some aspect of Thoreau’s life and thought. At the time I was playing with an idea to introduce Henry to an even younger group of readers by using quotations from Walden as inspiration for nursery rhymes. For example, Thoreau had written:

“Flint’s Pond! Such is the poverty of our nomenclature. What right had the unclean and stupid farmer, whose farm abutted on this sky water, whose shores he has ruthlessly laid bare, to give his name to it? Some skin-flint, who loved better the reflecting surface of a dollar…”

Farmer Flint sinking into the muck of his empty pond.

And I wrote:

Water for sale!
Fresh water for sale!
Old Farmer Flint
Put his pond in a pail.

He strained it and drained it
Till nothing was left,
But the muck that was stuck
To the back of his neck.

Since I would possibly never have a more receptive audience than the Gathering, I divided my workshop, gave each group a selection of quotations from Walden, and challenged them to write their own “Thoreauvian” nursery rhyme. The enjoyment everyone had with this activity confirmed my belief that a book of nursery rhymes could be my sixth Henry book. I titled it Henry's Rhymes From Walden.

For a number of reasons, probably all valid, my publisher did not climb on board. But I persisted until I had fifty rhymes. Now what to do with them? Being the author and illustrator of the work, I asked myself: how difficult could it be to also be the publisher? Not so much, I decided, if Henry's Rhymes were published as an e-book.

Cover of Henry's Rhymes From Walden

My Henry print books were made into e-books (very badly—and I had to personally re-build them, but that’s the subject of another post.) but I’ve never been impressed by electronic versions of print books. Perhaps if portability or convenience or price were the only concern, the e-book version would make sense. But I’m a creator, I want something more if it’s possible. Doing a page-turn, word-highlighted, perhaps narrated rendition of a book on an electronic devise seemed more like sitting in a car that was being pulled along by a team of horses. I think the most interesting capabilities of a digitally rendered book are animation and sound. It’s what a print book can’t do. It’s what separates the two. I love print. I’ve illustrated twelve picture books in print. Now I want to make twelve animated e-books. Why? Because I can. And you can too!

And that’s a story for my next post and many more after that. Meantime, you can download Henry's Rhymes From Walden free on the iBooks Store. Seeing it will help you understand where this blog is leading.