Living Books was a series of interactive animated multimedia children's books produced by Brøderbund
and distributed on CD-ROM for Apple Macintosh and Microsoft Windows. The series began with the release of Just Grandma and Me
(an adaptation of the book by Mercer Mayer) in 1992. Later, in 2012, several former Living Books employees formed Wanderful Interactive Storybooks and secured the rights to Living Books assets from owning company Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, and have since released many of the games for modern iPhone/Pod/Pad
mobile devices, with Windows and Mac versions still on the horizon. The newer apps add a few new features such as an in-page interface for skipping directly to other pages, as well as the ability to switch between languages on the fly.
The games in the series, in order, are:note
All of the games have the option to either have the story be read to you, or to play the story and then allow you to click anywhere to bring inanimate objects to life
. Pretty much everyone who played the games went with the latter option.
They are notable for featuring Easter Egg
-laden stills of each page.
Tropes featured include:
- Adaptation Expansion: Some games have extra scenes that aren't in the original books.
- Added Alliterative Appeal: Just about everything said in Dr. Seuss's ABC. (except in the Hub pages and the demo section)
- Animal Talk: Ruff in Ruff's Bone can only bark, but is able to talk to the player.
- Anti-Frustration Features: According to this article, the running guy cursor during the load screens was used to keep the players distracted while they wait.
- Art Evolution: The early titles featured characters with very basic design and no shading, and much more Limited Animation. Eventually, the characters started to look more like actual illustrations, and the animation got progressively better.
- Blatant Lies: On the title screen for The Tortoise and the Hare, the Hare introduces himself like so:
Hare: And I'm the Hare! And this is the story about how I beat him in the race! It all began one day when the Tortoise was just lying around not doing anything, and I was trying to help him get moving! (Checks watch) Oh, gotta go! See you later!
- Boring but Practical: The "Read to Me" option is unanimously considered to almost be a total throwaway option (in fact, D.W. the Picky Eater doesn't even have the option at all). However, when you think about it, it does make sense for the option to exist, considering it is a book, after all.
- Brick Joke:
- In Dr. Seuss's ABC, Page Y has Young Yolanda Yorgenson yelling "Yoo-Hoo, is that you out yonder?", followed by a voice saying "Yes!". This turns out to be the voice of the Zizzer-Zazzer-Zuzz on Page Z.
- Arthur's Computer Adventure has one page where a couple of mice order a large cheese pizza with extra cheese, hold the pizza. A later page has a man at the pizza parlor calling Arthur's voice mail confirming the order.
- Call Back: It wasn't uncommon for a game's click point to feature a Call Back to an earlier game.
- Harry and the Haunted House features the return of the epic paper airplane from Arthur's Teacher Trouble on Page 8. One of the bugs folds a piece of paper to form it, and when he tosses it off, it plays the same heavy metal it was known for.
- Dr. Seuss's ABC has a Call Back to the same game — on Page K, clicking on the kite reveals the small yellow guy (the Zed) sliding down the string and creating a hole. He tries patching it up, but it still shows a little bit. Clicking on the hole forms a spider, playing the same music it went along with in Arthur's Teacher Trouble.
- Little Monster at School also features the return of the epic paper airplane. On Page 12, one of the kids inside the school for recess decides to throw a paper airplane out; when he tosses it, the heavy metal music plays when it flies.
- The Theme Tune in Arthur's Birthday is an upbeat remix of the tune from Arthur's Teacher Trouble.
- Clicking on Arthur's pillow in page 2 of Arthur's Reading Race temporarily turns it into a ghost, complete with the ghost leitmotif from Harry and the Haunted House.
- Compressed Adaptation: The New Kid on the Block only features 17 of the original 100+ poems found in the original book for obvious reasons.
- Does Not Know His Own Strength: In Ruff's Bone, the protagonist's owner throws his bone too hard and the owner says that he is the Trope Codifier.
Owner: Okay Ruff, here's your bone. Ready? (throws bone) Whoa! I didn't know my own strength; Go get it Ruff.
- Dub Name Change: D.W.'s name in Spanish is Dorita, since "W" isn't used often in Spanish.
- Dummied Out: The first four titles, on their V1.1 releases, only feature Ruff's Bone as the preview. However, previews for Arthur's Birthday and Harry and the Haunted House also exist in the files, but can only be accessed by modifying the outline file.
- Early Installment Weirdness: Just Grandma and Me has much more basic click points, and has no Running Gag (V2 remedied this with Little Critter's grasshopper friend). One moment of notice is when clicking on a radio causes it to play the same noise as when you click on a menu button. Later games only used this noise on the menu and nowhere else.
