December 9, 2017

The Advocate's Toolbox

Top 10 Apps 2017

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Since School Library Journal began reviewing apps in 2011, we’ve seen a number of trends come and go. Early on, many publishers joined the picture books–into–apps rush only to discover the cost prohibitive; later, a burst of informational productions coincided with conversations about more nonfiction in the classroom. The past few years have brought a steady stream of engaging games that incorporate logic, spatial awareness, and strategy into the mix: productions that schools and parents can confidently load onto devices for children. This year’s list reflects that trend while highlighting the range and quality of apps reviewed in SLJ’s app column, Touch and Go, during the past 12 months.

In 1976, an extraordinary discovery was made in a passageway underneath the Basilica di San Lorenzo in Florence, Italy: charcoal drawings created by Michelangelo while in hiding. Fourteen chapters narrated by the artist himself provide background on his life and the political intrigues of the day in Sarah Towle’s Buried Alive: The Secret Michelangelo Took to His Grave (Time Traveler Tours with Mary Hoffman; Gr 6 Up). Along with the photos of the once-concealed art, viewers won’t want to miss the treasure hunt, the map, and the app’s social media opportunities. A top choice for on-the-ground and armchair travelers.

There’s a bit of app smashing happening in Nosy Crow’s cinematic The Complete Fairytale Play Theater (PreS-Gr 4). With 10 vibrant settings ranging from a castle to a beanstalk, plus an array of props and soundtracks to choose from, viewers can create their own fractured fairy tales featuring the characters found in the developer’s rollicking retellings of classic stories from “Cinderella” to “Goldilocks and Little Bear.” All that’s needed is a bit of imagination. Player narration and recording options enhance the appeal.

For a high-energy challenge, download the colorful Fiete Sports (Ahoiii; PreS-Gr 2), in which sailor Fiete participates in 13 Olympic-style events, from fencing and diving to track and cycling. Each activity requires a different opportunity for players to exercise their hand-eye coordination as they attempt, for example, to square the character’s quickly moving kayak through a series of posts or estimate and set the trajectory of his shot put. Ambient sound effects bump up the entertainment level. Regardless of outcomes, all contestants are celebrated with confetti, trophies, and applause.

Part of the fun of Framed 2 (Loveshack; Gr 8 Up) is determining just what it is and how it works. Like its predecessor, it’s an animated, action-packed wordless graphic novel with both puzzle and game elements, and a serious of splash of noir. The object: to keep the mysterious silhouetted man alive as he races across an urban setting. Obstacles, including figures in stealthy pursuit, and panels that must be rearranged to allow the protagonist onto the next page, are ever present. “Evocative animated elements,” “sultry jazz notes,” and a mesmerizing landscape add atmosphere, while dashes of humor provide levity.

The cheeriest production of the year, Listen Up!/Con Le Orecchie Di Lupo (SmallBytes Digital, PreS-K), written and illustrated by Eva Rasano, features a carefree wolf who invites viewers to join him through the soundscape of his day against a background of colorful cut-paper art. Interactive opportunities propel the fellow through a field of buzzing bees, the noisy landscape of an approaching storm, a roomful of playable musical instruments, and other spaces and places, while a catchy tune plays in the background. A simple concept executed with panache.

In the enchanting Loopimal (Lucas Zanotto; PreS-Gr 3), children choreograph a group of pleasingly pastel cartoon animals by selecting and arranging a sequence of shapes, each one corresponding to a different tone, rhythm, and physical expression. One, two, or four creatures can be viewed at a time in countless dance combinations while Zenlike music creates a soothing vibe. This intuitive app exercises kids’ fine-motor and sequencing skills, offers a kinesthetic experience, and provides hours of addictive fun. Easy-to-use and engaging, with five language options.

In Monument Valley 2 (ustwo Games LTD; Gr 3 Up), a sequel to the award-winning Monument Valley, viewers must move Ro and her diminutive red-caped child through a series of stunning architectural mazes of merging “arches, shifting stairways, lapping waters, unfathomable spaces,” and unlit passageways. Challenges abound as the 14 chapters of this story unfold, but subtle clues will help viewers advance mother and child along. Resplendent jewel tones and haunting music add to the ambiance. Meditative and mind-blowing.

When a pint-size tinkerer and coder misses his workaholic father, he comes up with an ingenious solution in Chris O’Reilly, Alan Smith, and Adam Foulke’s wordless Radio Jones and His Robot Dad (Nexus Productions; Gr 1–5). The day spent with his surrogate parent offers the boy one adventure after another—from mountain climbing to a wild ride in a grocery cart—until, inevitably, things goes awry. Panel art employing an earth tone–infused, luminous palette; viewer-triggered animations; delightful sound effects; and a versatile musical track accompany this appealing—and poignant—tale.

Looking for a fun app that will engage kids in STEM concepts? Thinkrolls: Kings and Queens (AVOKIDDO; K-Gr 6) may be that production. As viewers manipulate gears, levers, and ramps to move their rotund characters through more than 200 hundred challenges, they will be giving their observational, logic, and critical thinking skills a thorough workout. With a cast of playful figures including knights, dragons, and princesses—and a touch of magic—it’s a veritable medieval fantasy of an app. No time limits and the availability of multiple player profiles ensure repeat visits. Enchanting.

Storytelling, science reports, and a host of inspired opportunities are a snap with the revamped Toontastic 3D (Google; Gr 2 Up), an open-ended app that transforms ideas into cartoons. Multiple options are available to choose from including story arcs, diverse settings and characters, and a variety of palettes and soundtracks. Animation, video, and narrative opportunities abound, and finished masterpieces can be exported. Creation in school and at home has never been this much fun.

For additional app reviews, take a look at our Top 10 Apps of 2016 and visit School Library Journal‘s dedicated app webpage.

This article was published in School Library Journal's December 2017 issue. Subscribe today and save up to 35% off the regular subscription rate.

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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