Sunday, 30 October 2011


Have you ever been to Hay-on-Wye? If you love books, you have to visit at least once. And once is never enough. Hay is a very small, pretty town just across the Herefordshire border, in Powys, Mid-Wales.

The area is very rural and very pretty, but what makes Hay remarkable is that it is stuffed full of 2nd-hand bookshops. Some people know it for its annual book festival, but I've never been to that. Over the many years that I've been collecting Ladybird Books, I've visited many times.

There are specialist children's bookshops and general shops - and once upon a time it was possible to find a bargain or a rare book in either. For example,I bought a DJ copy of Jeremy's Day in the Country for £5.00 in a specialist children's bookshop a few years ago and a proof-copy of a history book for 50p in another.

I was back in Hay last week, and it was still a lovely place to be in the sunshine of a mellow Autumn. Despite the doom and gloom in the bookshop world, Hay seems to be flourishing still - although the antiques shops that used to be well-represented in Hay seem to be finding times harder.

But Ladybird bargains? No longer easy-pickings. The specialist bookshops are still there, with well-stocked shelves. But the most popular books (such as the original Well Loved Tales 606d books) are conspicuously absent, and the prices have caught up too.

In this challenging climate, there's a new kid on the block. A small shop has opened near the centre of town called 'Barnabee Books'. And this small cave of a shop is planning on being niche indeed - advertising just Obervers and Ladybird Books for sale.

The shop looked brand new - it's not yet on the list of bookshops in town - but if you're just starting your collection or are prepared to spend a bit of money to fast-track your way through the series, you might want to pay a visit.

Sunday, 9 October 2011

An app for THAT?

Yes, what was the wait all about? Of course, there's now a Ladybird Book app.

No, not made by me. It's produced by the people who now own the Ladybird name, the Longman Group.

And it's actually very good!

Whilst focused on young children starting to read, they haven't made the mistake of forgetting the age of the parents or grandparents who own the iPhone or iPad (not iPod at the moment).

The range of Ladybird books that can be used within the app are Ladybird classics rather than new ones: a couple of old style Well Loved Tales, a couple of later style, a couple of original Read it Yourself and Talkabouts and a Ladybird Leader: Dinosaurs. This is more or less the extent of the current range of books which can be purchased in addition to the one that comes free when you download the app - The Zoo.

I expect they will wait to see which ones prove popular before adding to it.

Anyway, what does the app do?
Well, first of all, the Ladybird Book is reproduced in usual virtual flip-book style. No surprises there and the page-flipping sound is very satisfying. Secondly, the book comes with built-in 'hotspots' - so that when the child touches text, it activates an audio file and the text is read. When an image is read, a sound-effect is activated.

Again, this is much what you would expect from a purpose-built book app. The clever level of interactivity is that you can customise these 'hotspots' - replacing the default text and sound effects with your own, using the iThing's own microphone. It takes a couple of goes to get your head around how to navigate, record, restore and exit - but once you've got the hang of it, I can imagine a 4 - 6 year old having a lot of fun 'reading' with a carer and making their own version of a story.

Got an iPad or phone (iPhone 3GS or later) and a suitably-aged child to justify the purchase? Then You might want to give it a go. The initial app is pretty cheap (a pound or two) and comes with one book 'The Zoo'. After that, subsequent books currently cost £1.99 each.

I feel compelled by convention to add the following to end this post:

Of course, it's not the same as the real thing ...