Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (HMH) has released for iOS devices its learning app Curious George At The Zoo, which was developed in HMH’s Irish R&D hub. We spoke to Emmet O’Neill, director of Creative & Interactive Design at HMH about the concept.
The app is based on the Curious George books and aims to encourage children’s curiosity by exploring the zoo through a touchscreen interface.
Children can help wake, feed and clean the animals while learning about a variety of animals native to different parts of the world. They can watch educational videos about each animal, play mini games and earn virtual stickers for caring for the animals correctly.
The app was developed in HMH’s Irish R&D hub by a team led by O’Neill.
“Curious George is a highly revered brand in the organisation and it’s something we all care deeply about,” said O’Neill.
“We’d never really properly translated it across to any digital media. This was a perfect opportunity for us in using the iPad to bring out the original sensibility of the book but in a new, interactive way,” he said.
Creating the Curious George At The Zoo app
The Dublin team pitched the concept to HMH’s head office, who gave them clearance for development. O’Neill said the team, as well as other local Dublin animation and development vendors, contributed to the app, which is live on the iTunes App Store today.
One of the biggest challenges, according to O’Neill, was translating the Curious George art style from the books onto iOS devices.
“The tricky thing about Curious George is that the artwork style is very much based around watercolour, charcoal and paper – it has a very natural medium feel to it,” said O’Neill.
“It was absolutely a challenge to convert that across and to really capture the essence of the book style on the digital medium.
“There were a number of technological developments that have allowed us to do that … from an artwork production perspective, the software was in place to do this in a way it couldn’t have been done two years ago,” he said.
The Curious George At The Zoo app is aimed at children ages 3-5 and touches on the Head Start Framework in the US which outlines developmental building blocks for this age group. It focuses on a number of areas, including literacy, language development, social development, maths and the creative arts.
“(The app) has very explicit learning in there, like the animal videos which teach you facts about animals,” said O’Neill.
“But then there’s the subtler stuff, too, such as tapping on the background cloud elements and dragging them over the sun to demonstrate that, when rain passes in front of the sun, it creates a rainbow.
“There are a lot of little bits of incidental learning in there so that the child doesn’t even realise that they’re learning but they all tick off against these educational standards,” said O’Neill.
As well as the iOS app, there is a learning guide online for parents to help take them through its educational aspects along with extra material.
The Curious George At The Zoo app is available now for free until May, when it will be priced at €1.59.