School Library Journal » » App Reviews The world's largest reviewer of books, multimedia, and technology for children and teens Fri, 29 May 2015 18:07:58 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Charged! From Atoms to Electricity | Touch and Go Thu, 21 May 2015 11:50:57 +0000 At this point we’re playing catch-up with Kids Discover; the developer has produced more than two dozen apps based on single issues of the magazine by the same name. While we have reviewed many of their productions, we’re still working our way through their list. The two apps reviewed today are introductions to foundational science topics studied at one point or another during every student’s career.

For those living in the tri-state New York area, Ted Levine from Kids Discover will be presenting with author/illustrator Roxie Munro on “The Digital World of E-books, Apps, and Gamification” at the 21st Century Children’s Nonfiction Conference in NYC June 12-14, 2015, a full, three-day event that brings together publishers, authors, and educators.

photoAtoms (Marjorie Frank / Joe Zeff Design; iOS $3.99; Gr 4-8) is one of 26 assorted history, geography, and science apps offered by Kids Discover. The content is neatly divided into eleven sections; the first eight are informational with appealing titles such as “How Small Is Small?” “It’s Elemental,” and “Fission Fusion No Con-Fusion.” Information and facts are presented in small chunks and accompanied by impressive graphics (colorful photos or drawings) and a number of videos and animations. A short clip showing the effect of a nuclear blast on a wood-frame house, three-fifths of a mile from a 1950s Nevada test site, will fascinate viewers, as will the animated look at how nuclear power is converted into electricity used in the home.

The final sections are comprised of activities designed to reinforce concepts (mostly memory and matching games), and a quiz. “Resources” contains links to five websites including one of the  periodic table (one is also found in the app); however, the link to the “atomic timeline” leads to a timeline site and students will have to do some digging to find the related one. The further reading suggestions link to each title’s Amazon listing. Not all the resources are free of ads.

Navigation is fairly straightforward. From the intro page, viewers swipe to switch pages or tap the screen to bring up a scrubber bar with small page views they can choose from. In most apps, a tap to the arrow at the bottom right corner of the screen will turn the page; here it just indicates there is more to the chapter and readers must swipe or tap the screen to advance forward. (There is a quick tutorial at the app’s opening).

The Kids Discover site has additional resources including lesson plans, infographics, and activities to help make the best use of their apps.—Kelly Jo Lasher, Middle Township High School, Cape May Court House, NJ

Screen from Electricity (Kids Discover) Joe Zeff Design

Screen from Electricity (Kids Discover) Joe Zeff Design

Kids Discover magazine has created another dynamic science-based app for budding scientists to explore. Electricity’s (Sean Price/Joe Zeff Design; iOS, $3.99; Gr 4-8) visual index offers readers 11 chapters or sections to begin their journey. Each section provides clear, succinct basic facts about the topic, accompanied by eye-catching visuals. Offerings include interactive 3-D models, videos, photos, and pop-up captions that will capture users’ attention.

Lightning flashes across the screen as the difference between static and dynamic electricity is explained, and in another section students can follow a simplified view of the path of an electrical current from a power plant to the inside of a home. An additional enhancement within the app is the “Currents in Time” page where taps to a timeline consisting of 11 dates yield images and information on their significance including facts about Thomas Edison, Luigi Galvani, Georg Ohm, and other leading scientists. A word search; a matching game, “Who Did What?”; and a five-question quiz are offered in the last section. “Resources” recommends books and websites. This electrifying app is a winning choice for middle level students. Two related print downloads are available on the developer’s website.Stephanie Rivera, Naperville Public Library, IL 

For additional apps on science topics, see School Library Journal’s list of “Outstanding STEM Apps.”

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Hilda Bewildered | Touch and Go Thu, 14 May 2015 16:20:48 +0000 Hilda Bewildered, will delight fans.]]> Few authors and developers create fictional stories for the iPad with the tween and teen audience in mind. Lynley Stace of Slap Happy Larry is an exception. A while back SLJ interviewed Stace about her haunting stories, beguiling artwork, and app development. Her latest production, Hilda Bewildered, is reviewed below. Its extensive teaching notes will be a boon to educators who want to introduce digital stories in the classroom.

Hilda 2

Hilda is the name of a princess who is nervous about delivering her first public speech, and it’s also the name of a pickpocket who crashes the event and steals a royal ring. Lynley Stace’s Hilda Bewildered  (Dan Hare/Slap Happy Larry, iOS $2.99; Gr 6 Up), a somewhat surreal story, requires readers to decide for themselves which parts of this tale are real and which are fantastical. As with the other interactive fictional offerings from Stace (The Artifacts, Midnight Feast), Hilda encourages readers to experience the story in a flexible way, as they consider its themes of imagination and identity.

Screen from "Hilda Bewildered" (Slap Happy Larry) Stace

Screen from Hilda Bewildered (Slap Happy Larry) Stace

The app rewards exploration. The more time viewers spend on a screen, the more they will discover. “Rub-to-reveal” pages offer a second image under the first. Persistent tapping presents layers of dialogue. Words sometimes appear on the screen, then float up and away until they’re out of sight. Hands holding a cell phone rise from the bottom of one page and take photos (which change when tapped). The app is a feast for the senses—jewel-toned pages shimmer in and out view, static characters are given the illusion of movement, and color, music (Chris Hurn), and sound effects change to mirror the mood and tempo of a scene.

Tweens and teens are sure to appreciate Hilda, but don’t hesitate to share it with adults, who will also be enchanted by this atmospheric, imaginative story. A protected “more” icon on the menu page leads to page-by-page “Illustration/Teaching Notes” where Stace discusses her decisions about color, visual angles, language, setting, music, and weather, and commentary on advertising and wealth and poverty. Another icon leads to an offer to purchase Slap Happy Larry apps in a bundle.—Andrea Lipinski, New York Public Library

For additional app reviews, visit our dedicated app webpage.


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It’s All About the Birds | Touch and Go Thu, 07 May 2015 14:19:43 +0000 As a city dweller, I might have wondered about the statistic on the number of birders in the United States cited below. But having worked side-by-side with a dedicated birder at School Library Journal (who has traveled far and wide in pursuit of the hobby) and witnessed how a perennial second-grade unit on these creatures brought those students (and their parents and siblings) back year after year looking for new titles on our winged friends, I have no doubt that the number is accurate. Here are a couple of the latest digital guides to share with the birders—armchair or otherwise—that come into your library.

warblerBird-watching is one of the fastest growing outdoor hobbies in the United States with well over 51.3 million Americans reporting that they participate. The activity has generated enthusiasm across all age groups and demographics. Many of us grew up with a tattered copy of one of the “Peterson Guides” in our home. Today, with family members pinching and swiping their way through books, it’s no surprise that digital references for these hobbyists are a growing category.

Indeed, there are a host of great apps to assist those who want to sharpen their observational skills. Quality resources include iBird in all its iterations, from the Ultimate (pricey) to the Lite (free) versions, both available for 0S and Android, as well as National Geographic Birds: Field Guide to North America (also available in a free, Birds Lite edition). And, of course, there’s Peterson’s Birds Pocket Edition: A Field Guide to Birds of North America. Is there room for additional competitors and improvements? Enter the species-specific app. Since warblers are one of the most confusing and difficult to identify of birds, it makes sense to offer a guide on them, and Princeton University Press and One Hundred Robots have obliged with The Warbler Guide (iOS $12.99; Gr 9 Up).

The app is based on the award-winning reference of the same title by Tom Stephenson and Scott Whittle (PUP, 2013). Brief descriptions of the creatures are offered, along with icons indicating typical behaviors and preferred habitats. Particularly noteworthy are the multiple views of the birds that allow users to see the creatures from many angles including below with pinch-zoom properties. Other welcome features are the exhaustive song and vocalization library for each warbler, and the array of images depicting differences for age, plumage, season, and activity. The app can be customized by view, season, location, and order. There’s even an opportunity to paint the bird bodies, which will aid in identification when in the field, filtering out some the many possibilities. A user guide is provided.

Highly sophisticated both in navigation and content, the app is designed for experienced, dedicated birder. Combining the depth of the print guide and the technology of digital, Warbler will make a good companion for those hoping to identify those beautiful but difficult-to-identify warblers on a walk or hike, or during window bird-watching session. Student researchers looking for images may also find it useful.—Elisabeth LeBris, Director Library Tech Center, Kenilworth SD 38, Kenilworth, IL

icon-birdguideSimilar in design and depth to the National Geographic Birds: Field Guide to North America, the Collins Bird Guide (Touch Press/Bonnier Fakta/William Collins, iOS $17.99; Gr 5 Up) focuses solely on the birds of Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East. The app is based on the book by Lars Svensson and illustrated by Killian Mullarney and Dan Zetterstrom (Collins, 2008). Species can be searched by name and a variety of attributes including plumage, habitat, and size. Each animal is drawn in various poses with labels describing its physical features. The text is limited to short descriptions of the creatures’ appearance, and typical flight and characteristic voice patterns. For each, a small distribution map is provided; a bird atlas is available as an in-app purchase.

