School Library Journal » » App Reviews The world's largest reviewer of books, multimedia, and technology for children and teens Thu, 04 Feb 2016 21:24:03 +0000 en-US hourly 1 All Aboard DADA Trains | Touch and Go Thu, 04 Feb 2016 04:05:59 +0000  

It’s no secret that along with dinosaurs and construction sites, trains make the list of preschool and early elementary students’ favorite topics. Here’s an app that combines exploration with story and creation activities. The app is the first in the DADA Collection, which offers “edutainment activities and experiences designed around one common thread.” Deb Whitbeck reviews it below.

DADA trains

Know any train enthusiasts? If so, introduce them to Dada Trains (DADA Company, iOS, $2.99; PreS-Gr 3), an app that offers multiple levels of exploration. Currently featuring five activities, the youngest users will simply drive the trains through various terrains and weather conditions in “Simulator,” with options to stop and go, and control the speed, or change the look of the control panel. The “Look Inside” mode allows a peek into the workings of a steam train where users can interact by adding coal to the boiler and watch as the engine picks up speed. “Playground” features the train going in and out of tunnels, over bridges and past roads where users tap/swipe to open gates and discover hidden characters. Children with artistic inclinations will enjoy the “Magic Canvas,” which includes background options of screen shots. More engaging for future engineers is “Train Factory” where kids design their train using a menu of fill-colors, then travel through challenges such as broken tracks until reaching their destination. Luckily, there’s a reset button for users who cannot solve a problem and would like to begin again.

Cheery graphics  in a number of styles and entertaining sound effects heighten the experience. No instructions are given, which in this app, encourages exploration. A recording option is available. The range and variety of activities and promise of future updates with more content will have children visiting this production time and again. The app is available in Spanish, English, and a number of other languages.—Deb Whitbeck, formerly of West Ottawa Public Schools, Holland, MI


Interior screen from DADA Trains (DADA Company)

Tap the stoker to increase the speed of the engine. Interior screen from DADA Trains (DADA Company)


For additional app reviews, visit School Library Journal‘s dedicated app webpage.


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Coloring Books Make the Leap to Digital | Touch and Go Tue, 26 Jan 2016 15:42:17 +0000 Millie Marotta's Coloring Adventure,/em> for the iPad, it appears the coloring book trend has successfully made the leap to digital.]]> Millie Marotta's

Millie Marotta’s Coloring Adventure (Touchpress/Batsford) Marotta

One of the noteworthy publishing trends of 2015 was coloring books—for adults—of dragons, of mermaids, of quilts, of butterflies, and other subjects too numerous to name. These books point to coloring’s ability to help people relax, de-stress, and often, to focus. Kids, of course, have long been fans of these books and while some published for the adult market are adult in nature, many of them can be shared with the children in your lives.

Now, along comes Millie Marotta’s Coloring Adventure (Touchpress/Batsford; iOS, Free; Gr 3 and Up) for the iPad, and it looks like the trend has successfully made the leap to digital. The developer notes that “after just one week” the app was downloaded 100,000 times. Whether or not you believe in the restorative power of the act of coloring, the starter pack is free and worth a try.

Marotta is the author of two coloring books, and by her own account, has a “mild obsession with all things flora and fauna.” Characteristic of her artwork are images featuring “intricate patterns” and splashes of color. The app offers five pictures to paint and a palette of colors to choose from; tones can be adjusted. Artists can color by finger (the zoom-in feature helps), but any hope (or desire) of staying within the lines requires an an iPad-compatible stylus, with the Apple Pencil (on iPad Pro) recommended. Users can start over or erase if they are not satisfied with their work, and masterpieces can be saved and/or shared with friends and family on Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook. The app is available in a number of languages. Coming soon are “Birds” and “Botanical”—add-on packs of pictures to purchase. A trailer is available.—Daryl Grabarek, School Library Journal

 For additional app reviews, visit School Library Journal‘s dedicated app webpage.

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Wuwu & Co. | Touch and Go Thu, 21 Jan 2016 15:00:08 +0000 Wuwu &Co. appears to be one of those apps in which a soothing narrator reads a story. But when readers are told to “pick up the book,” a new level of interactivity is revealed.]]> Here’s an review that’s been in our queue for a few weeks. The app, which comes to us by way of Norway and Denmark, recently made the list of  Cybils 2015 app finalists.  Andrea Lipinski of New York Public Library reviews it below.


IMG_0920At first glance, Merete Pryds Helle’s Wuwu &Co. (Step In Books, iOS, $5.99; Gr 2-5) appears to be one of those apps in which a soothing narrator reads a story.  But when readers are first told to “pick up the book,” a new level of interactivity is revealed. Lifting the iPad transforms the app into a virtual camera, and viewers can turn in all directions to see the story’s surroundings.

The plot is simple: it is the coldest winter in 2000 years, and five peculiar creatures need help. Each character awaits interaction (sometimes patiently, sometimes not), and each one’s story reveals a fairly straightforward task that needs to be completed, although it might take some children several tries to understand how it can be accomplished. The app is highly interactive, and readers won’t be able to finish their assignments by sitting quietly in a chair. Expect that they’ll be shouting at their device, shaking it, and standing up and turning around to see what these actions bring to the screen.

Although engaging, the app can also be a bit confusing. At one point viewers are requested to find something in yellow with the camera, but if there is nothing yellow in their vicinity the screen will turn that color anyway.  At another juncture, shaking a tree happens by shaking the tablet or phone, which might take children several attempts before managing to get the device to respond.

Interior screen from WuWu & Co (Step In Books)

Interior screen from Wuwu & Co. (Step In Books)

The hand-drawn artwork, which features splashes of color against gray and white backgrounds, is simple but appealing. Musical notes, and appropriate sound effects (howling wind and barking dogs, etc.) add to the atmosphere. Listeners can toggle between English, French, Spanish and German language options. The app’s music, sound effects, narration, colorful pictures, and activities make it a truly immersive experience and one that children will enjoy.—
Andrea Lipinski, New York Public Library

Eds. note: A trailer is available.

For additional app reviews, visit SLJ‘s dedicated app webpage.

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Nosy Crow’s “Goldilocks and Little Bear”| Touch and Go Thu, 14 Jan 2016 15:14:21 +0000 Nosy Crow, the developer known for its delightful contemporary remakes of folktales, has just marked its fifth year in business with the release of another beloved children’s story, reviewed here by Lalitha Nataraj. For a behind-the-scenes look at the creation of the music for the app, Steve Burke shares his process with viewers from concept to computer to mixing studio. Consider sharing this fascinating video (and app) with older music students and aspiring composers. 



Nosy Crow’s modern retelling of “Goldilocks” adds charm and remarkable depth to the classic tale. Unlike the original, in which Goldilocks is an entitled interloper who rouses the ire of the Bear family through her unintentional, but somewhat destructive, trespassing, this sweet version adroitly relates the stories of Goldilocks and Little Bear (iOS, $4.99; PreS-Gr 2) in a parallel format. While the girl is happily scooping up porridge and damaging furniture in Little Bear’s cottage, the creature is in Goldilocks’s home, nibbling on pancakes and trying on her clothes. Young readers can toggle back and forth between the stories simply by rotating their device. In a refreshing and much appreciated nod to diversity, Goldilocks’s family is biracial.

Readers will have lots of fun playing hide-and-seek with Little Bear, helping Goldilocks pick fruit, and if they choose, using the microphone and camera. In addition to tilting the screen, children can switch stories by accessing a illustrated map that allows them to select and to jump to another colorful scene. In the “Read and Play” option, words are highlighted and enchantingly narrated by British child actors. In the independent reading mode, the length of time text appears on the screen can be controlled, and tapping blue touch points elicits additional dialogue.

The original music, composed by Steve Burke, is a delightful addition to the production. Vivid art, seamless animation, and a slight parallax effect that adds visual depth, are other standout elements. A story sure to be revisited time and again.—Lalitha Nataraj, Escondido Public Library, Escondido, CA

For additional app reviews, visit School Library Journal‘s dedicated app webpage.

