When Allison saw a book app for the first time, she knew it was a fit for her work experience and passion for children’s literature. So she plunged head first into the app world and developed, Axel’s Chain Reaction, a delightful book app about a boy who struggles to fit in at school and finally does using his artistic ingenuity. I’m curious to find out more…
Tell us about the character Axel and his struggles.
Axel is a creative third grader who likes to make stuff. He is not defined by his limitations, although parents of kids with ASD, ADHD, language disorders, or sensory integration disorder will recognize a part of their kids in Axel: for example, he’s fidgety in class, he slaps the kid next to him, noise in the playground interferes with his ability to concentrate on who he should pass the ball to, and when he’s excited his expressive language gets a bit mixed up.
Axel is determined to creative a moving sculpture, and to reach his goal he must learn to control his impulsiveness, to plan his actions, and also be more careful with his body and the objects that surround him.
Is Axel based on anyone in real life?
Yes, he’s based on my son’s experiences at school , especially during the First Grade.
What are the similarities between them? And the differences?
I’d say Axel’s cheerfulness and determination is also a portrait of my son. But my son loves science more than art, although having parents who love art, and point out esthetic characteristics of an object or image, obviously have formed an ability to discern visual media- I realize that at his young age he already has an aesthetic criteria. He says, for example: “Mom, that illustration is so Chinese” (meaning it looks like Manga). He loves sculpture.
The story, illustrations, and interactivities are fantastic, but at the heart of your app is a special message for kids with special needs. Can you summarize it?
Yes, there’s a message of hope. These kids have trouble being understood and appreciated by teachers and peers. They want to make friends. I wanted to not only let them know that they need to persevere in order to overcome their own challenges, but also that they have other things to offer that make them wonderful , and which other people will appreciate. Sometimes they’ll need to seize the opportunity to show their hidden talents.
Axel your protagonist has his struggles…but what struggles did you have in creating your book app?
Mine was a true case of perseverance. I think I probably had a larger portion of struggles than other app creators, from what people have been telling me. I started working with 3 illustrators, one after the other, who didn’t work out, before I finally found Monica Armiño (she is a wonderful professional). We worked long distance, with a 7 hour time zone difference. Graphic design and graphic user interface were also problematic. There were delays and problems with animations, and even programming. For example there was an audio interaction which the developers couldn’t incorporate into this initial version, because of a problem integrating it with Unity, the motor they used to develop it. I’ve heard some people made their apps in months. Mine took 2 years, working days, nights, weekends and holidays. We had to launch without the 3D game in the Extras section, because we didn’t want to delay launch anymore.
Now that it’s out in iTunes, what are your challenges with it?
The challenge is spreading the word about it. My plans were to start marketing 3 months ahead of launch. These plans went down the drain because I had to solve so many production issues, I had no time left for planning and setting up marketing those months. Book apps are really hard to sell. So now my challenge is to earn back what I invested in making this app, and if possible, to earn back the “salaries not earned” during those 2 years.
Let’s get away from the challenges and focus on the positives. Share some of your successes so far since its release.
From the perspective of an author who wants to get her message out to people, it’s had great success: we launched it free, and it got almost 5 thousand downloads the first week. It would take a print book probably a year to reach those figures. In terms of feedback from users, I’m proud because the majority (90%) of our ratings on the app store have given us 5 stars and positive, appreciative comments. Usually app ratings are spread across the board, with many 3 stars, 4 stars, etc.
Also, it was featured in the top 25 apps for kids ages 6 to 8 in 48 countries that launch week. In terms of App Store rankings, during the first month it still ranked in the top 25 apps for kids ages 6 to 8 or in the books category in several countries, like the US, Australia, UK, Canada, Ireland, India, China, Colombia, and Spain. I still can’t believe in the US App Store my book app ranked #10 in the category of apps for kids ages 6 to 8, and #14 in the books category, as this market is the toughest one. I wonder if we’ll be able to get that visibility again.
What about the intangibles?
The intangibles are feedback from either art educators, telling me how they think it’s a great book app to teach about art, or from parents saying how their kids enjoyed it , or therapists of kids with special needs, explaining how they have used it with their students. When you’ve worked so hard at something, it’s nice feel you got it right, and that people appreciate it.
If you knew then, what you know now…would you have embarked on such a journey?
I would have decided to make something less ambitious, like an ebook or a simpler app done with a DIY tool. Most authors have taken an easier route than I did. But due to my background (I used to create hands-on exhibitions for kids in a fine art museum) , I felt I needed to take full advantage of the possibilities of this new medium when designing the interactive features and games.
What are your hopes and dreams for Axel’s Chain Reaction?
I hope I can get a traditional publishing house interested in publishing a print edition for school use. I know that means a big publisher like Scholastic, Penguin, and the sort. But I think it’s important that a title like this can be read in schools, regardless of whether they have iPads or not.
May they all come true! Thank you for satisfying my curiosity and continued success.