Enhancements include an audio of each bird’s call and a selection of videos (13 in all) of the some of the animals in their natural habitats. The videos are superb, both informative and appealing, and set this app apart from other guides. (Additional videos are available as three in-app purchases, totaling 794 video clips.) The app’s other noteworthy features include a comparison guide—helpful in the field for identification purposes—and a “share” button that alerts other birders to a special sighting. There’s also an option to create a “life list” of sightings.

Both navigation and image size changes are easy. Because of the range of the birds featured, the app may not be essential for North American birders, but for those wishing to see and hear some nonnative species up close, this will be a worthwhile purchase.—Elizabeth Kahn, Patrick F. Taylor Science & Technology Academy, Avondale, LA

For additional app reviews, visit our dedicated webpage.

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A Pourquoi Tale from Liberia: “Dentist Bird” | Touch and Go Thu, 30 Apr 2015 12:41:12 +0000 Dentist Bird, a West African folktale from Literary Safari, explains how it came to be that plover birds clean crocodiles' teeth. The developer notes that 100 percent of the purchase price of the app will go to "We-Care Foundation's efforts to keep children reading and learning amidst the Ebola outbreak." For iOS and Android. ]]> A pourquoi tale from West Africa is the subject of an app from Literary Safari. On the website, the developer notes that 100 percent of the purchase price “will go to the We-Care Foundation’s efforts to keep children reading and learning amidst the Ebola outbreak.”

Screen from "Dentist Bird" (Literary Safari)

Screen from “Dentist Bird” (Literary Safari) illus. David Wolobah

Dentist Bird (Literary Safari Inc. iOS $1.99; Android $1.99; K–Gr 2) is a Liberian folktale based on Michael Richards’s How Plover Bird Came to Clean Crocodiles Teeth. In this retelling, a crocodile suffers from an excruciating toothache and receives help from an unexpected ally. While the rainforest animals debate about whether to relieve the poor reptile’s pain, a plover bird volunteers its skills. What results is a mutually beneficial agreement between species, where plover birds will eat the fish stuck between the crocodiles’ teeth in exchange for a promise that they will not be harmed in the process.

In the “Read” option, the app’s interactive sounds, animations, and gameplay, are accessed by tapping or swiping the screen. However, in the narrated mode, users can’t trigger interactive elements until the text on the screen is read. For hints on where to tap or swipe for interactivity or animations, children must touch a help icon in the top left of the screen; no hotspots are visible. Vibrant, lush oil illustrations by David Wolobah largely capture the setting of Dentist Bird, but a couple of the animal illustrations—namely the snail and leopard—are poorly rendered.

Embedded gameplay is slightly clunky; at points readers are forced to unlock “achievements” before progressing to the next screen, which interferes with the story’s momentum. Users may bypass this dilemma by tapping the help icon, a tedious step. In contrast, the Mission of Mercy game in the “Play” section is better designed, fast-paced fun that will certainly keep children coming back for more. Strong suits of this app include a “Learning” page with additional interactive content to engage young readers on facts about Liberia and rainforest animals, as well as a “Grownups” folder with links to detailed lesson plans and printables. A trailer is available. Lalitha Nataraj, Escondido Public Library, Escondido, CA

For additional app reviews, visit our dedicated webpage.

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Playing with the Alphabet, “Metamorphabet” | Touch and Go Thu, 23 Apr 2015 13:40:19 +0000 Only two months out of the gate and Metamorphabet, a new app developed by Patrick Smith and Vectorpark, has received accolades: recognition by the 2015 BolognaRagazzi Digital Award Committee, and the award for Excellence in Visual Arts at the Independent Games (as well as a finalist for the Seumas McNally Grand Prize at the same festival). Read Mary Ann Scheuer’s review of the app below and take a peek at the trailer, and you will see why.

The letter N from (Vectorpark) Patrick Smith

The letter N from Metamorphabet (Vectorpark) Patrick Smith

Metamorphabet (Patrick Smith/Vectorpark, iOS, $3.99, PreS-Gr2) combines fluid animation with playful, imaginative word pairings, offering an alphabet app with both visual and poetic appeal. When users tap the featured letter, it transforms into a blocklike 3-D sculptural form. With a few more taps, the letter begins morphing into images representing words beginning with that same letter. A beard pops out of the bottom of the letter B, and then a beak appears at the top of the letter. When the beak opens, out flies a swarm of bugs that viewers can drag about the screen. Printed words help reinforce the letter concept, and users can touch the words to hear them voiced again.


The letter F from Metamorphabet (Vectorpark) Patrick Smith

Warm humor and delightful surprises create perfect pacing and tone for this app. A giant foot grows out of the bottom of the letter F, and bounces or wiggles its toes when viewers manipulate it. Soon it sprouts feathers and then a fan, bouncing along until users switch on the fan allowing it to fly away. The J jiggles like Jello, then juggles three beach balls that turn into jellyfish. A sock slides on to cover the bottom of the letter S, which becomes a snake.

Many of the illustrations have a surrealistic feel, reminiscent of the work of René Magritte, featuring bold structural shapes and colors and unexpected combinations. Sound effects (cymbals, horns, birds chirping, etc.) enhance the presentations. The clear narration and intuitive navigation will allow young children to use the app independently. But, best of all, playing with this alphabet is thoroughly enjoyable.


The Garden screen from Metamorphabet (Vectorpark) Patrick Smith

The vocabulary choices (for example: knight, kaleidoscope, tongue) indicate that this app might not be the first choice for developing early reading skills. Others, such as Dr. Seuss’s ABC and Endless Alphabet (see Touch and Go’s “A Bevy of Alphabet Apps” January 2014), focus more attention on letter and sound identification. Seek Metamorphabet for its bold artwork, fluid design, and playful treatment—there’s an unexpected delight at every turn.—Mary Ann Scheuer, Emerson School, Berkeley, CA 

For additional app reviews, visit our dedicated app webpage.

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What Would Winston Do? | Touch and Go Wed, 08 Apr 2015 14:00:44 +0000  

Here’s something a little different from Touch Press, the developers of the extraordinary Beethoven’s Ninth SymphonyThe Waste Land, and Molecules, among other productions. Their new app is interactive personal and political history, asking viewers to imagine how they would respond in situations that Winston Churchill confronted, as a young man and as Britain’s leader.

Index, "Think Like Churchill' (Touch Press)

Index, “Think Like Churchill’ (Touch Press)

How do a lifetime of choices prepare a leader to guide a nation wisely in wartime? Think Like Churchill (Touch Press/Hodder & Stoughton/W.S.C. Churchill Heritage, iOS $3.99; Gr 5 Up) uniquely combines sound effects, music, text, art, a little animation, and viewer choice to dig deeply into deciphering the character of Winston Churchill, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, during and after World War II.

The index screen invites users to explore five episodes in Churchill’s life, beginning with a childhood skirmish on a bridge and concluding with the evacuation of Dunkirk. Although the episodes can be viewed in any order (navigation from one to another is easy), a clearer understanding of the man is developed by working through them chronologically. The narrative is spare but readers can choose to learn more by exploring hot spots that reveal additional information.

Interior screen, "Think Like Churchill" (Touch Press)

Interior chapter opener, “Think Like Churchill” (Touch Press) illus. by Jaime Huxable

The art and use of captions will appeal to readers of sophisticated graphic novels as detailed scenes in muted colors lead them through each event. Quotes from Churchill are recognized by their peach-colored backgrounds. Once readers have absorbed all the evidence, they’re invited to predict: What would Churchill do? Their choice is confirmed as correct or briefly acknowledged as incorrect and his actual decision is revealed.

Readers then analyze their choice and motives, and an intriguing graphic compares their motives with what is known about Churchill’s. At the end of each episode, a collage of related photos, letters, postcards, and the texts of speeches yield their contents when tapped. Typed notes for some of Churchill’s famous speeches are surprisingly touching.

Think Like Churchill provides nonfiction text; includes primary sources; promotes analysis, evaluation, and higher-level thinking; and is beautifully designed and fun. The creators promise additional free content to come and readers won’t be able to resist signing up to receive the next chapter about D-Day. They may also wonder what their choices reveal about them. As Dumbledore said, “It is our choices Harry, far more than our abilities, that show what we really are.”—Chris Gustafson, Whitman Middle School, Seattle School District

For additional app reviews, visit our dedicated app webpage.