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Spanish-Language Apps: A Starter Collection| Touch and Go Thu, 07 Jan 2016 14:21:45 +0000 Apps en familia, and our bilingual (and multilingual) app recommendations for children with the parents who use your library. If you don't have Spanish-language apps on your library devices, it's time to start a collection.]]> apps en familiaIn 2014, The Joan Ganz Cooney Center, a research lab focusing on children, digital media, and education published Family Time with Apps: A Guide to Using Apps with Your Kids. (free on iBooks). A Spanish-language edition of the guide, Apps en familia, became available last fall as an iBook and downloadable PDF. The 20-page booklet addresses the educational value of digital media and offers best practice suggestions. Research-based findings on using apps and recommendations on some of the family activities available through them—from creating photo albums to bird watching—are also included. A separate section answers parents’ questions and provides resources for locating quality products.

Share the guide and some of our Spanish-language and bi-lingual app recommendations for children with the adults who use your library, and if you don’t have any Spanish-language apps on your library devices, it’s time to begin a collection. The annotations below excerpted from the School Library Journal reviews when available; title links will bring you to the full review, price links to iTunes, Google Play, or Nook downloads. All of the apps listed are available in the United States. Feel free to add the titles of some of your favorites.


Screen from ABC Action (

Screen from ABC Actions (Peapod Labs LLC)

Written and voiced action words in English and Spanish are the focus of ABC Actions ($2.99; Peapod Labs LLC; PreS-Gr 1). The app incorporates crisp, colorful photos, live-action video demonstrations of terms; and simple descriptive sentences.

Arthur’s Teacher Trouble (Wanderful Interactive Storybooks, iOS, $4.99; PreS-Gr 2) Marc Brown’s aardvark and friends are beloved by children around the world. This story relates Arthur’s adventures during third grade with a new teacher—Mr. Ratburn—also known as “The Rat.” Children can listen to this interactive, narrated version in English or Spanish. “Premium” features, including the “Classroom Activities Guide,” are in-app purchases. Wanderful offers other English-Spanish titles available including The Tortoise and the Hare (iOS, $4.99) and Stan and Jan Berenstain’s The Berenstain Bears Get in a Fight ( iOS, $4.99; Android, $4.99). See their website for additional titles.

Originator has created a number of educational apps in their “Endless” series, featuring playful and energetic monsters. Endless Spanish/Infinito Español (Free, in-app add-on purchase $4.99 for full ed.; PreS-Gr 4), is designed for Spanish speakers and learners. Here the colorful, exuberant creatures are employed to teach common Spanish terms, their usage, and spelling. Hi-octane fun.

LieselsisterPrior to their app incarnations, the Piccolo story apps enjoyed successful print runs in The Netherlands, published under the Unieboek | Het Spectrum label. As apps, each offers listening/reading options in five languages, including Spanish. Sound effects and animation have been added, but are minimal; in each production the story takes central stage. Quality illustrations are another given with these apps. The collection features a variety of tales for children ages two through eight, “something for everyone,” notes the publisher, but must be purchased through the Piccolo app. Titles include: Marianne Busser and Ron Schröder’s Will You Come for a Sleepover? illustrated by Alex de Wolf; the same author’s Liesel Gets a Sister and Liesel’s Birthday illustrated by Dagmar Stam; Tjibbe Veldkamp’s Tim on the Tile, illustrated by  Kees de Boer; Niels Rood’s The Flying Dutchman, illustrated by Yke Reemer. Piccolo titles must be purchased through the Piccolo app and are priced at $4.99.

Not Without Bear (appropro, iOS, $2.99; Nook, $2.99; PreS), written and illustrated by Anna Grossnickle Hines and based on the print book of the same title (Orchard, 2000), features a scenario that will be familiar to households with young children: revisiting the day’s activities in search of a missing lovey. In this interactive story, viewers help Audrey and her mother as they look under couch cushions, in drawers, and through cupboards, until at last the stuffed animal is found and the girl and bear are tucked safely into bed. The narration, accompanied by a few sounds effects and musical interludes, enhance this simple but satisfying nighttime tale.

Screen from xx by Tinybop

Screen from Plants (Tinybop Inc.)

Tinybop Inc, offers a number of apps on a range of topics. The apps do not come with instructions, but navigation and interactivity are fairly intuitive. Viewers have the option of choosing the language they would like the see the images labeled. For each production, extensive, downloadable handbooks (in a number of languages) are available online. The handbooks provide notes on using the apps with children, questions to ask, and features to point out, along with background information on the topic for both classroom and homeschool instruction. Among their many productions to date are Homes ($iOS, $3.99; K–Gr 5), The Human Body ($iOS, $2.99; K-Gr 5), Plants (iOS, $2.99; K-Gr 5), Simple Machines (iOS, $2.99; K-Gr 3), and The Earth (iOS, $2.99).

News-O-Matic, a subscription app launched in June 2013 by Press4Kids, delivers news and human interest stories five days a week. The app, which is available for iOS, has been downloaded in classrooms, libraries, and in homes in more than 100 countries, has earned high praise from Teachers with Apps, the American Association of School Librarians, and other educational organizations. It offers articles in three reading levels and Spanish language translations “at the tap of a button.”

For additional app reviews, visit School Library Journal‘s dedicated app webpage.

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Parents, Privacy, and Pesky Sibs: A Middle School Perspective | Touch and Go Thu, 17 Dec 2015 15:11:27 +0000 Titles in Annie Fox’s “Middle School Confidential” series have been popular with middle grade readers since they were first published in print. The books—and apps—tackle real-life situations and issues—from self-confidence and stress to friendships and crushes—that a group of fictional tweens and teens encounter, along with positive suggestions and commentary. The first two titles in the series, Be Confident in Who You Are  and Real Friends vs. the Other Kind (available in iOS and Android) were reviewed in this column earlier; we wanted to make sure this app received a review as well. Chris Gustafson reviews it here.

IMG_0913What’s Up With My Family? (Electric Eggplant, iOS $2.99; Gr 5-9) is the app version of a graphic novel from Annie Fox’s “Middle School Confidential” series illustrated by Matt Kindt. Six diverse friends share stories of their family conflicts and each concludes with a brief quiz ranging from five to 10 questions. Choosing the right or the wrong answer links to a clarifying explanation. Chapter topics covered include helicopter parents, how to handle hurtful comments about your body, name calling, step-family relationships, and more. An epilogue provides resolution to each story at the end of the app. Stories can be read full page most easily in portrait orientation or, with two taps, just one colorful panel or a part of one will appear at a time, narrowing the visual focus and slowing down the reading experience.

There’s not a great deal to distinguish the app experience from that of the book (Free Spirit, 2010) besides some sound effects and music, plus the opportunity to click on a link to introduce all the characters. Pushing a button on the bottom right of the screen allows readers to jump between chapters. Apps based on books can greatly enhance and even transform the reading experience. This app offers a serviceable electronic version of the original book.–Chris Gustafson, Whitman Middle School Library Teacher, Seattle School District

For additional app reviews, visit School Library Journal’s dedicated app page and be sure to take a look at our “Top Ten Apps 2015.”

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Top 10 Apps 2015 Mon, 23 Nov 2015 23:30:20 +0000 SLJ’s resident app guru, curates a stellar list of the best educational and story apps produced in the past year.]]> TOP10-2015-Apps_100pxWith 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.

TOP10_APPS_ArcadiaWith 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.

TOP10_APPS_WiesnerAuthor 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.

TOP10_APPS_NewImmigrantsMining 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.

TOP10_APPS_MoleculesThe 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.

TOP10_APPS_SnowWhite2“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.

TOP10_APPS_SpanishThe 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!

TOP10_APPS_Churchill“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.

TOP10_APPS_ArchitectApprentice 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 makes 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.

TOP10_APPS_LumiBright, 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.

TOP10_APPS_WWFChildren 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.

