A photo gallery–as-app is light on features yet becomes a moving visual statement communicated through the faces of hundreds of kids from around the world.
The 230 photos—often-breathtaking, in-the-moment portraits—are accessed via pins on a world map, as a slide show or as a gallery with a simple horizontal bar as navigation. Each photo has a caption that can be accessed by tapping a word-balloon button. The one-line descriptions are light on detail, yet evocative. "Wearing his last meal as lipstick, a full child takes a break from dining and greets a visitor to his simple home in a riverside African village," reads a caption for a photo taken in Juffure, The Gambia. But it's the faces of the children themselves that are most compelling. Whether they appear to be bored or giddy, engaged in activity or posing for a foreigner's camera, their emotions are sometimes as clear as what the backdrops tell us about their living conditions. The cumulative effect gives readers (especially young ones) a small sense of the scale of the Earth and its many inhabitants. If there's anything missing, it's a cleverer way to browse the images than flipping through them one by one, pointing on a clunky map or rolling a too-tiny thumbnail bar. And, though the app is visually overstuffed, there's no sound at all. It's as if the kids all went eerily silent when even a few sound clips would have enhanced the app greatly.
A mellow bedtime book about baby animals preparing to sleep.
In this charming, sweetly illustrated book, toddlers can “join the goodnight safari” and help the animals get ready for bed. Tap a baby zebra, and he stops frolicking in the tall grass so he can join his mother. The young giraffe needs help reaching the leaves in a tree so she can finish her dinner. Readers can also dunk the speckled rhino to wash off his muddy back and help the brown monkey swing into her “bed” in an adjacent tree. The rich, lush illustrations burst with color, and the fuzzy, socklike texture of many animals adds to their appeal. Each page offers just enough interaction to hold the interest of rambunctious little ones but not so much that they become overstimulated. There’s even an optional background sound-effect loop that functions much like soothing white noise—a plus when the aim is to bring the energy level down a few notches. Once tasks are completed, an arrow appears to navigate to the next page. Touch elements and page turns can be a bit sluggish (it takes repeated taps to submerge the rhino in water, for example), but overall it’s not terribly disappointing—after all, the point is to slow down and chill out.
A simple, lovely lullaby.
(iPad storybook app. 1-4)
This highly user-friendly primer gives kids both a macro and micro lesson about jazz music.
Papa kitty wakes up his children with the exciting news that they’re going to visit a jazz band. After a yummy breakfast, off they go. First, they encounter a hip raccoon who plays a mean bass. Brother and sister cat also observe a fox playing drums, a goose tickling the ivories and a squirrel playing a groovy guitar riff. The story explores a wide variety of instruments, including the vibraphone, trumpets, trombones, three different saxophones, the flute and the clarinet. Turning the page activates instrument demos, though some launch more quickly than others. Touching band members elicits repeated demo performances, and if tapped all at once, they play at the same time. The young felines offer commentary when tapped, and the text itself provides helpful insight into the basic theory of jazz and the various categories of instruments that comprise a jazz band (brass and rhythm sections, for example). One page even highlights various sections as they chime in. The clever bonus games prompt kids to guess which instrument is making which sound, and it also quizzes them by asking them to match the names to the instruments.
A winning app that could easily be deemed the jazz version of The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra. Smooth.
(iPad storybook app. 2-8)
A seamless blend of realistic graphics, high-resolution photography and well-chosen interactive features makes for an inviting introduction to bat behavior and types.
In each of the seven topical sections, Carson’s short overview commentary is supplemented by captions and touch-activated windows. These show, for instance, a map of major bat colonies with touch-activated sub-windows or what a human skeleton with bat wings would look like and how it would articulate. The screen-filling nighttime scenes are sometimes sequential; one series leads viewers in stages into the Bracken Bat Cave in Texas, for instance, to view a huge mound of guano. Hidden bats (always specific, identified types) on several screens can be “spotted” with a fingertip. The “Seeing with Sound” chapter features a “record” button that allows readers to see their own bat screeches in action, and the closing animation is a tilt-controlled bat’s-eye “flight” over a moonlit landscape. The on-screen slider that appears to signal that the next page has loaded may prompt too-quick digits to flick before the narrator is quite through, but its bottom-to-top action is pleasingly different from the usual site-swiping motion as well as suiting its aerial subject. Overall, navigation is smooth, and the special features enhance rather than distract from the presentation.
A winner: beautifully illustrated, nicely designed and solidly informative.
(iPad informational app. 6-9)
A strange but beguiling mix of surreal storytelling and lighthearted psychological advice.
Selecting any of the five symptoms on the first screen, like “Unable to start doing anything,” leads to a “diagnosis” (from “Procrastination” to “Manic”). The app then proceeds to a tale about a lad who, convinced that his brain has been mechanized, fits a boombox over his head as a disguise and sets out for a series of encounters in Machine City and elsewhere. Eventually, he concludes that his problem is inconsequential. Every symptom leads to the same story, but a different “prescription” appears at the end. Putting all “network communication tools” into the freezer for a month cures “Information Anxiety,” for instance, or, for paranoia, “Pay attention to drink water, breathe more northwest wind.” Lines of text share space with panels of elaborately detailed cartoon art, which is rendered in harmonious colors and with accomplished figure modeling. The pages fade into view and glide elegantly into position on each screen with successive swipes as changing strains of ambient music play. A tap on any screen opens toggle buttons for the music and the (rare) sound effects, plus a thumbnail index strip.