Archive page from "Think Like Churchill" (Touch Press)

Archive page from “Think Like Churchill” (Touch Press)


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New from Nosy Crow! Snow White | Touch and Go Wed, 01 Apr 2015 22:17:24 +0000  

snow white coverNosy Crow’s list, which includes The Three Little Pigs, Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood, and Jack and the Beanstalk has scooped a number of accolades including the prestigious BolognaRagazzi Digital Award in the fiction category. Their latest fairy tale app features the same quirky storytelling and smart interactivity that has enchanted children since their first production was released.

Nosy Crow adds another outstanding offering to its series of fairy tale adaptations with this cheerful telling of Snow White (iOS $4.99; PreS-Gr 3). Young readers will enjoy the delightful British English voice-overs supplied by children, gentle soundtrack, and charming illustrations. Intuitively navigable with arrows on each page and a map that allows readers to jump from scene to scene, the plot stays close to the Brothers Grimm tale, though slightly toned down—no gory details about the Huntsman being commanded to cut out Snow White’s heart, for example. Refreshingly, one of the dwarves is female, removing the original tale’s uncomfortable notion that Snow White’s main role is to tidy up after a group of men.

Interior screen from "Snow White" (Nosy Crow)

Interior screen from “Snow White” (Nosy Crow)

The app strikes an appealing balance between storytelling and interactivity. Dialogue can be extended according to individual preference in both the “Read and Play” and “Read by Myself” modes, and the iPad’s microphone, camera, and gyroscope features are used cleverly, enabling viewers to see their own face in the Evil Queen’s magic mirror, rock the infant Snow White to sleep by tilting the device, or wake the sleeping princess with a shout. The production also offers standard drag-and-drop elements so children can help clean the dwarves’ cobweb-ridden cottage and mix the Evil Queen’s potion. The only potential drawback is the app’s subtle parallax effect that can’t be disabled—the shifting backgrounds could induce dizziness when displayed on a large screen in a presentation setting. Nevertheless, Snow White is a terrific choice for enjoying one-on-one, and is a welcome addition to any book app collection.–Allison Tran, Mission Viejo Library, CA

Eds. note: A trailer of Snow White is available. For additional app reviews, visit our dedicated app webpage.

Interior screen from "Snow White" (Nosy Crow)

Interior screen from “Snow White” (Nosy Crow)


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Westward Bound | Touch and Go Thu, 26 Mar 2015 13:44:40 +0000 photo

“‘With a sinking feeling, I realized that I was entering a new kind of life, as rough and full of ups and downs as the road over which we traveled. Would I have the courage and fortitude to stick it out?”—Katherine Kirk, Bound for South Dakota.’”


Pioneers (iOS; $2.99; Gr 4-6), Volume 24 of the award-winning Kids Discover series, written by Linda Scher, offers a detail-rich, fascinating introduction to the peak years of the Westward Expansion.

The app is well organized with clear and simple navigation. Chapters topics advance logically, beginning with a broad definition of pioneer, followed by information on the various waves of people that headed West, their reasons for leaving home, the enormous hardships they faced on the trail, and the challenges of surviving in the often inhospitable environment they found themselves in. Community and leisure activities from cornhusking contests to hoedowns, and some commonly held misconceptions about the period and the people are also discussed. Briefly noted is the movement’s disruption to the Native American way of life.


Interior image from Kids Discover’s “Pioneers” (Scher) Art Resource

Throughout, drop-down quotes provide firsthand commentary by the travelers (not sourced). Adventurous individuals mentioned include frontiersman Daniel Boone, and Benjamin Singleton, who was born into slavery in Tennessee, and after the Civil War started an all-black community in Kansas.

Interactive 3-D models; high definition video and audio; photographs, including many archival sepia prints; spot art cartoons; and animations add to the information and invite continued reading and browsing. The final chapters of Pioneers offer a few interactive games of limited interest, a simple quiz, and a bibliography with live links to excellent resources for further research.


Image from a video clip in Kids Discover’s “Pioneers” (Scher) Peter Draper

The audio files combine music, speech, and sound effects to create an immersive experience. The full-screen 3-D animated models optimized for the iPad are particularly well executed. They include views of a log cabin and the inside of a covered wagon, and a twirl around a buffalo. One vivid video sequence titled “The Perils of the Plains” provides five short clips of the types of environmental challenges experienced by those living in that area, today and in the past: snowstorms, dust storms, prairie fires, tornadoes, and swarms of locusts. Also included are a few realistic-looking, distressed sepia video clips of moving wagon trains and figures walking. While it will be clear to adults that these are contemporary reenactments, students with no background knowledge of the period or the invention of film, may think they are seeing actual footage from the era.

This informative app is could serve as an introduction to a unit of study on the Westward Expansion.Teachers may want to consider connecting their iPads to an interactive whiteboard and invite students to explore the app as a discussion starter or as a Know/Wants to Know/Learned (K-W-L) graphic organizer and opener to the period. It would also be suitable for students in a 1:1 environment, and interested children in a home or public library setting. Overall, it’s an engaging introduction and an excellent addition to the series.—Elisabeth LeBris, Sears School LTC, Kenilworth, IL

For additional app reviews, visit our dedicated app webpage.

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The New Immigrants NYC 1880-1924 | Touch and Go Thu, 19 Mar 2015 15:44:03 +0000  

New immigrantsThe promise of the today’s Internet and software is the ability to mine some of the best available resources—wherever they may be. That promise has seen fruition in New York City’s Department of Education partnership with four cultural institutions—the National Archives at New York City, the Museum of the City of New York, the Museum of Jewish Heritage, and the Lower East Side Tenement Museum. Together they have gathered and curated an extraordinary collection of 100-plus primary and secondary sources and images related to the second wave of wave of U.S. immigration in The New Immigrants NYC 1880-1924. (Vangard Direct, iOS; Free; Gr 4 Up). The app was designed for teachers to use with students, but will be appreciated by anyone interested in early 20th-century American history.

Combining contemporary and historical essays, oral histories, archival photos, video clips, documents, and more, this superb production touches on the economic, religious, and political reasons people left their homes at the turn of the century and made the grueling trip to the United States. Tenement life and assimilation into New York City’s Lower East Side receives in-depth treatment. A section titled “Nativism” explores the backlash initiated by established U.S. residents that led to damaging, “prejudicial public policies and stereotypes” toward and about the new immigrants.

Interior screen from "The New Immigrants NYC 1880-1924" (Vanguard)

Interior screen from “The New Immigrants NYC 1880-1924″ (Vanguard)

Six distinct sections cover these topics, each one accessed from the main screen. An archival photo provides the backdrop to an introductory line or two of text for each section, while a series of smaller, circular images open to additional resources. (Swiping left, more resources become visible.) For each image or document, icons provide source information; suggestions of questions and prompts (developed by a team of educators and assigned a grade level—elementary, middle or high school); links to other resources; and tools to create a collection within the collection (think: to project onto a screen, or deliver as a defined lesson). In all there are 100-plus resources, some of which can be accessed under more than one section. For example, a 1921 news article on “The Foreigner” can be found under “Nativism” and “Assimilation and Cultural Preservation,” underscoring how one aspect of life at the time impacted others.

Among the many images of artifacts are a pouch for carrying documents, a basket used as a suitcase, a naturalization certification, a child’s report card, a union card, ships’ manifests, and a handwritten copy of Emma Lazarus’s “The New Colossus”—all incredibly poignant in this context. The numerous black-and-white photos of daily life include telling scenes from inside homes, schools, factories, and on the street; a number bear the name of Jacob Riis (1849-1914).

Context is provided in essays such as Edward T. O’Donnell’s 21st-century look at “Immigrant Life” and contemporary commentary by Robert Alston Stevenson in “The Poor in Summer,” published in Scribner’s Magazine in 1901, and William Dean Howells’s “An East Side Ramble,” about a 1896 visit he made to various ethnic quarters. Of particular interest are the oral histories including those by a sweatshop girl from Poland, an Irish cook, a bootblack from Italy, and a man from China who worked as a servant before opening a laundry. They describe life in their homeland, their employment in the United States, and daily living, including such incidentals as weekly expenditures on food.

The app offers step-by-step instructions on using the tools, and outlines teaching strategies, activities, and methods in detail under a section titled “Teaching Immigration.” Also found there are examples of lessons in “Document Based Performance Tasks,” aligned with the New York City Social Studies Scope and Sequence in grades 4, 8, and 11 and the Common Core State Standards.