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“World Wildlife Fund Together” | Touch and Go Thu, 19 Nov 2015 14:43:59 +0000 WWF Together app, available free on iOS, Android, and Kindle Fire. ]]> Children love photo-essays and stories about animals and educators looking to introduce global issues into the curriculum often find endangered animals a good place to start. The World Wildlife Fund provides a digital offering on the topic, with an update to their WWF Together app, available free on iOS, Android, and Kindle Fire.

IMG_0868The World Wildlife Fund’s app, WWF Together ( iOS, Free; Android, Free; Kindle Fire, Free; Gr 3 Up) , originally came out in 2013, stunning users with gorgeous visuals and a wealth of information on animals around the world. With a recent update, including a collection of 2015 articles and current statistics, the app continues to engage users with ample opportunities for multiple visits. The World Wildlife Fund consistently pushes their message of advocacy and awareness but it never becomes uncomfortable or preachy.

Through crisp, beautiful design and engaging content, information (population, threat level, habitat, and a paragraph of text) on dozens of animals is provided; 16 animals of various threat levels are featured with in-depth stories. Easy to navigate blocks contain arresting photographs, facts and information on what the  WWF is doing to support their rehabilitation. The majority of the content is somber—such as the number of marine turtles killed every year by fishing gear. The overall feel remains hopeful, if serious.

Screen from WWF Together

Screen from WWF Together (World Wildlife Fund Inc.)

The app contains interactive, puzzle-like elements that keep users coming back to each animal multiple times. At the end of each featured story, the screen magically folds into an origami version of the creature that can be shared via social media. Origami instructions are included for each animal, making this app a cut above similar offerings. Even more impressive is the interactive 3-D globe. By allowing the app access to their location, information on how far viewers and live from 70 different animals around the world. Users can sign up for news updates on these endangered animals by providing an email address. A melody plays in the background, but users can switch off the music if they desire.

This is must-have free app jam-packed with quality content. Teachers and parents should know that there are many opportunities to leave the site and connect with social media.-—Caroline Molnar, Delaware City Schools

For additional app reviews, visit SLJ’s dedicated app webpage.

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On Tour Through “My Incredible Body” | Touch and Go Thu, 12 Nov 2015 14:26:50 +0000 When it comes to the human body, there’s no lack of digital products that explore its inner workings. DK The Human Body takes high school students system-by-system through the body via labeled illustrations and a few animated scenes and videos. The Heart and Lungs Lab (isygmes S. C.) for middle grades can be adapted to different learning levels and styles and is available in both Spanish and English. Tinybop’s Human Body for elementary students has no text beyond labels, but offers interactive features and an extensive online guide in 10 languages. Zybright’s app, reviewed below, has a few additional features.

Screen My Incredible Body (Zybright) "The Lung"

Screen from My Incredible Body (Zybright) “The Lung”

Viewers will be fascinated by the digitally enhanced look inside the human body displayed in My Incredible Body (Zybright, iOS, $9.99; Android, $9.99; also available for Windows touch devices, $4.99, PCs and Macs; various in-app purchases, $.99; Gr 4-7). Pulmonary function, the digestive system, skeletal and muscular anatomy, the kidneys and waste processing, the heart and circulatory system, along with the brain and nervous system all receive attention. One segment touches on sensory conception and autonomic functions such as breathing and swallowing. The lymphatic and endocrine systems are not covered.

Upon opening the app, students can choose from eight animated icons; an eye represents the senses, a pulsating heart, circulation, etc. A tap to any of these icons will bring students to a core, 3-D model of the specified organ or system and additional animated icons that lead to more 3-D perspectives, illustrations, and text features. A quiz feature/icon—is activated through an in-app purchase. The quizzes will add real value to those using the app for review or study purposes.


Close-up of the outer ear in My Incredible Body (Zybright)

As students travel through the body part or system, stops along the way offer close-up views featuring colorful, detailed visuals with occasional labels, and text boxes offering basic anatomy information and vocabulary. Big- picture illustrations offer a silhouette of the body on the side with illuminated dot(s) indicating the of the body part(s) under discussion. The text boxes are narrated, but students can switch off the narration if they choose. An icon depicting a rocket allows users to literally travel through the organ or system—transported inside the arteries and veins in the case of the circulatory system, or through the nose, down the larynx and windpipe, and into the lung (then back out) for the respiratory system. The app utilizes a scalable model of the human body with zoom and pinch capabilities. On certain screens, digital overlays can be switched on or off.

The section on puberty is another in-app purchase. It includes 3-D images and brief, separate segments on the male and female reproductive systems, conception, the penis, and the uterus.

While large in file size, this introductory app is glitch-free and its images will stand out gloriously on a large display or projected screen. Students looking for a way to spruce up their anatomy science fair projects will gain extra points with this great, hands-on, interactive demonstration of the human body. A must-have for educators and students interested in the life sciences. Additional information, a tutorial, and a trailer are available on the Zybright website.Krista Welz, North Bergen High School Media Center, NJ

Eds. note: For additional apps on the human body, see “The Human Body—Animated”

For additional app reviews on a range of topics, visit SLJ‘s dedicated app webpage.

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WonderBox: Explorations in Science, Geography, Music, and Design | Touch and Go Wed, 04 Nov 2015 11:35:03 +0000  

Wonderbox600x360As our reviewer Allison Tran notes, WonderBox provides content, creation opportunities, and a mini social network—with plenty of features and safeguards that will please parents.

Cheerfully designed with bright colors, and offering intuitive navigation and appealing sound effects, WonderBox: Explore & Learn Science, Geography, Music, and Design (Duck Duck Moose, Inc., iOS Free; PreS-Gr 5) is sure to be a hit with kids from preschool through elementary. The app presents learning opportunities across disciplines by combining informational videos (3000+) and images with content creation challenges that invite users to put their knowledge into action. There are activities based on animals, geography, math, art, music, and more.

Sharing sneaker designs in WonderBox

Sharing sneaker designs in WonderBox (Duck Duck Moose)

The app is also a mini social network. After setting up a profile and creating an avatar, users are presented with a news feed showcasing activities that correspond to the season or current events. The feed features artwork created by other users, with an inviting “Do this!” link under each item. Children can create their own jack o’ lantern, draw the Taj Mahal, or supply a voiceover for a talking cat, and view all their handiwork and creations in a gallery linked to their profile. In addition, they can share their work with friends within the app, too, for the true social media experience—but to add a friend, kids will need that person’s WonderBox code, ensuring that they’re adding someone they actually know—while parents can be assured that their child is learning to navigate social media safely.

In addition to motivating content creation and sharing, WonderBox rewards users with in-game currency. Users start with 1,000 WonderBox coins, and can earn more coins for completing challenges. All challenges include free components, but children may spend coins on premium options. Choosing to spend or save coins helps kids develop essential financial skills, and parents will be relieved to know that there are no in-app purchases; WonderBox coins are strictly imaginary and cannot be bought with actual money.

The only potential drawback to the app is that it requires an active Internet connection. Additionally, some of the content is curated from YouTube, and if the original source video has been removed, it won’t show up in WonderBox. That aside, it’s a truly enriching app for kids and likely to become the go-to recommendation when parents ask for an app that’s both fun and educational. A trailer is available.—Allison Tran, Mission Viejo Library, California

For additional app reviews, visit our dedicate app webpage.

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Haunted Houses & Headless Horsemen: Halloween Apps | Touch and Go Tue, 27 Oct 2015 20:12:28 +0000 Halloween is here! Below you’ll find excerpts from previously published app reviews of both classic and contemporary stories for a range of ages—along with a bit of augmented reality guaranteed to raise the hair on anyone or anything’s neck. From witches and monsters to haunted houses and headless horsemen, there’s something for everyone.

horrible hauntingsIt was a stroke of genius to combine augmented reality technology and a collection of ghost stories. Horrible Hauntings is a free app (Trigger) that works in conjunction with Shirin Yim Bridges’s book of the same title (Goosebottom Books, 2012; Gr 5 Up). Each of the 10 folktales and legends begins with an excerpt followed by a history of the story’s origin and reports of sightings of the ghost or ghoul in question. Illustrating each tale—from “The Flying Dutchman” to “Bloody Mary”—is an oil painting by William Maughan depicting a variety of settings for spectral viewings: a dark forest, an unlit gallery, a shadowy moor, The Tower of London. Viewers are instructed to hold their iPad or iPhone device directly over the illustrations and watch as the apparitions appear. On one screen a woman in a brown dress floats down a deep staircase accompanied by eerie music; in another, the Headless Horseman charges off the page; and in a third, a skeleton clanks across a stone floor. The trailer will give readers a peek at this very cool technology.


