Road Test: Dandelion app helps children cope with bullying

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 09 July, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 09 July, 2013, 9:52am

Every day, a cruel act of bullying takes place somewhere. In a Chinese University study last year, about 71 per cent of 1,800 pupils from eight secondary schools in Hong Kong said they had been victims of school violence.

Bullying should not be a normal part of childhood. But stopping this is difficult because, often, children don't know how to talk about it. Victims need to have open communication channels with adults they can confide in and trust to deal with the matter.

Dandelion is an interactive story about a boy named Benjamin Brewster who counts the 972 dreaded steps to the "School for the Misguided" every day - where the "never-do-wells and the bullies" taunt him.

Our protagonist clearly doesn't fit in well and wishes he could run away from school. Hiding one day among some dandelions, he dreams of wishing all his troubles away. If only blowing on the flowers would allow him to sail the seas and reach the moon. But he cannot bring himself to believe that doing so would change anything. Yet, the next day when he returns to school, he sees dandelions, ripe for wishes, everywhere in the schoolyard.

Brewster is faceless so that children can put themselves in his shoes. The story is coloured in blacks, greys and sepias so the white dandelions stand out as a beautiful allegory for hope in the dark world of bullying.

The story does not offer a real solution because in reality, most victims are helpless. Instead, Dandelion serves as a platform to discuss these issues so that children feel comfortable talking about their problems.

The app's interface is reminiscent of the red ViewMasters that were popular children's toys. In Dandelion, children can turn the lever on the left to move to the next frame or swipe back and forth to move the story along.

Readers can interact with the slides, such as by helping Brewster count the steps to school and back and even blow on the dandelions to help him make a wish.

It can be read in English, Chinese, French, German, Japanese and Spanish. Unfortunately, the narration is only in English.

As there are two more books in the works that will introduce topics on cyber-bullying and bullying against girls, perhaps we can hope for more narrative language options.

Verdict: developer Galvin Scott Davis came up with the concept when his son, Carter, was being bullied at school. Galvin is an experienced writer for film and television, so it's not hard to see why Dandelion was voted one of iTune's Best of 2012 apps and has been used by schools in Australia and the United States.

Dandelion, HK$38, available from the App Store