Not particularly therapeutic, but the art and the plot are engaging—as is the translation, which is so consistently amusing that the awkwardness may well be intentional.
(iPad storybook app. 10-14)
A “powers of 10” app that takes young explorers from quarks to the furthest reaches of the observable universe.
An aptly named dog flopped down in a sunny backyard provides the starting point. Each flick of thumb and finger magnifies the view of canine hide by a factor of 10, down to 10-18, and each pinch will pull the image up and out one step. Finally, at 1027, only a gauzy film of galactic superclusters is visible. Though a “handwritten” text font and Woodruff’s simply drawn cartoon illustrations (several featuring a drifting virus or other small animation) give the presentation an informal look, there is plenty of hard information here. This information includes the number and kinds of quarks in a proton as well as descriptions of the mysterious galactic “Great Wall” and even more immense “Sloan Great Wall.” The brief commentary appearing beside each view offers quick, specific facts strewn with playful interjections—“Kuiper Belt (rhymes with diaper)”—and true-or-false questions that are sometimes tricky, like “True or False: Viruses are alive.” There are enough typos to make an update desirable, but overall it's an inventive and provocative exercise.
This well-designed odyssey truly does put the universe at viewers’ fingertips.
(iPad informational app. 6-12)
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)
An interactive ghost tale weaves together historical fiction and a supernatural love story with satisfying results.
Daisy’s mysterious ability to channel electricity has always been more curse than blessing, especially since it means no cellphone or computer use. However, when she and her friends Danielle and Vivi are unexpectedly faced with an evil spirit from Daisy’s distant past, the utility of Daisy’s gift slowly becomes clear. Woven into the mix is Kevin, a brooding love interest with a guitar who keeps Daisy grounded throughout their adventure. Interactive elements ranging from embedded YouTube videos to subtly animated black-and-white illustrations add to the overall experience and spooky atmosphere. The text concludes with a final section—“More Gift”— in which the three supporting characters present their own perspectives on the story. For example, Kevin’s section includes links to audio files of songs and lyrics, which will be familiar to readers as they are featured at the beginnings of selected chapters. Vivi’s story is told in a brief graphic-novel format in realistic watercolor illustrations, and Danielle presents her point of view as pages from her diary. While the alternative formatting and use of audio works well, the entire section feels tacked on. Nevertheless, the enhancements are sufficient to make going digital with this text (also published as an ordinary paperback) worthwhile.
A fantastical and historical ghost story that benefits from technology and the presence of young love. (Paranormal romance. 15-17)
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 don’t 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)
An interactive introduction to three female friends linked by their love of horses and a fantastical adventure.
When summer vacation starts with a downpour, Shelby, Annalee and Cammie, all 12, are challenged to amuse themselves in the barn at Crooked Creek Stables, which is owned by Shelby’s mom. Boredom has set in when an unfamiliar gray horse with a magical mark on his neck appears both in the story and as an image that slowly materializes on the screen. Despite many warnings about the dangers of an unfamiliar animal, Annalee rides the horse, which they name Magic, and her friends follow alongside as he leads them back in time to a medieval adventure. Each girl bonds with the horse, and their individual interactions showcase their distinct personalities and provide a brief window into their lives. Leveraging the digital format, the text includes high-quality sound effects such as falling rain, hoofbeats and a variety of nature sounds, which not only flesh out the immediate situation, but are well-timed to enhance rather than distract from the overall reading experience. Images, mostly of Magic, are used sparingly, maintaining a pleasing rhythm with the text. Each "page" appears to be made of a warm homemade paper edged by greenery, such as ivy and clover, that changes with the flow of the text. The overall effect of the design makes the digital book an art object in itself.
Well-used technology paired nicely with solid characters make this a promising series opener.
(iPad fantasy app. 8-10)
A little green lizard will trail a fingertip home in this mini-Odyssey, the third of Larry’s interactive outings.
Pointing fingers in the illustrations and overt instructions in the rhymed text (“Trace a path with your finger right on the screen / Larry will follow once the path’s been seen”) provide uncommonly broad hints for this app's toddler audience. They guide the lost lizard through very simple zigzag mazes, over stepping stones, and past gatherings of anthills and beehives to, at last, a dark little cave just right for a curled-up snooze. The story is read (optionally) in soothing Aussie accents over quiet sighs or chuckles from Larry and other easily identifiable sounds. The low-key narrative accompanies a set of broadly brushed cartoon scenes—in each of which taps will also make numbers appear briefly in sequence, a fish leap, an echidna suck up ants, or buzzing bees fly off as Larry crawls or hops out of view. An unobtrusive icon at the top of each portrait-mode screen opens a menu with a link back to the start, a toggle for the audio narration and other options.
Clean, simple, seamless—just right for the nursery-school set or children with special needs.
(iPad storybook/dexterity app. 1-3)
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)
An abandoned bunny doesn’t stay homeless for long in this understated, simply illustrated import.
