As might be expected for a god, Hermes’ beginnings are far from ordinary.
Born at dawn, he eats nonstop and grows prodigiously—as the uncredited text reads, “The day of his birth was exceptionally trying for his poor mother.” Bored by nightfall, he slips out of the cave and straightaway happens upon a herd of “lovely cows,” which he steals before butchering and eating two of them. “Woe unto Hermes,” though, as those lovely cows just happen to be Apollo’s. As apology, Hermes presents Apollo with the first lyre—partly made from the horns of one of Apollo’s dead cows. Illustrations are largely watercolor with some collaged-in elements, most notably a cherubic Victorian face that cleverly belies Hermes’ naughtiness. The app is minimally interactive, opting for subtle animation and sound effects over finger taps in a way that prioritizes the story. The text is exceptionally well-synced to both pleasingly accented narration and page turns, but there is no advanced navigation or options. At the end of the story, children are rewarded with the opportunity to drive Hermes around in a bumper car, bashing the developer’s other characters (Bluebeard, Baba Yaga and Punch) and revealing satisfyingly puerile jokes with each crash. Its greatest liability is the absence of any kind of source note to contextualize the myth for children not already familiar with it. [Editor's note: background information added in version 1.1, May 12, 2013.]
A pleasantly understated alternative to the many frenetic apps on the market
. (iPad storybook app. 4-8)
For whatever blessed reason, committing poems to memory appears to be back in vogue. Here, Penguin USA and Inkle Studios transport that impulse for learning verse “by heart” from the one-dimensional world of the page to the digital realm’s multimedia expanse with a nifty app.
Readers can download the app for free, then purchase small bundles of thematically grouped classics, creating their own “library” of poems to work through at their own pace. Each poem is tagged with a level of difficulty—Blake’s quatrain “Eternity” is deemed “Easy,” Canto I of the Inferno, “Very Hard”—and prefaced with a brief biographical note. One can read the work in its entirety and/or listen as a voice (female or male) recites the poem. The app’s audio recordings are just serviceable, lacking the drama created by verse performed with a sense of audience. Its most engaging feature sits to the right of each poem, where tapping the “Learn This” button requires the timed filling in of missing words from each clause. One’s score in attempting perfect memorization is then tallied, pinball-machine–like, yielding compliments like “Not bad” and “Amazing.” The sweet reward of successful poetic assimilation awaits on completion of the fifth level of difficulty, when readers can record and save their own recitation of the poem. The repetition involved in attempting such word-for-word recall leads painlessly to fuller comprehension. And while Penguin’s current “poetry store” selections hail from 15 poets as Dead White Male as they come (only Emily Dickinson and Elizabeth Barrett Browning represent the fairer sex, and Wallace Stevens alone saw the 20th century), the app provides unique points of entry to famous poems at the lexical level.
A sophisticated, wildly addictive tool for avowed poetry lovers.
A retelling of the familiar fairy tale, Nosy Crow’s newest app has the appearance of a graphic novel and offers a fresh new twist in the storyline.
Portrayed as brave and capable, Red Riding Hood heads through the forest, where readers help her navigate forks and the path. Each path leads to a different game and subsequent variation in the story. Instead of simply being distractions embedded in the app, each game is integral to the story and encourages readers to carry on through to the end, where the various items gathered prove useful in dispatching the wolf. Interactions are smooth and infused with humor. The 3-D effect and zoom capability add depth to the illustrations, and a map is provided as a shortcut to the games. Game features include tilting to pour honey and to move a spider around a maze, blowing seeds from a dandelion, readers’ own reflections in a pool and many touch-screen games. The characters, narrated superbly by child actors, speak to each other when tapped. Unfortunately, conversations get a bit out of whack if not tapped in the correct order, but eventually, all becomes clear. In “Read and Play” mode, words are highlighted as they are read out loud, and blue dots blink to help readers find interactions on each page.
Well-crafted and fun to read, this is an empowered “Red Riding Hood” not to miss. (iPad storybook app. 4-7)
This sumptuous iBook presents a straightforward telling of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, accompanied by artwork that will send readers down the rabbit hole of delight.
