School Library Journal » » Apps http://www.slj.com The world's largest reviewer of books, multimedia, and technology for children and teens Fri, 19 Dec 2014 20:31:07 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1 Goodnight, Goodnight, Construction Site | Touch and Go http://www.slj.com/2014/12/reviews/apps/touch-and-go/goodnight-goodnight-construction-site-touch-and-go/ http://www.slj.com/2014/12/reviews/apps/touch-and-go/goodnight-goodnight-construction-site-touch-and-go/#respond Thu, 18 Dec 2014 15:40:45 +0000 http://www.slj.com/?p=122674  

TouchGo Dec18 Goodnight 600x288 Goodnight, Goodnight, Construction Site | Touch and Go

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.

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The Human Body—Animated | Touch and Go http://www.slj.com/2014/12/reviews/apps/touch-and-go/the-human-body-animated-touch-and-go/ http://www.slj.com/2014/12/reviews/apps/touch-and-go/the-human-body-animated-touch-and-go/#comments Thu, 11 Dec 2014 05:48:00 +0000 http://www.slj.com/?p=121859 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.

photo 206 225x300 The Human Body—Animated | Touch and Go

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

photo 205 225x300 The Human Body—Animated | Touch and Go

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 an icon on 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 situtations.—Elizabeth Kahn, Patrick F. Taylor Science & Technology Academy, Avondale, LA

For additional app reviews visit the Touch and Go webpage.

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SLJ’s Top 10 Apps for 2014 http://www.slj.com/2014/12/reviews/best-of/sljs-top-10-apps-for-2014/ http://www.slj.com/2014/12/reviews/best-of/sljs-top-10-apps-for-2014/#respond Thu, 04 Dec 2014 15:30:44 +0000 http://www.slj.com/?p=120752 SLJ1412w Top10 Apps icon SLJ’s Top 10 Apps for 2014

For the second consecutive year, we saw more nonfiction apps, from introductory surveys to rich, immersive products providing hours of engagement for a range of ages. Whether that’s because of a trend or the tablet’s capacity to provide a nonlinear approach and deep content, the result has been works of unquestionable educational value.

These productions allow students to jump into content where they will, to follow their interests, and to make discoveries, all while providing hands-on experimentation or interactivity that enhances understanding and clarifies concepts. It’s a fluid, multimedia approach to subjects, enabling meaningful and inspired connections between ideas and concepts. The approach is also responsive to today’s educational goals. You’ll find a few of these nonfiction apps on the list (and more great ones in our weekly online columns), as well as titles featuring work by some of our favorite authors and illustrators.

To every best app list we add the caveat: the titles were selected from those reviewed over the last 12 months in SLJ’s “Touch and Go” column. It’s a subjective list, intended to represent the variety of material available to both children and their educators.


SLJ1412w Top10 Apps JackBeanstalk SLJ’s Top 10 Apps for 2014Traditional tales with a twist are Nosy Crow’s (Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood) forte, and in Jack and the Beanstalk (PreS-Gr 1), the innovative British developer has added gaming and concept-building to this retelling of a classic story. As they help Jack, kids will have a chance to practice their reading skills, learn about narrative structure, and use their knowledge of counting and patterning as they tilt and swipe their way through nine doors to outwit the boy’s nemesis. Loads of challenges, an exhilarating chase, and a chance to fell a formidable foe—to an audio track of clever quips and piano melodies—what more could thrill-seekers ask for?


SLJ1412w Top10 Apps WondersofLife SLJ’s Top 10 Apps for 2014In Brian Cox’s Wonders of Life (HarperCollins/William Collins; Gr 4 Up), the renowned physicist-cum-BBC host and Andrew Cohen take viewers around the world on an awe-inspiring trip to locations both 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 and curiosity about the diverse life forms and environs found on our planet, and inspire a desire to protect them. Up-close footage of numerous species is guaranteed to produce lots of “ooohhh…” moments.


