Germany’s LeYo! Relates Digital Interactivity and Analog Books for Kids

In Feature Articles by Porter Anderson

Carlsen’s LeYo! titles, out since November, allow young readers to bring books “to life” by triggering related interactive content on their digital devices while reading them.
From the LeYo! video

From the LeYo! video

By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief | @Porter_Anderson

‘The Child Is in Charge’
When we see what Mathilde Sommain at Carlsen Verlag is doing with LeYo! for children, we were reminded of Together Tales, one of the eight BookTech contenders last autumn at The Bookseller’s The FutureBook Conference in London.

Based in Toronto, Evan Jones’ Together Tales was set in motion using a Kickstarter campaign and, unlike LeYo, it’s the work of a standalone startup company, not a division of a larger publisher. As Molly Flatt wrote about the company:

Together Tales“At Together Tales, books are offered as ‘adventure kits’ complete with a range of on- and offline tools that allow parents (or grandparents, or uncles, or teachers) to put their children at the heart of a real-life story. The kits are based around the traditional print book format, but each chapter arrives through the post separately bound. Adults then reveal them one by one according to the story’s timeline, customising such interactive elements as geolocated scavenger hunts, as the plot requires.”

LeYo! main at 710And what we find now in the LeYo! concept at Carlsen is quite similar but more rigorously digital in terms of its augmentation of books for children.

A kid with a device can use the LeYo! app, Android or iOS, to bring a book to all kinds of life, in an interesting attempt to bridge the digital-analog divide.

We’re glad to have had a chance to put some questions about LeYo! to its programming Editor-in-Chief, Franziksa Kunze. Readers at the just-opened Leipzig Book Fair or headed for next month’s Bologna Children’s Book Fair will find LeYo! exhibiting there, so keep an eye out for them.

And as we get to our interview, we’ll drop in the LeYo! video, in case you’d like to have a very capable kid explain things to you.

‘The Camera Recognizes the Page the Child Is Reading’

We started by asking what the basic approach is with LeYo!

Franziska Kunze: LeYo! is a combination of the physical book and an augmented reality app. The child can look at the pictures in the book. When it starts the app, the experience is enhanced by further information in form of additional texts, sounds or images.

Publishing Perspectives: In the LeYo! video, I see what appears to be a mobile device held over the book — does this trigger the interactive elements so the child can find them?

Franziska Kunze

Franziska Kunze

FK: The child holds a smartphone or a tablet with the app over the spread.

The camera of the mobile device recognizes the page.

The child moves the device to various points on the page and can interact with them on the page.

You can choose to listen to the voices of the various animals in our book about the forest (Im Wald) or can explore who lives inside the trunk of a tree or how its leaves change in summer and winter.

The child is in charge and decides what hotspot to activate. It can also repeat the information as often as it wants. There is a direct relation between the page of the book and the app, so the child always interacts with the book.

PP: How much animation and/or interactivity is created for each book? Is there something for every page of the regular book, for example, or not so much?

FK: On average, our books have more than 400 hotspots, or points that offer additional texts, sounds and images appearing with the app. On each spread, the child chooses between various hotspots. Our book about maps (Mein Atlas) actually offers, overall, more than 8 hours of audio content.

PP: Can you describe the technology behind this approach is? And did it take a lot of time to develop?

FK: LeYo! is based on an augmented-reality app. The camera tracks the spread and recognizes what page the child is looking at. What’s new about LeYo! is that you get more than one animation or sound per spread. It’s possible to find various tiny spots on the page. For example, every animal in the forest can be discovered with their specific sounds and further information.

PP: How long has the LeYo project been active at Carlsen? And, as yet, is it a big thing? Very popular?

From the LeYo! video, animating an animal from the page in the LeYo! system.

From the LeYo! video — animating an animal from the page in the LeYo! system.

FK: The first LeYo! titles were published in November 2014. By now we have more than 40 books.

The combination of smartphone and book is rather new for the users. As with all innovative projects, it needs a bit of explanation of what it is, what it offers, and how to use it.

But the response – especially at the fairs where we communicate directly with the users – is always very positive because it’s so fascinating.

The app helps the book with qualities that the “classical” book does not have such as playing music or animal sounds or showing some movement.

PP: What are some of the most recent titles in the LeYo! collection?

FK: Books about “Airport” and “ Knights” were just published this week. And we are busy working on the new titles for the autumn program.

PP: What age recommended age groups for LeYo! books and apps?

FK: The main target group of LeYo! are children between 5 and 7 years.

PP: What are some of the best interactive elements the LeYo collection features? It seems to me that the animated images of fantastic animals are incredibly beautiful.

From the LeYo! video -- bringing a map to life.

From the LeYo! video — bringing a map to life.

FK: Yes, the books show fantastic illustration and with the app they really come to life with their animations and their sounds.

It’s always fascinating for children to see some movement in the book or to discover things on the page that they do not see beforehand on the spread (i.e. how does it look inside of the pirate ship?). Let’s take a look at our Music-book „Mein großesMusikbuch“: The child has the opportunity to conduct a proper orchestra by choosing which instrument is to play at which time in the orchestra. You’ll also find a keyboard in the book that enables the child to play various tunes on it.

And there is also a proper 3D model of a violin that the child can discover closely from every angle.

Every book offers various games, e.g. feeding birds by bringing the right food such as insects, seeds, fish, to the right bird.

About the Author

Porter Anderson

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Porter Anderson has been named International Trade Press Journalist of the Year in London Book Fair's 2019 International Excellence Awards. He is Editor-in-Chief of Publishing Perspectives. He co-founded The Hot Sheet, a newsletter for trade and indie authors, which now is owned and operated by Jane Friedman. He formerly was Associate Editor for The FutureBook at London's The Bookseller. Anderson also has worked as a senior producer, editor, and anchor with CNN.com, CNN International, and CNN USA, and as an arts critic (National Critics Institute) with The Village Voice and Dallas Times Herald.