- Easter Egg: Lots of them. Such as clicking on the letters that spell out HELP! in the pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey minigame in version 2 of Arthur's Birthday, which would cause the graphics to be all Christmas-y.
- The End: Nearly every game ends on this, though there are a few exceptions, such as The Cat in the Hat and Stellaluna.
- Episode Title Card: After the logo, the book cover will show up along with the title being announced.
- Everything's Nuttier With Squirrels: Lampshaded in The Berenstain Bears in the Dark; a click point on Page 3 has a squirrel violently rock Mama Bear's chair back in forth, which causes her to respond with "Those nutty squirrels!"
- Exactly What It Says on the Tin: It's a book that is living.
- Expository Theme Tune: The Theme Tune in Sheila Rae is this.
B-R-A-V-E spells "brave"
That's what they call
- Fade to Black: Between just about every screen.
- Feelies: Almost every title came with the book it was based off of, and a parental guide in a few cases. Also, the disc had audio tracks for when you wanted to listen to the music from the game.
- Follow the Bouncing Ball: The words were highlighted as they were read.
- Follow the Leader: A ton. Living Books completely changed the face of Edutainment Games, so naturally many followed suit of varying results. In fact, this is what most of the cheaply done edutainment titles consisted of during the mid-to-late 90s and early 2000s. Many of them weren't even books to begin with. Specific examples:
- The Disney Animated Storybooks, which adapted various Disney films into interactive books. Some of these were The Lion King and 101 Dalmatians. Ironically, Media Station developed some of these titles, and would later go on to make D.W. the Picky Eater, which was an actual Living Book, and would also be the Oddball in the Series.
- GT Interactive did various Mercer Mayer stories, such as Just Me and My Mom, Just Me and My Dad, and Little Monster Private Eye: The Smelly Mystery. These were arguably some of the better clones though, as they made it less of an interactive book and more of a game.
- Some of the Sesame Street Licensed Games were interactive books.
- The Magic Tales series was a take on classic foreign folk tales rather than children's books, and were made by Animation Magic. Yes, that Animation Magic.
- There's The BBC's attempt at making one in 1997's Noddy: The Magic of Toytown.
- Packard Bell created a few interactive storybooks and bundled them with their computers in the mid-to-late 90s.
- Foreshadowing: A book on Page 12 of The Cat in the Hat foreshadows the events of The Cat in the Hat Comes Back (which never was a Living Book).
- Funny Background Event: With all the things to click in the background, this is basically happening ALL THE TIME to the characters in the story.
- Getting Crap Past the Radar: A click point in The Tortoise and the Hare features chickens going crazy over Simon. Does that sound like anything to you?
- Guide Dang It:
- The paper airplane on Page 24 of Arthur's Teacher Trouble is hidden in an extremely obscure spot. As in, the last place you'd ever expect to look. On top of that, the click box is very small. The location of it is just barely above Mr. Ratburn's head.
- The dragonfly in The Tortoise and the Hare is hidden in some very obscure places, and is commonly used as the yardstick for levels of obscurity when it comes to other Guide Dang Its. For example, on Page 11, he's hidden on the far left, a place that looks like there's nothing to click on there.
- Here We Go Again: In Ruff's Bone, after Ruff FINALLY retrieves his bone from a long journey, his owner throws it again. His reaction is...less than satisfying.
- Hypocritical Humor: A kid on Page 3 of Sheila Rae mentions why he was sent to the principal's — through talking too much. This, of course, prompts him to start getting very talkative about it.
- Interface Spoiler: On many occasions, during a huge plot twist or something along the lines of that, the text would always be displayed as the twist was being worked.
- Iris Out: Sheila Rae ends on this.
- The Last of These Is Not Like the Others: This from Arthur's Birthday:
Arthur and D.W.: Ewww!
Mr. Read: Just kidding.
D.W.: Dad, that's not funny!
- Licked by the Dog: On Page 3 of Sheila Rae, a click spot has a dog coming up to Wendell, while he's tied up in a jump rope. He tries to get the dog to untie him, but he gets licked on the face instead, and he finds it disgusting.
- Logo Joke: Green Eggs and Ham starts with a usual Living Books logo, but then the face worryingly looks upward followed by being smashed by the plate for the title screen.
- Magic Carpet: Page C of Dr. Seuss's ABC features one.
- Mini-Game: Some later games included one, and even later games included several. note
- The Moral Substitute: The short lived "Little Ark" spinoff series, based on stories from The Bible rather than picture books and also published by Broderbund.
- Motor Mouth: Hare from The Tortoise and the Hare, though only sometimes.
- Musical Nod: Music from previous games were featured in newer additions to the series.
