Book List

Best Book Apps of 2012: Traditional Tales and Classics

An inventive and entertaining introduction to the classic. And that kiss at the end: perfect.

THE VOYAGE OF ULYSSES

A delightfully entertaining telling of the tale of brave Ulysses.

This slimmed, prose version of Homer’s epic can be read aloud by a lilting narrator, or it can be read silently. All of the characters Ulysses meets on his long journey home are here—the Lotus Eaters, Polyphemus the Cyclops, Aeolus and the spiteful winds, Circe, the Sirens, Calypso, a truly scary Scylla—with a suitable amount of smoothly written text material to flesh out their backgrounds and roles. Pop-up boxes can be activated to provide further interpretive access to the tale. The stained-glass quality of the artwork is enchanting, as are the atmospheric background music and sounds. The interactive features are many and clever. Little hints are given for activating them—jugs do a quick tip to the side, Ulysses’ helmet tinks when touched—but the true joy here is the act of discovering the interactive features, which are not gimmies by any stretch: dragging a storm cloud against the sky to bedevil Ulysses’ boat, figuring out how Penelope weaves and unweaves the shroud, activating Circe’s fireworks or an island volcano, helping Polyphemus hurl a boulder at Ulysses’ ship and watching Poseidon rise from the waves. Readers, in essence, are exploring, just like our man Ulysses. That’s engagement.

An inventive and entertaining introduction to the classic. And that kiss at the end: perfect. (iPad epic app. 10 & up)

Pub Date: July 3, 2012

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: -

Publisher: Elastico srl

Review Posted Online: July 30, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2012

A low-key, appealingly unpretentious twist on a familiar folk tale.

B.B. WOLF

A revised “Little Red Riding Hood,” with unusually simple and effective illustrations and interactive features.

Fong suspends small figures drawn in thin, scribbly lines against speckled sepia backgrounds free of extraneous detail, creating narrative movement for her retelling with one or two discreet spiral buttons in each scene. These activate a gesture, cause a line of text to appear or some similarly simple change when tapped. She also transforms the original tale’s cautionary message. She follows the traditional plotline until Red Riding Hood enters Grandma’s house, but then she puts the wolf in front of the stove in the kitchen, where he indignantly denies any wrongdoing and hands Red the basket of goodies she had left in the woods. In comes Grandma to make the lesson explicit (“What did I tell you about judging people by their appearances?”) and to join child and wolf at the table for “a nice dinner of porkchops.” Consonant with the overall sparseness of art and prose, page advances are manual only, and there are neither looped animations nor audio tracks.

A low-key, appealingly unpretentious twist on a familiar folk tale. (iPad storybook app. 5-7)

Pub Date: May 15, 2012

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: -

Publisher: Debbie Fong

Review Posted Online: June 27, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2012

Despite some room for improvement, this rendition lends itself equally to shared or independent reading and is likely to...

THE WIND IN THE WILLOWS

Though this adaptation of the classic cuts down on the original's more lyrical flights of fancy in favor of a closer focus on plot, the richly sentimental tone remains in full force.

Coming in at just under 200 golden-toned "pages" with chipped and discolored borders, North's abridgment drops some chapters (notably "Piper at the Gates of Dawn"), combines some others and simplifies Grahame's language without robbing it of its pastoral flavor. Nearly every other screen features a color or outline sketch illustration done in a distinctly Ernest Shepard–ish style—with, in most cases, the addition of touch- or tilt-sensitive animations. Enhanced by low-volume sound effects and snatches of music, these range from quick changes of expression and ripples in water to a wild, multiscreen motorcar joy ride and an image of Toad that can be clad in a variety of fetching dresses to expedite his escape from prison. The strip-index thumbnails are too small to be easily identifiable, but they do expedite quick skipping back and forth; less conveniently, there is no bookmarking. Furthermore, there is no audio narration, though links at the end do lead to complete print and sound versions of the classic. 