A search bar, frequent additional links, and fluid navigation make the information in The New Immigrants easy to access. In the range and depth of its resources and support material, the app will help students understand the value of primary and secondary sources, develop insights into the immigrant experience of the millions of new arrivals to our nation in the early 20th century, and explore historical thinking. It’s not to be missed. Download it now.—Daryl Grabarek, School Library Journal

For additional app reviews, visit our dedicated Touch and Go webpage.


A 1915 membership certificate to the Immigrant Aid Society of America from “The New Immigrants NYC 1880-1924″ (Vanguard)

Esther Pearlman's card from the Ladies Waist & Dressmakers Union. "The New Immigrants NYC 1880-1923" (Vanguard)t

Esther Pearlman’s “Ladies Waist & Dressmakers” union card. “The New Immigrants NYC 1880-1924″ (Vanguard)

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Outstanding STEM Apps: Digital resources on life science, physical science, and earth and space sciences Mon, 09 Mar 2015 15:59:34 +0000 The renewed interest in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) education in the United States began with the awareness that 21st-century employment opportunities in technology and science would continue to expand rapidly, outpacing our nation’s pool of trained workers. There was also the concern that the U.S. would lose whatever competitive edge it had in related global industries. Since then, STEM legislation has been introduced in Congress, and federal dollars have supported a range of education initiatives and programs to address the issue. The apps listed below are some of our STEM favorites, culled from SLJ’s column “Touch and Go.” They satisfy current academic interests in increasing the number of accessible science and digital resources. For additional titles, visit our dedicated app webpage (

Begin building your collection by downloading Science 360 (National Science Foundation; iOS Free; Gr 6 Up), a free app covering a range of STEM topics, from origami-inspired inventions and monarch butterflies to cochlear implants and infectious diseases. Viewers choose their subjects from a wall populated with images, each one opening to a full-screen, high-definition photo accompanied by text or a short, engaging video on the topic. A well-executed app, updated weekly.

Life sciences

SLJ1503-STEMAPP-Bats-FurryFliersMary Kay Carson’s Bats! Furry Fliers of the Night (Bookerella/Story. iOS, $2.99; PreS-Gr 4) offers layers of information along with photographs, illustrations, maps, animated sequences, and sound effects, as it describes and depicts bat species, their anatomy, habits, and habitats. Not to be missed: a make-your-own bat screech and an opportunity to virtually steer this mammal’s flight through the night sky. Links to further study and conservation efforts are included.

SLJ1503-STEMAPP-WondersofLifeIn Brian Cox’s Wonders of Life (HarperCollins/William Collins, iOS $4.99; Gr 4 Up), the renowned physicist and BBC host takes viewers around the world on an awe-inspiring tour of locations forbidding and exotic while delving into the origins and mysteries of life on Earth. The app’s illuminating text and commentary, 1,000-plus high-resolution photos, numerous 3-D images, and hours of video clips will leave viewers with a profound respect for the diverse life-forms found on our planet and inspire a desire to protect them.

SLJ1503-STEMAPP-ParkerPenguinFranklin Frog (iOS, $4.99; Nook, $4.99) and Parker Penguin (iOS $4.99; both Nosy Crow, PreS-Gr 2), both by Barry and Emma Tranter, are interactive, circular stories that highlight the habits and life cycle of animals. Children follow the subject creatures, aiding them as they search for food, avoid predators, and, in the case of Franklin, locate a spot to hibernate. After the animals find mates and their offspring arrive, the stories begin anew, with attention focused on the newly hatched critters. Hot spots lead to more facts and definitions.

SLJ1503-STEMAPP-HumanBodyAside from labels (available in a number of languages), there’s no text in Tinybop Inc.’s The Human Body ($2.99; K-Gr 5), an app that allows children to explore body systems through animated visuals that they set in motion. For example, a tap on a mosquito allows viewers to see how the body responds to an insect bite, while dragging a cookie into a figure’s mouth gets the digestive system going. Realistic sound effects (a heart beats as it pumps blood, stomach liquids gurgle, etc.) enhance this absorbing presentation. An accompanying handbook is available online.

SLJ1503-STEMAPP-PlantsSophisticated design, detailed images, and discoveries waiting to be made are the hallmarks of Plants (Tinybop, Inc., iOS $2.99; PreS-Gr 5), an intriguing production that explores three biomes: forest, grassland, and desert (with more to come). There’s no text per se, but labels in 50-plus languages, sound effects, interactive opportunities, and “algorithmic animations [that] yield surprises in every play” provide children with a fascinating glimpse into the interconnections among the flora, fauna, and landscapes seen throughout the seasons.

SLJ1503-STEMAPP-MarchoftheDinosaursThe animated March of the Dinosaurs (Touch Press, iOS $1.99; Gr 4-9) offers viewers a look at what two late-Cretaceous animals might have encountered as they struggled to survive an Arctic winter 70 million years ago. Their parallel, anthropomorphized histories are told through text, film clips (from the 2011 TV special Escape of the Dinosaurs), and 3-D images. “Fact files” along with sound effects and music extend this exhilarating experience.

No longer must fledgling birders juggle a field guide, a journal, and a pen on the trail. All they need is binoculars and the National Geographic Birds: Field Guide to North America (iOS $9.99; Gr 4 Up) and voilà, they’re ready to go. The app presents an overview of 995 species, with labeled color images, habitat and range maps, video clips, and options to create photo-enhanced lists. From the caterwauling of a pair of barred owls to the warble of a hermit thrush, the opportunity to listen to each creature’s sounds is truly something to sing about.

SLJ1503-STEMAPP-OurAmazingWorldOWLSVibrant photos of an incredible variety of owls in their natural settings are featured in Wayne Lynch’s Our Amazing World: Owls (iOS $2.99). While the visuals are the strength of this app, the text and captions offer abundant details (available in multiple languages) on owls’ habits, habitats, diet, anatomy, and physical features. Our Amazing World: Penguins (iOS $2.99, both Matchbook Digital; Gr 4 Up), also by Lynch, presents similarly stunning photographic images and facts on that sea bird.

Physical sciences

SLJ1503-STEMAPP-Bobo-ExploresA magnetic, disco-dancing robotic host delivers information on light in all its forms in Bobo Explores Light (Game Collage, LLC, iOS $4.99; Gr 2-6). Twenty-one chapters cover topics from lasers to lightning and binoculars to bioluminescence through text and illuminating video clips. In addition, activities allow students to develop hands-on experience in understanding such concepts as refraction and reflection. A gyroscope and holograms are just two of the cool technologies incorporated into Bobo’s high-energy tutorial.

“Every element known to science,” from hydrogen (1) to ununoctium (118), is examined in Theodore Gray’s congenial guide to the Elements (Touch Press, $13.99; Gr 9 Up). The app begins with an introduction to the Periodic Table and the laws that govern it, followed by a closer look at each element. Information on the elements’ individual properties and the scientists they were named after, along with plentiful photos and 360-degree views of numerous artifacts, provide a captivating picture and make the “universal catalog of everything” tangible.

Highlighting holdings from Chicago’s Field Museum, Gems and Jewels (Touch Press, iOS $13.99; Gr 5 Up) offers dazzling, rotating views of priceless stones and pieces of jewelry that can be enlarged for closer inspection—perspectives unavailable even to museumgoers. Along with the images—from diamonds and rubies to coral and sapphires—is information on the stones’ history (social, political, and historical), geology, folklore, and cultural importance. Spacious and sparkling.

“Math is Beautiful,” states the introduction to Ian Stewart’s Incredible Numbers (Touch Press/Profile Books, iOS $9.99; Gr 7 Up), and the app delivers an “elegant proof” of that claim. From pi to polygons and factorials to infinity, this interactive exploration of mathematical concepts and their applications in nature, music, and cryptology (e.g., the Enigma Machine), will appeal to a range of users. A dictionary, brief bios, and puzzles to solve make this an essential resource for students of advanced mathematics.

Superb illustrations, clear diagrams, informative videos, and a lucid text explore the forms of Matter (Kids Discover, $3.99; Gr 5-8), their distinctive features, physical properties, and individual characteristics. The vivid visuals go a long way in helping to define terms, illuminate concepts, and illustrate how we experience and utilize matter in its various states in our daily lives—from the foods we eat to the technology we employ. Sound effects and bits of musical accompaniment add texture.

SLJ1503-STEMAPP-MoleculesMolecules (Touch Press; $13.99; Gr 9 Up) is Theodore Gray’s first-person guide to natural and synthetic electrically charged particles, in all their complexity and beauty. In his discussions and explanations, Gray addresses both the science of molecular bonds and their relevance to such topics as vaccines, pain killers, and the ozone layer. Astonishing state-of-the- art simulations allow viewers to manipulate wiggling 3-D models of a range of molecules, demonstrating both their structural characteristics and flexibility.

