Amsterdam, the Espresso Book Machine, and Thoughtful Children’s Apps

Last weekend I had the chance to attend a conference in Amsterdam hosted by the Netherlands chapter of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI).

The event was packed with interesting speakers and attendees from England, France, and Germany as well as the Netherlands. Highlights: writing workshops by Erzsi Deak and by fellow Vermont College alum Sarah Blake Johnson, a demo of the Espresso Book Machine, and news from the Wild West of app development for children and young adults. Here’s a write up of the conference by Mina Witteman, Dutch author and brave conference organizer. Thank you, Mina, for all your hard work!

The Espresso Book Machine is a new concept available in just a few locations, where you can print out high-quality paperback books on demand. The American Book Center in Amsterdam offered a demonstration to us.

As you see above, the machine itself looks like a computer attached to a very fancy printer with clear glass sides. It smells strongly of ink and glue. A video demo of it is viewable on the ABC website here (look down the right column for “ABC’s EBM in action”). In addition to printing the double-sided pages, the machine also trims and binds them and adds a cover. The result is very like what we call a trade paperback (high-quality-not-newsprint pages, with varying trim sizes).

The inside pages are all in black and white, but covers are printed in full color. If I recall correctly, there’s a 15 euro charge to use the machine and the books themselves cost around 15 euros a piece.

I wasn’t able to stick around long enough to hear much about the various applications of the machine. It’s a vehicle for self-published authors as well as traditional publishers and those seeking out-of-print books. It will be interesting to see how it fares in the current market, with all the changes going on in publishing.

What do you think? How would you use the EBM? Can it compete with e-books, or is it trying to? Is its target market the same or different from e-books?

I was also really intrigued by the work of the app developers who attended the conference. Apps for children weren’t something I had given much thought before. I thought apps in general were video games and personal organization tools, with maybe some room for animated children’s books.

Taking a look at the work of Omar Curriere and Sarah Towle gave me a whole new insight into the medium.

Omar’s company, OCG Studios, approached American illustrator Roxie Monroe with the idea of creating an ipad (and later iphone) app based on her intricate maze books. Ms. Monroe spent months creating original, hand-done artwork, and a team of six programmers spent three months developing the app. The result is frankly stunning. It’s part maze, part treasure hunt, part ABC game with a little car you can move with your finger—so cool! Check it out at the address linked above. There you’ll also find one of Roxie Monroe’s books turned into an app, which is a lot more intense a project than it might sound. It will be exciting to see what else OCG comes up with.

The other app developer I met was Sarah Towle, whose company, Time Traveler Tours, specializes in travel apps for students and their families or teachers. Her first offering, Beware Madame La Guillotine really blows my mind. It’s part book, part interactive travel guide, part scavenger hunt. I didn’t know an app could do all that. It definitely offers something that I have to admit the printed book can’t. I can’t wait to see what comes up with next.

Netherlands Road Trip

We recently drove to Amsterdam for a few days. It’s a cool city, but we ended up deciding it was a bit much for our kids (2 and 6). They’re usually pretty good about street safety, but for whatever reason they kept nearly hopping in front of oncoming buses and trams and giving us a fright. Also, we couldn’t really go to any museums. We tried Anne Frank’s house, but the line was so long we knew the kids would melt down before we could get to the front. At least we got to see the street where she lived.

The trip wasn’t a loss, though.  We did the total tourist thing at Zaanse Schans, an area near Amsterdam with historic windmills, wooden-shoe workshop, and other attractions. It was a good speed for the kids. Some friends also recommended some nearby towns on the coast to explore, and they were absolutely lovely. At Medemblik there is a castle/ museum that was having a historic re-enactment festival complete with all kinds of crafts. I also loved driving across the dykes—-makes you feel like you’re driving across the open ocean on a never-ending bridge. Kind of creepy and exhilirating all at once.

And of course, we had to eat pancakes (more like what I would call crepes). It seems the obligatory thing for American tourists in Amsterdam, and sure enough the whole pancake restaurant was filled with Americans. I felt sure I would get, in addition to my own cheese and mushroom pancake, at least half of our two-year-old’s enormous blueberry pancake, but he polished off the whole thing himself!

Neither my husband nor I know a word of Dutch, but literally everyone we met spoke perfect English. I’m told this is partly because American television shows are not dubbed in the Netherlands, and people learn a lot of English by watching the shows with subtitles. Interesting, eh?