Slap Happy Larry, the developers of The Artifacts, have created another story for tweens and teens in Midnight Feast. For teachers looking to share and discuss a short story in this medium with students, this app is a great choice, and developer’s website offers links to teaching resources. Questions on how the interactivity contributes to character development might ensue.
Lynley Stace’s Midnight Feast (Slap Happy Larry/ $3.99; Gr 6 Up) is an interactive illustrated story with hidden depths. Roya, an Australian girl living in a near-future world of food shortages and drought, has an active imagination that helps her escape the realities of her dark, working-class, urban life. She dreams of beauty, color, and food–including being permitted by her parents to stay up for the Midnight Feast.
While Roya’s 40-plus page story is linear, users will discover nuance in her both real and imagined worlds by playing with lighting effects, rubbing the screen to reveal alternate realities, and tapping to explore props and listen to dialogue. This app rewards the patient, deliberate user; on one page, a radio broadcast that explains the effects of the food shortage and drought will play, and too-fast tapping will often diminish the impact of an interactive effect, or cut short the length of the characters’ conversations.
There are some effects not often seen in apps: scenes shimmer as they dissolve into others, dramatic lightning strikes, fireflies are born by a touch to the screen and rise up into the night sky. Music and sounds (the clinking of cutlery, sound of the homeless in the streets) are used to great effect. The narration can be switched off, and there is an option to turn off the “scary sauce,” e.g. text and visuals that might disturb younger children. (For example, shadows disappear and “…laughing their heads off” becomes “laughing their socks off” with a different image.)
Users may not realize it at first glance but Roya’s story, and how it is told, are bursting with meaning. The “Key Questions and Close Reading Notes” (a 17-page online PDF linked to in the app) unpacks choices made in each segment of the story. For example, Roya’s day-to-day life is illustrated with digital
paintings in muted colors, but in her dreams and imagined alternatives, color reigns, and in one scene, the relative luxuries in Roya’s life hinted at in the illustration are explained. The app also links to an online PDF with activities (such as writing prompts) that would work well in a classroom setting.
Midnight Feast will appeal to older elementary students, teens, and teachers alike who will all find different delights and messages within. Don’t miss this haunting, meaningful story.–Gretchen Kolderup, New York Public Library