November 22, 2017

The Advocate's Toolbox

Best of Apps & Enhanced Books | March 2013

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The Adventures of Captain Underpants,
Scholastic ©2013 by Dav Pilkey.

The Adventures of Captain Underpants: The First Epic App. Dav Pilkey. Scholastic. 2013. Version 1.1. iOS, requires 5.0 or 1. $4.99.

Gr 2-6–Fans of Captain Underpants—and of rude, over-the-top humor, awesome animation, and engaging activities—are in for a field day. First is the complete Book-O-Rama, here in high resolution and full color. Viewers can read George and Harold’s original adventure or listen to Mike West’s spirited narration with added sound effects and musical accompaniment. Pages aren’t turned per se; a swipe of the screen slides the characters to the next page, or morphs the background into the next setting.

Games, manipulable message boards, and even those flip-o-rama pages found in the books are embedded in appropriate spots. A jump from one page to any other in the text is via a collapsible bar at the bottom of the screen, while a bar at the top allows children to return to the main menu, to select chapters, or to exit to a game. Avatars to help track game progress are easy to create, but with a tap of a button one will be created (and named) for viewers.

Activities include hypnotizing Mr. Krupp with the 3-D Hypno-Ring, catching Captain Underpants in the Skate-o-Rama, or slinging underwear at robots and the diabolical Dr. Diaper in the Stretch-O-Rama. Beat Box 2000 is a music-making machine; as Captain Underpants flies across the sky, he triggers ka-booms and other, (often uncouth), noises to catchy beats. Users can record their own sounds if they prefer. The games take full advantage of the iPad’s capabilities, requiring the players to tilt and tap their way through various levels using different strategies; plenty of options keep the play fresh.

The app contains “no ads, no social media sharing, no in-app purchasing, no links to outside websites, [and] no location-tracking features.” With access to a full-length story, terrific animation, challenging activities, and loads of irreverent fun, this app will have fans cheering.–MaryAnn Karre, West Middle School, Binghamton, NY  

The Orchestra. Mark Swed. Touch Press, The Music Sales Group, and Rite Digital Ltd. 2012. Version 1.1.0, iOS requires 6.0 or later. $13.99.

Gr 3 Up–For those who didn’t grow up immersed in orchestral practices, trying to understand the art and its ensembles may seem daunting. Even a seasoned musician may open this app and wonder, where do I begin, for the options are vast. Starting with the commentary of the conductor, Esa-Pekka Salonen, will give listeners a flavor of London’s Philharmonia Orchestra, and open their minds to the complexity of Salonen’s task. His level of thought and his narrative are deep; as the engineer and artistic guide for the orchestra, he speaks at a level suitable for high school or college students. But there is plenty in this app that will have a place with students as young as the elementary grades; for example, the individual showcases for each orchestral instrument

Each showcase consists of a photo of the instrument that can be enlarged and rotated 360 degrees; a video narration and demonstration of the sounds that instrument produces; a written entry; a keyboard (showing the range of the instrument); an orchestral excerpt performed by the artist, and more. Percussion instruments have touch pads to mimic the sounds made by drums. Many of the musicians’ video narratives are endearing (particularly the brass section, notably Katy Wooley’s French Horn video and Alistair Mackie’s on the trumpet). This section would be also useful for young people trying to determine which instrument to study, for each video explains the working of the instrument and depicts a musician playing it. The snare drum excerpts are wonderful and worth a special mention.

Continuing through the app, users have a choice of orchestral pieces that highlight specific instruments. Claude Debussy’s  Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune and Igor Stravinsky’s Firebird are two examples, but the real joy in listening to these pieces comes from the commentaries provided by the musicians and the conductor. There are also opportunities to to listen (with or without full score) to thoughtful conversations concerning the expression, technique, and even the conducting style, while watching the orchestra perform. It is fascinating. When principal flutist Samuel Coles confesses, “I spend whole days practicing flute so that I can forget technique…(in concert)” viewers will gain a new appreciation for the work that goes into creating art.

The text is no less engaging. Penned by Mark Swed (chief classical music critic of the L.A. Times), it covers the history of the orchestra, makes suggestions on how to listen to orchestral music and how to interpret a score.

The power of orchestral music is compelling; this app provides unique and rich experiences that can be appreciated by both beginners and professionals. It’s available in English and Japanese.–Pamela Schembri, Newburgh Enlarged City Schools, Newburgh, NY

Daryl Grabarek About Daryl Grabarek

Daryl Grabarek dgrabarek@mediasourceinc.com is the editor of School Library Journal's monthly enewsletter, Curriculum Connections, and its online column Touch and Go. Before coming to SLJ, she held librarian positions in private, school, public, and college libraries. Her dream is to manage a collection on a remote island in the South Pacific.

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