Screen from It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown (Loud Crow)

For the younger crowd, there’s Charles M. Schulz’s It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown (Loud Crow Interactive; K-Gr 4; $5.99), narrated by Peter Robbins, “the original voice” of the comic strip character on the big screen. As our reviewer noted, “In addition to listening to the story of the Peanuts gang on the eve of Halloween, children can interact with this app. Sometimes it’s as simple as touching a character to make him or her move or speak, while at other moments it’s helping Lucy bob for apples, or playing the piano with Schroeder. Many of these actions aren’t apparent at first glance, so exploring each page is essential.

Readers can jump into the story by creating their own avatar, but this requires an account (email and password necessary). While it’s free to make the avatar, access to costumes requires coins. These can be earned by unlocking rewards or they can be purchased. Once the avatar is created, it will appear in the story. Overall, a fun retelling of a holiday classic that have readers and listeners wanting to hit replay, but they should be cautioned about potential costs.”

room on a broom“Magic Light Pictures has released the Room on the Broom ($3.99; PreS-Gr 3), a game app based on Julia Donaldson’s picture book of the same title (Dial, 2001). Navigation is easy; viewers need only to swipe the screen to access the eight games. Creative juices will flow as players place stars in the night sky to create patterns for the witch to follow on her broom. Lively chamber music plays in the background as users search for the hat that’s lost in the forest, try to catch items blowing in the wind by tapping on the screen, or search for the wand hidden in a landscape featuring a pond and dotted with trees. A game that is sure to be a favorite with the preschool crowd involves feeding French fries to a dragon. Each activity offers three levels of challenge. Subtle sound effects such as rustling leaves, chirping birds, and scampering squirrels add to the whimsical atmosphere. This simple, yet engaging app will entertain children and may even prompt them to pick up the book. A trailer is available for viewing.”


Dave Morris’s Frankenstein (Dave Morris/Inkle, Ltd.)

“For a “sophisticated take on Mary Shelley’s classic,” try Dave Morris’s Frankenstein (Inkle, Ltd.; Gr 8 Up; $4.99). In this version, readers are asked to choose the direction of the story. Our reviewer found the artwork “delightfully atmospheric.” The ideal audience for this app?  “Readers who couldn’t get enough of  Darren Shan’s horror series, moved on to Kenneth Oppel’s This Dark Endeavor, and [are] drawn to Rick Yancy’s “Monstrumologist” books.” A trailer is available.”

“Each knock in Peekaboo Trick or Treat with Ed Emberly (Night & Day Studios, Inc.; PreS; $1.99) brings one of 14 creatures to the door, until all the characters assemble for a quick dance. When viewers bid this friendly group farewell, they’ll see the silhouette of a witch as it passes through moonlight, and a final scene where a gorilla, robot, and puppy snore soundly while a bat hangs upside down, eyes wide open, and “Happy Halloween” is heard. The bold, flat colors of the story will appeal to the intended audience. Listeners can choose between a child or adult narrator. With the sound off, emergent readers can practice their developing skills on the one word that appears on each screen.”

go away big green monsterFor the youngsters who want their thrills “without the fright,” don’t miss Go Away, Big Green Monster! (Night & Day Studios, Inc.; PreS-K; $2.99), based on Emberly’s popular title featuring die-cut illustrations. Read the full review of this app, and take a peek at the trailer…this is one production that will have children and adults tapping their toes.

A young girl in a witch costume lets her dressed-up friends know, You Can’t Scare Me! (Auryn; K-Gr 2; $1.99) in the Wendy Wax story, but inadvertently scares herself when she sees her own image in a mirror. The simple rhyming text and the pictures—a collage of photos against colorful interiors—aren’t particularly exciting, but children will have fun playing the “Match” and “Spot the Difference” games, and personalizing the app.

In Meet Heckerty! 
(Broomstick Productions; PreS-K; Free) children encounter a 409-year-old witch who wakes up one morning to discover she is covered in warts. The wrong spell, chanted with the help of her cat Zanzibar, doesn’t reverse this condition, but leaves Heckerty hopeful that viewers will still want to be her friend.

ghosts“Ghosts: Encyclopedia of Phantoms and Afterlife (Terrylab, Gr 4 and Up; $4.99), a collection of tales about ghosts and ghostly phenomena, features high-quality graphics and animation and spooky mood music. If you’re looking for something to put kids in the Halloween mood, this app, billed as “an entertaining mystic interactive horror story book” is likely to do the trick.

To begin their journey, viewers must clear their way through the cobwebs, dust, and detritus on the opening screen to locate a skeleton key that will unlock the volume. Chapters are selected by holding the heart-shaped planchette over the icons on an Ouija board, which offer information about “Ancient Ghosts,” “Ghosts of Cemeteries,” “Animals’ Ghosts,” “Poltergeists” and other topics. Embedded in sections are pop-up notes and animated maps and illustrations. Skeletons and messages emerge from behind shattered mirrors, specters appear in windows, insects crawl across pages, and shadows pass over screens as words and letters tumble off the page and haunting sound effects and music are heard in the background. An unnerving, but fun, interactive romp through the legends and lore of the spirit life. For a peek, take a look at the trailer. Also available in Russian. (Free download, $2.99 in-app purchase).


Screen from Sherlock: Interactive Adventure (HAAB) Doyle

Sherlock: Interactive Adventure (HAAB Entertainment, $2.99; Gr 5 Up) is a fully narrated, visually rich tale of Baker Street’s celebrated sleuth. The app doesn’t come with instructions, but from page one (and “play”) Simon Vance’s narration will bring “The Red-Headed League’ to life. The audio is important; although some students may be familiar with Arthur Conan Doyle’s intelligent and amusing style, some may not understand the elevated vocabulary without Vance’s fluid narration creating the proper context. Timing is everything in storytelling and on auto-play, the music and sound effects flow seamlessly as the visuals unfold.

The humor of Holmes’s observations, his quirky investigative style, and the satisfying ending are seamlessly integrated. A map of London highlights where events take place and a “dossier” collects profiles on the characters that appear in the story. The menu offers access to these files, while the slides and settings are found along the bottom of the screen. More titles in the series are promised. A great app to introduce the writing of Doyle. Available in English, French, German, Russian, and Spanish.”

little witch at school“In SlimCricket’s Little Witch at School  (iOS, $3.99, available in English and French; Android, $3.49; PreS-Gr 4) a young witchery student must complete three exercises to pass her exams. The tasks require viewers to use their number recognition and/or math skills (addition or multiplication) to assist the witch and her faithful friend Peepo color in Spidali’s web; letter recognition, to discover the magic word at Miss Oxford-Webster’s Well of Knowledge; and an understanding of sequencing to pass through a maze in an ogre’s belly. Three levels of difficulty allow a range of ages to play. The story has two modes, “Read to Me” and “Read by Myself.” Pleasant background music plays in both options, but listeners may find the character’s accents somewhat irritating in the narrated version.

On most pages in this long-playing story interactive animations can be triggered with a tap to hot spots causing birds to tweet, clouds to change color, and a grammaphone to play. Making use of a gyroscope effect gives pages further movement and depth, and a surprising camera effect literally puts users in the story.  During the course of her adventures the little witch passes her test but loses her name, ending her story with a question mark. Interested readers may choose to download The Witch with No Name to satisfy their curiosity.”

