About 15 years ago, Mike Austin’s then-2-year-old daughter, Tien, was full of questions about the family cat, Milo.
"She had these funny questions, like, ‘What does Milo do all day?’" said Austin, an illustrator and writer who lives in Kailua-Kona. "I grabbed my sketchbook and started drawing pictures of the cat in funny scenarios."
Those sketches were the genesis for "A Present for Milo," a storybook app for the iPad that debuted in December. The book has earned rave reviews for the level of interactivity, detail and educational quality.
"It is an eBook with almost gamelike function — which is a great balance," wrote a blogger in Wired magazine.
"The perfect book app to stimulate, engage and develop reading skills," raved the Web site Fun Educational Apps.
The book follows Milo as he chases a mouse through a house. Items and characters in the house spring to life in more than 125 animation sequences, some triggered automatically and others launched with a finger tap or a swipe on the iPad screen. "So when Milo runs across the piano and bounces across the keys, different things will happen," Austin said.
Touch a metronome next to the piano, for example, and its pendulum starts to swing, while Austin, who provides the narration and many of the sound effects for the app, says "tick, tock, tick, tock …" Tap on a picture of a sailboat hanging on the wall and a whale suddenly surfaces, lifting the sailboat out of the water.
"It’s really targeted to pre-readers, 2 to 5 years old," Austin said.
Though the story line remains the same from when he first created Milo’s tale, Austin had to draw about 600 images for the app. He has done illustrations for corporate reports, magazines and the Wall Street Journal.
The opportunity to create "A Present for Milo" came as a result of an inquiry from his agent, who was looking for children’s book projects.
Austin’s daughter, now a UH student, "kind of rolls her eyes" at the app, but "she’s loving it, too," Austin said. The original Milo, a found cat who was "kind of a mangy thing," has "used up its nine lives," he said, though the family has another cat.
Milo will continue to have adventures as Austin’s publisher, Ruckus Media, has awarded him a contract to produce three more book apps about Milo.