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There’s no doubt about it: app production has skyrocketed. But curiously, a number of children’s book publishers and app developers are now thinking twice about the format. After dipping the proverbial toe in the water, some companies have put app development on hold, while others are exploring their options, trying to determine how to create these costly innovative items and still make a buck. Some organizations, including Random House and Sesame Workshop, have extended their partnerships to include apps, and many more bookshelf apps, such as MeeGenius! and Wanderful, are hosting collections of titles that are grouped by theme, specialization, or publisher. In a word, the world of apps is in flux.
But that doesn’t mean there hasn’t been a slew of exceptional products this year, and you’ll find a number of them on our list. As with most year-end lists, this one is subjective, and it includes only apps that have been reviewed in SLJ’s column Touch and Go. You’ll note a front-runner, but those items that follow can stand proudly side-by-side.
1. Moonbot Studios deserves high praise. Its Oscar-winning team, led by kids’ book creator William Joyce and film director Brandon Oldenburg, was one of the first to create an app, IMAG.N.O.TRON, that features augmented reality—a technology that layers digital images and information onto the real world. How does this cutting-edge app work? Clutching an iPad, simply hold the app over a page of Joyce’s bestseller The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore (S & S/Atheneum, 2012), an ode to the joys of reading. As soon as the app recognizes an image, the magic begins: books suddenly start to flutter, fly, and softly recite their lines; characters begin to wink; images are seamlessly transformed from 2-D into 3-D, and a bicyclist appears to glide off the printed page. Moonbot’s signature wit and originality are in evidence here, but with this app, seeing is truly believing.
2. Jessica Anthony and Rodrigo Corral’s young adult novel, CHOPSTICKS (Penguin/Citrus Suite), is a format-bending mystery that’s told through photos, news clippings, and artwork—and the kicky digital version packs some added punch. Will the embedded songs, YouTube videos, animated IMs, sound effects, and a “shuffle” feature that lets viewers choose alternate readings help solve this sophisticated puzzle? The verdict’s still out.
3. With just a touch of the screen, kids can zoom in from outer space and land anywhere on Earth thanks to Nick Crane’s BAREFOOT WORLD ATLAS (Barefoot Books/Touch Press). Then it’s a quick jump to another region, country, landmark, or activity of their choice. Narrated bits, delightful animations, background music, and real-time data inform viewers about the amazing range of traditions, cultures, geographical features, and animals found on our globe. This is one trip kids won’t want to end.
4. Looking for a healthy dose of interactivity? Try Jamie Lee Curtis’s whimsical picture book Where Do Balloons Go? (HarperCollins/Auryn, Inc.), with vibrant illustrations by Laura Cornell. Among the splendid features that await those who tap, tilt, pinch, and swipe their way through this rhyming story are musical interludes, animated vignettes, theater-to-showcase user-created videos, and, oh yes, an opportunity to record your own squeaky, helium-induced voice. With its unique features, this app offers hours of fun.
5. Artists who are grappling with the best way to bring comic books to the tablet can take some tips from Ryan Woodward’s BOTTOM OF THE NINTH (Ryan Woodward Art & Animation). Sepia panels incorporating baseball memorabilia and splashes of color are enhanced with the sights and sounds of America’s favorite pastime as Candy Cunningham takes to the pitcher’s mound to play “New Baseball,” 200 years in the future. With touch-triggered dialogue balloons, piped-in radio commentary, and dazzling animation, this one hits it out of the park.
6. If you’re not yet convinced that Moonbot Studios’ creative team is pure genius, take a look at THE NUMBERLYS, an app inspired by Fritz Lang’s 1927 film Metropolis. In The Numberlys’s grey futuristic world, letters don’t exist—until five roly-poly factory workers sporting puffball hairdos hammer, bend, and forge their way through the alphabet with the help of viewers. As the narrator says, at first the laborers’ efforts were “awful. Then at last… artful.” Indeed.
7. Somewhere beyond this double, double toil and trouble, Shakespeare must be smiling. With extensive notes and commentary, videos of famed actors performing each of the Bard’s 154 sonnets, a facsimile of the 1609 Quarto, and other noteworthy highlights, THE SONNETS BY WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE (Touch Press) offers a stunning look at the playwright’s work. Really, who needs a classroom when you can watch and listen to actress Fiona Shaw recite Shakespeare at home?
8. Breathtaking visuals, a concise text, and a narrated tour of some of our nation’s most spectacular natural sites make Michael Collier’s WONDERS OF GEOLOGY (Mikaya Press/Tasa Graphic Arts) a contender for the Eighth Wonder of the World. Close-up views, animated diagrams, and arrows that point to the geographic features under discussion transform basic science concepts into fascinating brain food. Throw in flawless navigation, and this app is a secondary student’s go-to text.
9.Based on a folk song by Gilles Vigneault, SUNDAY IN KYOTO (Les Productions Folle Avoine/The Secret Mountain) tells the story of an ensemble of musicians (who play koto, guitar, piano, shamisen, bouzouki, banjo, and harp) that was organized by one Cajun Joe. Amusing details, subtle animations, a toe-tapping tune, and a few Zen-like moments (including a bronze Buddha that claps and a discreet mouse that emerges for a bow at the performance’s finale) make this performance absolutely irresistible.
10. In FRAGILE EARTH (HarperCollins/Aimer Media), 170 pairs of captioned, before-and-after photos, taken on the ground or by satellite, reveal the often-devastating effects of hurricanes, tsunamis, and other natural phenomena on our vulnerable planet—as well as the harmful consequences of urbanization, mining, and global warming. In one horrifying sequence, 15 minutes separate two black-and-white photos taken before and after a violent dust storm engulfed a Kansas town. These and other images are enlightening, and often, alarming.