The children's book author hopes to foster a new interactive reading experience

By peoplestaff225
Updated November 16, 2011 02:00 PM

The author of several popular children’s books, Mo Willems was looking for his next challenge when he decided to undertake the development of his first-ever app, Don’t Let The Pigeon Run This App!, now available on the Apple iPad, iPhone and iTouch.

The program allows users to write, illustrate and narrate their own tales, with Willems also providing guidance along the way as the voice of The Pigeon.

To discuss the app’s development and the importance of interactivity in the digital era, the author chatted with PEOPLE Moms & Babies.

Check out our interview below:

Why did you want to create an app?

It’s a direct product of me being a misanthrope. I was afraid of ebooks and didn’t want to do them because I think they’re narrative killers. I said a cool version of that would be something where kids made up half the story and they recorded their voices and you learn how to draw the characters and you can make your own stories. I realized that might be fun, as did the guys at Hyperion [Willems’ publisher].

We didn’t want some sort of cookie-cutter thing. When you take a book and you turn it into a movie, you have to change it and you just really keep the characters and make it movie-like. Here, it’s the same thing. You take the characters but you want to make sure it’s essentially an app or essentially a game in this other way.

What was the creative process behind the app like?

I started out doing television and I’ve been making films, short animated films, since 1988, and so I approached this much like I would that. We wrote a script and multiple scripts and storyboarded and worked with an animator who’s a buddy of mine and produced it as a film. It was fun. It’s collaborative, but it’s also something, because it’s on the scale that it is, you can be in control of.

Of all your characters, why did you want the app to center around The Pigeon?

The Pigeon books – Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus!, Don’t Let the Pigeon Stay Up Late! – there’s a certain format to them and they’re really the first books that kids make up their own versions of. The Pigeon is easy to draw. The format is easy to tweak and come up with your own ideas, so it just seemed like the right thing to do. Also if my first app was not The Pigeon, he’d never forgive me. I’d never hear the end of it.

What kind of response has the app received?

Some friends of mine’s kids have done some beta testing and it’s been fun to see what aspects of the game they gravitate to. There’s different levels: one, the story you see randomly; the other you make selections physically; and then another, you record your voice. It’s sort of interesting how it goes by age. Certain ages really want to record their voice, others are happy to make selections. They all like the section where you get to shake the pigeon and make him feel miserable.

Do you think apps will eventually take the place of books?

Here’s what makes books great: books need you to turn the pages. Books need you to open them up, and now you’re communicating because it’s something that needs you. I wanted to make sure that this app needed the kids as well. They had to make decisions to make it run. When I don’t like electronics is when you press go and you can leave the room and the device doesn’t know if you’re there or not, it doesn’t care. That’s the key.

Do you have any plans to create another app?

I don’t know what the future holds, which is what makes it fun. I loved making it because it was something different and something unique and it challenged me. The great joy of my life is that I don’t know what I’m going to do. I just know that it’s going to be something that scares me.

— Kiran Hefa