November 21, 2017

The Advocate's Toolbox

Best of Apps & Enhanced Books | November, 2013

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Midnight Feast (Slap Happy Larry) Illustration by L. Stace.

Charlie Brown’s All Stars! Charles M. Schulz. (Loud Crow Interactive/Verso Story Engine). 2013. iOS, requires 4.3 or later. Version 1.3. $3.99; Android, requires 2.3.3 and Up. Version 1.5. $3.99.

Gr 1-5 –It’s summer and Charlie Brown’s All Stars! are trying desperately to win a baseball game. After 999 straight losses team members toss in their hats, only to be lured back onto the field when they hear that Hennessy’s Hardware is willing to sponsor them as a team–uniforms and all.

A tap to the home screen offers viewers the option of playing a short intro, or jumping into the long-playing story. Character voices are integrated into Stephen Shea’s narration and the text is highlighted as it is read; individual words can be touched to hear them voiced.

Throughout, navigation is seamless: arrows and images of baseballs indicate page turns and swipes, and there are clues to what screen readers are on in each chapter. In addition, All Stars! incorporates the gamut of interactivity found in book apps today. Viewers can lend Charlie Brown a hand as he pitches, and by tilting the tablet they can help this earnest kid try to catch a fly ball, among other engaging activities.–Omar Ramirez, Northlake Public Library, Northlake, IL

Liszt Sonata in B Minor. Charlotte Gardner. (Touch Press). 2013. iOS, requires 6.0 or later. Version 1.0.1. $13.99.

Gr 9 Up –As when eating a rich dessert, it’s best to remember to start with small bites with this app, a deep and satisfying examination of a powerful piece of music. Viewers can begin by watching British pianist Stephen Hough’s brilliant execution of the piece, or spend time poring over the structural analysis of the work.

To watch Hough is thoroughly engaging. With the performance there’s a choice of four views: face, profile, and two overhead options. Overhead, viewers can watch the pianist’s fingers or add an LED representation of what each hand is covering. There is also the option to view the written composition in real time and listen to the accompanying critical commentary.

Reading both the introduction and biography sections will give those unfamiliar with Franz Liszt and his music a working knowledge of the musician and the piece. Covering interesting tidbits from Liszt’s life as a virtuoso, a Don Juan, a composer, and a touring machine, the two sections explain how he transformed music and concert programming during his lifetime. Videos of Hough discussing Liszt and his composition are also available.

Liszt was sometimes criticized that he put too much into his compositions. Touch Press takes the Liszt approach to content: more is more. The structural analysis and history of the sonata form alone will keep those interested in music absorbed for hours. Portions of the piece are explained, performed, and critiqued, and the approach is always exciting. A solid purchase.–Pamela Schembri, Newburgh Enlarged City Schools, Newburgh, NY

Midnight Feast. Lynley Stace. (Slap Happy Larry). 2013. iOS, requires 5.0 or later. Version 1.0. $3.99.

Gr 6 Up –Roya, an Australian girl living in a near-future world of food shortages and drought, has an active imagination that helps her escape the realities of her dark, urban life. She dreams of beauty, color, and food–including being permitted to stay up for the “Midnight Feast.”

While Roya’s 40-plus page story is linear, users will discover nuance in her real and imagined worlds by playing with lighting effects, rubbing the screen to reveal alternate realities, and tapping to explore props and listen to dialogue. This app rewards the patient, deliberate user; on one page, a radio broadcast that explains the effects of the food shortage and drought will play, and too-fast tapping will often diminish the impact of an interactive effect or shorten coversations.

There are some effects not often seen in apps, and both music and sound are used to great effect. The narration can be switched on or off, and there is an option to turn off the “scary sauce,” e.g., text and visuals that might disturb younger children. (For example, shadows disappear and “…laughing their heads off” becomes “laughing their socks off” with a different image.)

Users may not realize it at first glance but Roya’s story, and how it is told, are bursting with meaning. The “Key Questions and Close Reading Notes” (a 17-page online PDF linked to in the app) unpacks choices made in each segment of the story. The app also links to an online PDF with activities (such as writing prompts) that would work well in a classroom setting.

Midnight Feast will appeal to older elementary students, teens, and teachers alike who will all find different delights and messages within. Don’t miss this haunting, meaningful story.–Gretchen Kolderup, New York Public Library

This article was published in School Library Journal's November 2013 issue. Subscribe today and save up to 35% off the regular subscription rate.

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