SLJ1503-STEMAPP-SimpleMachinesEmploying cartoon art, animations, video, and a straightforward text sprinkled with humorous asides, Simple Machines (Kids Discover; iOS $3.99; Gr 4-6) provides a basic introduction to levers and inclined planes—the “two families” of these mechanisms. Early history of some of the devices (pulleys, wheels, wedge, etc.) is included, as are the principles that govern them and a range of historical and modern-day inventions where they operate.

Earth and space sciences

Based on the popular BBC science series hosted by the renowned physicist, Brian Cox’s Wonders of the Universe (HarperCollins/BBC, iOS $5.99; Gr 9 Up) immerses viewers in a spectacular look at the mysteries of our solar system and beyond. Cox is an engaging guide who instills in his viewers an appropriate sense of awe regarding these otherworldly topics and scenes. Add to this an incredibly deep text, animated images, infographics, high-resolution 3-D images, and hours of video clips.

In Fragile Earth (HarperCollins/Aimer Media; $2.99; Gr 6 Up), 170 pairs of captioned, before-and-after photos, taken on the ground or by satellite, reveal the often devastating effects of hurricanes, tsunamis, and other natural phenomena on our vulnerable planet—as well as the harmful consequences of urbanization, mining, and global warming. In one horrifying sequence, 15 minutes separate two black-and-white photos taken before and after a violent dust storm engulfed a Kansas town. These and other images are enlightening, and frequently alarming.

Seven chapters offer an exploration of “essential principles” of Ocean Science (Ringier Studios, $2.99; Gr 9 Up): the forces that govern that watery world and the life-forms found within it. For each principle, explanations are offered in the form of text, multiple photos, and animated diagrams (often narrated), covering such topics as the ocean ecosystem and “water as provider.” Viewers can tour the control room of an underwater research vessel and explore ocean zones as they scroll down to the Mariana Trench, the deepest known point in the sea.

Our Amazing World: Antarctica (Matchbook Digital LLC, iOS $2.99; Gr 4 Up) highlights the natural beauty and wildlife of this mysterious continent. The gallery of stunning, captioned photographs by Wayne Lynch is accompanied by historical and scientific facts about the geography of the land and the habitats and behaviors of penguins, seals, petrels, terns, and other native animals. It’s essentially a digital coffee-table book, but a beautiful one that imparts reams of visual information.

Seat belts fastened? Edward Bell’s Journey to the Exoplanets (Farrar/Scientific American, iOS $9.99; Gr 7 Up) explores the little-known planets beyond our solar system. The app offers many options, including a regularly updated “Exoplanet Feed,” animated explanations of key concepts, and gyroscopic views of these far-flung orbs. Ron Miller’s spectacular images of alien landscapes make this a top-notch production.

SLJ1503-STEMAPP-TrackingTrashBased on Loree Griffin Burns’s book of the same title and enhanced with videos, animations, and links to websites, Tracking Trash: Flotsam, Jetsam, and the Science of Ocean Motion (iBook $9.99; Gr 4-9) spotlights the efforts of Curt Ebbesmeyer and other scientists whose work studying ocean currents has included tracking the routes of “roughly 80,000 sneakers” and 28,800 plastic tub toys set adrift in the Pacific Ocean as a result of cargo spills. As one researcher observed, “There is a lot more trash out there than I expected.” Eye-opening.

Breathtaking visuals, a concise text, and a narrated tour of some of our nation’s most spectacular natural sites make Michael Collier’s Wonders of Geology (Mikaya Press/Tasa Graphic Arts, iOS $12.99; Gr 6 Up) a contender for the Eighth Wonder of the World. Close-up views, animated diagrams, and arrows that point to the geographic features under discussion transform basic science concepts into fascinating brain food. Throw in flawless navigation, and this production is a secondary student’s go-to text.

SLJ1503-STEMAPP-Hawking-SnapshotsUniverseThrough an intriguing introduction, interactive “experiments,” and colorful visuals, Stephen Hawking’s Snapshots of the Universe (Random, iOS, $4.99; Gr 5 -7) familiarizes students with some of the basic concepts underlying our current understanding of the cosmos. Various models of the universe as proposed from ancient times to the present day are briefly explained as are black holes, the relativity of time, and gravity and acceleration. A sure-to-please overview for all students, particularly those who benefit from hands-on learning. Sound effects and crisp visuals enhance the presentation.

For additional app reviews, visit our dedicated webpage.

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March 2 Is Seuss Day | Touch and Go Thu, 26 Feb 2015 15:40:23 +0000 Each year, in celebration of Dr. Seuss’s birthday on March 2, we offer reviews of Seuss apps published during the previous 12 months—and check to see if we might have missed a few earlier titles. Oceanhouse Media (OM) is the place to go if you are looking for any of Geisel’s books in digital. To date, OM has published dozens of Seuss and “Dr. Seuss Learning Library” titles for iOS, Android, and other devices. Earlier round-ups of Seuss apps have included Happy Birthday Dr. Seuss! and The “Very Serious” Nonsense of Dr. Seuss. And FYI, the Dr. Seuss Camera – Happy Birthday to You! Edition is still free, if you would like to create a few birthday cards in his honor. This year we report on three apps.

camel 2The Cat in the Hat is at it again—this time with Dick and Sally on an adventure to discover: Is a Camel a Mammal? (Oceanside Media, iOS $5.99; PreS-Gr 2). The app is an interactive version of Tish Rabe’s book by the same title (Random, 1999) in the “Dr. Seuss Learning Library” series. The rhyming text includes bits of information about a variety of mammals both large and small from elephants to pygmy shrews, including where they live, what they eat, and how they move.

The app’s interactive features are mostly language-based; viewers can tap on any word in bold to learn its meaning, or touch a picture to see its label appear and hear it voiced. A tap to an image of Seuss’s Thing 1 or Thing 2 characters will provide additional facts.

The home screen offers “Read to Me” and “Read It Myself” options. The narration provided is exuberant and humorous, suited to Seuss’s lyrical text. Users may also choose to record their own voice. Sound effects can be heard throughout the production: lions roaring, elephant trumpeting, mice squeaking, and so forth. While this app doesn’t contain many added features, fans of The Cat in the Hat will gravitate to this book-based app.–Stephanie Rivera, Naperville Public Library

Screen from 'Why Oh Why Are Deserts Dry" (Oceanhouse Media) Ruiz & Mathieu

Screen from ‘Why Oh Why Are Deserts Dry” (Oceanhouse Media) Ruiz & Mathieu

In addition to answering the question Why Oh Why are Deserts Dry? (Oceanhouse Media, iOS $3.99; PreS-Gr 2) Tish Rabe’s story app, based on her book by the same title (Random, 2011), and featuring familiar Seuss characters, quickly dispels the notion that deserts are only hot, empty, and bare places.Rather, while their climates are harsh, they are ecosystems where many animals and plants thrive, and in some cases, snow falls. Desert denizens—from honeypot ants and Gila woodpeckers to vultures and kangaroos—and how they regulate their body temperature, find food, and avoid predators is explained  through an accessible text and animated graphics and other visuals by Aristed Ruiz and Joe Mathieu. Information on plants offers facts on root and storage systems. In addition, individual deserts, including the Namib, Sahara, Mojave, and Gobi, and the creatures and weather particular to each, are considered along with how dunes are formed and what an oasis is, among other topics. Animated details such as how the sandgrouse finds and offers water to its offspring will delight viewers. Several reading and listening modes are provided as well as recording option. An accessible intro to ecosystems packed with information.—Daryl Grabarek, School Library Journal 

kingExploring the themes of “work hard, play hard,” The King’s Stilts (Oceanhouse Media, iOS $4.99; Android, $4.99; PreS-Gr 4) is one of Seuss’s earliest stories (Random, 1939), and one of few the author wrote in narrative form. John Bell’s expressive narration captures the Seuss’s trademark cadence and flow with a lively pace in this story.

App operation is straightforward with options to “Read to Me,” “Read it Myself,” or “Auto Play.” Original illustrations in Seuss’s familiar black, white, and red style appear side-by-side with the text. Children can tap on individual words to hear them spoken aloud or tap on pictures to showcase new vocabulary. Personal narrations can be recorded.

This long-playing story will appeal to older preschoolers and elementary children, and may revive this classic story for a new generation.—Deborah Cooper, Savona Free Library, Savona NY

For additional app reviews visit our Touch and Go webpage.

