Little Green Librarian

Blogging my way through a Masters in Teacher Librarianship at CSU!

Digital literature reviews


image of a young girl operating a tablet computer

Merapi Stories (Website)

In 2010, seismic activity around the Merapi Volcano in Indonesia caused a series of devastating eruptions, tragically claiming the lives of approximately 350-400 people and significantly impacting the lives of countless others. The Merapi Stories website explores, through interviews and thematic connections, the experiences of 21 people affected by this natural disaster.

The website was conceived by Josephine Lie, its creator, as an “online interactive documentary” (Lie, 2012, p2) and was developed by Code and Visual on its flash web development platform. It can be categorised as an example of immersive multimedia journalism. The site is also supported by a wonderful study guide, available to download for free from the website.

The primary content of the website is a series of video interviews, conducted by website creator Josephine Lie in a number of Indonesian dialects, supplemented with English subtitles. Each of the videos play for several minutes and are masterfully edited to enhance the subject matter being discussed. For example, an interview with a farmer named Hardi, whose farm lies seven kilometres south of Mount Merapi, is interspersed with footage of his farm and evidence of damage caused by the volcano. This particular video interview explores the motivation of people like Hardi to continue living near an active volcano, giving student viewers a more personal insight into the lives of people affected by natural disasters. Not all of the interviews are as useful as each other, from an educational point of view, but their short length means that the less useful videos do not detract from the overall quality and usefulness of the website content.

Merapi Stories can be used with students in Years 5 and 6 who are studying the Earth and Space sub-strand of the New South Wales Science syllabus (outcome ST3-9ES). The content points for this outcome suggest that students study the rapid changes at the earth’s surface, using examples from the Asian region, which makes the website an excellent resource for this topic. Another content point asks students to identify the role of scientific and technological advances in helping people plan for and manage natural disasters, another topic that is explored in the video interviews. Merapi Stories also allows students to engage with content from the Reading and Viewing sub-strand of the New South Wales English syllabus (outcome EN3-3A), which asks students to explore the structure and construction of more complex texts.

Navigation of the Merapi Stories website is incredibly intuitive. A short introductory video plays automatically when first entering the website. It briefly introduces the site, shows footage of an eruption of Mount Merapi, and encourages the viewer to select a video to begin. Once the introductory video closes, the viewer is presented with a network of coloured circles, arranged in three layers.

screen shot of the Merapi Stories website

Hovering the cursor over any of the circles will cause a photograph of an interviewee to appear, accompanied by a short audio clip. Coloured lines also materialise to join the selected video to other videos that are linked thematically. A theme list to the left of the page highlights the relevant themes for the selected video. The theme list provides another method of navigation, allowing viewers to see all videos that are relevant to a particular theme. A third method of navigation is utilising the three visual levels that separate the sets of videos – village residents, volunteers and coordinators, and the wider community. The key digital affordances that add value to this website are: the flexibility of navigation, the non-linear nature of the videos, consistency of icon use throughout the website and videos, and the clean layout of site.

The excellent design and clean presentation of the site provides the basis for intrinsic motivation for users. There are few text-based instructions, but navigation is so intuitive that exploration becomes an integral part of interacting with the website. Hovering the cursor over various elements of the page causes immediate feedback to occur, in the guise of bursts of colour that shoot across the page, encouraging the user to explore the thematic links between videos.

The only drawback of Merapi Stories is its format – flash. Flash is best viewed on a computer rather than a tablet, which limits its use within the classroom if laptops are not widely available. Flash also will not work on Apple mobile devices at all.

Over all, Merapi Stories offers students the opportunity to explore the wide-ranging effects of a natural disaster in the local community through hearing the voices and stories of people whose lives were forever changed by the 2010 eruptions. It does so in an engaging way, using excellent design and intuitive navigation to encourage exploration of its high-quality video content.