Venturing out into “their” vegetable patch with baskets under their arms one day, the Bunnybig family hears loud noises (“CATACRACK, CRASH, CRASH!”). Investigating, they see the neighboring rabbits being run off by tractors. Spotting a droopy refugee on the other side of the garden fence the next morning, the littlest Bunnybig quickly enlists help from everyone to dig a hole and to adopt a new Bunnybig into the clan. In the spare art, which looks like cut-paper collage with bits of added brushwork, a tap activates twitching bunny ears or a drifting cloud, makes figures move a few inches or nibble on a carrot, along with like restrained animations. Optionally read by a sympathetic narrator, the equally spare text is available in English, Spanish or Catalan. Though navigation isn’t as seamless as it might be—touching small carrots in the lower corners moves the story ahead or back, but an unlabeled sun in the middle flips the story back to the opening screen, willy-nilly—and at just 12 scenes, the tale seems barely begun before it’s done, the overall feeling of warmth and welcome will leave all but the most hardhearted audiences smiling.
Brief, but loaded with appeal for younger readers and pre-readers.
(iPad storybook app. 3-5)
This beautifully illustrated counting and singalong app version of the 2004 book introduces young readers to the creatures of the coral reef.
The original book is enhanced by simple, well-executed animations. With a touch or a jiggle, kids can send baby fish swimming, puffer fish puffing and squid squirting ink. After a one-by-one introduction to the featured coral-reef babies, from one octopus to 10 seahorses, a "Find the Babies" game brings them all back together for one final count. Backed by music and ocean sounds, the text is read or charmingly sung by the book's multitalented author, or readers can choose to read to themselves. True to the publisher's mission to connect children to nature, the app includes photographs and factual information about the sea life in the story. Additional pages introduce the author, illustrator, developer and publishers. Artist Canyon explains how she created the illustrations with polymer clay and tools from her kitchen in an accessible way that encourages children to create their own art projects. In fact, counting skills and science aside, her vibrant pictures of the coral-reef habitat are enough to make this app appealing to readers of all ages.
With a format that includes science, math, art, music and reading, it still manages to be what learning should be—fun.
(iPad informational app. 4-8)
An impressively scruffy app with scribbly artwork and nary a straight line to speak of, this mix of low-fi presentation and top-shelf interactivity is a unique pleasure.
Hyperactive, blue-haired Pete and his dog Spot send away for all the parts necessary to build a custom robot. But when the gleaming, red, string-limbed ’bot arrives, the thing goes crazy in an amusing series of adventures. (The robot delivers mail to the wrong addresses, spills the goods in a candy store, and serves stinky mud pies at a diner, among other things.) It turns out the robot is missing a "Heartdrive," which happens to be the name of the app developer, Heartdrive Media. Once the addition is installed, the robot becomes "Hero" after rescuing a cat in a tree. Then Pete, Spot, Hero and some of their friends start a band. The busy stream-of-consciousness plotting at work in the app perfectly fits the intentionally rough artwork. The characters often look like they've been chewed up in a paper shredder, but they're set against sometimes-gorgeous spinning backgrounds. Every page has at least one or two touch-screen toys to play with, like telescoping arms on Pete or a full set of instruments to play and mix up when the musical group is formed. There's also optional narration from three different voice actors and a cast of characters like a monkey mailman and a dinosaur chef, who'll likely reappear in future adventures. If there's one strike against the app, it's the exhausting overuse of exclamation marks in the text, which makes every! Line! Appear! To! Scream!
There's a sunny, boisterous sense of fun about the whole thing that's positively endearing; both robot and app have got a lot of heart.
(iPad storybook app. 4-10)
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.
A simple, well-executed animal mommy/baby love story for the youngest crowd.
“My mom’s the best because she gives me big hugs,” says the narrator, and with just a touch, a big, fuzzy brown bear and baby bear appear. Touch the bear, and she hugs her baby just a little bit tighter. Illustrator Whatley’s affable, whimsical animal pairs virtually pop off the screen’s solid backgrounds. A mommy parrot teaches her nestling to sing, an elephant mom “makes bathtime fun” with a big splash of water, a penguin mommy feeds her baby a huge fish, and an upside-down mommy bat tucks her baby in under her wings (the text is upside down here, too, which is a nice touch). There's enough silliness and humor here to engage parents, too. Navigation is available on each page, and the high-quality narration, animations, music and sound effects pair with the simple text perfectly.
A darling first app for little ones to share with their own moms.
(iPad storybook app. 1-5)
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)
Illustrations and animations done in a style strongly reminiscent of classic Disney feature-length cartoons boost this rendition of the tale over the zillions of other digital versions.
Read optionally by an avuncular storyteller character or from a text rolling piecemeal through narrow bands, the retelling largely relegates Gretel and her father to passive roles but substantially embroiders the otherwise familiar plot with dialogue and details. Many of the illustrations pan, change suddenly or are assembled in layers for a 3-D effect. Tapping a button on each screen or waiting for the narrator to finish releases an array of smoothly functioning animations and touch-activated effects. These include grimacing monsters and surly gnomes popping into view, the evil stepmother’s Cockney-accented screeches and fragmentary ditties like a skeletal minstrel’s “Dinnertime dinnertime for the witch, / She will eat the little boy, she’s suuuuch aaaa….” That fortuitously interrupted last line, plus some eerie moments in the dark woods, may be more appreciated by sophisticated audiences. On the other hand, neither the witch nor the stepmother is definitively killed off, and the title screen offers a “Play Around” option that dispenses with the storyline entirely in favor of going to any screen to check out the interactive features.