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Time For Bed: Story Apps To Put Them In the Mood | Touch and Go Wed, 18 Feb 2015 19:00:53 +0000 A child being tucked into bed, a cat creeping around a house, a raccoon scavenging through trash cans, and circus animals settling down for the night, are some of the sights and sounds seen and heard in these soothing story apps guaranteed to ease children into bedtime routines.

bean coverIn this nighttime-story-with-a-twist, a cat sporting a red collar snoozes when the sun is out, and awakens as the moon rises. Based on the Sarah Hines Stephens’s board book by the same title (HMH, 1998) and illustrated by Anna Grossnickle Hines, Bean’s Night (appropro, iOS $1.99; Android, $0.99; Nook, $1.99; PreS-Gr 1) follows the playful, nocturnal creature as it chases a mouse about throughout the night. At story’s end, after an active evening, cat and mouse settle down to sleep, as daylight peeks through the window. The bold, flat illustrations feature midnight blue, pink, and splashes of green. Animations, including a switch of a tail, a twitch of whiskers, and animals that leap, scramble, and dive across the screen, will delight young children. The large-print text is highlighted as it is read in the “Read to Me” mode, but kindergarten and first grade students may choose to tackle this “just-right” text on their own (“Sun’s up. Bean sleeps. Night comes. Bean creeps.“). Digital versions of Bean’s Baby and Bean’s Games are also available.—Daryl Grabarek, School Library Journal

Screen from "City Nights"  (Tidepool)

Screen from “City Nights” (Tidepool) Russell

In City Nights (Tidepool Publishing, iOS $2.99; PreS-Gr 1­), Christy Goerzen’s urban bedtime story, a young child is lulled to sleep by the joyful cacophony of a bustling city. Raccoons scavenge in trash cans, taxi horns honk, children run home from the playground, and adults mingle at a jazz club—all depicted through the vivid mixed-media collage artwork, subtle movements, and well-placed sound effects.

The app’s interactive features include animations triggered by a tap or a swipe; and as described in the text, users can make a skateboard roll or a shoe tap. The effect is engaging. As with most children’s book apps, users have two options. “Read to me” offers a soothing narration suitable for bedtime. As the story is read, the text is highlighted—a feature that somewhat awkwardly remains in the “read to myself” option, giving readers the impression that they are constrained by the narrator’s cadence. Though ethnic or cultural diversity aren’t explicitly identified, the main character, illustrated by Natalia Morley Russell, is tan-skinned, curly-haired, and gender-neutral, making it easy for all young readers to imagine themselves in the scenarios. Other figures in the story are shown only in silhouette, leaving it open to viewers to imagine what they look like. This app may spark discussion with young children about the city life and the various types of environments people inhabit, and will be a welcome addition to bedtime routines.—Allison Tran, Mission Viejo Library, CA

Screen from

Screen from “Nighty Night Circus” (Fox and Sheep GmbH) Wittlinger

Heidi Wittlinger and the Fox and Sheep team have run away to the big top in Nighty Night Circus ( $2.99; PreS), a bedtime activity following on the heels of their successful Nighty Night app. Like that production, Circus asks kids to put a cast of creatures to sleep by bidding them good night and turning off the lights.

The story starts with a short, narrated animation featuring an owl that follows the sound of a trumpeting elephant to a camp housing circus animals. A tap to each creature’s fanciful abode opens to a view of that animal (elephant, lion, rabbit, snake, and so on). Inside their homes, the creatures respond with a variety of actions when tapped. For example, the lion roars, rolls a ball about, perches on top of the toy, and lastly prances around his cabin. When viewers extinguish the lights inside the various homes, the animals lie down to the sound of the narrator’s voice (“Sleep well, dear lion.”). Once all the creatures are sound asleep another animated scene brings users back to the owl that opened the app, and encourages them to turn out their lights and say goodnight.

High-quality cartoon art and animations, a soothing narration, and simple interactions will provide children with a calming bedtime activity. A snowflake icon on the menu page can be switched on to add wintery seasonal decorations to the scenes. Also available on the menu is access to 16 language options (in addition to English) and a “More Apps” button that will take parents to a list of other Fox and Sheep offerings with clever protections against accidental purchases.—Brad Clark, Wilsonville Public Library, OR

Screen from " Not Without Bear" (appropro) Hines

Screen from ” Not Without Bear” (appropro) Hines

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. Here 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 appealing art is bold and bright, featuring animations and page turns that can easily be manipulated by small fingers. A narration, accompanied by a few sounds effects and musical interludes, enhance this simple but satisfying story.  Available in English, Spanish, and German.—Daryl Grabarek, School Library Journal

For additional app reviews, visit our dedicated Touch and Go webpage.


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Theodore Gray’s ‘Molecules’ | Touch and Go Thu, 12 Feb 2015 14:50:44 +0000 Fans of The Solar System, The Elements, and other apps from Touch Press, should have an inkling about what to expect from Theodore Gray and Molecules. In the review below you’ll find out about a new technology that allows scientists—and you—to view simulated models of molecules—views seen before only in a “very few laboratories.”

moleculesA new app from Touch Press—home of the exquisitely lit razor-sharp 360-degree image floating on a velvet-black background—is like getting a VIP tour of a fabulous new exhibit at a richly funded museum. It will be dark. Things will gleam. The wall labels will be fascinating. And, because you are very very lucky, the curator providing the tour will be witty, vastly well-informed, and possessed of a boundless well of anecdote.

Here’s Theodore Gray in Molecules (iOS $13.99; Gr 9 Up) making a point about the relative safety of synthetic compounds versus natural ones: “Molecules don’t know where they came from. They just are. They don’t know if they are natural or artificial, good or evil, wholesome or poisonous. Whether they were created in a lab, in the venom gland of a sea snail, in a factory, or in the leaf of an herb simply has no bearing on the question.” (Gray consumes neither aspartame nor “random mushrooms that I find in the forest,” preferring to give synthetic compounds “a few decades to shake out,” and noting that there many toxic substances to be found in the natural world.)

And like a really good museum exhibit, there are rewards here for both casual visitors and the serious seekers of knowledge. Chapters on color, scent, sugars, and pain versus pleasure start with our own perceptions and show how molecular compounds can manipulate them. Why does ibuprofen dull our headache? What colors do bees see?

Further exploration leads users to cogent explanations of chemical bonds, molecular building blocks and families of molecules, and what makes a molecule relatively stable or relatively volatile. We see an ant’s vocabulary spelled out in straight-chain hydrocarbon pheromone molecules (it’s somewhat monotonous). And the serious student of chemistry will benefit from the first public utilization of a technology that “accurately model[s] the physical behavior of individual molecules.” Called NAMD, it allows users to bend and flex the 3-D models of molecules in the app, demonstrating the molecule’s structural characteristics and even the relative flexibility of different types of molecular bonds. Powerful and pretty.Paula Willey, Unadulterated.Us

For additional app reviews, visit our dedicated Touch and Go webpage.


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David Wiesner’s Spot-On App | Touch and Go Thu, 05 Feb 2015 16:05:35 +0000 Pushing boundaries? That’s nothing new for three-time Caldecott winner David Wiesner, author and illustrator of stunningly original picture books. Lately he’s been busy working on an app for Houghton Mifflin Harcourt that offers viewers intriguing imaginary worlds to explore. The title is Spot, and it’s due to release on February 19th. We had a chance to view a demo of the app and talk with Wiesner about the fruition of a story he describes as “long simmering.”

Congratulations on the upcoming [...]]]> SpotLogoBig

Pushing boundaries? That’s nothing new for three-time Caldecott winner David Wiesner, author and illustrator of stunningly original picture books. Lately he’s been busy working on an app for Houghton Mifflin Harcourt that offers viewers intriguing imaginary worlds to explore. The title is Spot, and it’s due to release on February 19th. We had a chance to view a demo of the app and talk with Wiesner about the fruition of a story he describes as “long simmering.”

Congratulations on the upcoming release of Spot. Was it your idea to produce an app or did someone twist your arm?

I’ve been exploring this idea of worlds-within-worlds since I was in a class taught by David Macaulay at the Rhode Island School of Design. David urged me to “do more with it”, and I have continued to do that ever since.

In the mid-nineties I had a contract for a book version, called Spot, but I put that aside when the story didn’t resolve satisfactorily. 

I still thought there might be a chance to explore this idea of transitions on a bigger scale. It all came together the first time I looked at an iPad. When I saw how you could pinch your fingers apart to make something larger, I wanted to keep going farther, and I knew this would be a really interesting way to explore my idea. The app format offered a solution.

Screen from David Weiser's 'Spot' (HMH)

Screen from David Wiesner’s ‘Spot’ (HMH)

The demo for the app references “Five fantastical worlds. One unique adventure.” Tell us about them.

