Parents who grew up on Sesame Street often enjoy combing YouTube archives for classic skits they remember from their childhoods. They also delight in stumbling across old Sesame books, such as The Great Cookie Thief, which is no longer in publication.
Thankfully, for these parents and their children, Sesame Workshop is starting to update some of their classics as iPad apps, which capture all the original’s magic plus add a little interactive zing. Betsy Loredo has been working as an editor at Sesame Workshop—which has produced over 1200 books since the early 1970s.
While books of all formats are still high priority, Loredo is also using her editorial skills to usher Sesame fans into a new era. Loredo and her team, including partner Callaway Digital Arts, have recently released their third classic book-to-iPad app, The Great Cookie Thief.
“If you’re used to working with stories in the print format, it’s not as difficult a transition moving to digital,” Loredo says. “You’re still trying to capture those sensory experiences and encourage dialogue between parent and child. It’s just the next evolution.”
In a wonderful blog post, Sesame Workshop archivist Susan Tofte describes the process of, in the case of The Great Cookie Thief, moving from a 1971 television segment to 1977 book and then again to a 2012 iPad app.
“It’s not common for us to take a skit from the show and transform it into a book,” Tofte tells TakePart. She describes how originally, characters were in a saloon (not quite the type of establishment normally found on Sesame Street) so the original illustrator for the book had to try to avoid any sort of inappropriate Old West theme and to include more female characters.
The more recent leap from book to iPad also involved some content changes to appeal to modern kids. The narrator is now a gender neutral character (in the book, he was a boy), and all of the language is directed toward the child using the app. And, of course, since the story is now digital, it is packed with entertaining interactive features that appeal to small children, such as place for children to create, with iPad paint and stickers, their own wanted posters.
When asked if it's hard to balance the line between education and entertainment on such an app for kids, Loredo says with a laugh, “It’s like we are tight ropers walking across that really thin line. We’ve taken a cautious approach from the get-go. We want children to focus on the text when it’s on screen, and we want the story in words as much as in interactions. Emergent literacy is [always] one of our main education goals.”
According to an iYogi Insights consumer report earlier this year, 33 percent of parents surveyed say they are willing to buy their child an iPad. And, also according to this survey, parents are allowing their small children to use the iPad for up to two hours a day. Parental involvement is key to helping children navigate apps and continue to learn from the educational ones.
“As each new media has emerged, the underlying question is, ‘If a child is encountering a story this way, what is happening to their imagination?’” Loredo says. “It’s all part of a balanced diet. We need to shape the content of what they are seeing and make it accessible and appropriate. [Sesame Workshop] is creating a safe and appropriate environment for kids and making it as wonder filled as possible.”
Loredo adds that one of the biggest surprises after The Monster at the End of This Book app was released in 2010 was that there was a huge bump in sales of the book, originally published in 1971. “Parents were reminded how much they loved the story, and they wanted to share it with their children,” she says. “We found that energizing. Our app encouraged people to go back to the print.”
She hopes The Great Cookie Thief will be picked up again by another publisher: “That’s one of our secret desires.”
Do you have a favorite children's book you'd like to see as an iPad app? Share it with us in comments.
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Kristin Kloberdanz is a freelance writer based in the San Francisco Bay area. She has written for Time, the Chicago Tribune and Forbes.com about everything from economic crises and political snafus to best summer beach reads.