- A record player on Page 7 of Arthur's Teacher Trouble plays the Theme Tune from Just Grandma and Me.
- Clicking on the lamp in page 11 of Arthur's Birthday plays the Theme Tune from Arthur's Teacher Trouble.
- Oddball in the Series:
- The New Kid on the Block is the only one to be based on short poems rather than a whole story.
- The New Kid on the Block and Dr. Seuss's ABC are the only two where most of the interaction comes from clicking on the text.
- D.W. the Picky Eater is the only game that doesn't use the Mohawk engine.
- Once an Episode: The title screens are always done in the same format - the main character explains what to do, and then they dance to the Theme Tune.
- Pop Up Video Games: The Let Me Play option in every single game in the series.
- Recurring Extra: A few stories have minor characters who don't have much to do with the story, but show up on almost every page. The birds in Sheila Rae are an example.
- Regional Bonus: The American version of Sheila Rae, the Brave includes a map game, albeit one that is very all over the place in terms of programming — they used the same scripting that was used for reading the books, which led to different files for every single viewing angle and Loads and Loads of Loading, all totaling up to almost 350 MB of space (keep in mind this more than half of what CDs could even hold at the time, not to mention it was even bigger than the story itself). The European localization used custom scripting for it instead, working it into more of an actual game engine and compressing it down to 40 MB.
- Running Gag: Every game has an element that shows up on every page, except The New Kid on the Block. Specific examples:
- Arthur's Teacher Trouble has a paper airplane, complete with heavy metal music.
- The Tortoise and the Hare has a dragonfly, who is hidden in very obscure places.
- Ruff's Bone has the bone as the gag, and the only page it doesn't appear on is page 9.
- Little Monster at School has Little Monster's pet Zipper-Umpa-Zoo.
- Arthur's Birthday has party supplies popping out of random objects. (Both versions are the same)
- Harry and the Haunted House has a spider.
- Harry also has three multicolored ladybugs, and a red bird in the outdoor scenes.
- The Berenstain Bears Get in a Fight has a bee. The iPad/iPod versions gave him the name Buzzy.
- Dr. Seuss's ABC has a yellow fuzzy guy (the Zed).
- Sheila Rae, the Brave has butterflies. It changes from page to page, but there's always a butterfly somewhere.
- Sheila Rae also has two bluebirds, said to be sisters, that mirror the story's action.
- The Berenstain Bears in the Dark has a firefly.
- Green Eggs and Ham has a green bird.
- Stellaluna has a moth.
- Arthur's Reading Race has an orange cat.
- Just Grandma and Me V2 retroactively added one — Little Critter's grasshopper friend.
- The Cat in the Hat has a purple bird.
- Arthur's Computer Adventure has a couple of mice.
- Screw This, I'm Outta Here!: In Arthur's Computer Adventure, the lamp near Arthur's computer keeps begging you to not click on him. He pulls this on his final page by hopping off the table and leaving when you click on him too many times.
- In The Berenstain Bears in the Dark, clicking on the card catalog drawers on page 1 will eventually bring forth a very irate mouse:
: Who's flipping those drawers open?! (stomps off)
That does it, I'm outta here!
- Sister Bear also does this in the same game as a reaction to the scary story Brother is reading, thus setting forth the plot.
- Same Language Dub: Much like how Humongous Entertainment got entirely redone dubs for the UK, Living Books also got several UK dubs. Four of these UK dubs were also rereleased on the iPod, iPad, and iPhone by Wanderful Storybooks.
- In a similar vein, Just Grandma and Me was dubbed in Spanish twice — once in Latin Spanish (what V1 includes), and once in Castilian Spanish (what V2 includes).
- Soundtrack Dissonance: The paper airplane Running Gag in Arthur's Teacher Trouble gets some heavy metal music, despite just being an airplane being made of paper. This is exactly why it became so well-known.
- Stock Footage: Surprisingly averted for the most part, even in games from the same book series. The Berenstain Bears in the Dark is one example though — the "The End" screen, the options screen, and the quit screen all reuse animations from Get in a Fight, with some of the dialog being exactly the same. The "The End" screen is particularly blatant due to the lack of detail on the characters compared to the rest of the game.
- Theme Tune: Every game has one. The character will always dance to it on every title screen after explaining what to do. note
- Updated Re-release: Just Grandma and Me and Arthur's Birthday have one. They increased the resolution, and the former added a UI for languages while the latter added minigames. The latter also gets rid of the Spanish language option.
- Writing Around Trademarks: Likely the reason why Harry's dog Spot was changed from white to brown, as he bore an uncanny resemblance to Snowy from Tintin