A visually striking container for an extended metaphor about bullying, this overbuilt app gets too caught up in its own design to allow the story to breathe and enchant.
A small, faceless boy named Benjamin Brewster travels a scary 972 steps every day to get to school. Once at the gothic, fortresslike “School for the Misguided,” the imaginative boy is bullied by monstrous, laughing giants. Benjamin finds a refuge in a nearby patch of dandelions, and while they don't literally help him fly away, the story makes clear that it's his flights of imagination that save him. Feel free, kids who are bullied, to decide if this is a winning strategy. While the story is illustrated with beautifully hazy, dreamlike illustrations that make excellent use of contrast and depth, the story and navigation fail to balance out the imagery. The mechanics of the navigation—a lever to advance pages, tiny hidden buttons that appear inspired by Web-browser icons and narration that must be manually activated on each page—feel aimed at adult Tim Burton fans rather than children. One design feature that does feel magical allows readers to “blow” a dandelion, but the gimmick grows old. A merchandise page within the app offers, among other products, a wristband that says, "Bullying is for people with no imagination." So are bromides.
The visuals may be more than enough for some, but as a story for the bullied, it fails to adequately stand up for itself. (iPad storybook app. 5-12)