It is relatively rare for ebook publishers and creators to produce something that fully explores everything that a digital reading experience can offer. Much of that could be put down to cost, but I suspect that even among the bigger players, there is also an underlying lack of ambition. Tapocketa Studios, on the other hand, are clearly all about ambition, and they’ve put their cards firmly on the table with Galdo’s Gift.
Trevor Young and Eleanor Young conceived, wrote, illustrated, animated and managed the project, but the final ebook is very much the result of an ensemble effort. If the opening titles and end-credits resemble something from Warner Brothers then that is no accident, for Young and Long are keen to describe Galdo’s Gift as a ‘Boovie’, or a ‘book in motion’. It also flags up the kind of collaborative spirit that is needed to weave audio, moving images, music and spoken word into a seamless narrative.
On Galdo’s Gift, the voice of veteran British actor Brian Murphy (George and Mildred, Wizadora, Last of the Summer Wine) provides the thread that holds everything together. Indeed, the great charm of Galdo’s Gift is that it never at any point compromises on storytelling imperatives such as composition, clarity and coherence. Murphy brings all the benefits of his considerable experience and comedic intuition to bear on Young’s verse, and carries it over one or two sticky stanzas in an otherwise freely flowing tale.
This synergy between Murphy and the text is an object lesson for publishers, authors and booksellers who are quick to be dismissive of ebooks. Some of the best verse ever written can be tricky to read aloud for youngsters and adults alike, so the actor’s soothing and reassuring narration provides valuable prompts. This is especially necessary if ebooks like Galdo’s Gift are to deliver the shared reading experience that iPads and Kindles have promised us for so long.
The story of Galdo’s Gift is relatively simple and straightforward, but it’s engaging enough and it immediately conjures up a world that both children and adults will want to explore. It concerns the efforts of King Galdo to bring you (the reader) a very special gift to celebrate your arrival in the imaginary kingdom of Galdovia. Galdo, a self-important and impatient monarch, is also a frog and I had no trouble accepting him as a credible figure of authority. He despatches four incompetent characters to bring back the best present they can find, but when they fail miserably, it is they who are, well, dispatched.
The overall look of the graphics, typography and animation are indicative of imaginative creatives who are guided by high-end production values. There is incredible attention to detail and a very contemporary homage to the origins of early animation techniques. The visual values are a kind of soft-focus steampunk that speaks to the modern kid’s taste for the comically grotesque; so there is plenty of slime, more than a few slugs, and a lot worse besides!
There is also lots of alliteration in the text, and it quickly becomes less of an adornment and more of a salient feature. Galdo’s Gift therefore emerges as a fun book with a strong sense of educational worth. That is amplified by the highlighted words that, when activated, drop down into conversational, contextual explanations of their meaning, rather than a blunt, truncated OED definition.
The inter-active user features are relatively few, but immediately engaging. They are employed to move the story forwards, rather than create digressions and blind alleys, as is so often the case in games and apps. Some of them (like the option to personalise your book, and the odd butterfly here and there) are charming little animated vignettes, while others bring the narration and image plates enchantingly to life.
The affecting theme music and sound effects are similarly sparing in their application, but that is all to the good. The authors clearly understand that empathetic music in the context of something like Galdo’s Gift is best used as punctuation, and ought not to be invasive, pervasive, or annoying after prolonged exposure.
Galdo’s Gift looks wonderful, sounds great, explains clearly, and bundles along entertainingly. It is full of movement that wins the continuous engagement of the reader, and it responds marvellously to the touch. I wonder how many print books we can describe in this way? We can’t. They are not the same thing, and Galdo’s Gift makes that point very firmly, but with the hand of fellowship very generously extended.