FrankenweenieFans of popular culture will want to take a look at Frankenweenie: An Electrifying Book (iBooks2; Free; Gr 6 Up), a behind-the-scenes look at the making of Tim Burton’s stop-motion animated film (Disney, 2012). “Frankenweenie” is the story of a boy who resurrects his dog, and kids are encouraged to Frankenweenie-fy their pets (Disney; Gr 3 Up; Free) with that app. Selecting a photo of a favorite animal from their camera roll or Facebook album, viewers can manipulate the image by adjusting the contrast or selecting a backdrop, or adding a name, the “Frankenweenie” logo, or a new set of eyes or ears before saving or emailing the black-and-white picture. Photos of friends and family will likely be fair game when this app gets in kids’ hands.


Screen from The Fall Festival (Oceanhouse Media) Mayer

“With visual and audio enhancements that support the story, Mercer Mayer fans will enjoy The Fall Festival (Oceanhouse Media, $1.99; PreS-Gr 1), the latest addition to the library of “Little Critter” apps. Closely aligned to the print version (HarperCollins, 2009), this nicely narrated story of a family outing offers viewers opportunities to enjoy the autumn colors, eat apples, take hayrides, play games, select pumpkins, and other activities related to the harvest season. Well-placed, high-quality background sound effects add to the story. The simple text (“I see so many apples. I try one. Mom pays the man.”) will engage emergent readers who can tap on objects or text to hear the labels or words voiced. Of particular note is the ability for users to record their own narration. At the conclusion of the story, children are encouraged children to start it again to look for the images of mice and spiders found throughout, which will be tabulated automatically as they are located.”

trick or treatIn Gina and Mercer Mayer’s Trick or Treat Little Critter (Oceanhouse Media, iOS $1.99; Android, $1.99; PreS-K), Halloween preparations are in order sending the Critter family out shopping for candy, decorations, and costumes. Pumpkin selection at a local farm follows. Back home, jack-o’-lantern drama is averted (sister) when Father draws a face on the chosen pumpkin instead of carving one, but Little Critter does get to enjoy a jack-o’-lantern (and pumpkin seeds) at school. When Halloween night arrives, everyone dons their costumes for an evening of trick-or-treating on neighborhood streets filled with ghosts and goblins and a pirate or two. A hoard of candy is taken in (not without a few tears), and admired. Familiar symbols of the holiday are incorporated into the colorful scenes. Children can have the story’s text read to them, but beginning readers may want to give it a try on their own. Users also have an opportunity to record their own narration. A game–locating images of a mouse found throughout the text–is also embedded.

And finally, don’t miss the MeeGenius! Bookshelf collection of narrated holiday stories—each title can be sampled before purchase. Sesame Street’s Michaela Muntean’s Which Witch is Which? (Sesame Street), Steven J. Simmons Alice and Greta, Barbara Barbieri McGrath’s The Little Green Witch, and Haunted Party by Iza Trapani, are a few of the available titles.


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Dr. Seuss in a New, Digital “Read & Learn” Series | Touch and Go Thu, 22 Oct 2015 14:11:39 +0000  

AppRev_DG_Suess_fullOceanhouse Media has released 50-plus Dr. Seuss apps to date from The Lorax to Oh, the Places You Will Go. Their latest productions are enhanced editions of the previously released classic Seuss stories, The Cat in the Hat and Green Eggs and Ham. The new apps come under the banner of the “Read & Learn!” series. The first two series offerings are reviewed below.

When do you take an already successful app and improve upon it? And from a consumer’s point of view: does the new product warrant replacing a perfectly readable book or functioning program? Oceanhouse Media’s Dr. Seuss apps have been praised for their outstanding narrations and clean design. While these apps are interactive, movement and viewer action within each (eliciting narration, word labels, and sound effects) is limited. For some children this means fewer return visits.

The new “Read & Learn” versions of Seuss’s classic The Cat in the Hat (iOS $4.99) and Green Eggs and Ham (iOS $4.99; both PreS-1) add both educational value and interactivity to the original digital productions, providing a much more engaging experience for beginning readers. As in the earlier iterations, words are highlighted as they are read, but from the start, the apps prompt viewers to find hidden surprises on the screens and to move characters about. A word label appears for most items when tapped, and, for example, in The Cat in the Hat, the fish might also jump out of its bowl, or Thing 1 and Thing 2 might leap across the page. When readers find the hidden star on each page, they can open a learning activity (dozens per app) that targets early literacy skills. While letter sounds are not a focus, letter name identification, rhyming, sight word spelling (fan, pot, etc.), and story comprehension are emphasized. Verbal instructions and prompts are given for the activities (drag letters, draw lines between words that rhyme words, etc.). Quality narrations and exuberant sound effects remain as hallmarks.

Navigation is easy. Through the settings screen, readers can choose either a “Read to Me” or a “Read it Myself” mode, as well as switch enhancements on or off—an important control for readers who require (or desire) less sensory input. Additional information and control is located behind a parent gate, including the ability to track reading stats (minutes read, pages read, and book read). Teachers will especially appreciate being able to reset hints, learning activities, and the statistics.

Dr. Seuss’s stories have been animated and reinterpreted many times. With these book apps the developer has taken great care to stay faithful to Seuss’s original artwork. Objects and characters move as cut-out animation, keeping the association to the original intact while adding motion that suits the whimsical tone of Seuss’s stories. The two apps may also be purchased as a bundle (iOS, $7.99).—Mary Ann Scheuer, Berkeley Unified School District and Great Kid Books

For more app reviews, visit School Library Journal‘s dedicated app page.

green eggs

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“iBiomes—Wetlands” | Touch and Go Thu, 15 Oct 2015 13:15:06 +0000  

Screen from iBiome ( )

Screen from iBiome-Wetland (Springbay Studio)

A smiling Professor Bio guides students through iBiome-Wetland (Springbay Studio, Ltd. iOS $3.99; Gr 4-7), an app designed to teach biodiversity through a series of gamelike activities featuring a fresh water marsh, a salt water marsh, and a mangrove swamp.

In his introduction, the professor notes that wetlands are “a very important part of the ecosystem,” and “act as a natural barrier to hurricanes.” Draining them to build towns and dams can be devastating to the environment when a hurricane does occur. While that damage can not be “undone,” the professor asks viewers to help “restore the wetland to its natural state” and challenges them to build four biodomes (there are two mangrove swamps) to experiment and “discover how so many amazing species live together.”

Screen from iBiome-Wetland (   )

Screen from iBiome-Wetland (Springbay Studio)

When a biodome is opened, players see a card with a photograph accompanied by text explaining how the plant or animal depicted affects the food chain or biodiversity within the habitat. For example, in the salt water marsh, sea oats, crayfish, green herons, and muskrats are among the 10 plants and animals introduced. Viewers learn “muskrats are a typical omnivore, consuming both plants and animals,” “green herons love to feed on fish and invertebrates,” and so on. To understand the role the plant or creature plays in that habitat the viewer must conduct some “research” (triggered by shaking the iPad). The various plants, animals, and environmental factors (mud, sun, etc.) appear as floating icons that must be matched to their corresponding categories: environment, prey, producer, predator, or decomposer. Missteps are responded to with reminders about what eats what. When a task is completed and the sound is switched on (recommended), a brief interlude of cheery music is heard. Watery and animal sounds enhance both the atmosphere and the adventure.

At the beginner level, players must match four items with an equal number of categories in the globe-like environments where blues and greens predominate, but as they advance through each biodome more living things than categories appear on the screen and choices must be made about which plants and animals best suit the available slots. Despite the challenge this presents, the play can get repetitive. Once prey, predator, and producers are matched correctly, arrows appear that show how these forms of life relate in that particular web. When players complete a biodome, it springs to life with plants, fish, birds, trees, and insects; a final screen offers a photograph and additional information (in very small print) about the environment. A “Parent’s Corner” asks them to rate or share the app.

Screen from iBiome-Wetland (  )

Screen from iBiome-Wetland (Springbay Studio)

Given the number of levels in each biome, the app will keep students involved for some time; badges earned and a timer may offer incentive to complete all the tasks. (A journal allows them to show how far they have advanced.)  While the app is activity-based, there is a fair amount of text and teachers may prefer to use the app with young students on an interactive white board. The app available in 16 languages. A trailer is available. All in all, a supplemental purchase.—Elizabeth Kahn, Patrick F. Taylor Science & Technology Academy, Avondale, LA

For additional app reviews, visit our dedicated app webpage.