Set apart by outstanding visuals and a tongue-in-cheek tone, if lacking the psychodrama of more traditional variants.
(iPad storybook app. 8-11)
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)
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)
Canadian photographer Burtynsky turns in a grand tour of the big, usually grimy world of petroleum.
In the foreword to this app, Burtynsky, known for epic-scale landscapes, recounts experiencing an epiphany of sorts 15-odd years ago, when it occurred to him that “all the vast man-altered landscapes I had pursued for over 20 years had been made possible by the discovery of oil and the progress occasioned by the internal combustion engine.” The impressive portfolio he assembles here chronicles that progress, if such it is, in various guises, from the tangles of spaghetti-strand highways that ring cities such as Houston, Las Vegas and, most especially, Los Angeles to the detritus of industrial civilization. It records both the celebration of oil culture (most poetically invoked in Burtynsky’s oddly unsettling photograph of a big rig circling the NASCAR track at Talladega) and the undeniably damaging effects oil is having on the world (including some harrowing images of the Deepwater Horizon explosion). Burtynsky’s work is worthy of study by budding photographers for many reasons: his mastery of light and of composition and particularly his pronounced penchant for getting up high and looking down on the world, affording views not often seen. This app well serves his intentions, and it does a good job of highlighting the best qualities of his work. On the demerit side, it’s not especially easy to navigate or bookmark, and sometimes a lot serves where a little might have done (one mountain of used tires gets the point across, so three images seem like overkill). Those quibbles aside, though, the app is a fertile blend of media, with film that takes readers on a guided tour of Burtynsky’s gallery, voice-overs that comment sagely on the technical and thematic aspects of individual photographs, well-made images that beg for retina-display view, and last—and perhaps least, since there’s not enough of it—text.
In all, a first-class photographic portfolio, intelligently aided by multimedia technology to provoke thought and discussion about the world around us.
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)
A cluck-worthy story about a chicken with magical maternal instincts succeeds with flashes of visual wit and a lovable main character.
Flo is a sad chicken who can't lay eggs like all the others on her farm. Her sad, heartfelt "Awww" when she looks at her empty nest tells readers all they need to know about her hopes and dreams. Amusingly, Flo tries an exercise machine, getting shot out of a cannon and, of course, a book called "How to Lay an Egg" to fulfill her dreams. When a stone tumbles down a hill and lands in her nest, she takes it for an egg. Poor Flo. But when Flo's life is threatened by a wicked-looking rodent, the stone, surprisingly, hatches to save the day. While the chickens in the story are adorably drawn, and some of the tale is played for laughs, Flo's longing and the love she shows when her wish is finally granted are poignantly played. Backgrounds and objects in the app are skillfully rendered, and the app's unobtrusive soundtrack and lilting narration (voiced by a British child) are delightful. While features are minimal, Flo's pure joy ("Egg! Egg! My very own egg!") and a happy, well-deserved ending amply compensate.
Flo and her unusual offspring easily capture readers’ hearts in this story of faith and love. Not bad for a chicken who can't lay eggs.
(iPad storybook app. 3-8)
A centenarian who has just lost everything—nearly everything—reflects on his childhood and his chief regret in a poignant but wonder-filled memoir.
Seeing his mansion and possessions burned to ashes, Ari Allistair Arx-Sorenson offers "the ashes of my memory." There are many, starting with a childhood rich in wonders: an encounter with a wolf who becomes a lifelong companion, uproarious parties with animal dinner guests and a portrait painted by his mother that never dries because she changes it every day as he grows. But then he falls in love with a woman from the sky and loses her by allowing his love to become obsession. Appearing phrase by phrase in English or French versions when read by a narrator (who sounds properly introspective, if too young) but in full in silent mode, Ari's monologue is printed in an angular typeface that complements Fauché's shadowy, equally stylized cartoon illustrations. Though the art tends to gather at the edges on most screens, touching figures and smaller details activates gestures, sounds, slow zooms or entire changes of view, small, scurrying creatures and other unpredictable effects that never fail to add drama or delight to each scene. Multiple background tracks of flowing orchestral music underscore the reflective tone. "I pulled from the fire everything that I wanted to keep," Ari concludes. "I ask you to believe me."
An outstanding, seamless combination of evocative art, poetic writing and ingeniously designed digital enhancements that mature audiences in particular (but not exclusively) will find profoundly moving.
(iPad picture-book app. 8-10, adult)
An appropriately bright primer on the major colors, this tour through the rainbow seems ideally suited to toddlers learning to associate words with objects.
Luli, who has red, spaghettilike hair and appears to be made of clay, enjoys colors the way most people enjoy the changing seasons. On each page, she interacts with similar clay-made objects of a distinct color, from red and orange through the spectrum to white and the black of nighttime that ends the story. In Luli's world, "Yellow paints everything shiny and bright / Bananas and sunflowers, a special delight." As ever-present small butterflies flutter, a yellow monkey holds a large banana, and Luli basks under a huge, buttery sun. Luli's clothing and activity change on each page (but not her hair). The color list is by no means complete, but the app feels about the right length, and few children will quibble when they see Luli sailing down a rainbow at the story's conclusion. While the text, all flutters and sugar with cream, may seem oversweet to adult readers, it is age-appropriate for children young enough to be learning to name colors. The app's narration is clunkily hidden in a set of lips that must be activated manually on each page, but understated animations and the well-composed clay imagery more than make up for that misstep.
