Book List

Best Apps & E-Books of 2013 for Middle-Grade Readers

A terrific piece of paleoanthropology, with a smart blend of scientific sobriety and narrative verve.

THE SKULL IN THE ROCK

Advances in paleoanthropology are given a bracing, clearsighted overview in this enhanced e-book from Berger and Aronson, based on the 2012 print book of the same name.

Many easily recognize the discovery of 3-million-year-old Lucy as a vital moment in the human progress. But except for articles published in rarified journals, the general public hasn’t heard nearly enough from the paleoanthropological front since her discovery, and this work helps to set that record straight. It uses the findings of co-author Berger and his son as a hinge to learning from the fossil record; of “training your eye to see what you need to see” out in the field. Using the National Geographic Society’s trademark crack photography and layman’s language, the book takes readers from Lucy through a very helpful timeline of famous fossil finds in Africa and the introduction of dating techniques. It constructs a braided evolutionary trail that includes a member Berger named sediba, who had traits quite separate from chimpanzees and may prove to be a link to the deep past. Enhancements include an introductory video that uses Google Earth to zero in on Berger’s dig sites outside of Johannesburg, another, nifty video that gives a “3-D” look at the titular skull, enlargeable photos that often appear in swipeable galleries, and active hyperlinks from Web-based resources in the bibliography, allowing galvanized readers instant, direct access to further information.

A terrific piece of paleoanthropology, with a smart blend of scientific sobriety and narrative verve. (Nonfiction enhanced e-book. 10 & up)

Pub Date: April 23, 2013

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: -

Publisher: National Geographic

Review Posted Online: May 8, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2013

A tongue-in-cheek tale with serious underpinnings, enhanced by inventively designed visuals.

THE JÖRGITS AND THE END OF WINTER

Following a crash landing in the Baltic, a motley crew of space aliens encounters strange creatures (well, Finns) in this briskly paced, eco-themed import.

The seven furry Jörgits’ hopes of rescuing their icy home using Earth’s “Terra Forming” technology are dashed by the discovery that that “technology” is actually just humans’ irresponsibly messing up their own planet. Nevertheless, they ally with 11-year-old Jenny and her inventor/musician father, Joonas, to escape and then defeat a genially evil tycoon set on raising a “New Atlantis” after our society collapses. Along the way, the Jörgits also discover coffee (“…wonderful! It tasted like a mixture of burnt rubber and dirt”), plus the delights of shopping, sauna and skiing. Left with a sequel-ready open end, the tale is told in 14 chapters (plus a hidden one, unlocked by tapping five well-hidden Easter eggs) of fluent, colloquial prose with humorous side notes on sliding panels and a handy strip index. The retro-style illustrations are rendered in pastels and blocky shapes, and they range from full-screen static views to melodramatic video clips, tilt-sensitive animations, a spreadable tourist map of Helsinki and, particularly noteworthy, several panning scenes on which atmospheric musical compositions can be tapped out.

A tongue-in-cheek tale with serious underpinnings, enhanced by inventively designed visuals. (iPad science-fiction app. 9-11)

Pub Date: March 20, 2013

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: -

Publisher: Tank and Bear LLC

Review Posted Online: June 26, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2013

NEOMAD INTERACTIVE COMIC

In an electric mix of live video clips, CGI effects and neon-hued comics pages, young Aborigines have exciting adventures both in Western Australia’s Pilbara Desert and in outer space.