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Skill Building with “Fiete” Apps | Touch and Go Thu, 08 Oct 2015 11:21:41 +0000  

A cheerful sailor invites children to join him on his daily activities and in games in a series of colorful apps produced by Ahoiii Entertainment. The apps, which have been designed by parents for young children, can be purchased individually for iOS and Android devices (see prices and links below).

screen520x924In a blue-striped shirt, a white sailor’s cap, and black pants, Fiete (iOS $0.99, Android $2.81; PreS-K) the sailor goes about his island home completing his chores. Featuring background expanses of bright, flat colors and familiar creatures and scenes, the hand-drawn illustrations will appeal to young children. As they progress through the app, viewers help Fiete make a sandwich, put wheels on his car, sort socks, and so on.  There is no narration or instructions, but there are sound effects (waves, gulls, etc.). The interactivity is fairly intuitive, especially for children who have used a digital device before. With a little exploration, others will quickly discover that a tap here or a touch there will produce the desired results.

Fiete—A Day On a Farm (iOS, $0.99; Android; PreS-K) opens with the sound of waves gently lapping against boats resting in a harbor. In each game in the app, the music and sound effects enhance the images and activities on the screen. For example, when users progress to a picture of sailors quietly snoring in their beds, they can trigger the alarm clock and wake the characters, which advances the game to the next screen. There, a rooster is heard crowing as the sailors begin their day picking carrots, shearing sheep, tending pigs, milking cows, sawing wood, and so on. Each of these activities must be completed with viewers’ help before moving to the next activity. As day turns to night and the moon rises, a flickering bonfire can be seen in the distance, and crickets and seagulls can be heard.


Which one is different?/ Screen from Fiete (Ahoiii Entertainment)

In Fiete Choice, (iOS, $0.99, Android, $0.99; PreS-K) children must determine which image on the screen (of three, four, or five) is not like the other. Objects and creatures are distinguished by color, shape, size, direction, species, articles of clothing, or other distinctive feature. Which fish is a different size? Which triangle is a different color ? Which glass is nearly empty? Which animal is facing in a different direction? Selecting the correct object or animal becomes perceptively more difficult as children travel with Fiete through each level (99 in all). The sailor rewards each brief series of successes with red stars, a smile, and his arms raised in congratulations.

Ready for a trip to a lighthouse? Fiete Match (iOS $.0.99, Android $0.99; PreS-Gr 1; all Ahoiii Entertainment) brings to mind the game of concentration…with a twist at the higher levels. As kids explore the lighthouse with the sailor and play differently themed games, they must match one image to another to form pairs. Later, as they ascend the lighthouse the pairing becomes more difficult: a boat pairs with water, a balloon with a pin to pop it, and an addition problem with its sum. Options include choosing the number of cards played during the game of memory, and deciding how well Fiete, who plays against viewers, operates.

The number of activities and the levels of engagement will have children returning again and again to these apps, which are charming in their simplicity and touches of humor. The games offer users an opportunity to flex their  pre- reading and numeracy skills, and could be used effectively to enhance language and fine motor development. These productions do not include any in-app purchases, are ad free, and have no links to the Internet. They are available in a number of languages.—Mary R. Voors, Children’s Services, Allen County Public Library, Fort Wayne, IN

Screen from Fiete-A Day on the Farm (Ahoiii)

Screen from Fiete-A Day on the Farm (Ahoiii)


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Schubert’s “Death and the Maiden” on the iPad | Touch and Go Thu, 01 Oct 2015 13:49:47 +0000 Earlier this year Touchpress and the Juilliard School partnered to create the app Julliard Open Studios, which allows subscribers access to an expanding “library of interactive episodes” offering” insight into the artistic process” and the opportunity to “witness leading professionals working with the next generation of outstanding performers.” Their latest app, on Franz Schubert’s Death and the Maiden, comes with the subscription, but can be purchased on its own. Pam Schembri reviews it below. Please note that the app, regularly priced $13.99, is $2.99 for a limited time.

IMG_0728When considering a musical masterpiece, discussion centers on the composition, composer, and historical significance of the work. As usual, Touchpress does an extraordinary job covering all of these elements in its latest production, Juilliard String Quartet–An Exploration of Schubert’s Death and the Maiden (iOS, $13.99; Gr 10 Up). The text was written by Lisa B. Robinson, but the production goes deeper, exploring the relationship between the members of the Julliard String Quartet as they share insights from their performance of the piece.

Users will be privy to the intimacies evoked as the members of the quartet (Joseph Lin, Ronald Copes, Roger Tapping, Joel Krosnick) provide commentary highlighting their “ongoing discussions with regard to theme.” The depth of their understanding is what makes this app so strong. Sometimes they share what listeners should be attuned to (perhaps the cello and first violin carrying the theme), though often they focus on the emotional pull of the motives (“the terror!” one might exclaim, or, “the seducer!”).

The honesty and intimacy of these conversations will allow untrained listeners to develop an eye and an ear for the genius of Schubert. Professionals may delight in hearing the performers share process, inner fears, and compliments. The musicians reference many relevant works throughout their commentary, and the section, “About the Piece,” covers Schubert’s life, the song (performed separately by Avery Amereau and Brian Zeger) the Quartet in D minor, and each of the performers. It is an extensive analysis, with video remarks sprinkled throughout. Listeners can expect to sit with this app for many enjoyable days in order to appreciate its full content. As typical with this developer’s productions, the piece can be accessed with or without the synchronized score, beat map, group performance video, individual performer video, and subtitles. A treasure for professionals, students of music, and musical dabblers. Available in English, simplified Chinese, and traditional Chinese.—Pamela Schembri, Newburgh Enlarged City Schools, Newburgh, NY

For additional reviews of apps by Touchpress, see “A Virtuoso Performance: ‘Vivaldi’s Four Seasons‘”; “Touch Press Adds Liszt to Their List“; and “Dust Off Your Headphones: It’s ‘Beethoven’s 9th for the iPad.

For more app reviews, visit our dedicated app webpage.

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Moobot’s Back with “Billy’s Booger” in Digital | Touch and Go Wed, 23 Sep 2015 17:54:29 +0000 Billy's Booger: As described on the Moonbot site, this "highly anticipated," "completely (sorta) true story from William Joyce’s experience in the fourth grade" has been "40 years in the ‘picking.’" And it's now available in digital.]]>  

As described on the Moonbot site, the “highly anticipated” Billy’s Booger, the “completely (sorta) true story from William Joyce’s experience in the fourth grade,”has been “40 years in the ‘picking.’” And it’s now available—in digital.

billy's bWith characteristic panache, William Joyce employs seamless animation and spot-on narration to draw readers into his picture book memoir Billy’s Booger Storybook (iOS $2.99; Gr 1-4). The production is based on the print version of Billy’s Booger (Atheneum, 2015; Gr 1-4), with the app’s narration, sound effects and animation adding a zany touch for readers young and old alike.

Beginning with an introduction from young Billy’s alien-looking lump of mucus, Joyce immediately provides readers a clear sense of the story-within-a-story frame. “This is Billy. This is me. Billy was having a little trouble at school,” drawing on everything, until “he made a book. About me!” Astute viewers will find the find the small green character of Billy’s book reminiscent of those found in Joyce’s The Leaf Men (1996), and may spot additional references to the author’s other titles, including George Shrinks (2003) and Dinosaur Bob and His Adventures with the Family Lazardo (1995, all HarperCollins).

Billy is “a reality-challenged fourth grader,” who drives his teachers and principal crazy with outlandish ideas like “math skills with pancakes” and “replacing the hallway floors with trampolines.” When the school librarian announces that there is going to be a writing contest, Billy sets to work creating his own masterpiece: Billy’s Booger: The Memoir of a Little Green Nose Buddy.