Luli's love of colors comes across as both genuine and infectious.
(iPad storybook app. 18 mo.-5)
The inimitable Attenborough conducts a fascinating interactive tour of the Kew Royal Botanic Gardens and its legendary collection of fantastic greenery from around the globe.
Plants, as surprising and remarkable as they may be, are not the most dynamic subjects of study. But this app changes all of that with exciting features like “Plant Time,” which grants users the godlike power to make a flower actually bloom—and reverse the process—right on their iPads. An animated tree on the attractive home page grows from the center of one of the garden's conservatories, inviting users to join Attenborough on a thoroughly engaging exploration of any one of 10 leaves devoted to a different section of the original three-hour documentary series, which originally ran in the U.K. Five other “clickable” leaves lead readers inside other areas of the Gardens, where users can explore much of the facility through self-controlled panoramic views. The video and still photography are vivid and look exceptionally lifelike on third-generation iPads. The app is light on text, but what there is of it nicely complements the presentation. The famed naturalist is in exceedingly fine form as the kindly, enthusiastic and authoritative guide. A generous behind-the-scenes option delves into the making of the 3-D documentary and gives a glimpse of some of the magic tricks—like a camera mounted to a remotely controlled Minicopter to mimic the view of flying insects—the filmmakers used in its making. The app does a remarkably good job of inculcating an appreciation of the plant world. Ultraviolet cinematography even exposes the astounding property many plants have to appear one way to humans and an entirely different way to pollinating insects. The open-ended presentation means that there is no particular starting or endpoint, so users can essentially meander around the grounds of the Kew Royal Botanic Gardens any way they like.
A captivating experience that encourages users to keep coming back for repeat visits.
Kids who love trucks and construction will identify with Bizzy as he dons his hard hat and "helps" the crew build a house.
Lots of attention has been paid to making this app easy for little ones to use, and young readers will have fun participating in all aspects of the construction site. Narrated in a British accent by child actors, this brightly illustrated app allows the reader to bulldoze, mix cement and dig a hole for a foundation. A blue dot blinks to help readers locate the many interactive elements. Page turns and the home-screen icon must be tapped twice to activate, which neatly prevents accidental navigation, and while they occasionally blink to suggest readers move on, they never rush things, allowing readers to move along at their own pace. Highlighted words follow the text in Read and Play mode, and in Read to Myself, readers can adjust how long the text remains on the screen. With the exception of a slightly annoying loop of background music, the sound effects, from truck engines and bird chirps to brick laying and a flushing toilet, are nicely done and add an extra level of fun.
Like the board book it is based on (Bizzy Bear, Let's Go to Work! 2012), this app has only a few pages, but each one is packed with features that encourage budding builders to linger as long as they like.
(iPad storybook app. 6 mos.-3)
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.
Zub looks like a bad bargain until his new young owner, Harry, realizes that the monster isn’t sad and boring but actually ill.
Resembling a big orange Wild Thing in the angular cartoon illustrations, Zub just lies about, groaning and dripping unusually gross-looking slime—until his young friend, with a flash of insight, calls upon his “Uncle Doctor Bob” for a house call (“Zub was nervous because some monsters are afraid to go to the doctor”) and learns that the creature has a cold. A little TLC and Zug and Harry are rocking out with Rock Hero, sharing ghost stories at Kid Camp and even setting out on a pirate treasure hunt. The options and interactive features are simple, smooth and satisfyingly varied. Fledgling readers can either tackle the first-person tale themselves or listen to an expressive child narrate over pleasant background music. A fingertip moves Harry and Zug through two easy mazes, elicits moans and cheers with taps, catapults cans of soup into the monster’s mouth, sets a frog band to playing a hornpipe and, after a closing hug, ignites fireworks in a nighttime sky.
Children with wheezles and sneezles of their own will sympathize with the droopy monster and perhaps feel a little less anxious about doctor visits, too.
(iPad storybook app. 4-6)
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)
An engaging ABC app encourages kids to learn and explore the alphabet.
Each page features a gray cityscape serving as a background for large representations of the letters of the alphabet. The upper- and lowercase letters enter in grand style: The “H” emerges from the yawn of a hippo, the “N” is flown in by a nightingale, and an egg cracks, and the “E” pops out. One accompanying word and illustration appear right away in color, and there are two more hidden illustrations in the gray background; their outlines flash in white until kids press them, and then they animate with color, narration and sound effects. The graphics look like simple clip art, but the animations and sound effects together are playful and effective. Some of the words are a little difficult, like “nightingale” and “zeppelin,” but generally, the words are simple and will be familiar enough to the target age group to make stretching a pleasure, not a burden. Kids can choose letters at will or go through the alphabet A-Z. Multiple kids can have profiles with their pictures and names, and there is a parents’ area that features a bar chart showing which letters have been accessed how many times for each profile. There is an accessible navigation area at the top of each page that takes kids back and forth one page or to the home screen. Lively music and sound effects can be turned on or off, and kids can choose to have male, female or both voices narrate the app. These can be set from the home page or from a pull-up menu on each page.
