In this droll, wordless import, a dozen dogs or other animals are connected to as many walkers by, usually, very long leashes.
Walker and animal being generally located at opposite ends of a long horizontal that is only partly viewable at any time, swiping leads to an initial visual surprise. A cowboy’s “dog,” for instance, turns out to be a huge bull, a delivery man walks a giraffe, a woman in upscale dress trails well behind a skunk. Single or multiple taps on the cartoon figures in each pairing activate more foolery in the form of low-volume sounds or visual effects. These range from jumps or color changes to “poots” of colored gas from the skunk, a tilt-responsive cascade of gifts from Santa and (a sure crowd pleaser) a discreet but decidedly risqué flurry of brightly patterned and even pictorial squares continually replacing Tarzan’s loincloth. There is no particular order or plotline, and the single-screen gallery/index opened by a corner icon allows viewers to skip around at will.
No bells but maybe a few whistles and definitely some giggles.
(iPad novelty app. 5-9)
This bilingual storybook app lovingly depicts a young Filipino child’s first visit to the market with her grandmother.
Waking early, a young girl is excited to spend the day with her Nanay since “Today is market day!” As they get off the bus, the little girl says, “Nanay and I each carry a bayong. Nanay’s bayong is big and colorful. Mine is small and yellow.” While English speakers may not know what a bayong is, they will realize with a little guesswork that they need to drag the little yellow shopping bag to the young girl’s arms before turning the page. The warm illustrations complement the text, adding details from the busy market. Readers must interact with the app to turn each page, directly and playfully engaging children in the narrative. Easy controls at the beginning of the story allow readers to select English or Filipino language options, and the child-voiced narration is both authentic and easy to understand. Navigation is hindered by the lack of a table of contents or page controls. The original picture book of this story, Araw sa Palengke, won the first Filipino National Child’s Book Award in 2010.
Based on an award-winning picture book from the Philippines, this charming app brings the sights, smells and tastes of a traditional Filipino market to a wide audience. It’s easy to see why this little girl is so happy to visit it.
(iPad storybook app. 3-6)
This inventive pairing of colors with musical riffs offers almost unlimited opportunities for visual and aural experimentation—plus jigsaw puzzles for more structured entertainment.
Each of the four colors are introduced individually with their musical themes, first by blank screens to draw on and then stylized, big-eared animals whose parts can be moved about with a fingertip or left to separate in a tilt-sensitive drift. On following screens, the color fields and the figures appear in combinations that can be reordered or rearranged to create both color changes and musical juxtapositions or even, with rhythmic tapping, multilayered arpeggios. The title screen’s “Play” option leads to three jigsaws and an unusual kaleidoscopic puzzle that all use the same set of shapes and colors in fresh compositions. Comical grunts, drawing lines that transform into flights of butterflies and other small flourishes enhance the artfully designed interaction. There is no narration or text, but children will find that in addition to drawing and playing with colors, they can create a story that ends with enormously satisfying chortles.
A rewarding alternative for children who find the digital edition of Hervé Tullet’s Press Here (2012) too relentlessly inscrutable.
(iPad play app. 4-8)
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)
Colorful, simple artwork will draw young children to Tino’s story, in which the little triangle meets 10 different animal friends.
Tino, a bright yellow triangle, is in search of new friends as he explores the world. Tap Tino, and he is surrounded by a bright blue background. Quiet sound effects provide clues to guess the next friend Tino meets, revealed with another tap and creating a peekaboo game. Barks and pants signal the appearance of Fido the dog, “a funny fellow./ The fleas just love his fur.” Tino the triangle is incorporated into each illustration, whether as the dog’s ear or a crocodile’s tooth. Each animal spread contains a few interactive elements—enough to keep up interest but never impeding the pace. The order in which the animals appear changes with each reading, heightening the pleasure of the guessing game. (Unfortunately, not all of the sound clues are obvious: Do hedgehogs really snore?) The story can be read in English, Italian or German. Interestingly, the authors did not directly translate the text, instead creating text suited to young children in each language. For example, Tino meets Fido the dog in English, cane Tobia in Italian and Hund Lumpi in German. In each language, alliteration and internal rhyming combine with smooth, gentle narration suitable for toddlers.
While this app may seem simple at first glance, it is actually just skillfully restrained, providing a reading experience nicely tailored to very young children
. (iPad storybook app. 2-6)
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.
(includes three “making of” featurettes)
(iPad graphic-novel app. 6-10)
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)
An airy introduction to holes of, mostly, the anatomical sort with touch-activated effects that run the scale from whimsical to hilariously edgy.
Preserving the format of the original Danish print edition (with a black dot in place of the die-cut hole), this digital version alternates white screens of text printed in curved lines—read expressively in a childlike voice—with thematically related Monty Python–style collages. Practically every element in each collage will drift, drop, spin, chime, blink, mutter or otherwise respond to taps. Along with defining useful new words like “anus” and “nostril” (“The boogers come from your nostrils”), the presentation not only covers bodily orifices, but also black holes and the Big Bang, dental cavities, and holes in nature or around the house. Particular highlights include a mouth that pronounces the word for “mouth” in nine languages and a not-exactly-graphic look at reproduction: “It is certain that you entered this world through a hole. But that’s a long story. Ask your dad….” Several of the collages feature items that can be played like musical instruments or, as on a face with scrambled features, require rearranging. An icon on every page leads to a thumbnail index and a key to all the interactive extras.