Despite some room for improvement, this rendition lends itself equally to shared or independent reading and is likely to become as well-thumbed as it already looks. (iPad storybook app. 9-11)

Pub Date: May 28, 2012

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: -

Publisher: Bibliodome

Review Posted Online: June 27, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2012

Smooth pans of the double-screen illustrations and interactive features that are as high in child appeal as the...

THE EDIBLE SUIT

Rapid tapping calls up cascades of pigs, pork chops and more from this lightly edited version of Lear’s hilarious “The New Vestments.”

A bold fashion statement goes badly awry when a gent dressed in meat, candy and other edibles tries to take a stroll. Out hurtle “all sorts of beasticles, birdlings and boys” to send him reeling home stark naked. Higham depicts the onslaught in discreet but humorous watercolor cartoons, enhanced here by touch-activated animal calls and animations. In many scenes, veritable showers of items sail into view, usually with loud pops or other noises, as fast as little fingers can hit the screen. Based on a print version from 1986 with a few of the original verse’s lines rearranged and minor word changes (“jujubes” become “jelly beans,” a “girdle” switches to a “belt”), the rhyme can be read silently or by optional narrators in a Dutch translation or in British or North American accents. Other options include manual or auto advance, a slider to control the sprightly background music’s volume and, for added value, a separate letter-matching word game and savable coloring “sheets.”

Smooth pans of the double-screen illustrations and interactive features that are as high in child appeal as the sidesplitting plot add up to an unusually successful crossover to the digital domain. (iPad storybook app. 6-9)

Pub Date: Feb. 23, 2012

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: -

Publisher: Tizio BV

Review Posted Online: March 13, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2012

A triumphant blend of classic literature and tablet technology.

OWL AND CAT

Feline and fowl profess their love for one another in this winning adaptation of Lear's popular 1871 nonsense poem.

Owl and pussycat take a moonlight ride in a “beautiful pea green boat.” Owl pulls out his guitar and openly declares his affection for the cat, singing “O lovely Pussy! / O Pussy my love / what a beautiful Pussy you are.” The cat, clearly swept off her feet, suggests that they be married. Since they dont have a ring, they sail away “for a year and a day” until they come across a pig with a ring in his nose. He agrees to sell his ring to the two sweethearts, and a turkey subsequently performs their marriage ceremony. Everything about this app is well-done. The graphics are simple, deeply colorful and laser crisp, and the characters are appealingly goofy. Each slightly animated page holds one or more interactive elements that are basic, yet pleasing, particularly in their tactile fluidity. Sound effects are well-placed and strikingly clear, perfectly garnishing the overall effect rather than overwhelming it. Though original music accompanies the text throughout the book, developers intentionally excluded voice-overs to encourage parents to read to their children. Although labeled as "free" in the app store, that applies only to the first few pages. Readers who want the whole poem will need to make an in-app purchase.

A triumphant blend of classic literature and tablet technology. (iPad storybook app. 2-5)

Pub Date: March 9, 2012

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: -

Publisher: The Nitro Lab

Review Posted Online: April 8, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2012

In a sea of interactive homogeny, this is a rare gem.

LIL' RED

A refreshingly distinctive take on the classic European fairy tale.

The plot and substance of this story are nearly identical to what has been told for centuries. In this version, however, developers have assembled a winning trio of music, illustrations and interactions that help breathe new life into the familiar tale. All graphics are grayscale, peppered with various shades of red, providing atypically lovely visual scenery. The wolf is deliciously sinister, lurking around and rubbing his paws as he anticipates eating Lil’ Red, who has anime eyes that occasionally shoot readers a would-you-hurry-up-and-tap-things look when the screen is idle for too long. The story is told with visual speech balloons, meaning there are no words, only simple graphics that ably move the story along (and also remove any potential age or language barriers.) Much as in Peter and the Wolf, various instruments represent each character, including a string bass (wolf), a clarinet (Grandma) and xylophone (Lil’ Red). There are other cool nuances, including a mushroom patch that yields trombone tones, and a host of small interactions involving both creatures and objects. Great attention has been given to detail—a creaking swing or the delicate sound of footsteps, for example—that fortify the overall experience.