A well-crafted app that will hold interest for little ones as they learn and practice their ABCs. (iPad alphabet app. 2-6)
Little polar bear Kodee and his friend Raccoon learn about echoes in this suitably simple storybook for preschoolers and early readers.
Nitrogen Studios—known for providing the stunning computer-generated animation in the wildly popular Thomas and Friends television/DVD franchise—has transitioned into the app market with a notable effort. It is perhaps best described as a mashup of stunning graphics, smooth animation and gentle interaction. Kodee and Raccoon hear someone yell, “Hello,” but they can’t figure out who’s saying it. After deciding the voice is coming from a nearby island, the duo sets out in the titular canoe to investigate. Readers can help them put on life jackets, summon flying fish and prompt a number of delightful movements and responses from various animals and insects. In the end, Kodee and Raccoon discover that the voices they heard were their own, and the concept of echoes is introduced. Readers are subsequently invited to make their own echoes with a record/playback feature. In addition to the app’s (optional) professional narration, various individuals can also record up to three versions of the story, which can be saved for later playback. The only downsides are an annoying pop-up triggered when leaving the echo chamber or going to the home screen that continually requests a review in the app store (the “Do not ask again” button doesn’t halt the appeals) and the fact that it will not work on iPad 1.
A very well-balanced offering that both educates and entertains.
(iPad storybook app. 2-6)
An iPad-only app that displays networks of word associations in trees that unfold into branches and sub-branches of meaning.
Words have meanings—and sometimes subtle ones. Words also live in communities that a “fancy-pants” (“superior or high-class in a pretentious way”) would call a “semantic domain.” Playing within that domain is the strength of this well-made app, which leverages the power of the Oxford English Dictionary to provide definitions and pronunciations. It also leverages mind-mapping principles (as found in software such as iThoughts and PersonalBrain) to show where a word lives within its community: Type “eat” into the search box, for instance, and up floats a cloud of words that includes the phrases “eaten up,” “what’s eating you,” “eat like a horse” and “eat someone out of house and home,” among other possibilities. Tap on the boldface term “eat,” and up springs a diagram with paths to noun, verb, phrases and phrasal verbs; follow the verb to the general idea “consume,” and up spring “snack,” “graze” and “nosh” along one branch (the informal one, that is), with possibilities that include “scarf,” “snarf,” “ingurgitate” (rare, the app helpfully notes) and “stuff one’s face.” If readers need a record of this groaning board of synonymy, then with a tap, an 1100 x 1576 pixel poster can be generated for printing, emailing or even posting on Facebook. The relationships among synonyms, antonyms, parts of speech and the like offer endless avenues of exploration; add to that the ability to reorder trees by dragging and dropping, and the word lover who chomps into this treat may never emerge. The user interface is both beautiful and unobtrusive, and it is easy to add words to a list of favorites, as well as to keep track of one’s journey through the rabbit hole by way of a history function.
A welcome addition to a logophile’s arsenal—the last word, we learn, coming from an Arabic phrase meaning “house of industry,” though this is a lot more fun than all that.
In an episode both funny and pointed, a family of slobs receives an ultimatum from their filthy house and its disgusted appliances.
Decrepit outside and dirty inside (“I was ashamed and depressed: was this all a cruel jest? / While my people relaxed, I was totally stressed”), House recruits a squad of equally neglected appliances to eject the oblivious residents until they show more respect. Though wordy enough to require manual scrolling on some screens, the rhymed narrative trots along briskly—particularly in the zesty reading provided by former U.S. presidential candidate Pat Schroeder—to a final proper show of remorse and a vigorous “Clean Revolution.” Easy-to-spot interactive elements jiggle occasionally and are colored more brightly than the angled, informally drawn cartoon backgrounds. They include a plate-spitting dishwasher with a ferocious snarl, a plaintive (and thoroughly grease-encrusted) oven and other touch-activated figures, a roving X-ray spotlight for seeing through House’s walls, ancient food items that can be flicked out of the fridge into a garbage can and miscellaneous general litter to sweep away with a fingertip.
A lesson to be sure, but delivered in a lighthearted blend of equally lively art, sound and animation.
(iPad storybook app. 4-8)
What begins as a simple story about a girl trying to restore her grandmother's torn hat becomes an unexpectedly detailed look at fashion treasures from a famous British museum.
Clara Button, who wears colorful buttons that change with a tap, loves to design hats as much as her late grandmother, who was a milliner, did. When one of her grandmother's hats is torn by a bratty brother, Clara is distraught. But amid the collections at London’s Victoria and Albert Museum, she gets help for her hat and finds many other lovely objects from its extensive collections. The story is meticulously illustrated, with so much detail that many subtle touches (a child waving in a background photo, for instance) are nearly lost, even on an iPad's high-resolution screen. While interactive elements and animations are present throughout—readers can touch the screen at any time to get a splash of multicolored buttons—they don't distract from Clara's quest or what she finds at the V&A. The real-world art objects, expertly woven into Clara's visit, end up filling an exquisite final page. The app's cultural pedigree shouldn't be surprising, as de la Haye is a dress historian and former curator at the V&A. The rest of the app's features, from its no-nonsense narration to its musical accompaniment, are top-notch.
