With new developers and authors joining the field and established companies continuing to push boundaries, app innovation is lighting up digital devices. In this year’s best-of-the-year column we celebrate productions that inform and challenge, encourage discovery, and engage students in a range of interactive activities. As always, our selections focus on story apps and curriculum-related content reviewed during the past year in SLJ’s Touch and Go column and highlight the range of material available for children and teens.
With no desire to thrust himself “into the vanguard of digital innovation,” Iain Pears nonetheless finds himself there with Arcadia (Touchpress, Gr 8 Up), a multilayered, nonlinear, genre-bending app that offers three story strands and the ability to flow seamlessly from one tale to another. There are literally hundreds of paths to explore as readers wend their way through Pears’s lyrical prose and timeless settings. A daring concept, well executed.
Author and three-time Caldecott winner David Weisner is all about innovation, and his first app, Spot (HMH, PreS-Gr 2), explores five fantastical worlds, all entered through the dot on the back of a bug. Pinching and zooming, viewers progress deeper and deeper into sets of visual environments and narratives, illuminated by Weisner’s resplendent, richly hued art, featuring quirky scenarios and atypical perspectives—and a few familiar creatures. Intriguing.
Mining resources from a range of cultural institutions, The New Immigrants NYC 1880–1924 (Vangard Direct, Gr 4 Up) presents a curated collection of 100-plus primary and secondary sources, from historical essays and oral histories to archival photos and video clips related to the second wave of U.S. immigration. Leveled questions and prompts, teaching strategies, related links, and other useful tools make this a classroom must-have for its insights into historical thinking and the experience of the millions of early 20th-century arrivals to our nation.
The latest addition to Touchpress’s impressive library of science apps is Theodore Gray’s stunning Molecules (Gr 9 Up). Deep content and superb visuals, including extraordinary 360-degree views, are just the beginning: users will also learn about and experience a new technology that allows scientists—and now, them—to watch simulated models of molecules—views seen before only in a “very few laboratories.” For armchair enthusiasts and students.
“Mirror, mirror on the wall, who’s the fairest of them all?” The Nosy Crow name is synonymous with playful, award-winning digital updates of classic fairy tales, and their latest production, Snow White (PreS-Gr 2), is another winner. Employing cool iPad technology and loads of interactive opportunities, kids can rock the infant princess in her cradle, help the Evil Queen mix a sleep-inducing concoction, and view themselves in the magic mirror. This cheery retelling featuring colorful, droll illustrations and a child narrator is the perfect antidote to Disney overload.
The same exuberant, colorful creatures that populate Originator’s earlier productions are back for some Endless Spanish/Infinito Español (PreS-Gr 4) in this introduction to common terms and usage, for both native and second-language learners. Cheers, prompts, and confetti are offered as encouragement and congratulations, while spirited animations, enactments, pronunciations, and translations ensure kids have fun while they learn. ¡Vamos a jugar!
“What would Winston Churchill do?” As five episodes from the British Prime Minister’s life are related, students are offered an opportunity to Think Like Churchill (Touchpress; Gr 5 Up) and to predict what the leader actually did in the situation. The activity encourages higher-level thinking and analysis, and its assortment of related photos, letters, postcards, and snippets from speeches provide primary sources for viewers to reference. The appealing cartoon art is an added draw. Entertaining and educational.
Apprentice Architect (Touchpress; Gr 3-6) is a highly visual, conceptual introduction to the work of the visionary Frank Gehry. There are plentiful avenues of discovery to travel as children explore the Fondation Louis Vuitton museum in Paris and consider some of the decisions architects make about shape, color, pattern, and light as they design their own buildings. Two-dimensional and 3-D tools, 360-degree and cut-away images, and gamelike activities will keep aspiring artists engaged.
Bright, bold graphics, playful environments, and joyful sound effects all recommend LumiKids Park, Beach, and Backyard (Lumosity/Lumos Labs, Inc.; PreS-K). What sets these apps apart is how they challenge kids’ cognitive flexibility, visual-motor coordination, planning ability, and other skills as children work their way through increasingly difficult rounds of winning activities related to shape, color, size, and balance. Delightful and deep.
Children love animals, and the plight of endangered animals is a subject many feel passionate about. World Wildlife Fund’s app WWF Together (World Wildlife Fund, Gr 3 Up) offers facts on the status of dozens of creatures, while exploring in greater detail the difficulties 16 species are now facing. New articles, breathtaking color photos, a 3-D global locator, and instructions to create a menagerie of origami creatures are a few of the extras in this super update.