The Sneetches (Android app)

The Sneetches, originally published in 1961 as part of a collection of four tales, is a story by prolific author Dr Seuss. The Sneetches book app by Oceanhouse Media, available on both Android and IOS platforms, employs simple animations, sound effects and narration to bring this classic story to a new audience. This review is based on the Android app, currently available from the Google Play Store for $1.29.

The Sneetches app can be categorised as an interactive storybook, as it incorporates many of the features attributed to this type of digital text (Lamb, 2011, p14). As this app is based on a classic text that has already proved its worth as a piece of literature in its own right, educators selecting this app can be assured that it is a quality text, enhanced by features that are designed to increase engagement (Larson, 2009, p257).

The Sneetches is a text that was not born digital, meaning that the narrative is necessarily linear to match the original non-digital story, limiting the level of interactivity for users. This means that the text is not suitable for selection as a comparison text to the original non-digital version, as digital enhancements are limited. Where this text excels, however, is in its value as literature. The Sneetches is a text recommended by the Board of Studies NSW for students in Years 3 and 4 (2013, p36), as it examines complex themes in an accessible way. The Sneetches app allows students to engage with content from the Reading and Viewing sub-strand of the English K-10 syllabus (outcome EN2-8B).

From the navigation screen, users can select to have the story read to them, either at a pace set by the user or through auto play (which runs for approximately ten minutes), or to read the story themselves. Simple animations are used to transition between the various elements of the original paper page, and sound effects accompany many of the pages. The sound effects can be toggled on and off in the settings menu, which is also where a brief set of written instructions can be found that alert the user to a number of features of the text, including the ability to tap on parts of the illustrations to see and hear labels for a number of illustrative elements. Another way that users are alerted to the image label feature is an instruction early on in the text to “tap pictures”. The Sneetches uses the standard eBook swipe feature to navigate between pages. The use of standard eBook digital affordances, such as tapping and swiping, allow the user to navigate easily through the text and receive the expected feedback that these actions would usually elicit on a touch screen device. These schemas are often already established in young readers (James & de Kock, 2013, p118), so their interaction with The Sneetches is likely to be very intuitive. The standard structure of Oceanhouse Media’s book apps also allows the user to become familiar with the format, increasing accessibility to all of the titles. The simple interaction between user and app means that even very young readers will be able to traverse the app with ease. Thus, the usability of The Sneetches is broad. The reusability of the app means that, much like a child’s favourite print-based text, The Sneetches can be read repeatedly.

Intrinsic motivation for young readers of The Sneetches takes the form of assisted reading mechanisms. Tapping on words and pictures elicits assistance in the form of word highlighting and audio assistance. This is particularly useful in The Sneetches, due to the use of invented words, such as “thars” instead of “theirs”, and difficult character names. This feature allows weaker readers to read on without losing meaning.

The presentation design of The Sneetches is simple and consistent across the titles in the series, while also remaining true to the design of the original text. In this way, the illustrations from the original text set the tone for the design of the app. For example, the initial selection buttons are in the shape of the stars that grace the bellies of some of the characters. The serif font used for the bulk of the text is also similar to the font used in the print version of The Sneetches. It is possible that this decision was made purely to keep with the design of the print version, which is disappointing, as studies suggest that serif fonts slow the lexical processing time of readers (Moret-Tatay & Perea, 2011, p623).

Over all, The Sneetches is a solid example of an interactive storybook that caters to a broad range of users. The value of this text is in its longstanding status as good literature and its exploration of social issues in an accessible manner. While it may not have significant digital enhancements, The Sneetches, like other quality interactive storybooks, is a valuable addition to the primary classroom.


 A Calendar of Tales (Online eBook and downloadable PDF)

A Calendar of Tales is a collection of short stories by author Neil Gaiman, available for free as both an online eBook and a downloadable PDF. While the collection is presented in two digital formats, it is actually the manner in which the text was conceived and created that sets it apart as a valuable example of digital literature.