It has been 150 years since Carroll trooped Alice before readers. In that time, there have been illustrations aplenty to go with the text, though arguably, John Tenniel caught the greatest fancy. There’s no Tenniel here, but a parade of gently animated artwork that delivers one pleasure after another. They appear in the form of short videos that convey the story read aloud, and in so many styles readers may wonder if the book couldn’t accommodate something by, say, Warhol, too. It is as though Carroll gave a great, inclusive, Whitman-esque hug to interpretation. Millicent Sowerby gets spooky; Arthur Rackham is all caricature and cream; Margaret Tarrant shimmers on the surface, like sunlight on a lake; Mabel Lucie Attwell is as Deco as a Tiffany lamp; Alice Woodward is mischievous; Gwynedd M. Hudson has the delicacy of a Fabergé egg; George Soper draws dreamscapes. Some of the animations of the old artwork can be a bit creepy—as the White Rabbit appears on the scene, for instance, he hops through four distinct illustrations, changing style with each—but then, so is the story. Chapter by chapter, videos precede sequences of still plates, which themselves precede the printed text. The nice, rich rumble of the narrator is counterpointed with voices of a young girl and strange creatures, all well-characterized.
A stellar—indeed, archival—addition to any library.
(Enhanced e-book/fantasy. 6 & up)
Poe’s classic short story of murder and madness is here subtly but effectively repurposed to haunt the dreams of a whole new generation of readers.
It’s been 170 years since Poe’s chilling first-person narrative was first published in an ill-fated Boston-based magazine called The Pioneer. But this marvelously restrained iPad app might just be the ultimate platform for conveying the claustrophobic creepiness inherent in Poe’s gothic tale of a killer betrayed by his own insanity. Snatches of Poe’s first-person narration are found scrawled on a textured background that resembles a pitted wall; they must be manipulated, twisted and turned in order to discover the next outburst of literary lunacy. Slowly and even painstakingly, tracing the story in this most tactile way brilliantly mirrors the disjointed, zigzagging inner workings of the protagonist’s tortured mind while also creating an uncomfortable intimacy with the unnamed antihero. Additionally, following the crooked etchings—which vary in font as well as physical orientation—up, down, over and around conjures an unmistakable feeling of being alone in the dark with an unwelcome someone reading over your shoulder. Poe’s eerily elegiac prose is faithfully rendered. Isolating it bit by bit while maintaining a linear, if wildly undulating flow adroitly capitalizes on the rising tension.
Poe’s psychological masterpiece is perfectly matched with just enough digital interactivity to chill readers anew. (Requires iOS 6 and above.)
An adaptation of a 1966 baseball-themed Peanuts TV special preserves Schulz’s gloomy wisdom in seamlessly designed fashion.
Though it’s less well-known source material than A Charlie Brown Christmas, this tale is similar in tone, with realistically spiky exchanges and loads of anxiety for Charlie Brown, manager of a losing baseball team. This being Schulz, Charlie Brown must suffer unending verbal abuse and dashed hopes before a not-quite-happy ending. In its gorgeous app form, the lines among book, TV show and interactive experience are blurred by a design that gives readers control of the flow of the app without getting in the way of the story. Scenes are self-contained and easy to navigate, featuring voice clips from the original program, narration by original Linus actor Christopher Shea and familiar music by Vince Guaraldi, all edited expertly to sync with the pages. Action features, including interactive pitching, hitting, surfing and skateboarding, are worked unobtrusively into the narrative. A stand-alone scene that introduces the swipe-to-navigate mechanism before the story starts is an impressive fusion of comic-strip panels and subtle motion cues. That the app doesn’t resort to replicating TV animation and instead opts for the paper cut-out style that is a signature of the developer is another smart design choice.
It all comes together perfectly in this top-notch take on Peanuts—an easy home run. (iPad storybook app. 3-10)
Two children have trouble staying in bed until their Mooshum, their grandfather, tells them a Coast Salish cautionary tale featuring a “scary old woman who eats the toes of children as if they were grapes!”
Dropped off by their dad at the mountain cabin of Mooshum and Kookum, Thomas and his little sister Lily have trouble settling down that night—until they hear how, long ago, a group of similarly sleepless children followed the delicious scent of candied salmon into the woods and were seized by the terrifying Kalkalilh. Both the children, who look like polished wooden dolls with black, button eyes, and the skulls that float about the hunched-over old woman’s cluttered hut wriggle and giggle when touched in the tilt-sensitive illustrations. The overall flow isn’t as smooth as it might be, as each picture takes a moment to load and the text only appears a few lines at a time. Still, options include autoplay or manual advance, a multivoiced audio and a choice of four languages, including Squamish. Furthermore, a main menu with thumbnails is available any time, and tapping the occasional red word in the narrative opens a box with the Squamish equivalent and a culture-specific comment or observation. Ultimately, the children in the core tale push their captor into her own fire, whereupon she turns into a cloud of mosquitoes and pursues them through the woods into the arms of their parents. In the framing story, Thomas and Lily rise in the morning to find real candied salmon and opposite-of-scary Kookum waiting in the cozy kitchen.
Not too spooky for bedtime yet with distinct chiller-diller potential, this folk tale marries tradition and modernity with great style.
(iPad folk-tale app. 6-9)