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How We Made – A Word’s a Bird, Spring Flies By in Rhymes

June 4, 2013

by Orel Protopopescu

First came the word, then the bird.

I wrote these short poems, all based on rhymed metaphors, which inspired wonderful work from children in my poetry workshops.  Then the first iPad apps for children became popular.  People who loved my poems told me they’d be perfect for this new medium.  I knew the perfect illustrator, too, Jeanne B. de Sainte Marie.  I met Jeanne when I gave a talk in Paris to the members of SCBWI, France, in 2008.

Photograph by Sarah Towle

Photograph by Sarah Towle

Luckily, the developer I submitted my manuscript to, Actialuna, SAS, also in Paris, loved Jeanne’s work as much as they loved my poems.  A dream of a collaboration was born.  I thought up little scenarios for each month, as poetic as the poems, and Jeanne adapted these into storyboards with advice from a team at Actialuna’s editorial imprint, Syntonie.  Her storyboards reflect the team’s expertise on what’s feasible for the iPad:

Engineer working on app

Jeanne’s deep love of nature and attention to detail, coupled with Syntonie’s refined artistic vision, has produced a truly exquisite and unique app.   She is every children’s writer’s dream, an illustrator with a deep understanding of the text.  As she puts it, “I was so enthusiastic when I was asked to illustrate Orel’s poems!  Her words evoke so many images. I saw the potential to pay homage to nature and the seasons, to paint some of my favorite things: birds, animals, flowers, and trees.”

4Mayflowersblogpic copy
Our developer wanted to try something daring, bring old-fashioned watercolor animation to the iPad.  Jeanne had help from animators and programmers, but the app is entirely hand-painted, over 800 images!

Jeanne says, “We conceived this app with a developer who has a passion for animation and high-end illustrated books. Our goal from the start was to make a thing of beauty that would stand out in the market.  It has been an adventure!  In April, we presented our application, prior to launch, at the Marymount School in Paris.  I witnessed the seemingly effortless way Orel makes poetry engaging for even the youngest children.”

We were amazed by the broad appeal of our app.  We had planned to present it only to the pre-school and primary grades, but while we were doing a test in the Marymount auditorium, some seventh and eighth graders wandered by and said, “Wow!  I want this!”  So we decided to present the app to the whole school.  Later that week, I presented it to equally enthusiastic 6th, 7th and 8th graders at the American School, Paris.  In May, I discovered its amazing crossover appeal for college students and teachers, when I presented the app to second semester French students at La Guardia Community College in Queens, NYC.

7Collegestudents_w Orel
A Word’s A Bird was appreciated by students aged 4-adult, as well as their teachers, because it can be enjoyed on so many levels.  All children have fun with the touch-activated pictures… opening and closing the peonies or playing a tune on the flowering shoots, then waiting for the ducklings to sing it back.   The youngest enjoy the sounds of the words, then comes understanding, with the help of the pictures.  Older ones use the touch-activated glossaries that not only define words, but elucidate the metaphors.  Even children who can’t read can use these glossaries, by activating the sound buttons on each word.  Currently, we offer the poems and glossaries in French and English versions.

In a frantic world, our spring app provides a haven of quiet beauty and reflection.  French reviewers called it “fresh as a spring breeze… superbly illustrated…a beautiful poetic discovery” ( and commented on the sound scape of natural sounds (bees buzzing, water rushing, etc.) that accompanies the poems. Naomi Shihab Nye declared, “A Word’s a Bird is absolutely splendid!”

Jeanne and I know how much poetry matters to children.  She says,  “I can still recite poems that I learned as a child. It is empowering and uplifting to memorize a poem—it becomes something you own and cherish.   Because the spring poems in our application are all based on rhymed metaphors,  easy to memorize, these lines will nourish children all their lives.”

Here are some helpful links, including a video the developer made about producing the app:

One Comment leave one →
  1. June 4, 2013 9:03 pm

    Indeed this is a GORgeous app. Bravo to the makers! A real find. One of a kind!

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