Educational and entertaining—and tailor-made to spark stimulating interchanges between younger children and unwary grown-ups.
(iPad informational app. 2-5)
A fanciful, almost dreamy little story featuring a turtle, a goose, a rabbit and—who would want it otherwise?—a monster.
This app is a simple piece of work, asking only that readers turn the page when they are ready, after following the bouncing words in the narrative or having digested the lovely artwork. The story, of which there are two similar versions to choose from, follows the young animals from their bath to a rowboat by the sea, where they catch a giant clam that—surprise!—harbors not a bivalve but the mud monster, a cheery soul who looks to be cut from kelp (very muddy kelp) and enjoys dancing in circles with his new friends. As a wind instrument peeps along in the background, they dance until tired and then tuck the mud monster back into his shell and send him home. The three chums then turn homeward as well, back to their bath. The story is gentle, which accounts for much of its charm, but it is not milquetoast. It has an engaging energy in its call for adventure and the realization that adventure can be sweet as well as daring. The illustrations’ loose lines and kaleidoscopic watercolors endow the characters, even the monster, with a seraphic air.
A story that is as happy as a clam at high tide. (Requires iOS 6 and above.) (iPad storybook app. 3-6)
A winning combination of cute characters, soothing music and gentle bedtime activities for toddlers and preschoolers.
Nott (“night” in old Norse and Icelandic) is a delightful child dressed in purple pajamas and a cap that sports heart-shaped antennae. She’s sleepy but not quite ready to go to sleep (sound familiar?) Dutch author Dorrestein’s tale begins with a sweeping view of Nott’s treehouse bedroom, where she’s gleefully jumping on her bed. Once she hops to the floor, three pulsating puzzlelike images appear. Tapping each one causes Nott’s pillow to carry her off to three distinct dreamlike adventures. Touch the moon and she’ll land in the clouds, where readers can help clear them away and feed stars to the moon. Touching the outline of Nott’s cuddly sidekick, Nox (Latin for “night”), transports her to a pond where she must complete simple yet clever tasks that lead her friend to shore. Finally, the outline of the lantern takes her to a forest, where catching fireflies reveals creatures that, when tapped, move to center stage and settle down to sleep. There’s no text, and Nott doesn’t speak except to say “Yay!” and giggle when touched. But the story carries itself and will, in all likelihood, carry many a little reader off to dreamland.
A worthwhile bedtime ritual that children will return to again and again.
(iPad storybook app. 1-5)
A completely delightful interactive ride on an old train full of surprises.
From the beginning, the top-drawer artwork, filigreed, naïve and with burnished, antique color that gleams, captivates. The subject: An old steam engine with a good complement of wagons (as the English would say) filled with burly men and salamis; bananas and a resident monkey; grand pianos, piggies complete with butchers’ marks; milch cows (across-the-pond English, again); cannons and like entertainments. This provides readers with an opportunity to do some counting, learn some new words—stoker, bolster—and engage with the material. Readers can slide a window up and down or load the cannon to produce a bang of festive fireworks, place baggage into a jigsaw, pull a whistle chain and release a bunch of balloons (and then pop them). The text is curious and inviting, with an eccentric cadence that keeps it this side of child’s play: “And of these wagons there’s forty all told, / I can’t tell myself what they can all hold.” The background music is just that: in the background; merry, but pleasingly so. There is also a frame where the train slips quietly into being a toy train—a bow to the imagination—and then out, once again under steam, to resume its journey.
Children lucky enough to encounter this app will understand why certain adults mourn the demise of the night mail, the branch line and the narrow gauge.
(iPad storybook app. 4-8)
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)
An African village child’s flights of imagination soar even higher thanks to exemplary art, narration and animation.
The titular expostulation couldn’t be more wrong. Sitting comfortably in a patch of shade, young Awa observes that the new plaits in her hair look like baobabs—thus sparking a remarkable chain of free associations. Taps on highlighted words in her ruminations bring quick glimpses of hooting monkeys and other animals around a mighty tree, piranhas and a caiman splashing in the Amazon River, and also masklike “genies” bobbing in and out of view with snatches of percussive rattling. Drawn with quick, scribbly pen strokes and bright digital paints, the rain forest scenes, the creatures within them and the skies overhead glow with colors—nearly always unexpected ones, such as a zebra that, with successive taps of the text, flashes stripes of intense green, purple and red. Adding cinematic touches, smooth pans and dissolves (almost all tap-activated) follow the twisting path of Awa’s reverie to a final close-up of her sleeping, smiling face. The designers avoid a common flaw by allowing the expressive audio reading, available in English or French, to be switched off without also turning off the animal noises and other background sounds. There is, however, no way to go back or start over without closing the app.
Quibbles aside, a terrific depiction of a young mind slipping off into vivid daydreams. Young readers will be hard put not to follow.
(iPad storybook app. 5-9)