Screen from William Joyce's Billy's Booger (Moonbot Studios) Joyce

Screen from William Joyce’s Billy’s Booger
(Moonbot Studios) Joyce

Joyce reads the story with a droll newscaster voice reminiscent of Walter Cronkite, punctuated with exaggerated, silly voices and wacky sound effects. There is no interactivity, but its absence allows readers to focus on the story as it unfolds through the blend of illustrations, animations, and lively narration; together they together create a rich reading and listening experience for the users. Joyce’s illustrations are full of details, and many of these are animated with a subtle touch.

As Betsy Bird notes in her Fuse 8 review of the print version, this picture book memoir is “deeply personal” and Joyce’s app narration makes it even more so. Listeners hear how kooky the man is, creating sound effects for everything from fighting dinosaurs to UFOs, and understand the impact that learning that others liked his book had on Joyce as a child. Although Billy’s Booger doesn’t have the interactive splash of Moonbot’s first app, The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore, it stands out for its marvelous narration and fine-tuned animation.—Mary Ann Scheuer, Berkeley Unified School District and Great Kid Books

For more reviews, visit SLJ‘s dedicated app webpage.

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The Bard Gets Bawdier “Ryan North’s To Be or Not to Be” | Touch and Go Thu, 17 Sep 2015 13:33:34 +0000 EH150917-TouchGo-TobeNottobeStudying parody or William Shakespeare’s Hamlet? Looking for retelling of a classic with an unusual twist? Don’t miss Ryan North’s To Be or Not to Be, now in digital.

Fans of parodies, bawdy humor, and absurd retellings of classic stories are sure to appreciate Ryan North’s To Be or Not to Be (iOS $5.99; Android $5.99; Gr 9 Up). An irreverent take on Shakespeare’s Hamlet, the app was initially funded through a Kickstarter campaign and adapted by Tin Man Games from North’s 700-page novel, To Be or Not To Be: A Chooseable-Path Adventure (Breadpig, 2013). North’s version remains respectful of Shakespeare’s basic plot structure and is interspersed with fragments of the Bard’s original text, but it’s full of modern slang as well and, through numerous branching options, regularly veers off the beaten path on wildly imaginative tangents. It is lots of fun, but probably not for the serious scholar. North clearly delights in playing with the play.

After a brief introduction, readers are asked to choose how they want to experience the story—as Hamlet, Ophelia, or Hamlet’s father, Claudius. In North’s version, Hamlet is an “emo teen in his early thirties,” Ophelia is a science geek, and Claudius, a ghost. Readers simply tap the screen to move through bite-sized chunks of text until they arrive at “checkpoints” where they can select from a list of potential plot directions. All but the options marked with Yorick skull icons are deviations from the original story line. These deviations tend toward the surreal and the subversive. North examines Shakespeare’s narrative choices through his various story lines by making fun of the Bard’s approach to women, his plot directions, and, at times, even Hamlet’s personality. In this way, he uses satire to invite readers to deconstruct the story and look at it in new ways along with him.

Screen from Ryan North's To Be or Not to Be

Screen from Ryan North’s To Be or Not to Be (Tin Man Games/Audioblock)

The gameplay here is as much of a spoof as the story itself. At the end of each branch, readers are shown their “stats,” which include purposely useless things like “naps napped,” “stockings befouled,” and “tasteless sexism.” They also get Haml-o-meter readings, ranging from “to be” through “wild thing” and “kissable” to “not to be,” and silly experience points, which are included purely for their entertainment value. Artwork by well-known web comic illustrators is unlocked after endings and random events. To add to the foolishness, North’s commentary often criticizes readers for the choices they make at the various checkpoints.

Thankfully, given the nature of North’s humor and all the story twists and turns, the interface is extremely streamlined and easy to use, consisting of arrows to jump forward and back through checkpoints and a menu icon which includes font and sound options and access to achievements, the artwork that’s been unlocked, and credits. For the most part, the screens are image-free, consisting primarily of text boxes on colorful backgrounds.

Those up for an unusually offbeat and entertaining take on Hamlet, will no doubt love Ryan North’s To Be or Not to Be.Kathleen S. Wilson, New York University, NY, NY

For more app reviews, visit our dedicated webpage.


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Iain Pears’s Multilayered “Arcadia” | Touch and Go Wed, 02 Sep 2015 13:11:56 +0000 TG-Arcadian-TNWith no desire to thrust himself “into the vanguard of digital innovation,” Iain Pears nonetheless finds himself there with publication of Arcadia. Pears notes, “…I undertook the project because I had reached the limit of my storytelling in book form and needed some new tools to get me to the next stage.” His aim: to bypass “the limits of the classic linear structure,” to build a story with many strands, each one complete in itself, but enhanced “when mingled with others.”


Although readers may purchase Iain Pears’s Arcadia (iOS, Free, $3.99 in-app purchase; Knopf, Feb. 2016; Gr 8 Up) as a conventional novel, an eBook, or an audiobook, it’s hard to imagine a better container for this complex story than the app format. When fiction is translated to an app, readers might expect a multimedia experience but Arcadia is all about a new way to access a complex narrative solely through text connected by a clever GPS-like navigation map. The app description notes the uniqueness of this story. “Ten characters. Three worlds. Hundreds of paths to explore.”

When users enter the story, they are invited to read a short, lyrical description of the setting, then choose from six options to begin. Arrows provide easy navigation between the choices, and skimming each short section introduces a variety of characters and situations. One or two subtitles under each main title give more clues about which to select, such as “The Professor’s Tale,” or “The Young Girl’s Tale.”

The clear font against a white background is easy to read, but users have the option to switch to another font and control the screen brightness. Touching an icon on the top of the screen allows viewers to see the map of the story with the sections that they have read marked and a blinking circle that will direct them back to where they left off. Access any of the worlds within the story—Willdon, Oxford, and Mull—can be found at the bottom of the map.

Once an entry point has been chosen, the job of readers is to read. After each short section, they can continue following the experiences of their current character or to switch to one or more of the others. Strands can be followed from beginning to end, though readers may choose to move to another strand somewhere along the line, enjoying many new or overlapping chapters.

The story of Arcadia is complex and many-layered. Characters are firmly established in their own worlds but Pears skillfully plays with melding genres and following themes across stories, while integrating allusions to art, history, and classic literature. Middle and high school students can certainly access Arcadia although understanding and enjoyment will increase with more reading and life experience.—Chris Gustafson, Whitman Middle School, Seattle Public Schools

For more app reviews, visit our dedicated app webpage.

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“Toca Nature”: “A Perfectly Pixelated World” | Touch and Go Wed, 26 Aug 2015 15:18:56 +0000 Many readers know Toca Boca’s play studio” apps designed with preschoolers in mind. Here’s something from them that’s a little different. It combines sandbox activities with a subtle ecological message.

toca coverToca Nature (Toca Boca A B, iOS $2.99; K-Gr 2) delivers a hip, pretty opportunity to create and enjoy a curated natural environment. Landforms can be created and trees planted on a blank canvas with the swift swipe of a finger. Changing the perspective only requires a tap to an icon. Berries and other treats can be collected and then given to the animals that appear as viewers zoom in close and travel through the ecosystem. A camera icon allows users to take pictures of the wildlife at close range. The focus here is on exploratory play; and there is plenty of it. There are no explicit instructions—and most wonderfully—no in-app purchases, ads, or distractions.

Interior screen Toca Nature (Toca Boca A B) © Löfgren & Svenningsson

Interior screen Toca Nature (Toca Boca A B) © Löfgren & Svenningsson

While beautifully designed, this digital version of nature is a far cry from representing the real thing. In this perfectly pixelated world, predators only eat fish and berries and rabbits bounce merrily by viewers’ sides. Wildlife is friendly, slow, and will only multiply if viewers plant more trees. The limited geographic options may cause some young explorers to lose interest quickly. Habitats cannot be saved and may disappear when the app is not in use. Eco-conscious folks will cringe at the ax icon, which allows users to destroy their creation with one flick of the wrist. As the trees disappear, the animals flee until there are none left. A note for parents explains settings, the various tools used to sculpt this world, and offers a few discussion points. Toca Nature is stunning to look at; but its limited ecological diversity and informational value are problematic. A beautiful, sad reminder of how nature is taken for granted. A trailer is available.—Caroline Molnar, Delaware City Schools

For more app reviews, visit our dedicated app webpage.