In a sea of interactive homogeny, this is a rare gem.   (for iPad 2 and above) (iPad storybook app. 1-5)

Pub Date: Sept. 27, 2012

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: -

Publisher: Brian Main

Review Posted Online: Nov. 12, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2012

Hard not to smile at this, whether it’s read as a tribute to communal living or a simple bit of rustic foolery.

TOWER DEAREST

A KIND RUSSIAN FAIRY TALE

Lively, brightly colored illustrations featuring a full kit of touch-activated details infuse this traditional cumulative tale with infectious cheer.

The titular “tower” is really only a tree-stump house with a bell hanging outside to ring, a colorfully decorated window to fling open, and enough room to accommodate not only Burrow Mouse, but Treesong Frog, Runaround Rabbit, Foxy Fox and Greyside Wolf too as each comes along. Not, alas, Bigpaw Bear though, whose weight causes the whole house to collapse with a mighty crash. Undeterred, the happy housemates instantly build a new and bigger dwelling to share. The animals, dressed in comfy country duds, gesture and identify themselves at a tap on (nearly) every screen. Along with panning and zooming for a 3-D effect, the cartoon scenes also include touch- and tilt-sensitive items, from dandelion puffs to a sun/moon toggle. Though the English or Russian text/audio narrative tracks can only be selected at the beginning, an icon on each screen allows readers to switch the audio and sprightly background music on or off, and the overlaid cartouches of small type text can be minimized with a tap to leave the art unobstructed.

Hard not to smile at this, whether it’s read as a tribute to communal living or a simple bit of rustic foolery. (iPad storybook app. 5-7)

Pub Date: Aug. 3, 2012

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: -

Publisher: TerryLab

Review Posted Online: Sept. 26, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2012

Good-natured fun and some well-designed interactive elements distinguish this fairy-tale remake.

ALTERNATIVE STORY: RED RIDING HOOD

Over-the-top and hokey, but somehow this “choose your adventure” fairy tale works by never taking itself too seriously

A sultry fairy narrates the story of Little Red Riding Hood and offers choices along the way for viewers, the most dramatic of which is “Did the Wolf help Little Red Riding Hood?” If viewers choose yes, the Wolf gives Little Red Riding Hood a piggyback ride to Grandma’s, and they all have a nice afternoon snack together. If viewers choose no, Grandma and Little Red Riding Hood are the Wolf’s afternoon snack. The illustrations have the feel of a shoe-box diorama, with props, characters and scene elements dropping in from the top or sliding in from the sides of the screen. There are enjoyable and unexpected interactive options on each page to keep viewers interested, as well as some tongue-in-cheek laughs. When Grandma is about to be eaten by the Wolf, a camera with a red X across it materializes to cover the horrors viewers might imagine are happening behind it. The text is in a pull-down menu, so viewers can only see the text or the illustration, not both at the same time. Text and narration are offered in Spanish, French or English, and the repetitive music is blessedly optional. Navigation is easily accessible on each page, and 14 scene puzzles are available.

Good-natured fun and some well-designed interactive elements distinguish this fairy-tale remake.   (iPad storybook app. 4-8)

Pub Date: March 24, 2012

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: -

Publisher: ZigZag Studio

Review Posted Online: May 2, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2012

THE LEGEND OF MOMOTARO

With help from a trio of squabbling animals a young boy born from a giant peach takes on a squad of ogres in this unusually elegant rendition of the popular Japanese folktale.

