Author Offers Spooky New Take On Famous Ghosts
MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
Halloween is just around the corner, and whether or not you partake in the trick-or-treating and pumpkin carving, who doesn't love a spooky story? Maybe you're a fan of the tale of The Flying Dutchman, the phantom ship that is doomed to sail the oceans forever, or maybe you're more into the Headless Horseman, who famously terrorized the residents of Sleepy Hollow.
These and other tales come alive in the new children's book, "Horrible Hauntings: An Augmented Reality Collection of Ghosts and Ghouls." And when we say come alive, we mean it. There is a free mobile app that comes with the book that makes ghosts pop out from the pages.
Here to tell us more is award-winning author Shirin Yim Bridges. She last spoke to us about her tween book series, "The Thinking Girl's Treasury of Dastardly Dames," and she's back with us.
Welcome to the program. Welcome back, I should say.
SHIRIN YIM BRIDGES: Thank you so much, Michel, for having me again.
MARTIN: You just like ghosts and ghouls and creepy people like that?
BRIDGES: I've always, always loved ghosts and ghouls. So we were very excited to be able to make this book, which is a first-of-its-kind, augmented-reality book-plus-app.
MARTIN: Back up a second. So do I have it right that this was actually your brother's idea? Your brother, Jason Yim, he is the president and creative director of something called Trigger Global, and they make games and apps and things like that. So was it his idea to make a ghost story with these apps?
BRIDGES: Absolutely. He had already started working with this app, and he came to me one day and he said, take a look at this. And he put down on the table just a piece of paper with a drawing of a spaceship on it. And he handed me his iPad, and it just looked like he had his iPad's camera on. So I wasn't quite sure what I was looking at, but I looked, and there on his screen, I could see the picture on the table, and I could see the table and I could see my plants in the background.
And the next thing I knew, there was this thrumming noise, and this whole spaceship, this three-dimensional spaceship was floating above my dining table. And when I tapped its guns, it would fire these green lasers. It was amazing. I turned around...
MARTIN: It seems like you were having fun with it. You were having fun.
BRIDGES: Yes, I was. I was so amazed. I turned around, and he looked at me and he said: Don't you think this would make a great ghost book? And, you know, the obvious answer was yes. So that's how the project got started.
MARTIN: So there are 10 ghost stories in the book. How did you decide which ones to include?
BRIDGES: When we started talking about the book, the first one that came to mind for both of us was The Flying Dutchman. And I think that's in part because of the scale of that ghost. You know, it's like not one small person, but this huge ship. And then Jason was showing me the capabilities of this technology, that you could blow into the mic and the sails of the ship would unfurl and it will shift in the water and it'll creek. And so "The Flying Dutchman" went in right away.
And then, after that, there were personal favorites. There was the fact that every school that I had been to with "Dastardly Dames," everyone knew about Bloody Mary and wanted to know whether Mary Tudor, whose nickname was Bloody Mary, was the ghost that you're supposed to summon in the mirror.
And then we did some additional research on top of that. We concentrated very much when we came down to our last 10 in finding ghosts that gave us the ability to use the app in different ways. So you're looking for ghosts that can move in different planes, ghosts that react to sound differently, ghosts that can maybe be interactive in a game-playing sense. We have "The Princes in the Tower." There are two little skeletons that appear and kind of assemble their skeletons together and then put their little skulls on. And once they're ready, there's a ball there, and you can actually flick the ball and they will run after the ball. So you can actually play ball with the skeletons.
So we were looking for different ways to showcase the technology, but we were also looking, obviously, for good stories.
MARTIN: You call these historical hauntings. What does that mean?
MARTIN: These are legends that have some root in history?
BRIDGES: Yes. And, more than that, these are sightings or hauntings that have been witnessed through history, and we have the historical accounts. I can't tell you whether the ghosts are real or not. What I can tell you is that someone really thought they saw the ghosts and wrote about it, or told someone else about it, so we have a record of these ghosts being sighted.
If you go back to The Flying Dutchman, one of the things that I think is spookiest about the Dutchman is that it's been seen repeatedly. It's been seen by many people at the same time. So, you know, you can get sightings of - where there are four people up on deck on the sighting ship that all see the same thing. And kids are fascinated by that aspect, fascinated by the fact that something might be true about ghosts, that maybe ghosts do exist in some form.
And, back to the phantom again, you'll - if you search online, you'll see lots and lots of people out there trying to give scientific explanations for why this kind of group apparition or group hallucination might have happened.
So, when science is trying to explain something instead of just dismissing it, I think it gets horrendously, horribly, dastardly interesting.
MARTIN: We're talking about the new children's book, "Horrible Hauntings: An Augmented Reality Collection of Ghosts and Ghouls." And the augmented refers to the fact that it comes with a free app that lets you summon the ghosts from the pages and also interact with them. Our guest is author Shirin Yim Bridges. Her brother Jason developed the app that allows all those cool things to happen.
So it's for fifth and sixth graders?
BRIDGES: The reading level, in terms of literacy, is fifth to sixth grade. Correct.
MARTIN: Do you think it might be a little scary, though?
BRIDGES: For fifth and sixth graders?
BRIDGES: No. Well, you know, I'm sure that there's the odd, sensitive child who might feel that way. What we've found, on the contrary, is that the interest level, the spread for this book is much wider than we dared hope or imagine. We have much younger kids who are interested in the book, and I was at a toy store where this happened with a really young child. I think he must have been, like, four years old. He was really tiny. And I said to the mom, well, you know, they can get really spooky. And she said, no, no. He loves ghosts. He wants to see this book. He'll be fine.
So I showed him the ghosts, and he loved it. His mom bought him the book. I signed it for him. And they spent the next, kind of, half an hour or so in this toy store, because I could see them walking through the aisles. And the really rewarding thing was that, by the time he left, his mom was carrying this huge armful of toys for him, but he had that book kind of grabbed to his chest. You know, he was - you could tell he was just dying to get home and see those ghosts again. It was very, very cute.
And then, on the other end of the spectrum, we have a lot of people who are buying these books for themselves, adults who buy the book so that they can enjoy the book, and not for a child.
MARTIN: They can play with the apps. What do you need to use this app? You need at least an iPad 2 and an iPhone...
BRIDGES: Yes. An iPad 2...
MARTIN: ...4. Right?
MARTIN: At least a 4.
BRIDGES: So you need the camera, basically, and you need the processing power. And then it also runs on Androids.
MARTIN: Do you ever worry, though, that it'll become such that you can't do a book without some augmented technological experience to go with it, that kids won't be willing to just sit and read and imagine for themselves?
BRIDGES: Where I actually see the great hope in this technology is that this is the first time that digital technology is being used to bring children actually back to the book. You can't see these ghosts without the physical book. It's not like an eBook or something, or a video.
And once you've seen the ghosts, what I've seen with my own nieces and nephew and, you know, with kids that I show the book to in book stores is that once they've seen the ghosts, yes, they're really enchanted by the technology, but they invariably want to know what they've just seen. So they will go back and they'll read the stories, because they want to see - for example, Catherine Howard comes running down a corridor at you. They want to see why she's running. They want to see who's doing this running and the screaming, and they want to know the background, the story behind this ghost. They have to read the story to find out what exactly they're seeing.
MARTIN: Shirin Yim Bridges is the author of "Horrible Hauntings: An Augmented Reality Collection of Ghosts and Ghouls." And she was kind enough to join us from NPR member station KQED in San Francisco. Thanks so much for joining us. Happy Halloween.
BRIDGES: Thank you so much. Yes. Thank you. Happy Halloween to you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.