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A “Completely and Utterly Disgusting” Game, Among Others | Touch and Go Thu, 20 Aug 2015 15:35:17 +0000 With only a few weeks left before summer is officially over, it’s time to download a few play-filled apps. While fun and games rule today, you’ll discover that planning, strategy, observation, and skill are just some of the words used in reviewing these productions. Oh, yes, and then there’s that “completely and utterly disgusting” game for fans of Roald Dahl.

Screen from Kindo

Screen from Kindo (Space Bears)

Billed as a “medieval game for the 21st century,” Kindo (Space Bears S.A.S., iOS $1.99; Gr 2 Up) is an abstract strategy game that’s easy to learn but difficult to master. The goal is similar to that of chess and Go: to capture the opponent’s king—located here in the opposite corner of the player’s on a 5 x 5 grid. Each player is allowed two moves per turn to place a tile, fortify an existing one, or claim one from the opponent; it sounds easy, but Kindo played well requires careful planning and tactical maneuvering. Fortunately, the game includes an interactive, easy-to-understand tutorial explaining the rules. Players also have the option to select a local, artificially intelligent (AI), or online/Game Center opponent and to control the level of difficulty. Stylish yet understated, the sparse design and minimal color scheme complement the overall aesthetic of the game and allow players to focus on their strategy. Available in multiple languages.—Audrey Sumser, North Canton, OH.


Interior screen from Pip and Posy: Fun and Games (Nosy Crow) Scheffler

In Axel Scheffler’s Pip and Posy: Fun and Games (Nosy Crow, iOS $2.99; PreS-K) the endearing and inseparable friends share an entertaining selection of activities designed especially for young children. “Matching Pairs” allows users to test their observation skills through three levels of difficulty. Posy provides just the right amount of encouragement as children flip over cards in search of a pair. “Jigsaw Jam,” another three-level activity, offers puzzles ranging from six to 12 pieces. Pieces are dragged into place; placed incorrectly they’ll float to the side of the screen as Pip prompts kids to try again. The “Coloring Book” provides eight images for children to paint. The palette offers a wide selection of colors and a few brush options. Children can shake their device to erase the page and start over, if desired. Finally, “Spot the Difference” presents two pictures and asks children to find five differences. The differences are subtle, so this activity will likely present the greatest challenge for the app’s intended audience. This cheerful production with colorful artwork is loads of fun; expect children to clamor to play with it. A trailer is available.—Stephanie Rivera, Naperville Public Library,, IL

lumi coverThe bright, bold graphics and friendly sound effects of two new Lumikids apps create engaging environments that will encourage children to stay and play. Both productions offer three deceptively simple activities. In the award winning LumiKids Park (Free, iOS and Android), users can play with cheery monsters nom-noming (eating) circles by color, giggly monsters playing hide and seek, or sort shapes by color and size. In LumiKids Beach (both Lumosity/Lumos Labs, Inc., Free in iOS and Android), children help crabs build a sandcastle, match tones with turtles, and color various marine creatures to bring them to animated life.

What sets these apps apart from others that claim educational components is that these activities require children to engage in more complex thinking as they work to complete each increasingly difficult round within activities. For example, in Park, the dot-shaped snacks that the smiley critters swallow change in color and location as obstacles are added. In the other activities children need to locate two giggling monsters that simultaneously hide behind playground toys and match an increasing number of shapes by color, shape, and size. These activities offer practice in visual-motor coordination and challenge a child’s “divided attention” skills and “cognitive flexibility.” In Beach, similar activities seek to steadily improve the user’s fine-motor coordination, planning ability, “response inhibition,” and “auditory processing.”

When opening the apps for the first time, parent information is requested. Collecting email addresses, etc., makes them less than ideal for group sharing; however, the educational value, intuitive navigation, kid-friendly graphics, and skill-building activities far outweigh the one-time nuisance.Cindy Wall, Southington Public Library, CT.

Interior screen Ravensburger

Interior screen Ravensburger’s Puzzle—The Jigsaw Collection (Ravensburger Digital)

No more missing puzzle pieces! Ravensburger’s Puzzle—The Jigsaw Collection (Ravensburger Digital GmbH, iOS $2.99; additional in-app purchases available; K Up) offers virtual puzzles that mimic actual puzzles in almost all aspects. Ravensburger is known for its quality products and the same vibrant and attractive images associated with the company’s physical puzzles are displayed in this digital production. For each image users can customize the number of pieces that will appear on the screen (20 to 500), making the app suitable for a wide range of players and skill levels. Step-by-step tutorials on the basics and tools for pros are accessible from any screen. Users can tap a piece to turn it 90 degrees or adjust the settings to rotate pieces freely. Other tools allow users to align pieces in the right direction or slide a completed image of the puzzle onto the working space. By placing the completed image under the pieces and enabling the magnet tool, users can snap the correctly positioned pieces into place. Alternatively, they may choose to move only border pieces to the playing table to set up the image frame. A musical background and a timer are also available. Traditionalists may feel that some of the tools diminish the challenge of the actual jigsaw experience and choose not to use them. Completing a puzzle is more rewarding than the stars awarded by the app since it’s unclear if stars actually amount to free puzzles or coins. Individual puzzles and puzzle packages are available for purchase in the built-in app shop. These puzzles are ideal for independent play and will provide users with plenty of opportunity to sharpen visual and spatial acuity.—Deirdre Reddington, Uniondale High School Library Uniondale, NY

Interior screen from Roald Dahl's Twit or Miss

Interior screen from Roald Dahl’s Twit or Miss (Penguin)

Fans of  Roald Dahl (and who isn’t one?) will relish Roald Dahl’s Twit or Miss (Penguin, iOS Free; Gr 3-7), “a completely and utterly disgusting” game inspired by the author’s Twits (Cape,1980), the story of a notoriously mean and revolting couple. In the game, Mrs. Twit sits snoozing while opposite her the unkempt Mr. Twit eats, food spitting out of his mouth on a trajectory that threatens to wake his wife. Users score points by flicking the food away from Mrs. Twit.

At the outset of each round, a “mission” and points are declared for additional feats such as a “triple rebound,” hitting Mr. Twit’s head, or dropping a morsel of food into the stein on the table. If players can’t deflect the food bits from the sleeping Mrs. Twit, she begins to stir, and once awake her mood changes from grotty to angry to fuming. After a few “fumings” a surprised Mr. Twit receives a bonk on the head from Mrs.Twit. Children, who have read the story, will recognize the appearance of bird pie, monkeys, and worms as plot elements from the book, as well as the delightful Quentin Blake-inspired artwork. After each round the score is tallied, and after 10 rounds, a total score and commentary (“Unsavory!” “Disgusting!”) are delivered. Irresistible fun for fans and likely to send the uninitiated to the fiction shelves to learn more about this nasty couple.Daryl Grabarek, School Library Journal

Interior screen from Twelve a Dozen (Amplify)

Interior screen from Twelve a Dozen (Amplify)

Twelve a Dozen (Bossa Studios/Amplify, iOS $3.99; Gr 6 Up) is a story game that requires a knowledge of addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division to advance through a sequence of 30-plus increasingly difficult challenges. The challenges exist inside a black pixel of a calculator, in “a universe of numbers” in a place called Dozenopolis, As players venture deeper and deeper into this dark and forbidding landscape, they must help a character named Twelve on a mission to find her family members and put this universe back together after a cataclysmic event. There is no tutorial, but narrated word clues and occasional tips in the form of ghost-like finger movements that appear on the screen. Voice, sound, music options and adjustments can be made.

The game, which could potentially take hours to complete, has already picked up one educational game award and been nominated for a 2015 BAFTA (British Academy Family Games Award). The developer notes that the app is first in a series of six math games that will be included in Amplify Math, a core digital curriculum available to schools in this fall.—Daryl Grabarek, School Library Journal


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