The revival of the picture book

Picture book AP Customer Michael Wallenfels looks at children's books with his son Henry, 2, (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

Washington - Many of us hold cherished memories of snuggling up with our parents and hearing bedtime stories about the far-off and far-out adventures of characters who, maybe, reminded us a bit of ourselves. Lost My Name, a London-based company, is taking that pastime a step further by using technology to make personalised children's books that not only substitute a child's name for the protagonist's, but also weave elements of the plot around information submitted by parents.

Asi Sharabi, one of the company's co-founders, came up with the idea when he bought a book for his daughter that plugged her name into the role of the main character. “I was underwhelmed by everything about it,” he said. “Apart from seeing my daughter's name in the book, there was nothing else that made it feel personal. The potential existed, but it was executed badly.”

So Sharabi, who has a background in advertising, called up a few friends and started Lost My Name as a side project. Their first title - called either ‘The Little Boy Who Lost His Name’ or ‘The Little Girl Who Lost Her Name’, depending on the choice of the customer, features a story in which kids who have lost their names meet with different animals throughout the book. (Each creature restores a letter of their name.)

The book, available in nine languages, has sold at least 1 million copies in 160 countries and earned Lost My Name interest from investors including Google Ventures. Established in 2013, the company has made books for children using 97 827 different names. A new second title, ‘The Incredible Intergalactic Journey Home’, expands the customisation by asking parents for their home address so that kids can spot landmarks from their cities and neighbourhoods.

This kind of product may not be for everyone. Parents who are wary of handing that information over to a company, worried, perhaps, after a breach at toymaker VTech recently exposed the data of millions of children, may want to think twice about buying these types of books.

Lost My Name says it is well aware of the sensitivity and risks of using personal information of children and is “fully compliant with every possible data-protection regulation,” Sharabi said.

Customers choose what information to submit, it's not collected passively, which ensures that they know what's going to the company's servers. “Lost My Name retains addresses and order data, to make it easier to reorder products. It does not sell it to advertisers”, Sharabi said.

Sharabi also added that, he is not aiming at creating e-books that can run on tablets. After all, he said, the book is a well-loved format.

“We figure there are enough people thinking about screen-based propositions for children,” Sharabi said. “I also love screens but culturally, they became more of a digital babysitter or pacifier instead of a shared bonding device.”

Although Sharabi sees potential for on-demand publishing, he said, he doesn't think Lost My Name is going to expand much beyond kids' books. The parts of the book that make his company's products appealing, the bold, personalised visuals; the small touches to make kids feel special, wouldn't work for more complex literature, he said.

“I'm not interested in creating books where I get you to be a part of a Dickensian novel or in something like '50 Shades of Gray,'“ “I don't think this is going to scale beyond children.”

Not that he has a problem with that.

“This is a huge market,” he said. “Everyone says books are dead. That's just plain stupid.”


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