The Artifacts by Lynley Stace and Dan Hare is an interactive storybook (Lamb, 2011) available from the iTunes store as a universal app for iPad, iPhone and iPod touch at a cost of A$4.49. Produced in Australia and first released in 2012, this digitally originated text (Unsworth, 2008) is targeted at middle primary to early secondary-aged children, an under-catered for market (Grabarek, 2012).
Asaf is a collector of collections, things that other people throw away. His parents view his collections as rubbish and do not want them in the house. When Asaf is 13 they take the opportunity of a move to a new house to throw them out, instructing him not to have any more collections. Asaf retreats into his imagination. He discovers it is possible to collect things that others can’t see – ideas, information, fantasy worlds, and develops an excellent memory. When he grows up he leaves home taking only “two small suitcases and one very large mind”.
The Artifacts is a cleverly constructed story with multimodal features (Walsh, 2013. P. 181). From the opening page where narration and sound effects can be turned on or off by flicking old-fashioned light switches, and random symbols appear from a cardboard box, to the caterpillars noisily eating leaves added by a touch, to the positive and negative concepts streaming from the hot and cold taps in the bathroom, this story is greatly enhanced by clever interactive features. The app does not come with instructions so the interactivity is not explained and must be discovered. For this reason, it will reward re-reading as new features are revealed. On first read, I didn’t realise that tilting the screen had an effect and missed a number of the interactive features. The app is presented for linear reading but it’s possible to navigate to different pages via the menu.
The illustrations are in a simple, realistic style and the colour palette changes with the mood through the story. Simple animation – static objects moving on the screen – and appropriate sound effects are used to good effect, enhancing the overall experience.
While it is refreshing to hear an Australian accent in a market dominated by American products, the narrator’s voice lacks animation and is not entirely appropriate to the story’s tone (Yokota and Teale, 2014, p.580). Pronunciation mistakes are jarring – pen-chant instead of pon-shon – is one example. The narrator is not credited, presumably it was not a professional voice artist or actor which is a pity as this is the only glaring negative feature of an otherwise engaging story app.
Throughout the story the use of language is creative and evocative: “Asaf sat inside the desolate room and hated everything about it” (p. 9) where tapping the screen summons an alphabetical stream of unhappy and negative phrases “the absence” “the betrayal” “the cheerlessness” “the dearth” “the ill-feeling” “the joylessness” “the minimalism” and so on. Later, Asaf is in the bathroom cleaning his teeth and “collecting his thoughts” (p. 18). Tapping the cold tap reveals negative words in blue: disappointment, rage, guilt, anxiety; while the hot tap reveals red, positive terms: excitement, delight, amusement, hope. In the library, he reads books with outrageous and amusing titles “Practical onomatopoeia” “Frowsiness illustrated” “Treatise on giggling and chuckling”. As Asaf moves from his desolation at the loss of his physical things to the realisation that he can amass vast collections in his mind, the reader must interpret and comprehend more than just the text, the interactive features contribute to the meaning (Leu et al, 2011, p. 6), they maintain the integrity of the story (Yokota and Teale, 2014, p. 581) and enhance the reader’s imaginative projection (James and de Kock, 2013. P. 114).
The Artifacts lends itself easily to classroom use. Extensive teaching notes are provided giving page by page reading notes, pointing out some of the interactive features that could be missed, and lesson ideas for oral language, advertising, the natural world, creative writing, geography, and writing a compare and contrast essay. There are links to further information, resources and templates. (Slap Happy Larry, 2016).
Links to the Slap Happy Larry Youtube channel, Facebook page and teaching notes are found from the “i” icon. Each of these is protected by asking the user to “Press 1. Slate Gray 2. Raspberry simultaneously to continue” from a choice of four colour patches. This is unlikely to stop any child capable of reading this text.
Produced in Australia, the setting could be any one of a number of places, and is modern but not time-stamped. It could be taking place anytime from the present back 10, 20 or 30 years which will help the story remain relevant for at least as long as it continues to function properly as iOS is updated. The app was last updated in July 2015.
Grabarek, D. (2012, January 16). Review: ‘The Artifacts’ for iOS. Retrieved from http://blogs.slj.com/touchandgo/2012/01/16/review-the-artifacts-for-ios/
James, R. & De Kock, L. (2013). The digital David and the Gutenberg Goliath: the rise of the ‘enhanced’ e-book. English Academy Review, 30(1), pp. 107-123. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/10131752.2013.783394
Lamb, A. (2011). Reading redefined for a transmedia universe. Learning and leading with technology, 39(3), 12-17. Retrieved from http://ezproxy.csu.edu.au/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=ehh&AN=67371172&site=ehost-live
Leu, D.J. et al (2011). The new literacies of online reading comprehension: Expanding the literacy and learning curriculum. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy,55(1)5-14. Doi: 10.1598/JAAL.55.1.1
Slap Happy Larry. (2016). The Artifacts [website] Retrieved from http://www.slaphappylarry.com/story-apps/about-the-artifacts/
Stace, L. & Hare, D. (2015). The Artifacts [Mobile Application Software] Retrieved from https://itunes.apple.com/au/app/the-artifacts/id467935343?mt=8
Unsworth, L. (2008). Multiliteracies, E-literature and English Teaching. Language & Education: An International Journal, 22(1), 62-75. doi:10.2167/le726.0
Walsh, M. (2013). Literature in a digital environment (Ch. 13). In L. McDonald (Ed.), A literature companion for teachers. Marrickville, NSW: Primary English Teaching Association Australia (PETAA). https://www.csu.edu.au/division/library/ereserve/pdf/walsh-m3.pdf
Yokota, J. & Teale, W. H. (2014). Picture books and the digital world: educators making informed choices. The Reading Teacher, 34(6). Retrieved from http://www.academia.edu/3886534/Picture_Books_and_the_Digital_World_Educators_Making_Informed_Choices