Over the course of the year, SLJ’s Touch and Go column examines informational, skill-building, and story apps for children and teens. Our annual Top 10 list features some of those reviewed during the last 12 months, while highlighting the quality and range of material available in this format. This year brought fewer book-to-app productions, but a definite uptick in game content and sandbox play was noticed, as evidenced in our selections below. For the full reviews and information on platforms and pricing, follow the links.
In its whimsical, multilevel approach to manipulatives, Fiete Math (Ahoiii Entertainment; PreS–Gr 1) meets all the criteria of a quality app that introduces mathematical concepts. Children add and subtract as they combine the required units of cargo to load onto ships of varying sizes and shapes, while animated cartoon figures leisurely pass by to music. There’s no clock ticking as appsters move unhurriedly toward more challenging operations. Pleasurable and picturesque, with plentiful praise for successful problem-solvers.
From Ian McKellan and Heuristic Shakespeare comes a stunning production of The Bard’s The Tempest (Gr 7 Up), offering students three levels of text to choose from, along with pop-up definitions of words and phrases, character maps, and access to photos, videos of distinguished actors reciting Shakespeare’s lines, and the First Folio. Essays and additional film clips provide background on the playwright and his era, while stylized pen-and-ink drawings washed in earth tones add élan.
For sheer enjoyment, it’s hard to beat a Christoph Niemann app, and his latest, CHOMP (Fox and Sheep GmbH; PreS Up), is totally addictive. Positioning the iPad’s camera just so, kids can insert a photo of a face (theirs or someone else’s) in one of 60 hand-drawn templates, tap the screen, and watch as the image becomes animated: a faucet drips an all-too-familiar visage, an acquaintance belts out a tune, and a recognizable strongman lifts weights. Zany.
Film clips of historical events can create immediacy and foster an understanding that text alone may not do for some students. Somme 100 (Ballista Media; Gr 8 Up) offers an overview of the 1916 World War I offensive staged by the British and French against the German Empire, the magnitude of which continues to shock 100 years later. A cogent text, abundant archival images and audio recordings, animated maps, and the splendid on-site video narratives by Dan Snow of battles, interspersed with period footage, will provide students with invaluable perspectives.
Unquestionably, there are two sides to every story, and Nosy Crow delivers those of Goldilocks and Little Bear (PreS-Gr 2) in a production featuring original music, seamless animation, and abundant opportunities to engage in the (mis)adventure that brought this familiar duo together. Delicious wit, splendid graphics, and the full use of the tablet’s features—all characteristics of the developer’s rollicking, modern retellings of classic tales—are once again on full display. Not-to-be-missed frothy fun.
A detailed text, clearly labeled diagrams, and edifying animations highlight aspects of the natural world and its processes in NAMOO—Wonders of Plant Life (Crayon Box Inc.; Gr 4-9). Soothing music, ambient sounds, and color-infused artwork produce an integrated sensory and learning experience. Viewers examine 3-D simulations of a tree’s root systems, its trunk, flowers and fruits, and photosynthesis and explore how environmental conditions can impact them. Quotes from such diverse thinkers and writers as Samuel Johnson and Stephen King will heighten viewers’ appreciation of the beauty and complexity of the life forms around us.
In its stunning design and arresting use of color, nothing we have seen this year beats Mikaël Cixous’s mesmerizing Boum! (Les inéditeurs/CNL/Salon du livre et de la presse jeunesse; Gr 3 Up). Both story orientation and perspectives change as viewers scroll down and across this nearly wordless story about a corporate man whose colorless daily existence is upended when he chances to glance upward one day. Sound effects and a musical score provide extra notes, adding to the tension and the interpretation of the tale.
“Sparking curiosity, diving into big ideas, and making connections to the world” are objectives of the innovative developer Tinybop Inc., and all are in evidence in Skyscrapers (Gr 1-5), the seventh volume in the “Explorer’s Library” series. Here, the form and structure of buildings can be altered, water and electrical systems can be activated, and so much more. No instructions or directions are given, but children will discover as they build how their choices impact the inner workings of their designs. Experiential learning infused with fun, with online notes in multiple languages for parents and educators.
Intriguing puzzles and a resourceful child greet viewers in the Lumino City (State of Play Games; Gr 2 Up), as Lumi ventures forth to find her grandfather, the gatekeeper to the eponymous city, who has been kidnapped. Fellow travelers assist the girl as they interpret a manual, experiment with a variety of mechanisms, and advance through challenges in 14 locations. A spellbinding, animated world meticulously created with paper, cardboard, plywood, pieces of metal, circuitry, and a bit of engineering. Absolutely captivating.
Hours of videos, 500-plus images, and well-written commentary are offered in Ballista Media’s updated, interactive Timeline Battle Castles (Gr 6 Up). Fascinating details about the Middle Ages and its key figures, along with facts on the battles associated with the mighty fortresses of Europe and the Middle East, are provided. Multiple search and access points, maps, high-resolution photos, 360-degree views, footage of siege weapons in action, and clips demonstrating how to catch a rat or make a pen out of a goose feather medieval-style, and other topics make this app superb edutainment.