Not every reader will share Clara's strong affinity for fashion, but there's no denying the beauty of the showcased. (iPad storybook app. 4-12)
The lead of Stanley Kubrick's classic film about the Vietnam War blends sound, image and text to recall an often-exasperating experience.
Modine first put this diary between hard covers (metal ones, in fact) in 2005 for a limited-edition book; this app version was financed through a successful Kickstarter campaign. In 1985, when Modine was tapped by Kubrick to star in Full Metal Jacket, he had already starred in a Vietnam-themed film, Birdy. Any concerns about being typecast were erased by a chance to work with the storied director. Modine discusses some of the director’s eccentricities—endless retakes, gnomic pronouncements—but this book is more an intimate accounting than behind-the-scenes gossip. His wife, Cari, was pregnant during filming in England, and Modine foolishly thought the film would wrap in time for them to have the baby in the United States. Not only did filming stretch well beyond nine months, but the experience brought out Kubrick at his worst: He only grudgingly allowed Modine to leave the set to witness the birth of his son. The app’s trove of photos (each favorite-able and Tweet-able) fill most of the screen space, and they capture the author’s somber yet personable perspective via snapshots of his wife and co-stars, with occasional news clippings and artsy landscapes. The diary entries themselves are plainspoken and reveal a fame-struck actor in his mid-20s struggling to improve his craft. He’s never more self-flagellating than when he offends Kubrick by violating his brainstorming rules, and his efforts to get back in the auteur’s good graces add another layer of drama to an already tense story. Users can hear Modine read the diary in its entirety, though except for passages about line readings, the audio version is skippable.
The making of the film was infamously messy, but Modine’s presentation of his story is clean and smart.
A brief but endearing tale about a mischievous little boy.
This app proves the notion that an interactive storybook need not be super slick or brimming with tricks to leap the “average” bar. The story’s focus, of course, is Sam’s sneakiness, which is demonstrated in profoundly simple ways: He hides from his mother; he rides his scooter through a flock of pigeons; he turns the hose on the family cat; and at night, he sneaks into his parents’ bed to grab “a good night cuddle” (which they lovingly provide). Talib’s trichromatic illustrations are brimming with primitive creativity, from the characters’ hair to the wide variety of flowers and objects that decorate the book’s pages. Interactive features are minimal and basic, but when combined with the stimulating illustrations and the clear-cut, well-written storyline, all three add up to a satisfying reading experience. Bonus features include a miniature matching game, a virtual sticker book and a “Find Sam” activity that finds him hiding in a different place every time it’s played. While Sam could easily be dubbed a ne’er-do-well, readers are left with the impression that he’s simply a harmless boy who, for the most part, enjoys stirring up a little unconventional fun.
Keep an eye on this kid; one can only hope he’ll sneak his way into another story or two.
(iPad storybook app. 2-5)
Three generations of frogs demonstrate the circle of life.
This first installment in Nosy Crow’s new Rounds series of biology apps for preschoolers is actually a hybrid of sorts. The story offers plenty of frog facts (though perhaps not the “100’s” listed on the developer’s website), but there’s also fictional banter that gives the frogs a bit of character. The story begins with Franklin’s journey across land and through pond. Tap him, and he’ll say things like “Frogs like to live in damp places,” and “I don’t like to be too hot or too cold.” Readers can help him jump into the water, swim, catch food and find a place to hibernate, and they can even tag along as he finds a mate and procreates (though the latter is implied, not explicit). When Franklin’s mate lays eggs, little fingers can swipe predators away and even help hatch a tadpole. The same story repeats twice—in its entirety—featuring two of Franklin’s descendants. The soothing background music and the crisply British narration/dramatization are nearly identical to the developer’s previous offerings, and sound effects are both plentiful and charming. In keeping with the clever concept of the series title, the simple illustrations are comprised completely of circles or portions of circles.
A guy, a girl and a suitcase full of underworld money form the reliable backdrop of an innovative iPad app that tries to integrate the world of social media with the solitary act of reading. The plot of this serviceable crime caper stretches across the city of Berlin to a remote island off Germany's North Sea coast called Sylt. But all of the real action is supposed to take place online, where readers are encouraged to comment on the story they're experiencing through direct links to Facebook. Such detours may strike them as totally natural, or they could have the opposite effect, as they constantly wrench readers out of the story. The makers of this interactive "Frankbook," however, have a daring way of dealing with this potential problem by effectively extending the storybook world out into the digital realm. At this 21st-century nexus, it now becomes possible for readers to meet up with the author and discuss how things are progressing, as well as to connect with one of his characters living an alternate reality somewhere in cyberspace. In this case, the accessible character from the book is Kristina—the aforementioned "girl" in this action-oriented noirish drama filled with lots of tough talk and hard looks from the wrong end of a gun. Clickable photos and YouTube videos also help to knock down the traditional walls of storytelling and let the novel's gritty atmosphere bleed into the "real" world. The success of all of this, of course, largely depends on a compelling story. And this one, with its rough, angular narrative, does a good-enough job of keeping readers engaged. The app's true potential, however, is also contingent on the actual story’s popularity. If no one else is reading to find out if Kristina and her beau, Malik, escape their murderous pursuers, then there's little online conversation to be had and even less for the author to react to. An intriguing attempt to integrate digital technology with time-honored storytelling chops.