Over a twelve-hour period, Gaiman released twelve prompt questions, corresponding to the months of the year, through his Twitter page. Fans responded by giving Gaiman interesting answers. He then selected his favourite responses and wrote one short story for each month of the year, resulting in the collection as it now stands. To extend the project, Gaiman made audio recordings of himself reading each of the tales aloud, and fans further contributed art and video animations inspired by the stories, which are now part of the online eBook. This project can be categorised as an interactive creation.

Those familiar with Gaiman’s traditionally published novels will find some of his trademark quirky fantasy elements within the twelve stories. The thread of time and Gaiman’s masterful writing style hold together the diverse tales, ensuring content quality while simultaneously appealing to a wide audience. It is perhaps Gaiman’s experience as a writer and establishment as a favourite author of many in the fantasy genre that adds the most value to A Calendar of Tales as a piece of quality digital literature.

In the classroom, A Calendar of Tales could certainly be analysed at the text level. The online eBook has a number of excellent digital features, such as embedded artworks, audio and video that go beyond the scope of even the PDF version, making it an excellent set of texts to directly compare. However, the value of this text lies in its ability to inspire collaborative writing projects with real audiences. A Calendar of Tales allows students in Years 5 and 6 to engage with the Thinking imaginatively, creatively, interpretively and critically sub-strand of the NSW English K-10 syllabus (outcome EN3-7C) by innovatively adapting what they read to create something new. The ongoing free access to the finished product of this project means that students can retrieve, re-imagine and remix ideas that Gaiman and his fans have created.

Navigation of the PDF version of A Calendar of Tales is linear, but the online eBook has several options for navigation. A side panel allows users to jump to the tales for each of the months, while scrolling with the mouse will allow users to access each tale in calendar order. Users can choose to either listen to Neil Gaiman reading each tale or to read it for themselves in a pop-up window. The winning fan artwork for each month is featured in the centre of the screen, but other fan contributions are scattered around the edges. Clicking on an image thumbnail will allow users to inspect it in more detail. There are several digital affordances in this text that are of particular value. The way that all clickable items are affected by scrolling, while the background remains relatively static suggests that these elements moving in tandem are part of a group. Another key digital affordance is the clear indication of hyperlinks through a consistent background of either white or black. Feedback to the user occurs whenever a hyperlink is clicked and through movement of items due to scrolling.

Users are intrinsically motivated to explore by the way in which some images and text appear to be hidden behind static branches. Scrolling reveals each partially hidden item and brings onto the screen more items again. Another presentation design feature that becomes more noticeable when scrolling through from January to December is the subtle changes to the tree branches and sky in the background that reflect the changing seasons of a northern hemisphere calendar year. These small design details encourage exploration and add to the value of this piece of digital literature. Further, each of these enhancements has a role to play in the overall experience of the text, ensuring there is no unnecessary distraction for readers through overreliance on “bells and whistles” (Lamb, 2011, p17).

Now that Gaiman’s project is complete, users cannot interact with the author in the creation of tales any longer, however the more projects like this that take place, the more opportunity there is for interactive creation of literary texts. A Calendar of Tales shows what is possible when established authors interact meaningfully with their fans, as well as inspiring other collaborative efforts.



Board of Studies NSW (2013). Suggested texts for the English K-10 syllabus (4th ed.). Retrieved from:

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), 107-123. doi: 10.1080/10131752.2013.783394

Lamb, A. (2011). Reading redefined for a transmedia universe. Learning & Leading with Technology, 39(3), 12-17.

Larson, L. C. (2009). e-Reading and e-Responding: New tools for the next generation of readers. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, 53(3), 255-258. doi: 10.1598/JAAL.53.3.7

Lie, J. (2012) An interactive documentary: Merapi: Stories from the volcano: A study guide by Josephine Lie. Retrieved from:

Moret-Tatay, C., & Perea, M. (2011). Do serifs provide an advantage in the recognition of written words? Journal of Cognitive Psychology, 23(5), 619-624. doi: 10.1080/20445911.2011.546781


Image source: Tablet by lcr3cr. Public Domain.

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