Treasure Island, by Scottish author Robert Louis Stevenson, is one of the quintessential adventure books in English literature; a book that every young person who dreamed of sailing on the open seas hunting for hidden booty (And let's face it, most of these were boys...) had to read. With the current popularity of pirates at the movies and in video games, it seemed a foregone conclusion that someone would bring this classic story to the iPad screen. In fact, a few versions can readily be found for reading on iBooks. Now comes a new, abridged version of the story, published by Space Dog. It is excellent, and I really enjoyed the experience of reading the story anew.
A problem with Treasure Island is that the book was published in 1883, and it addressed quite a different audience of children than today's teenager. The vocabulary can be quite dense at times, and the story can be overly episodic, due to the fact that it was first published as a serial during the years 1881 and 1882. Another issue is that Treasure Island is a very straightforward and serious tale of buccaneers and their unrelenting efforts to get a hidden treasure. As such, it may compare unfavorably to films like the Pirates of the Caribbean series, which are much more tongue and cheek and which appeal much more to the sensibilities of a modern audience.
In our fast-paced techno-centric world, it can be a daunting challenge to get young teenagers to even consider reading such a book as Treasure Island. Parents and teachers strive mightily to foster a love and interest in a kind of literature that seems to have fallen out of favor with many of the young of today. Literary tastes have moved on, and not necessarily always for the better. As a result, many wonderful stories are unknown to most of the newer generations of readers.
In my view, this is where the iPad really absolutely shines as an educational and motivational tool. When it comes to getting kids to read, the iPad can serve as the perfect bridge between old and new, between traditional and modern. Every family with children should have an iPad if for no other reason than this. Kids will read when the content is presented on the iPad, and IF the content is good. That's the big IF! This is where so many publishers fail. A lot of books for the iPad are all bells and whistles, and they're great for one or two passes, but if the content isn't there; if the story isn't compelling, kids won't return to them. That being said, many books have been reinvented as interactive apps, and the best of them excel at getting kids excited to read again. Space Dog's Treasure Island is definitely in the latter category.
Another big issue with most interactive books is that they are geared to a very young audience, from pre-school to early elementary; this is wonderful for fostering reading in the very young, but it's completely inappropriate for teenagers. There are some really terrific interactive iPad books for an older audience (Public domain books such as Dracula, War of the Worlds and the Sherlock Holmes canon come to mind as great examples of iPad books...) but they are not as common. Thankfully, the list of books suitable for middle-schoolers and high-schoolers is growing, and Space Dog's Treasure Island is a great example of how to adapt a classic to the iPad's capabilities. Any child in middle school or early high school will enjoy this app tremendously.
I would describe Space Dog's Treasure Island as an enhanced book rather than an interactive book. Perhaps due to the fact that it is aimed at an older teenage audience, there are no animated cut scenes in the book, and no cutesy games. Rather, the story is enhanced at the beginning of each chapter with a full page illustration that contains a few interactive elements. Some of these full-page illustrations can also be found throughout the story, but mostly, there are smaller drawings scattered through the pages. Those too can be interacted with. The graphic work in all these illustrations is excellent; the colors are vivid and the angular design is very pleasing to the eye. It also exhibits a sense of fun that lightens up the very serious subject matter. There is a lot of subtle charm to the artwork; in one scene, we see the Admiral Benbow Inn from a distance, and the animation is the smoke coming from the chimney and the waves crashing on the rocks. Small touches, but very, very evocative. Sound design is also kept to a minimum, but it adds very effective atmosphere to the story. The sound of water, the cry of a crow, the grunt of a pirate; all add a wonderful sensory experience as you read the book.
As I mentioned at the beginning of this article, the story has been abridged in this app. After all, the original book exceeds 340 pages. It's my feeling that Space Dog intended their version of Treasure Island to be an introduction to Stevenson's work, rather than a faithful reproduction. Surely, it serves as a great jumping off point should the user wish to read the entire saga, but for many younger readers, this may be all of the story that they get to for a while. And as such, the abridgement of Treasure Island has been very well done by the publishers. It's clear that they had great respect for the story and tried to present a shorter version that was still true to the spirit of the book. Jim Hawkins lives on and he is well-served by this adaptation.
The young reader's imagination will certainly be fired up by this story and by the graphics and sounds in the app; and if Space Dog's Treasure Island leads to a later re-reading of the complete story, all the better. But if this is the only book exposure some readers ever get to Stevenson's story, parents and teachers can't ask for a better version than this one. I recommend it heartily, maties... Get ye to the iTunes store and pick up this treasure!