We have been honored, humbled, and excited to work alongside the creators of Owlegories for the past few months as we launch the Owlegories book series! What is Owlegories and who created it? Owlegories is a gospel-centered animated series and app for kids (now with story books as well!). And the creators are the Boto family! So today I thought we would learn a little about Tom Boto and his inspiration behind this creative, gospel-centered world.
Hi Tom! Thanks for joining me today to talk a little about Owlegories and your background creating this wonderful, gospel-centered animated series and app for kids.
Tom, can you start by telling us a little about your family? I know you just welcomed another little baby boy – so congratulations!
Thank you! Yes, we now have five boys, which is awesome…and crazy. It’s such an incredible blessing and each one is so unique. Our boys are Austin (8), Everett (7), Ian “Gus” (4), Owen (2), and Uriah (0.2). My wife and I both come from small to medium sized families, so this is a new world for us. I grew up in Texas, but Julie is from Alaska, and we met in Virginia. So we’ve been all over the map, but we finally settled here in the great state of Texas.
Growing up, in what ways did faith play a role in your life?
I arguably have the best parents and grandparents in the world, and they played a big part in shaping my faith. They have a great love for Christ and for others. From an early age they taught me the importance of studying the Bible. I honestly didn’t really grasp everything until later in life but seeing them faithfully in God’s word every morning and how they interacted with others really left an impression on me. Once I began my own personal relationship with Christ, things changed a whole lot. I was driven like never before and determined to use my time here on earth as productively as possible.
Now that you are a dad, how does it play a role in your family?
My faith has definitely deepened since becoming a dad. I love the picture of God the father and us being adopted as His sons. My love for my kids is so incredibly strong and it’s nothing compared to God’s unfailing and unconditional love for us. It changes the way I parent my kids too. I’m definitely more intentional about teaching them about Christ and his saving grace.
So, where did the idea for Owlegories come from?
My dad would read us books or make up stories each night before bed when we were little kids and I loved it. So we decided to do the same for our boys. Julie and I thought it would be fun to write a story of our own for the boys and so we started brainstorming ideas. We eventually decided that if we were going to do something we ought to do something that teaches our kids about our faith which is so important to us. We wanted to incorporate our love for the outdoors and God’s creation as well. Julie and I had been living in central Virginia prior to moving to Texas, so we had done a lot of fun outdoor activities in the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains, and we noticed that being outdoors and enjoying God’s creation strengthened our love for God. We kept coming back to the idea of using the elements of creation as an allegory or analogy for the character of God or Biblical principles. We started noticing it in Scripture as well (Jesus is the light of the world, the Bread of Life, the Living Water, etc.). We threw around the idea of “Outdoor Allegories” but knew we needed fun characters to help us drive the story. Our little ones really loved stuffed animals at the time, so we decided to try and come up with animal characters that they would love. We eventually thought it would be fun to call it OWLegories and center the story around a group of owls, people really seemed to like the name and the concept, so we ran with it.
How did the show all begin? What was creating the first episode like?
We thought we were going to start with a physical storybook, but this was around the time the iPad was first launched and tablets were starting to pop up everywhere. My boys loved interacting with storybooks on the iPhone and iPad, so we decided to try and make it an interactive storybook app. We had no idea of how to do that, but we jumped in with two feet and eventually figured it out. My sister was getting married that summer, so when all my relatives were in town we used that as an opportunity to record all their voices for the storybook. It was a lot of fun. My grandfather is the narrator and my wife, kids, aunts, uncles, cousins, nieces, and nephews all read elements of the story. It’s not a fancy app by any means, but it started to take off and it was fun to get feedback from people all over the world looking for fun, wholesome, faith-based apps for their kids. It eventually caught the eye of Chad Gundersen, a film producer in our area and whose wife was in the same Bible Study as my wife. We met and discussed the idea of an animated series based off the characters in the app. He knew Keith Alcorn, who is the creator of the Academy Award Nominated Jimmy Neutron movie and show on Nickelodeon. Keith also lives in our area, so we met with him and he loved the idea and wanted to help. He helped us assemble an amazing group of animators and a brilliant music composer/audio engineer. Keith, Chad, and I would meet at a local Starbucks and hammer out the concept of the show until we landed on something we felt was a good mix of entertainment and education. It was such a fun process. Everyone on our team is great. We are really blessed to have such a great cast and crew. We kept our kids involved from the beginning too and each time we wrote a script we would have our own “family table read” and get their opinion of the show which was a lot of fun.
Who are some of the voices for the owls?
We have a great cast of really talented voice actors! Jaden Roberts plays Nora, Holly Franklin is Violet, Mary Morgan plays Gus, Alison Viktorin is Joey, R. Bruce Elliot plays Professor Owlester, Kaleb King is Fink, and Josh Grelle is Devlin.
What are some of your favorites owls? Why?
That’s tough! I love aspects of each one, but I guess I’m partial to Twitch, Gus, and Violet since they were part of the original app. And of course, the baby owls since they are played by my oldest boys (Austin and Everett) and my niece and nephew (Hannah Sue and Jeremiah).
How else is your family involved in the making of the series?
We run everything by our kids and try to involve them in the whole process. It’s been invaluable to get their feedback since they are our target market. I love running ideas by my parents too since they are both really creative and funny. We live close to my in-laws who help out a ton with all sorts of aspects of the business as well as my brother and sister-in-law (Matt and Jennie Krause) who are awesome and also have five incredible kids. We love to include them as much as possible. My sister has also appeared in an episode too, so it’s really a family affair!
Who wrote the theme song for Owlegories?
Mark Menza. He is a brilliant musician! He also scores each show. Like Keith and animation, Mark is a genius with music. I wish I had a tenth of his talent.
How did you decide to partner with Sparkhouse Family and have them become the publishers of the Owlegories books?
We spoke with a number of publishers, but Sparkhouse Family really stood out. Everyone was so kind and enthusiastic about the brand. And I loved that Sparkhouse Family was very innovative and aggressive when it came to producing and marketing books and other kids products. It was a breath of fresh air from the slow, old-school publishing world. The leadership is great at Sparkhouse Family which is really reflected in their team, all of which are incredible at what that do. Interestingly, my wife represented Owlegories at the MOPS conference last year and when she came home, she said of all the brands there she was most impressed with a company called Sparkhouse Family.
Two Owlegories books, Twitch and the Invisible Wind and Joey and the Shining Star and your next DVD, Owlegories Vol. 6, The Wind, The Moon, The Rainbow release TODAY! Can you give us a little sneak peak into what that DVD will be about?
We are really excited about the latest Owlegories episodes. In the Wind Episode, kids learn about the Holy Spirit as the class goes on a hot air balloon adventure. In the Moon Episode, something strange is going on in class, which leads the kids to learn more about the moon and how followers of Christ can be a reflection of His love and grace. In the Rainbow Episode, the kids dress up as superheroes and have to “save the world.” Along the way, they learn about the rainbow, its symbolism and meaning in the Bible (it’s probably my kids’ favorite so far). There are a lot of fun moments I think parents and kids will love. And we even have a new song that Violet sings in the Moon Episode. We also have amazing gospel presenters at the end of the episodes (Lisa Harper, Brandy Little, and Ryan Fontenot) who all do a fantastic job of using the theme of each episode to share the gospel.