Separated by fade-outs but placed between wood-grained borders as if on a continuous roll, the multilayered scenes catch the eye immediately. They glide past at touch-controlled speed as Momotaro travels from his parents’ rural house through a forest and over waves to the ogres’ castle to reclaim stolen treasure. Viewers can zoom in at will for closer examinations of the delicately detailed figures and settings. Along with occasional subtle animations, background sounds change, and figures in the scenes shift position to match the described actions, as the artfully placed and similarly touch-sensitive text is scrolled up or down. Touching the text will also toggle the lightly accented audio narration on or off. Tapping elsewhere causes the defeated ogres to growl sourly along with other similar, quiet sound effects. It also activates in each scene a half dozen or more windows that unfold like origami either to gloss the significance of certain types of flowers or other points of traditional Japanese culture, or to display a Japanese word in Roman lettering (“Romaji”), Hiragana and traceable Kanji. On multiple screens, Momotaro can also be outfitted with customizable (savable, sendable) Japanese armor. A fine version, formal but never stiff, and seamless both in presentation and software design. (iPad storybook app. 7-10)

 

Pub Date: Nov. 2, 2012

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: -

Publisher: Ghost Hand Games

Review Posted Online: Dec. 3, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2012

With its distinctive look, a great drawing element that's actually appropriate to the story and a moral that values...

DRAGON BRUSH

The story of a magical dragon brush that can bring painted objects to life casts its own spell.

Bing-Wen, a slender rabbit from a poor family, loves to paint. His luck turns when he helps an old woman with an overturned cart and is awarded a paintbrush made from the whiskers of a dragon. Bing-Wen finds that everything he paints comes to life, even if the transformations don't always turn out the way he plans. When he tries to help his village by painting sources of food, the emperor is not pleased and arrests the boy. What follows is a clever reversal, in which Bing-Wen gives the emperor what he wants but in a way that saves Bing-Wen and his village. Characters are rendered in subtle, evocative colors and with appropriate, often funny detail. Artwork throughout is subtle and elegant, with Chinese-inspired touches like menu buttons in the shape of paper lanterns. But the app's greatest strength is the way it allows children to "fill in" Bing-Wen's paintings then watch them come to life. The text throughout is as clear and plainspoken as the narration, with good, punchy vocabulary. A separate painting feature is equally well-produced.

With its distinctive look, a great drawing element that's actually appropriate to the story and a moral that values cleverness over power, Bing-Wen's app is as rare and magical as the dragons he loves to paint. (iPad storybook app. 3-8)

Pub Date: May 23, 2012

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: -

Publisher: Small Planet Digital

Review Posted Online: June 27, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2012

Some narrative weakness aside, a brilliantly designed app; the current benchmark for high-quality storytelling via tablet.

FRANKENSTEIN

Mary Shelley’s classic rewritten and retooled, with an appealing gothic-style interface and ingeniously immersive format.

Metaphorically speaking, Frankenstein is a perfect novel for an app treatment: Like the novel’s monster, Dave Morris’ rewrite is a brand-new creature assembled from vintage parts. The interface is anchored by archival illustrations of anatomical drawings (mostly from the 17th century); images of bone and exposed muscle rotate onto the screen as the story moves forward and the monster emerges. His maker, Dr. Frankenstein, travels from Paris to Geneva to England to the North Pole to hunt down his murderous creation, maps and black-and-white engravings giving a sense of place while adding to the disarming mood. The app assumes that readers don’t want to read for very long without doing something, and every few paragraphs end with a prompt that gives readers a chance to steer, by choosing a letter to read, deciding on a direction to go or registering an emotional response. The options are engaging enough to rarely feel interruptive or contrived, though all roads ultimately lead in one direction: Morris’ narrative frame closely resembles Shelley’s. However, Morris smartly takes advantage of the iPad’s interactivity to play with perspective. One section puts readers in the mind of the monster just after he’s escaped from his maker, observing the family from whom he learns to read and speak; directing the monster’s behavior literally puts them in the role of his rueful creator. The writing from Dr. Frankenstein’s perspective can be purple and dramatically mordant at times, but Morris pushes the story forward with pleasant efficiency, condensing Shelley’s prose without stripping it of its flavor. (The original novel is included in the app, though without the bells and whistles.)

