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Appenings at SLJ’s 2011 Leadership Summit

At School Library Journal’s Leadership Summit in Washington, DC last week, I had the pleasure of introducing to attendees two people whose work bridges print and digital publishing, Scott Gordon and Christopher Russell.

Scott Gordon is the Senior Manager for Creative Development at Random House Children’s Books. In that role he works with Random’s editors and authors and their design and development partners. If you are familiar with apps for young children, you know Scott’s work. He is the person behind such standard-setting apps as Dorothy Kunhardt’s Pat the Bunny, Tad Hills’s How Rocket Learned to Read, and Janette Sebring Lowrey’s Poky Little Puppy, and a number of enhanced ebooks.

When I first heard that Pat the Bunny was released as an app, like many people I wondered how Random could improve upon everyone’s favorite interactive print book. This was a question that Scott and the folks at Random asked as well (as did Scott’s mother, I’ve learned). Scott noted that there are many poorly designed apps in the market and encouraged audience members to look critically at new releases for children. He asked us to consider: What experiences are appropriate for young children using electronic devices? What interactive features will both educate and engage?

Scott provided us with examples of experiences that engage preschoolers. For example, the painting feature in Pat the Bunny; broad strokes on the screen magically add swatches of color to images. While the many of the pages remain the same in the app version (including the mirror: on the iPad 2 children can see themselves), there are also bubbles to pop, butterflies to catch, and tabs and doors to open and close, along with verbal prompts and encouragement. The Pat the Bunny app can be experienced in a linear fashion or children can choose to visit favorite pages, images, and activities, staying as little or as long as they like with each one.

Will the app replace the Pat the Bunny book experience? I don’t think so, and I don’t think that it is meant to do that. With the best book apps for young children parents remain an essential part of the experience, which serves to complement the book experience.

Christopher Russell, the Editorial Director of Jack Kerouac’s On the Road, was our second guest at Thursday’s summit session. Chris is an editor for both the Viking and Penguin imprints and has worked with a number of well-known authors including Terry McMillan, Penelope Lively, and Tracy Chevalier. When I first met Chris, I asked him how long he had worked on On the Road. He (and his colleagues that were present) laughed. Nine months was his answer, but in the publishing world that can mean day and night for nine months. If you take a look at On the Road, you’ll see the results of that effort.

Chris had access to both the Viking archives and the Kerouac literary estate and it must have been both a daunting and exhilarating task to select the material that best epitomized the book’s genesis, it’s backstory and reception, and it’s legacy. In addition to the version of the book we all know, Jack Kerouac’s On The Road includes images of the scroll version that Kerouac furiously typed on pages of paper taped together, along with samples of revised and edited pages. Add to those Viking’s in-house notes and memos concerning the book and its publication, excerpts relating to it’s critical reception, and embedded biographies, and it’s clear why this production is a boon to young researchers and students of literature.

There are also many visuals: photos, book jackets, and even a few videos of Kerouac’s contemporaries reminiscing, as well as recordings of the author reading his work. (We heard a snatch of one of the recordings at the summit.) There’s much more in this amplified version of the book, which is likely to fuel students’ interest in learning more about the Beats.

Chris is actively involved in exploring Penguin’s next wave of digital products, and Scott alluded to an exciting project he’s working on but couldn’t discuss yet. I’ll be staying in touch with both Chris and Scott and update you on their next projects as soon as I hear about them.