SLJ1412w Top10 Apps Pierre SLJ’s Top 10 Apps for 2014For those lucky children who have the opportunity to attend musical performances, Sergueï Prokofiev’s beloved story of the boy named Peter who bests a wolf is often their first introduction to the orchestra. Now Pierre et le Loup (Camera Lucida/Radio France/France Télévisions; Gr 1 Up), a delightful production of that tale, can be enjoyed by those miles away from a concert hall. Superb storytelling through music, film, animation, graphics, and humor will wow viewers, as will the cool Mativision technology. An occasional word is spoken in French, but in context, easily understood by all. Magnifique!


SLJ1412w Top10 Apps endless SLJ’s Top 10 Apps for 2014“High-octane” and “fun” are the words that best describe Endless Alphabet (Originator, Inc; PreS-Gr 1), a playful, letter-matching, speech-developing app. It’s hosted by an animated horned blue monster and a bevy of boisterous creatures who stand at the ready to provide prompts and encouragements, enunciate letters and words, and frolic and cheer when a word is completed. Visual and audio definitions plus a regularly replenished list of terms make this app a winner.


SLJ1412w Top10 Apps IncredNumbers SLJ’s Top 10 Apps for 2014“Math is Beautiful,” states the introduction to Ian Stewart’s Incredible Numbers (Touch Press/Profile Books; 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, will appeal to a range of users, including those who may not yet have the vocabulary for all of the topics addressed. Illuminating visuals and activities will help students grasp concepts. A dictionary, brief bios, and puzzles to solve make this an essential resource for high schools that teach advanced mathematics.


SLJ1412w Top10 Apps His dream SLJ’s Top 10 Apps for 2014Abundant archival visuals, more than 20 compelling videos, and outstanding writing tell the story of the historic August 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom that culminated in Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech in Terry Golway’s moving and powerful His Dream, Our Stories (MetroDigi/Comcast NBCUniversal, Gr 6 Up). Jesse Jackson, Peter Yarrow, and Andrew Young are a few of the individuals who gathered on the Mall that day, and here they share their stories about that and other milestone events of the civil rights movement. Not to be missed: an interview with event organizers Roy Wilkins and King just days prior to the march.


SLJ1412w Top10 Apps KenBurns SLJ’s Top 10 Apps for 2014Incorporating video clips and archival photos from 25 of his feature-length films and documentaries, Ken Burns (Ken Burns LLC/Big Spaceship/Red Glass; Gr 9 Up) provides students with a time line of American history from 1619 to the present. Cogent commentary and curated playlists offer viewers an opportunity to explore individual productions and/or trace the threads of “Innovation,” “Race,” “Leadership” and other themes as connections and patterns emerge across time. An engrossing glimpse into the panorama of our nation’s history and one filmmaker’s oeuvre.


SLJ1412w Top10 Apps WorldAtlas SLJ’s Top 10 Apps for 2014In 2012, The Barefoot World Atlas (Barefoot Books/Touch Press; K- Gr 5) made our best list, cited for its delightful animations, captivating cartoon art, clear color photos, informative narration, and access to real-time data. With the same attention to detail and graphics, this year the developers have enhanced this app, adding “packs” of information on topics ranging from “Great Cities” and “International Soccer” to “World Art” and “North America.” Hang onto your armchair, traveling has never been more fun.


SLJ1412w Top10 Apps monumentvalley SLJ’s Top 10 Apps for 2014While it wouldn’t be difficult to convince adults that Monument Valley (ustwo; Gr 4 Up) contains lessons in spatial awareness and problem-solving, we wouldn’t want to deny the app’s pure pleasure value. In maze-like settings featuring pastel colors, players must advance a diminutive princess up ladders and stairs and through shifting structures that defy both gravity and logic. With no instructions, it’s up to appsters to use their smarts to bring their heroine through to the final chapter of this captivating, addictive narrative and game.


SLJ1412w Top10 Apps Gruff SLJ’s Top 10 Apps for 2014Apps can provide readers with occasions to spend time with their favorite characters, and fans of Julie Donaldson’s Gruffalo will be delighted to encounter that creature in the Gruffalo: Games (Stormcloud Games Ltd./Magic Light Pictures Ltd; PreS-Gr 2), a series of interactive activities that will have kids honing fine-motor, color-, letter-, and number-recognition skills. Axel Scheffler’s cheery illustrations manage to make this goofy fellow with “terrible claws, and terrible tusks in its terrible jaws” look friendly.