Some narrative weakness aside, a brilliantly designed app; the current benchmark for high-quality storytelling via tablet. 

Pub Date: April 26, 2012

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: -

Publisher: Inkle Studios

Review Posted Online: June 27, 2012

It’s as if Orson Welles had gotten hold of an iPad. Though some fixes remain to be done, a top-notch production.

THE WAR OF THE WORLDS

The tale that scared America silly in 1938, courtesy of Orson Welles, returns in a well-made app that would do a Martian invader proud.

H.G. Wells published The War of the Worlds in 1898, long before world-destroying technologies were available to frighten us in real life. The humans in it, famously, are unprepared when an armada of ill-intending Martians reaches the third stone from the sun and begins to blow things up willy-nilly. Eventually, though, they begin to mount resistance, and if some of the fighting takes place in the unlikely confines of rural England, so much the better for Wells’ first generation of readers. The developers at E-mersiv do Wells’ book a service by having fun with it. When the Martians begin to deploy their extremely nasty heat ray, for instance, or what Wells calls “this flaming death, this invisible, inevitable sword of heat,” words on the page burn before readers’ eyes—a very neat bit of animation, that, matched with appropriately scarifying background noises that suggest sizzling and smoking. The score is not always the best; there are too many moments of tinkling piano and weird prog rock for comfort. But for its sonic lapses, the main body of the text is superb, giving new life to Wells’ words. This is nowhere more true than toward the end of app and novel, when the Martians have destroyed the center of the world: “London about me gazed at me spectrally,” Wells writes, a burned-up, bowled-over, blown-apart city of the dead, and the designer nicely reinforces the sense of doom and destruction by blackening the edges of the page as if a firestorm had passed over it. The text is easy to bookmark—so easy that it invites flagging favorite passages, in fact. The only poorly executed aspect of the package is a glossary pulled down by means of a readily accessible menu; it reads as if written by a non-native speaker of English—perhaps a Martian—and is uninformative (the opening gloss for “Narrator’s Wife,” for instance, is “Wife of the narrator”).

It’s as if Orson Welles had gotten hold of an iPad. Though some fixes remain to be done, a top-notch production.

Pub Date: June 14, 2012

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: -

Publisher: E-mersiv

Review Posted Online: Sept. 10, 2012

This spectacular synthesis of elements creates magic on the iPad. Parents and kids won’t want to tear themselves away.

LITTLE FOX MUSIC BOX

A melodious music app combines artistic creativity with top-notch execution.

This superb app offers three songs plus a musical "play space" that all feature gorgeous, detailed illustrations, high-quality music and sound effects, and first-class animations. “London Bridge” and “Old MacDonald” are voiced in unaffected, sweet kids' voices, while "Evening Song" is sung mellifluously by an adult. The creators clearly paid attention to detail in all of the elements, with stupendous results. In “Old MacDonald,” the scenery and animations change to reflect the season, which is controlled by viewers by turning a wheel. The “London Bridge” scene is reminiscent of a Rube Goldberg contraption, with wacky details abounding. “Evening Song” has a quieter feel, but there is plenty to discover and animate. The Studio play space (a hollow tree) is populated with an array of sounds, like frogs singing, knitting needles clacking and spiders scuttling, all of which can be set to three background rhythms, while Fox dances center stage. There is so much creativity here that it can’t even fit onto the screen—when viewers scroll from side to side, they discover even more treasures. The only minor quibble is that the sound effects sometimes compete slightly with the music, particularly in the quieter "Evening Song."

This spectacular synthesis of elements creates magic on the iPad. Parents and kids won’t want to tear themselves away. (iPad music app. 3-10)

Pub Date: March 15, 2012

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: -

Publisher: Shape Minds and Moving Images GmbH

Review Posted Online: June 20, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2012

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