The premise is that there are a series of worlds, all contained within the spot on the back of a bug. As you pinch and enlarge the bug, the tiny spot is revealed to be an island. Zooming in further, are mountains, then a lake in the mountains and another island in the lake and finally, a house on that island. The last pinch takes you into another world.

There are transitions like this between each of the worlds. What was intriguing to me was basing the transitions on graphic ideas like shape, color, and positive/negative space—not just making a small thing larger. For example, as you move into the dot-screen pattern of a newspaper photo the dots become umbrellas as seen from above.

Each world has its own little set of stories, containing images that suggest relationships and interactions rather than presenting definitive story lines. I’m working with a loose definition of the word “narrative,” but it is consistent with how I make my books—using images rather than words to set up characters, situations, and environments. Each viewer will infer different things about this universe and create their own ideas about it.

Screen from David Weisner's 'Spot' (HMH)

Screen from David Wiesner’s ‘Spot’ (HMH)

Some of the motifs and characteristics of earlier stories emerge here–visual adventures to other worlds (Free Fall, etc.), the atypical perspectives (Flotsam, etc.), and I’m fairly certain I recognized a few creatures from Mr. Wuffles. Was this intentional or are they pictorial challenges and themes that continue to intrigue you?

As I started to conceive what would be in the various worlds, I thought it would be fun to take themes that I’ve used in my books and develop variations on them for some of the settings. Some are specifically related and some only peripherally.

The black-and-white cat who appears in a couple of worlds, and the tiny aliens lifting a sandwich in the space terminal appear in Mr. Wuffles. There is a hint of the airborne world of Sector 7 in one of the photos found in the world under the armchair. In the underwater world of Flotsam, and in others of my books, fish are reoccurring images; that’s a visual I like exploring.

Bugs appear in Mr. Wuffles—but long before that, they were in my first attempts to make Spot into a book. So I guess they’ve come full circle!

Did you work with the developers to see how the storytelling could be enhanced or had you seen enough apps to know where you wanted to go with this story?

I knew what I wanted Spot to be from the start. I found that most of the apps were book-based or game-based, and even the book apps tended to have games and puzzles in them. I wanted to make something that was all narrative without any gaming aspect—no keeping score, no winning or losing. I didn’t want anything to interrupt the narrative flow.

The little of the art that I’ve seen is gorgeous—your trademark luminous colors appear even more so on the screen. Did your approach to creating art for an app vs a book differ?

I designed, drew, and painted all the art, with the exception of some architectural elements that were made digitally to save space—there is, in fact, a limited amount of digital space available. That space issue was the biggest challenge. Wherever I could I worked in a modular way. Background elements were often created from smaller pieces that could be repeated and combined in different ways. A specific world would contain a small library of “parts” that some of the environment would be built from. Only the original piece takes up space—each repetition does not. Really.

The developer, Smashing Ideas, was great about explaining all the technical stuff. They also brought a sound designer. The aural part of the experience added a whole other dimension.

Any more plans to create in this format?

If the app format seems right for another story idea then I would consider it again. The story’s needs determine the form. I’m working on a graphic novel right now and then another picture book. So, you never know.




A trailer of Spot is now available.

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Ancient Civilizations Up Close | Touch and Go Thu, 29 Jan 2015 15:59:49 +0000 For sneak peeks of the apps reviewed today, visit the Kids Discover website. You’ll find a trailer and “learning tools” for both Ancient China and Incas.

Journey back in time to Ancient China (iOS $1.99; Gr 3-6) with Kids Discover’s high-interest app. Based on the popular informational magazine by the same name, this production employs text, high-resolution photographs,and computer-generated illustrations in covering a variety of topics related to the culture, including engineering feats, inventions, medicine, traditions, and the Silk Road,

Screen from 'Ancient China' (Kids Discover)

Screen from ‘Ancient China’ (Kids Discover)

The concise text offers a few basic facts on each screen and in some cases, additional bits of information can be found behind pull-tabs and icons. For example, when tapped, icons on a painting depicting a Chinese village provide a glimpse into the culture’s class structure through descriptions of each person’s job and social status. Children can also view a panoramic scene of the Forbidden City (and a quick virtual view of one of its plazas) and circle (by 360 degrees) a computer-animated image of one of the thousands of terra-cotta statues found at the tomb of Shi Huangdi. Other elements include a time line that reveals each Chinese dynasty from 221 BCE to AD 1912, an interactive diagram of the Chinese zodiac, a video snippet of silkworms at work, and how-to instructions on using chopsticks. The final chapter connects China’s past to its present culture with a look at topics that are likely to be familiar to contemporary students such as fireworks and martial arts.

The few simple activities that are included in a separate chapter are geared toward a younger audience. Overall, Ancient China will satisfy students looking for some basic information.Cathy Potter, Falmouth Elementary School, Falmouth, ME

Interior screen from 'Incas' (Kids Discover)

Interior screen from ‘Incas’ (Kids Discover)

An imposing, animated view of Machu Picchu, perhaps the best-known of all of the ancient South American sites, greats viewers on opening Incas (Kids Discover; iOS $3.99; Gr 4-6). Clear, color photographs of a variety of locations and  artifacts, video clips, and 17th-century drawings, along with text and an illustrated timeline, tell the story of a highly organized empire that at its height ruled millions of subjects in an area that extended from modern-day Ecuador to central Chile. Hallmarks of the culture, including its extraordinary textiles, monumental architecture, extensive network of roads and bridges, agricultural methods, accounting system, as well as its beliefs and traditions (naming, marriage, etc.), are all briefly addressed. The history of the empire is one of conquest and expansion, but it was quickly toppled by a small band of soldiers in the company of Francisco Pizarro (1532-3). Over the next century, the native population was decimated as the result of “overwork, lack of food, and disease” under Spanish rule. A paragraph of information is provided on most screens and viewers are encouraged to tap images or icons for more details. Doing so yields another fact or two, a captioned image, or a 360-degree look at an artifact, such as the ornamental earlobe plugs worn by nobility. Weblinks to additional information will be appreciated by researchers. This generously illustrated app touches on many of the unique aspects of this extraordinary civilization and its legacy. Useful as an introduction and a review.—Daryl Grabarek, School Library Journal

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

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Bopping Through Biomes | Touch and Go Thu, 22 Jan 2015 15:22:54 +0000 tinybopAt Launch Kids, a full day devoted to children’s publishing at the Digital Book World Conference, Warren Buckleitner, editor and founder of Children’s Technology Review, noted that after a few years of app invention and originality, innovation had begun to level off. There are always exceptions, of course, and at one point Tinybop was mentioned. If you haven’t yet seen that developer’s Human Body, be sure to take a look. Plants, the second app in Tinybop’s “Explorers Library” is up for review today.

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

Interior screen from 'Plants' (Tinybop) Caudry

Interior screen from ‘Plants’ (Tinybop) Caudry

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

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

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

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

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Predators, Pollinators, and Prairie Dogs: An Ecosystem Revealed | Touch and Go Thu, 15 Jan 2015 15:40:57 +0000 We first experienced augmented reality with Moonbot’s Imag.N.O.Tron app, used in conjunction with the print version of The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore. Holding the iPad squarely over the book and giving the app a moment to “recognize” an image, allowed it to pull characters, scenes, and scenery off the page and into our 3-D space—creating a thrilling cinematic experience. Since then, we’ve seen other terrific examples of this technology, including The Numberlys Imag.N.O.Tron (Moonbot again), and Horrible Hauntings, which works with Shirin Yim Bridges’s book of the same title. Pop-up app seems to be growing in popularity as a term for these apps. The app reviewed today by Sara Lissa Paulson has both book and pop-up versions.

photo 1The Prairie that Nature Built (iOS $4.99; PreS-Gr 3) by Dawn Publications (Over in the Ocean, and The Mouse and the Meadow), a new app based on Marybeth Lorbiecki’s the book of the same title (2014), continues the publisher’s strong commitment to environmental education. Here, the ecosystem of a prairie and its interconnectedness is explained through the exploration of the roles that various groups of animals and plants play: soil partners, burrowers, seedeaters, scavengers, grazers, predators, pollinators, grasses, and flowers.

Interior screen from "The Prairie That Nature Built" (Dawn)

Interior screen from “The Prairie That Nature Built” (Dawn) Morrison

The story features a cumulative tale structure with a mellifluous audio voice track and text highlighted as it is read. Children can also chose to read the story and view the illustrations at their own pace. Plenty of details about the ecosystem are related, and more can be found in the “Prairie Primer” that follows the story.