A splendid bit of orchestration by everybody’s favorite alt-rock sextet, giving a view of performances in the City with Big Shoulders from backstage and the cheap seats alike.
The Rolling Stones are from London, but you wouldn’t necessarily know it to listen to their songs post-1966. Foo Fighters are global, from everywhere and nowhere. Gnarls Barkley live inside our heads. But Wilco, headed by a benevolent, latter-day Woody Guthrie–ish dictator named Jeff Tweedy (see the 2002 documentary I Am Trying to Break Your Heart for more on all that), is resolutely a Chicago band, at home in many of the city’s clubs—but also in places like the Civic Opera, where, in the opening tune in this package, “One Sunday Morning,” the walls ring in joy. (The song is subtitled “Song for Jane Smiley’s Boyfriend,” hinting at Tweedy’s bookishness.) It’s also the opening tune in that performance of December 12, as readers learn from the set list. A gallery of razor-sharp photographs of the band in action accompanies the show, with a professorial-looking Nick Lowe and Mavis Staples joining the proceedings for a revelatory reading of The Band’s song “The Weight.” The “incredible shrinking tour” moves from downtown only as far out as Lincoln Park’s Lincoln Hall, which just goes to show how rich in musical venues Chicago is. The app opens with a video sequence of the city as an El train zips along the Blue Line, with a convenient stop not far from that venue.
Chicagoans in exile will feel all the more homesick, while Wilco fans, already well-served with music, concert footage and photographs from various sources, will absolutely want to have this in their collections. The price is right, too.
RELEASE DATE: Aug. 3, 2012
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)
A moody, beautifully rendered dreamscape, this app about conquering a fear of the dark takes full advantage of the iPad's capabilities.
In a small cottage, a nameless boy is being put to bed, and Mummy tells him the Sandman will soon help him off to sleep. After the Sandman visits, a mysterious owl leads the boy through landscapes and starry skies to learn why there's no reason to be afraid of nighttime. Scary things, like a wicked, twisted witch, turn out to be more normal objects like a squirrel in an old tree. Dark silhouettes against dense, textured backgrounds match the story’s tone beautifully. There are neat surprises, like moons that grow to reveal hidden things, a maze of purple clouds that must be flown through and a simple but brilliant navigation wheel that brings up all the features through easy-to-access icons. But perhaps the thing this app has to offer most to readers, and to the state of storybook apps, is its joyous transitions. On one page, readers brush away the last page to get to the next. On another, sleepy eyelids come together to blackout a page before the next one is illuminated by starlight. It's all accompanied by a lush, classical soundtrack.
Though the story is simple, even obvious, it takes flight because of the ambitious design work, the kind of thing that can only be pulled off as an app like this.
(iPad storybook app. 3-7)
Every element of this app shines in a story about circus performers who learn to appreciate the talents of others.
This winning interactive tale is a highly successful marriage between tradition and technology. The pleasantly simple illustrations function much like a flannel board, though characters often stay anchored while doing things like swaying, jumping or balancing. When the ringmaster, Mr. Piccadilly, falls ill (and sneezes everyone off screen), the other animals and performers realize that the show must go on. Readers can dress various characters in the ringmaster's clothes as they all contemplate who will be the group’s temporary leader. Each argues that his or her job is the most difficult in the circus, which obviously qualifies them to be ringmaster. After the bear wins the coveted position, everyone else swaps tasks for the night to prove that others’ jobs are easy. Of course they aren’t, and valuable lessons are learned. There’s plenty of interactive and literary creativity infused throughout the story. Chirping crickets accompany a spotlight that reveals the bear’s stage fright; a little dog is shot out of a cannon, sails through the top of the circus tent and then parachutes to safety. And the app’s narrator tells the well-crafted story with an exceptional dramatic flair.
Step right up to this truly spectacular offering; it will undoubtedly delight ladies, gentlemen and children of all ages.
(iPad storybook app. 2-8)
The adventure of a lost, rare red panda cub trying to find his way home is expertly packed with Indian culture, energetic artwork and engaging characters.
Laloo, who looks more like a fox than a traditional, burly, black-and-white panda, loves bugs, to the puzzlement of those around him. One day, a poacher traps and takes Laloo, but the cub is able to escape. From there, Laloo tries to get back to his family and is aided by a famous dog actor named Scrilla and his friends. The journey is made entertaining by its settings: Laloo crashes the set of a Bollywood movie, runs through a market where the vendors are "selling silk scarves and spicy eggs in sizzling pans," and travels home on a decorated purple train. He also collects bugs he finds along the way; readers tap the bugs to add them to a collection. The text could be cleaner in terms of punctuation and grammar, but the story itself is fun, the narration is sprightly and Laloo's persistent worry that he doesn't fit in is certainly universal. But it's the presentation of life in India that makes the app most worthy of recommendation. The clean, beautifully colored artwork is vibrant and inviting. Laloo's world has lots of characters, perhaps too many for one story. Some barely get a page or two, leaving room for further tales of Laloo and his friends.
It's likely young readers who pick up this well-made app will be learning about both Bollywood and red pandas for the first time—and they will be glad they did.
(iPad storybook app. 3-8)
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)