November 21, 2017

The Advocate's Toolbox

Bopping Through Biomes | Touch and Go

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tinybopAt Launch Kids, a full day devoted to children’s publishing at the Digital Book World Conference, Warren Buckleitner, editor and founder of Children’s Technology Review, noted that after a few years of app invention and originality, innovation had begun to level off. There are always exceptions, of course, and at one point Tinybop was mentioned. If you haven’t yet seen that developer’s Human Body, be sure to take a look. Plants, the second app in Tinybop’s “Explorers Library” is up for review today.

What makes Tinybop’s informational apps so fascinating? It’s not the technology—though the developer’s “algorithmic animations [that] yield new surprises in every play” keep things interesting. Rather, it’s a combination of sophisticated design, detailed images, and discoveries waiting to be made (along with a willingness to let viewers make them at their own pace) that make their apps special.

Interior screen from 'Plants' (Tinybop) Caudry

Interior screen from ‘Plants’ (Tinybop) Caudry

Plants (iOS, $2.99; K-Gr 5) explores three biomes: deciduous forest, temperate grassland, and arid desert (tundra to be added soon and others in the works). For each, a landscape, illustrated by Marie Caudry is presented. There is no text per se, just labels (available in 50-plus languages) that can be switched on or off. Once a viewer enters a particular biome, time begins to pass; day turns to night, night to day, and so on, until slowly the seasons change. All the while, animals enter and move about the scene and eventually exit. Clouds drift by—a tap to one may create rain and depending on the biome and time of the year, colliding clouds can produce lightning and, possibly, spark a fire. There are also seeds to plant and an opportunity to watch them grow as the seasons change. While this is app that rewards patience, viewers can speed up nature’s clock by adjusting an icon in one corner of the screen.

A sliding bar superimposes a view of what’s happening underground, exposing tree roots, layers of soil and rock, and animal burrows and their denizens. Flora and fauna can appear quite small on the screen, but zoom capabilities allow for a closer look. Hotspots and a visual index offer access to large labeled drawings of select plants. These, too, are animated. (A buzzing bee hovers by a bloodroot plant, an aloe bush’s leaves snap at a touch.) Throughout, realistic animal and weather sound effects can be heard: a cardinal calls, a brook burbles, and grasses whisper in the wind. A recording tool is available to add narration, commentary, or questions.

On opening the app, two viewers have an opportunity to sign in and create a quick profile (name and age, adults have access to more information). Online there’s a detailed downloadable handbook available in eight languages for teachers and parents, filled with “interaction hints and insider intelligence,” including an overview and additional facts on the biomes, suggestions of things to look for in the images, and questions to consider. In its exploration of the interconnections of plants, animals, and landscape over time, Plants will be a great adjunct to classroom studies and a delight to the curious.—Daryl Grabarek, School Library Journal

For additional app reviews, visit the Touch and Go webpage.

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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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