Little Hippo Books is a startup company that uses cutting-edge augmented reality (AR) technology to revolutionize reading for the next generation. The beautifully illustrated books—which teach numbers, letters, and some of the most iconic fairy tales—are complimented by a free accompanying “Hippo Magic” app that creates an immersive and interactive reading experience that exists at the intersection of gaming and reading, technology and literacy, imagination and education.
To work the books, all one must do is activate the app and point the phone or tablet at the storybook. The animated action will start immediately featuring lively, brightly colored, vocal characters that prompt children to partake in little tasks such as virtual coloring and finding items on specific pages. The books that include educational components are especially useful in helping children grasp basic math skills and/or alphabet awareness.
Layla McGrath is the co-founder and creative director of Little Hippo Books. After three years working in the publishing industry, Layla dreamt up the idea of adding augmented reality to high quality, affordable books after learning of the interactive technology’s educational benefits for early readers. Together with Tigra Live Animations, Little Hippo Books published their first set of “Come-to-Life™” Fairy Tale Books in early February 2018, a series of titles which would go on to win a 2018 Parents’ Choice Fun Stuff™Award. A self-taught artist with a background in fine arts and graphic design, Layla hand-illustrated the Little Hippo logo, leaving her mark on the brand which she hopes will bridge the gap between cutting-edge technology and affordable, accessible early education, while exciting and encouraging little readers in the process.
Layla recently discussed her company and more via an exclusive interview.
Meagan Meehan (MM): How did you initially get interested in working in the publishing industry and what prompted you to start your own company?
Layla McGrath (LM): Little Hippo began with publishing traditional children’s padded board books, without augmented reality. We wanted to make reading affordable for everyday families by offering quality books at a low price point. Reading with my parents is one of the fondest memories I have of my childhood and I wanted all kids to be able to have that experience.
MM: How did you become aware of augmented reality and how difficult was it to get your company off the ground?
LM: I’ve been aware of virtual reality and augmented reality for a long time, but it was really when “Pokemon Go!” took off that I could see it being incorporated into the lives of everyday people. It truly bridged the gap of AR technology and the general public — people who aren’t necessarily techy-savvy. I saw how AR could be super easy, fun, relevant and even useful! Getting a company off the ground is always hard, but when you truly believe in something, you just have to stick with, and keep pushing for your goals.
MM: You worked with an animation studio to get these books off the ground, so what is that process like?
LM: Working with Tigra Live Animations has been truly amazing. Their artists and animators are incredibly talented. From start to finish we work very closely with them. We choose which of our books we want to bring to life. We study the story, and brainstorm ideas for incorporating the AR. Tigra is great with that, because they know what they’re technologically capable of and they’re so creative when it comes to animations and creating that real feeling of awe and amazement. We predominantly steer our concepts towards education and interactive/tactile learning. We want our AR experience to be useful, and for parents not to feel guilty for handing over their smart device. We want to bridge the gap between reading, learning, and technology — because it’s here to stay.
MM: To date, you’ve published fairy tale stories and educational books that playfully teach about numbers and letters, so might you expand into other educational topics and original stories in the future?
LM: Yes! The possibilities are endless. There are so many ways to teach young children. We try to incorporate learning elements that are maybe less straightforward than the obvious counting to 20 or reciting the alphabet. Brain games such as ‘find the missing item’ teach children to focus and follow instructions. We hope to incorporate more activities like that — activities that will engage the child’s mind and encourage them to solve problems.
MM: How did you decide the tasks that the augmented option of each story should include?
LM: We try our best to make sure all of our interactive AR activities are interesting and engaging. With help from the team at TigraLive Animations, we come up with concepts that fit the overall theme of the book and help us achieve our ultimate goal of using AR to truly engage and challenge the minds of our audience.
MM: Be honest, have you a favorite book among the collection?
LM: I love all our books, but I am absolutely crazy about our “Let’s Learn: Alphabet” book. I hate to admit it, but I find it fun (and a little challenging) to find all the items on the page that start with the specific letter. I guess it’s the kid in me! When we completed the Let’s Learn series, we all thought “WOW! This is an absolutely perfect way for children to learn the alphabet!
MM: Right now, how many books are on the market and how many are in the pipeline?
LM: Right now, there are a total of six Come-To-Life books available, with another classic title, two holiday titles, and four original stories on the way!
MM: Typically, how do you find authors to work with and can writers submit story ideas to you?
LM: We have an awesome group of authors we work with. We’ve met them through tradeshows, networking events, agencies, and through word of mouth! We are always open to meeting new authors and viewing new content!
MM: The illustrations in your books are just delightful, so how do you find your artists?
LM: We have such a talented group of illustrators we work with. We’ve met them through tradeshows, networking events, agencies, and through word of mouth, just like our authors!
MM: What experiences involving Little Hippo have been most rewarding and why?
LM: Honestly, seeing parents and children react to our books coming to life is the most rewarding experience. People are truly amazed by this technology. Seeing that look of wonder in a child’s face makes everything so worth it! Winning the Parents’ Choice Fun Stuff award for all four of our classic Come-to-Life Books was pretty awesome, too!
MM: Overall, what are your biggest goals for the future of the company?
LM: We just really want to spread awareness. We want parents to be comfortable with the combination of reading and AR. I feel like a lot of parents can be wary at first, or skeptical about allowing technology to be a part of story time with their children. We want to show them how AR can truly benefit and enhance their child’s development and learning experience. We also want to work with Tigraon coming up with new concepts and ideas that will further the development of this technology, raising the bar for the future of early childhood education.
MM: Is there anything else that you would like to mention?
LM: You can find our books for sale on our website!
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Meagan J. Meehan is a published author, poet, cartoonist, and produced playwright. She pens columns for the Great South Bay Magazine, Blasting News, and Entertainment Vine. She is also a stop-motion animator and an award-winning abstract artist. Meagan holds a BA in English Literature and a MA in Communication. She is also an animal advocate and a fledging toy and game designer.
Meagan is a contributing editor to Kidskintha writing on Toys, Games, Entertainment, and other topics that are happy and fun!