JibJab App: Will You Paste Your Child's Face Into a New "Book" Every Month?

What Women Really Think
Sept. 13 2011 11:10 AM

This Is Not Your Mother's Book-of-the-Month Club


JibJab, the company best known for the political satire "This Land" and for developing OfficeMax's justifiablly popular ElfYourself Christmas promotion, wants you to read to your child.

Not surprisingly, JibJab has something rather specific in mind: its own new children's picture story offering, The Biggest Pizza Ever. With this free download from the iTunes App store, you paste your own child's face into the space provided, specify name, gender, and skin tone, and are instantly presented with a series of JibJab's patently clever Photoshop-style animations: your child in the role of the merry pizza chef whose pizza creation is so large and ambitious that it threatens to take over the whole town. Each page of rhyming text includes an active illustration of the child-chef, rolling, kneading, using a helicopter to scatter the increasingly ridiculous toppings. It's a simple story, fun, a little bit derivative—even my children instantly recognized echoes of Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs and The Giant Jam Sandwich. But it doesn't matter. 


Because that's your child there, under the chef's hat! Your child's name right there in the text, in the right font and everything! And that child is going to be thrilled. Thrilled, I tell you. So thrilled that he or she will want The Biggest Pizza Ever over and over again. But will you be thrilled, when you reach the end and it's very clear to your child that there is another story—in fact two more stories—that do the same thing? And they are available for $7.99 or, if you join JibJab's monthly e-book club, $3.99, with another $3.99 charged to your iTunes account if you choose to buy each month's offering.

Apparently plenty of parents are thrilled; JibJab's Gregg Spiridellis says the book-of-the-month option is outselling the "a la carte" option, and the app was in the top ten grossing apps for iPad books last week. If you do read to your child from your iPad, The Biggest Pizza ever and its companion volumes will surely be frequently enjoyed additions to your "collection." (And as a business idea, the book-of-the-month option is a brilliant example of taking the old and making it new again.)

But do you really want to read to your child from your iPad?

To its credit, JibJabJr.'s e-books are, as they themselves say in their press release, "not hyper-clickable toys." You or your child must read the words if they are to be read; the app does not talk or play an annoyingly repetitive ditty while it runs. The figures do what they do on the screen; they don't interact, and a poke or a swipe will not change the story or the experience. There's no question that this is an e-book, and not a game, even with its (very entertaining) gimmick.

But it's still an e-book, not a book. The Biggest Pizza Ever exists only within your iPad's screen; your child can not carry it in the stroller or turn its pages under the swingset, unless you are a far more tolerant iPad owner than most. And even if your $499 (minimum) gadget is fair game and freely available to sticky fingers at every moment, it probably won't be brought to school for sharing time (and what a disaster that would be in any case). It won't create in your child's mind the association of bedtime with a book, that disconnected, singular experience with a magic that lies, at least in part, in ithe fact that you alter it only by the way you experience it.  The problem lies not in the story but in the medium. No matter how quietly we're reading on it, my children know the iPad for what it is: a portal to a world of videos, games, and endless entertainment. Its very presence changes the tenor of the moment. It's nice that it morphs into something like a book once in a while, but it can really never do more than mimic the book experience.

So while the JibJab app is more than welcome on my iPad, it won't find its virtual way into the basket of books by the couch where we do our nightly reading. It's a very cool app. But in my book, an app is still an app.



Crying Rape

False rape accusations exist, and they are a serious problem.

Scotland Is Just the Beginning. Expect More Political Earthquakes in Europe.

I Bought the Huge iPhone. I’m Already Thinking of Returning It.

The Music Industry Is Ignoring Some of the Best Black Women Singing R&B

How Will You Carry Around Your Huge New iPhone? Apple Pants!

Medical Examiner

The Most Terrifying Thing About Ebola 

The disease threatens humanity by preying on humanity.


The Other Huxtable Effect

Thirty years ago, The Cosby Show gave us one of TV’s great feminists.

Lifetime Didn’t Find the Steubenville Rape Case Dramatic Enough. So They Added a Little Self-Immolation.

No, New York Times, Shonda Rhimes Is Not an “Angry Black Woman” 

Brow Beat
Sept. 19 2014 1:39 PM Shonda Rhimes Is Not an “Angry Black Woman,” New York Times. Neither Are Her Characters.
Sept. 19 2014 1:11 PM An Up-Close Look at the U.S.–Mexico Border
  News & Politics
Sept. 19 2014 6:22 PM Blacks Don’t Have a Corporal Punishment Problem Americans do. But when blacks exhibit the same behaviors as others, it becomes part of a greater black pathology. 
Sept. 19 2014 6:35 PM Pabst Blue Ribbon is Being Sold to the Russians, Was So Over Anyway
Inside Higher Ed
Sept. 19 2014 1:34 PM Empty Seats, Fewer Donors? College football isn’t attracting the audience it used to.
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 19 2014 4:58 PM Steubenville Gets the Lifetime Treatment (And a Cheerleader Erupts Into Flames)
  Slate Plus
Slate Picks
Sept. 19 2014 12:00 PM What Happened at Slate This Week? The Slatest editor tells us to read well-informed skepticism, media criticism, and more.
Brow Beat
Sept. 19 2014 4:48 PM You Should Be Listening to Sbtrkt
Future Tense
Sept. 19 2014 6:31 PM The One Big Problem With the Enormous New iPhone
  Health & Science
Medical Examiner
Sept. 19 2014 5:09 PM Did America Get Fat by Drinking Diet Soda?   A high-profile study points the finger at artificial sweeteners.
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.