As customizable as they come, this tale of a wisecracking meatball on the run from a greedy chef can take longer to set up than to read through.
Pursued by evil Chef Bumbleshoot, who “talks with an accent” (Brooklynese), the small “animated sphere of beef” and the lad in whose backpack he escapes go on a madcap chase. They join a bicycle race and a fashion show, then end up going out for lunch with a princess and a plainspoken cowboy (“Yippee-ki-yay, meatball lovers!”). Though the escapade can be read as downloaded, either silently or with a particularly stilted audio, it can be customized, too. Children inclined to alter the printed text or listen to their own voices can pick names and numerous other details from checklists or add, and record for the audio option, their own choices. Most of the crudely drawn cartoon scenes contain further interactive elements, from lights that switch on or off to a shooting gallery, touch-activated exclamations or snide asides (“And top of the morning to you, there, old Irish guy with hair in his ears!”). There’s also a word game and a foamy “bubble party” at the end. Icons on every screen lead to the main menu and a help feature, but there is no way to skip forward or back, nor a “default” setting to delete user changes all at once.
The plot lurches from one surreal scenario to the next, but readers can really amp up the silliness if they’ve a mind to. (iPad storybook app. 6-9)