It’s no fun being the new kid at school, but imagine being the only normal 9-year-old boy at a school for superheroes. That’s the premise of Brave Rooney, a new interactive book for children written by Palisadian Gerry Renert.
“I’ve always fantasized about an elementary school for superheroes as a fun backdrop for something,” said Renert. “Then I thought, ‘What about having an ordinary kid be a part of that school? Talk about having a tough crowd to fit into.’"
Rooney, the main character in the story, impresses his classmates with his literary gift, which makes up for his lack of superpowers.
Renert also has a gift for writing. His first picture book, Nathan Saves Summer, received a “Mom’s Choice Gold Award." He also co-created the animated preschool series ToddWorld, which won two Humanitas Awards and received three Emmy nominations for “Outstanding Animated Children’s Program.”
For Brave Rooney, Renert chose a modern publishing approach that engages the reader on several levels.
"Brave Rooney will only work on the iPhone, iPad or iPod touch,” he said. “It was a conscious choice to go digital because you could make it a richer reading experience with all the interactivity. The choice was also a publishing reality in that most entertainment has quickly gone digital."
Youngsters who buy the book via their electronic device will be able to access over 50 interactive features. For example, they can make superhero characters fly, stop a landslide, toss one ton weights with ease, or lift a boat out of the water. When a young reader is scared, touching the screen will make the characters shiver and sink in their chairs. If a reader touches a poster in a dentist’s office, the movement will activate a toothbrush.
As part of the development process for Brave Rooney, Renert presented a beta version of the story to a group of children at a day camp. Much to his surprise, the majority of the kids intuitively picked up on the interactive features and knew how to move things around.
While the animated features enhance the reading experience, the story’s theme provides a way to build children’s self esteem while helping them with the challenge of fitting in. Renert hopes this combination of interactive fun and a positive message succeeds with children who have active imaginations.
“You need to get them immediately involved and keep them involved,” he said. “You also need to give them concepts, a story and characters they can easily identify with or even aspire to. They need to ‘feel’ the key connection between the book and their lives. You just can’t describe or give them something in the hope they’ll make the leap and form that connection.”
Renert is quick to point out that although he feels digital media is here to stay, he loves bookstores and exposing children to the printed page.
“I’ve read my book at and several Barnes and Nobles stores in Southern California and love the experience of seeing the kids' reactions first hand,” he said. “I also hope that by seeing a real author, children will better remember the experience and maybe even think about being an author themselves one day.”
Brave Rooney is targeted at children ages 4 to 8 and is priced at $2.99 on iTunes. Renert will be playing the book/app as part of the 7 Arrows Literary Festival the week of Dec. 5.