For a look at our earlier lists—including the Top Ten Apps of 2013, 2012, and 2011, just follow the links.

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

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Mighty Mosasaurus | Touch and Go http://www.slj.com/2014/11/reviews/apps/touch-and-go/mighty-mosasaurus-touch-and-go/ http://www.slj.com/2014/11/reviews/apps/touch-and-go/mighty-mosasaurus-touch-and-go/#comments Thu, 13 Nov 2014 05:25:14 +0000 http://www.slj.com/?p=117287 Oceanhouse Media has released a number of apps based on the Smithsonian ‘Prehistoric Pals’ print series. Mosasaurus is the latest. If your patrons and students are keen on prehistoric creatures, take a look at some of the other apps from this developer as well as March of the Dinosaurs produced by Touch Press.

mos 300x225 Mighty Mosasaurus | Touch and Go A few familiar dinosaurs appear—and suspense builds—as viewers dive into a prehistoric ocean moments before Mosasaurus, Mighty Ruler of the Sea (Oceanhouse Media, iOS, Android, Nook, all $2.99; PreS-Gr 2) attacks a pterosaur. The app, based Karen Wagner’s book by the same title (Palm Publishing/Smithsonian, 2008), follows a typical day in the life of its subject animal, a marine reptile with “massive jaws” that “expand for swallowing large prey.” In this story, the creature attacks and eats a crocodile, snacks on ammonites, and wrestles with a larger, territorial Mosasaurus while avoiding a shark. At dusk, viewers get another glimpse of a few other prehistoric animals, as the reptile settles down to rest, still “alert to danger.”

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Interior screen from ‘Mosasaurus’ (Oceanhouse Media) Carr

Each screen includes one or two sentences of text against the brilliant blue ocean and detailed images of animals illustrated by Karen Carr. Astute viewers might wonder about the size of the “mighty” Mosasaurus in the app. While endnotes indicate it could reach 55 feet in length and weigh 20 tons, as depicted here it is hard to tell if it comes close to that size.

Three listening and reading options are available from the home screen: “Read To Me,”  “Auto Play,” and “Read It Myself.” The first two offer clear narrations, and the opportunity to replay text and listen to names and labels voiced. Children can also record their own reading of the text. Sound effects and music provide added texture. An interactive tale for avid fans of prehistoric creatures.—Debbie Whitbeck, West Ottawa Public Schools, Holland, MI

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

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A Mysterious Thief with an Unusual Mission| Touch and Go http://www.slj.com/2014/11/reviews/apps/touch-and-go/a-thief-with-an-unusual-mission-touch-and-go/ http://www.slj.com/2014/11/reviews/apps/touch-and-go/a-thief-with-an-unusual-mission-touch-and-go/#respond Thu, 06 Nov 2014 15:07:49 +0000 http://www.slj.com/?p=116254 Here’s a story that can be used in a literacy lesson on prefixes, but as our reviewer notes, one-time around may be enough.

photo 190 300x225 A Mysterious Thief with an Unusual Mission| Touch and GoThe UnStealer (The Happy Dandelion, $3.99 in iOS and Android; Gr 2-4) flips storytelling expectations in a quirky tale of a mysterious thief who steals the prefix “un” from words. What at first appears to be an underhand act turns out to be a good deed, transforming unconfident, unhappy, and unsure feelings and behaviors into their positive opposites.

The story, written and illustrated by Josh Wilson and Donna Wilson, features original artwork in bright primary colors and rich earthy tones. Each page showcases delightful animations: the UnStealer sweeps the Uns across the page, a clown’s bag of tricks is filled with spinning flowers, balloons pop, and clothes tumble out of a closet.