The stories center around the scruffy Our Gang–style Love Punks, faces painted to resemble the mottled, elaborate hangout they have built from recycled junk. In the first two episodes, they take a flying car for a joy ride, then encounter the echidna god Jiribuga. Meanwhile, the Satellite Sisters play a fast-paced zero-gravity game and watch over Earth from orbit to protect it from falling space junk. In the finale, the two groups combine to rescue a spaceship full of tourists from being swallowed by the sky god Mingkala. The children are comfortable in front of the camera, the dialogue never sounds artificial, and both the video and the graphic segments show top-drawer production values. The comics pages are particularly noteworthy: They often alter inventively when swiped rather than just turn and feature melodramatic voice-overs activated by tapping dialogue bubbles, and they were created in part by the young cast itself. Furthermore, tapping bilingual lines a second time causes a translation to appear—or, for effect, sometimes not: “An ancient gigantic angry sky god! It’s trying to suck us into its muji!” Pranks and banter fly as the young cast hilariously hams its way through the plot, but there are also earnestly delivered messages about the importance both of environmental conservation and of respecting traditional beliefs.

Dazzling. (includes three “making of” featurettes) (iPad graphic-novel app. 6-10)

Pub Date: May 24, 2013

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: -

Publisher: BighART

Review Posted Online: Aug. 14, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2013

Beautiful, haunting and completely original, Roya’s tale is a 12-course meal of intelligent storytelling. (activities,...

MIDNIGHT FEAST

An intricate, sophisticated and dreamy story of a teen’s hunger for not only food, but the world she’s built in her imagination.

In a near future where drought and poverty are the norm, teenage Roya longs for a rich midnight feast so she might forget her worn surroundings—but when she finally stays up for it, is not what she hoped. As with developer Slap Happy Larry’s previous effort, The Artifacts (2011), this app is packed with telling details, ripe artwork and an underlying melancholy. Moody, dark-hued painted pages detailing Roya’s daily life alternate with “B-pages” in which Roya’s mind fills with daydreams, nightmares or literal interpretations of things she hears or thinks; when she imagines her parents laughing their heads off, it’s shown. Many of Roya’s mental wanderings are less disturbing and more transcendent: She imagines a dance hall of shadowy partners in the body of her father’s guitar or a movie theater filling with popcorn. The sum of striking visuals, smartly restrained audio cues, subtle voice acting, unobtrusive narration and navigation, and always-relevant iPad interactive elements is more resonant than overwhelming. Younger readers may be confused and spooked by some of the story’s content; there’s an option to eliminate the “scary sauce” in the story (cleverly represented by a ketchup bottle).

Beautiful, haunting and completely original, Roya’s tale is a 12-course meal of intelligent storytelling. (activities, reading notes) (iPad storybook app. 9-16)

Pub Date: July 30, 2013

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: -

Publisher: Slap Happy Larry

Review Posted Online: Aug. 28, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2013

Budding language nerds or anyone who’s a sucker for a humble little love story won’t have trouble finding the right word for...

THE BIG WORD FACTORY

There’s nary a word wasted in this love letter to the power and beauty of individual words.

In a “peculiar land” where people must “buy and swallow the words they want to speak,” a poor boy named Paul can’t afford to tell a girl named Marie that he loves her. Paul is up against a boy whose family’s wealth affords him the ability to use as many words as he likes. In the end, Paul’s mere three words—cherry, dust and chair—are enough to make Marie notice. The sweet and simple story, based on the traditional book Phileas’s Fortune (2010), is greatly enhanced by elegant animation and interaction. Deep reds highlight Marie and Paul’s story against the gray gloom of an industrial word factory that towers over their town. Words are cannily deployed as hidden extras. As the story opens, categories of words for sale, including “Obsolete Words” (dungarees, brume) and “Funny Words” (gewgaw, drizzle and of course, gobsmacked), float down as little slips of paper. The app otherwise brims with clever touches, such as a language game for sorting words into three available languages: English, German and French. There’s also a link to a six-minute video version of the story.

Budding language nerds or anyone who’s a sucker for a humble little love story won’t have trouble finding the right word for this app: “delightful.” (Requires iOS 6 and above.) (iPad storybook app. 5-12)

Pub Date: Oct. 21, 2013

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: -

Publisher: mixtvision Digital

Review Posted Online: Nov. 27, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2013

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