Don’t Let the Pigeon confuse you! A Picturebook App. Or not?

By Ghada
Working with the paratexts of picturebook series leads me to investigate myriad ‘external’ connections, and in the past year these have included Apps.  As I have mentioned before I have looked at Apps adapted from picturebook series such as Olivia, The Cat in the Hat, The Berenstain Bears and others. So I was evidently happy when I discovered that Mo Willems, author of 2 of the series from my corpus (The stories about Pigeon and Elephant & Piggie) had announced that he was soon to release an App, and that it would be titled: Don’t Let The Pigeon Run This App! I equally found this announcement strange considering that just a few months earlier he mentioned that he was not fond of adapting his books into Apps. Still, I went ahead and downloaded it. When I did, I was left first confused, then relieved, that Willems was not going back on his claim that, to him, e-books are “narrative killers”. Here is why:


So I thought, perhaps Willems has reconsidered and I was about to take a look at his first ever picturebook series App. That seemed to be a viable assumption before purchasing it. For starters most other Apps were existing picturebooks made into Apps. I also presumed the App would be a picturebook because the App is sold under the ‘Books’ section of iTunes and the logo/icon - which has now come to equate the front cover of a conventional book - greatly resembled the covers of the books in the series.  

Although many of the elements of continuity of the book version of the series are present - the author, the protagonist (Pigeon), the style, even the humorous tone - Willems did not create his App into either a digital replica of one of his books, nor did he create a new picturebook (made especially as an App). 

This App is not a picturebook. So what, then, is it? Well, if I had to define it I would say it is an audio/visual combination between an activity book and an interactive toy. Once opened, ‘readers’ can carry out a variety of activities/actions. They are invited to create, make choices, record their own voice, learn how to draw the pigeon, but unlike other Apps created from a picturebook series, this App does not have a ‘story’ in the conventional sense. Compared to the others, where the level of interactivity is not the main focus, here interactivity is central; it does not have the option of running on its own. It’s functionality demands the ‘reader’ to touch, shake and talk into it; which explains why the front cover even advertises authorship to “Mo Willems and you”.


Any worry that Willems is jumping on the App bandwagon too seriously is put to rest when at this year’s Zena Sutherland Lecture, he expressed his views on the differences between a book and it’s digital breed:

The book doesn’t work, it can’t work, unread … What if books are better because they don’t do things, because they can’t do things? What if the thing that makes books great, that makes them essential is that books need us? They’re simple. You invest in them and become part of them. You contribute. They can be read, but they can also be played … It needs us desperately. We have to pull it off the shelf. We have to open it up. We have to turn the pages, one by one. We even have to use our imagination to make it work …  We have to do all of that, we have to that with our little minds and our flapping flights of fancy. So, suddenly, that book is not just a book; it’s our book. We’re the ones making it work. We’re the ones making it sing. Right there in our chairs as we gently flip the pages, we are, at our own pace, creating a living story just by reading … And you don’t have to turn off a book during takeoff and landing.

Not only do these claims justify why Don’t Let The Pigeon Run This App! bears such little resemblance to a picturebook but they equally reveal that picturebook creators have acknowledged that Apps and other forms of e-books are now becoming an exciting (but different) addition to children’s literature, and are telling us what they think.

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