Despite the App Store being home to lots of wonderful, interactive books, most of the available titles are geared towards ages 6 and below. On the contrary, book apps for older children are rare. In the three years that we’ve been reviewing apps, we have only written about a handful of book apps for adolescents. Among these was The Artifacts, a poignant tale about a boy who has to cope with losing his immense collections of things after moving to a new home.
Today, I want to introduce you to a new book app that is just as fantastic as The Artifacts. It’s made by the same developer, and titled Hilda Bewildered. It is a deeply provoking story about an European princess and her imaginary doppelgänger, whom she devises to escape the pressures of being a celebrity.
In a non-specified European country, Princess Hilda is to deliver a speech as a rite of passage. The thought of speaking in front of a live audience terrifies her, so she conjures an alter-ego, the “Other Hilda”, a petty pickpocket who goes unnoticed in a crowd.
The rest of the story follows the Other Hilda as she escapes from the palace through the busy streets, before returning to the Princess who finds her confidence after her imaginary journey. Through the eyes of both Hildas the reader is invited to explore various issues commonly found in modern society, such as the illusion of glamor, social invisibility, loneliness, and constant surveillance.
Illustrated vividly, the scenes in the story feature deep symbolisms that prompt readers to think. Every interaction adds details to the narrative. As the Other Hilda sneaks into the royal masquerade, the scene can be smudged away to show the police scanning the fingerprints left by the intruder on the windowpane. In another scene, readers can lift the bun on a “free range” burger that the other Hilda orders from a shady restaurant to reveal a dead rat underneath.
Navigation is simple; tap on the left or right arrows to change the page. Readers can exit the tale anytime by tapping on the upwards arrow on the bottom of the page. They can also jump to a specific page from the main screen.
Parents Need to Know
Given the age of the targeted audience, the app has no audio narration. Readers are encouraged to immerse themselves fully in the story. As the App Store listing explains it: “Put on your close-reading hats for this one. Prepare a cup of peppermint tea, find the coldest time of day, then plug in some headphones to fully appreciate the beautiful soundtrack.”
The beauty of the story is it can be interpreted in many ways. Is “The Other Hilda” imaginary or real? After all, there are people out there who share her living conditions. Readers who are interested in learning more may enjoy detailed notes from the author explaining the elements in the story. A link to these notes can be accessed from the More section of the app. It is secured behind a parental gate, in case you do not want your child accessing them.
Hilda Bewildered has no ads and no in-app purchases. It is available in English only as an iPad app.
Things I Like
This is a story that gets you thinking about many things. It covers topics that are relevant to everyone, such as dealing with the responsibility of coming of age and self-image. It also points out the contradictory nature of our modern society: we’re under constant surveillance, yet some of us are socially invisible. These issues are cleverly wrapped in a fantastic, European setting where princesses and masquerade balls exist alongside advertising blimps and smartphones.
The visual design of the app is just as thought-provoking. Expressive, painterly illustrations and story-driven animations provide details that are not apparent in the story text. For example, as crowds gather outside the palace, we get a glimpse of “The Other Hilda” pickpocketing unaware folks through the snapshots on a smartphone. The advertisements on a subway entrance use royal analogies for their products. Both Hildas are always wearing a mask (the Princess achieves hers through makeup), allowing readers to casually slip into their roles.
Finally, I also have to mention the immersive soundtrack. It starts as a medieval theme to accompany the scenes at the castle, then fades into a melancholic choir as the Other Hilda contemplates her thievery, and then a tropical lounge music when she goes home to her mother. As recommended by the app listing, it is best to put on your headphones/earphones when using the app to be fully immersed in the story.
Hilda Bewildered is a fascinating interactive short story that explores various personal and social issues. Eloquent narration and vivid illustrations call for thoughtful discussions, while an immersive soundtrack evokes a melancholic mood. A great read for deep-thinking readers ages 9 and up.
Get it on the App Store: iPad
App was purchased by us.