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Interior screen ‘The UnStealer’) (The Happy Dandelion) Wilson

Jaunty music and two options greet users on the home page–“Go To” or “How To.” The “Go To” screen is filled with the thumbnails of individual app pages—a confusing start for the first-time viewer ready to dig in. The “How To” screen advises users to touch words in that appear in colors (to activate animations), but doing so on this screen brings users to the title page. Once inside the story, some of the text in pastel colors blends into the background and is difficult to read; on other screens the font size is too small.

Overall, navigation is somewhat counter-intuitive and weakens the experience. While knowledgeable appsters will know to swipe the pages to move forward and easily find the embedded animations, unless they read the app’s instructions they may have difficulty accessing the narration. The voice-over plays by tapping the first word on each screen but requires some precision to activate. Surprisingly, there’s no option for continuous narration .

The app succeeds best in its colorful artwork and in some of its interactive elements (in particular viewers will enjoy dressing one of the characters), but it’s unlikely children will return to the production more than once for them or for the original, but message-driven story.  A trailer is available.—Deborah Cooper, SUNY Cortland, NY

For additional app reviews visit our Touch and Go web page.

 

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Ken Burns & Vivaldi on the iPad | Best of Apps & Enhanced Books http://www.slj.com/2014/11/reviews/apps/ken-burns-vivaldi-on-the-ipad-best-of-apps-enhanced-books/ http://www.slj.com/2014/11/reviews/apps/ken-burns-vivaldi-on-the-ipad-best-of-apps-enhanced-books/#respond Mon, 03 Nov 2014 20:22:25 +0000 http://www.slj.com/?p=115808 SLJ1411w Apps race Ken Burns & Vivaldi on the iPad  | Best of Apps & Enhanced Books

Ken Burns. (Ken Burns Media LLC/Big Spaceship/Red Glass). 2014. iOS, requires 7.0 or later. Version 1.0.13. Free lite version, $9.99 in-app full version.

Gr 8 Up –Ken Burns has been busy. The award-winning filmmaker’s seven-part television series, The Roosevelts, recently premiered on PBS, and he just released an app. The app is both a visual time line of American history and a thematic compilation of clips from his documentaries, which have been praised for their wide-angle treatments incorporating interviews and archival photos and videos.

The time line is a string of discs featuring images from the documentaries, covering aspects of our nation’s history from 1619 to the present. Each disc is a link to a short clip from one of Burns’s feature-length films or series. Viewers can travel the time line through the centuries, hop from clip to clip pursuing their interests, or access all of the excerpts under a film title (selections from 25 films are available).

The excerpts are also curated. Under the themes of “Art,” “Hard Times,” “Innovation,” “Politics,” “Race,” “War,” and “Leadership” are three to 20 scenes chosen by Burns. In his introduction to the app, the filmmaker states that these groupings, or “playlists,” allow viewers to see history through a different lens.

The playlists offer users opportunities to make numerous connections: those between the perception of the political situation during the prohibition era and our reading of the current political climate, the thread of race through the American narrative, and how war brings out the worst in humankind and sometimes the best. The free “lite” version of the app includes the entire “Innovation” playlist—14 scenes from 10 different films. Topics related to art, music, and sports (particularly baseball) also make regular appearances.

Functionality is smooth, the clips load quickly, and the sound quality is excellent. A “Watch the Film” tab (on static screens) brings users to local PBS stations to view the full-length films, and/or to iTunes, Netflix, and Amazon, where they can purchase the episodes and/or series. A thoughtful look at the panorama of American history and one man’s oeuvre.–Daryl Grabarek, School Library Journal

SLJ1411w Apps 4S Ken Burns & Vivaldi on the iPad  | Best of Apps & Enhanced Books

Vivaldi’s Four Seasons. Charlotte Gardner. (Touch Press/Deutsche Grammophon/Schott). 2014. iOS, requires 7.0 or later. Version 1.0.4 . $10.99.

Gr 9 Up – With the help of Deutsche Grammophon, Touch Press has engineered an app that mirrors the groundbreaking work it accomplished in Beethoven’s 9th and the Liszt Sonata in B Minor.

