VL2 Storybook Apps for iPad

The VL2 (Visual Language and Visual Learning) Storybook Apps project leader, Melissa Malzkuhn, presented at a GSR 220 course that focused on storytelling. The storybook team has released two storybook apps so far, The Baobab and The Boy Who Cried Wolf, and both can be purchased from the Apple’s App Store for $4.99. Currently, it is only available from Apple for iPad.

The Baobab was released last year, and it is about a curious little girl who goes on a quest to obtain fruit from the Baobab tree, but she has misadventures on the way. The Boy Who Cried Wolf is the traditional Aesop fable about how lying repetitively can lead to disaster. The Boy Who Cried Wolf was just released on March 18th, and so far, it has approximately 300 downloads. It still has a long way to go to match the success of The Baobab, which has approximately 1,500 downloads as of now. Also, The Baobab won second place in the DEVICE Design Award 2014—Professional Category this past February. Norway is working to translate The Baobab to create a different version of the app to suit deaf people in Norway who might not know ASL or English.

Both of the storybook apps are bilingual, and they aim to improve children’s English and ASL language abilities. There are three “modes” on the app: watch, read, and learn. Watch is the ASL version of the storybook. There’s no English text shown along with the ASL—there’s just animated pictures that go along with it. The read mode is the English version, which also has the animated pictures. The learn mode focuses on both English and ASL language acquisition. Certain words that tend to be adjectives and verbs are highlighted, and when the word is clicked on, the ASL sign for the word is shown.

One goal of the apps is simplicity—the team wants the children to be able to figure out the app and play with it themselves. The app is child-friendly compared to the ASL storybooks of the past. Sometimes, a DVD of the ASL version of the story would be shown while reading along to the actual storybook. Often, one language is ignored because it is a lot of work to pay attention to both the English and ASL. The app allows children to read at their own pace and learn about two languages simultaneously.

Malzkuhn made it clear in her lecture that creating these storybook apps are not easy. The apps are a team effort, and one storybook app often takes as long as two years to produce. A team of storybook illustrators, ASL storytellers, teachers, film editors, and app creators worked together to produce the two storybook apps. They used a different artist for each story so each story had a special, individual look to it. They were also careful about choosing a storyteller who feels connected to the story.

The VL2 storybook group has plans to release two more storybooks, The Little Airplane That Could and The Blue Lobster. The group also has ideas for their first non-fiction storybook about the water cycle. The group is designing a “VL2 Storybook Creator” program that will be marketed to groups that also want to create their own storybook apps.

Malzkuhn had big plans for the group and shared that her favorite moment of creating these apps was “When it is finally submitted to the App Store free of errors. It took me about thirteen hours to finally fix all the errors in The Baobab, but the App Store finally accepted it, and that was a happy moment!”

Malzkuhn also wanted to share that the group is always looking for interns. “If you like playing with technology, this is for you!” The group also values creativity and a willingness to try new things in an intern. If you’re interested, e-mail her at melissa.malzkuhn@gallaudet.edu.

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