Animals and plants can be seen above and below ground. When tapped, flowers sway, wings flutter, beetles scurry, and the prairie dogs pop out of their burrows. A fire sends bison and antelope running across the frame. Cathy Morrison’s the computer-generated art is heavily saturated, but accurate and eye-catching. The app also includes a game: seven colorful screens ask viewers to match the labels or names of “critters that worm and squirm” to their images, diggers to their tunnels, roots to their plants, flowers to their blossoms, and so on. etc. Information about the author, illustrator, and app developer is included.

A free pop-up app is available for those who own the book (those without it can experience the augmented reality with sample pages on the publisher’s website.) This app offers a narration of the story (minus the text highlighting). So what does the pop-up version reveal? It augments the reality—poise your iPad or iPhone at a 45-90 degree angle—and watch as the animals jump out of the setting and into in a 3-D space, unconstrained by the frame of a book. It’s fantastic fun, but having no frame presents a new problem; if the frame of an illustration cuts off the head of an animal, then the animal remains headless in the 3-D space. (There are two such pictures in the free pop-up app.) Nevertheless, Prairie is the best app (and book) on prairie life that I have shared with young children.—Sara Lissa Paulson, Librarian PS 347 – “47” The American Sign Language & English Lower School

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

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“Stephen Hawking’s Snaphots of the Universe” |On the iPad Thu, 08 Jan 2015 15:01:42 +0000 Interior screen from 'Stephen Hawking's Snapshots of the Universe" (Random)

Interior screen from ‘Stephen Hawking’s Snapshots of the Universe” (Random) Hawking

While still not a household word, since the November 2014 release of film The Theory of Everything, the name Stephen Hawking is known to many. Through text and activities, today’s app explains some of the science behind the British physicist’s work. Gretchen Kolderup reviews the production below.

Move planets into place and launch them into orbit, tilt the iPad to reposition a space ship, and zoom in to discover black holes as Stephen Hawking’s Snapshots of the Universe (Random, iOS, $4.99; Gr 5 Up) guides you through our understanding of the universe. Interactive experiments demonstrate the relativity of time, gravity as a bending of the space-time continuum, black holes, and more. The smooth integration of the accompanying text and occasional video segments address the underlying science.

From the “Atom of Democritus” to the contemporary “No-Boundry Proposal” various models of the universe are briefly explained. Clean, colorful visuals, subtle musical cues and sound effects, and an intuitive interface make this app friendly and also accessible to younger users, who may enjoy the experiments (such as dropping watermelons from the Tower of Pisa) even if they’re not ready for the scientific explanations. Teachers will appreciate the opportunity for students to explore a concept before going deeper—but they will need to go deeper elsewhere; despite physics being fundamentally mathematical, none of the relevant equations are mentioned here.

An additional pack containing two experiments can be purchased in-app for a minimal fee, and each text explanation ends with an invitation to learn more by buying one of Hawking’s books. Users are also given the option to “share” via email or social networks (just posting a link to the app, not actual content or any personal information).

While the replay value may not be very high—it’s easy to blast through the experiments and explanations in one sitting—this app is a delight to use and makes for a fun introduction to big concepts in astronomy.—Gretchen Kolderup, New York (NY) Public Library

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

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Goodnight, Goodnight, Construction Site | Touch and Go Thu, 18 Dec 2014 15:40:45 +0000  


Screen from ‘Goodnight, Goodnight, Construction Site’ (Oceanhouse Media) Lichtenheld

You don’t have to go far to find a truck or construction site enthusiast in the under-five crowd. Since it was published in 2011, Sherri Duskey Rinker’s picture book Goodnight, Goodnight Construction Site has been a favorite with this group. Now it’s an app.

The app version of Sherri Duskey Rinker’s popular picture book/bedtime story Goodnight, Goodnight, Construction Site  (Chronicle, 2011; PreS-K) has been faithfully reproduced in Oceanhouse Media, Inc.’s app. (iOS $1.99; iBooks, $9.99). It’s a rhythmic tale of a site full of anthropomorphized vehicles from dawn (“Down in the big construction site,/The tough trucks work with all their might.”) to dusk and into the night (So one by one they’ll go to bed/To yawn and rest their sleepy heads.”) Tom Lichtenheld’s artwork featuring a retro look and luminous golds and oranges, and midnight blues, shines on the iPad.

The story opens to musical accompaniment and most pages have at least one interactive element. Many of the animations are nothing more than one or another of the trucks jumping and shaking the ground, while others produce a very simple animated version of their function; none fulfill their true potential. The muted background sounds include running engines and creaking trucks, and as the trucks settle into sleep, soft sighs and snores.

Readers can choose to have the story read to them or read it themselves. The narrator speaks with a pleasant lilt (reminiscent of the Seuss apps, also produced by Oceanhouse Media) and words are highlighted as they are read. Tapping on any of the vehicles or the scenery elicits corresponding labels which are also voiced.

The book is beloved by many children for its endearing characterizations, colorful art, and outstanding lyrical verse, but those who own it may not be overexcited by this version. Other sleepy truck lovers may want to give it a try.—Cindy Wall, Southington Public Library, CT.

For more app reviews, visit our Touch and Go page.


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The Human Body—Animated | Touch and Go Thu, 11 Dec 2014 05:48:00 +0000 DK The Human Body takes high school students system by system through the body via labeled illustrations and a few animated scenes and videos. As School Library Journal’s reviewer stated, it’s best “for big-picture anatomy instruction and excellent for memorization—labels can be turned off so that viewers can test their memories.” The two apps reviewed here are appropriate for younger audiences, and like the DK Human Body impart information primarily through illustration and animation.


Interior screen, ‘Heart and Lungs Lab’ (isygames) Manuela Gutierrez Montoya

With its detailed diagrams and occasional animations, the Heart and Lungs Lab ($2.99; isygames S.C./Quoriam; Gr 5-9) will be a useful study guide for students. The app’s contents are divided into three sections: anatomy, physiology, and quizzes.

The anatomy section can be accessed by tapping the first of three speech bubbles on the main screen which features a labeled view of the cardiovascular and respiratory systems of a child. Touching any one of the nearly 30 labels on the colorful diagram (pharynx, lung, jugular vein, etc.) will bring up a few facts about that organ or body part.

The physiology section contains animations and “labs”—activities that help clarify particular functions of the subject  systems. Animations allow students to observe the heart pumping blood through the body, witness the rise and fall of the diaphragm, and watch cell activity—providing them with a closer look at the marvels of the human body. With a tap to the screen users can take part in a number of interactive exercises such as feeding the body’s cells or drawing blood and examining it under a microscope. There are six assorted labs to investigate, each with “Remember” and “Do You Know?” buttons that emphasize salient points, offer fascinating facts, and provide dictionary options.

The app, which is self-paced and can be adapted to a variety of learning levels and styles, will especially appeal to visual learners. The opportunity to revisit any of the screens, activities, and the leveled quizzes will help reinforce concepts. There are no instructions, and while navigating the app may not be intuitive for all, with a little exploring most students will quickly figure out how it works. Both English and Spanish language texts are available and users can choose to listen to soothing piano music if they like while operating the app. Well-presented and useful in classroom and homeschool environments.Krista Welz, North Bergen High School Media Center, NJ


Interior screen, ‘The Human Body’ (Tinybop Inc.)

There are two modes in which to explore Tinybop Inc.’s The Human Body ($2.99; K-Gr 5)—one for parents, one for children. First-time use requires visitors to add their names to an icon which provides access to the content; parents must set up a password. The mode for children has no in-app text beyond labels and no directions. When tapped, an image of a large key brings an outline of a figure onto the screen with its internal parts visible in bright colors.

Along the left side of the screen is a row of thumbnail images representing six body systems. By tapping on an icon in this panel, a colorful picture of the corresponding body system pops up, sound effects included. The heart beats as it pumps blood; stomach liquids gurgle, breathing is heard as the lungs take in air then expel it, and a touch to a nerve sends electrical charges to the brain in a succession of beeps.

Small images on the right side of the screen (a cookie, a mosquito, etc.) offer additional interactive opportunities. Activating the mosquito will elicit buzzing sounds and allow children to see how the body responds to a bite. Dragging the cookie to the figure’s mouth sets the digestive system in motion. When the animated images are enlarged, labels appear (in English, French, Spanish, or German).

Accessed from the parent portal and available online (a free download) is an extensive handbook (available in 10 languages) that discusses the nervous, skeletal, respiratory, circulatory, digestive, and muscular systems and their functions in some detail, and provides suggestions of activities and questions to use with the app. Information on the immune and urogenital systems are also available for purchase. Useful in classroom, library, and homeschool situations.—Elizabeth Kahn, Patrick F. Taylor Science & Technology Academy, Avondale, LA

For additional app reviews visit the Touch and Go webpage.

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