On opening the production, viewers have the option of beginning with a brief history of Antonio Lucio Vivaldi’s life and composition, or one of the two complete performances of the Four Seasons: the celebrated interpretation by Trevor Pinnock or Max Richter’s Recomposition, an “unmistakable homage to the original.”

The history covers the composer, violinist, and cleric’s life from his birth in Venice in 1678 to his death in 1741, his career highlights, and the “genius and modernity” of his work. Each of the violin concertos in the Four Seasons (“Spring,” “Summer,” “Autumn,” and “Winter”) is examined in detail through bar-by-bar descriptions of the music and information on the four sonnets originally printed with them. Interspersed is video commentary by cultural critics and musicians who discuss the works in general terms and consider the technical aspects of the compositions.

Sound quality is excellent throughout. A BeatMap consisting of dots representing the various instruments of the orchestra is visible as users listen to either of the performances. (Pulsating dots indicate when their corresponding instruments are playing.) Bars stretching across the bottom of the screen keep time and note the measure, while a tap to a treble clef symbol will bring up sheet music for individual instruments.

The Pinnock performance adds a third bar to the screen, presenting a choice between “sonnet” and music “commentary.” For example, just moments into “Winter,” the “sonnet” view reads, “In the strong blasts of a terrible wind….” Under commentary, this note appears: “A virtuosic ‘harsh blast’ of wind from the violin primo…. ” The Richter performance provides three simultaneous views of the musicians and a Beatmap, any of which can be enlarged to full screen. (Holding a finger on the map will solo each section.)

Both fans of classical music and those interested in learning more about Vivaldi and/or music will find much to enjoy in this splendid app. Schools with music programs, libraries with music collections, and any collection experimenting with circulating iPads should consider it an essential purchase.–Mark Richardson, Cedar Mill Community Library, Portland, OR

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Game On! Playful Apps for Children (and Adults) | Touch and Go http://www.slj.com/2014/10/reviews/apps/touch-and-go/game-on-playful-apps-for-children-and-adults-touch-and-go/ http://www.slj.com/2014/10/reviews/apps/touch-and-go/game-on-playful-apps-for-children-and-adults-touch-and-go/#comments Thu, 30 Oct 2014 14:16:17 +0000 http://www.slj.com/?p=114847 We see lots of game apps and while many will hold children’s attention for a while, only a few will have them returning again and again. The five reviewed below are spot-on. Three are for the preschool through early elementary set, but Monument Valley and Petting Zoo had the adults in our office passing around the tablet.

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Screen from ‘Axel Scheffler’s Flip Flap Farm’ (Nosy Crow) Scheffler

Axel Scheffler’s Flip Flap Farm (Nosy Crow, $.99; PreS-Gr 1), a combination of verse, colorful art, and silly play, is sure to win favor with young children, and some older ones as well. The object of the game is to create animals; a swipe of the top panel of the screen allows viewers to choose the upper half of the creature and a second swipe to the lower panel, the feet. While the combinations can yield accurate pictures of barnyard denizens, the fun is in mixing the features to create a new ones. Daft blends—a shicken (half sheep, half chicken); a tabbit (half turkey, half rabbit); a moat (half mouse, half goat)—or any of the other 121 possibilities ensure tons of fun. Rhyming poems for each creature (Moat:“I am the smallest animal/you’ll find down on the farm./I hide inside my tiny hole,/and keep away from harm….”) and appropriate animal sounds will help kids identify the creatures. Children can choose to read the verses or listen to the child-read narration. There is no end per se to the app, just more combinations to be tried. A trailer is available. A spiral bound book of Flip Flap Farm (Nosy Crow, 2013) offers a similar experience on paper—minus the sound track.

The latest addition to the series, Alex Scheffler’s Flip Flap Safari (Nosy Crow, $.99; PreS-Gr 1), employs the same enthusiastic child narrator. The animals featured are those found in Africa, from giraffes and elephants to warthogs and zebras, combining to make such fanciful creations as wartaffes and zebants. A trailer is available, as is a book by the same title (Nosy Crow, 2014). The series focuses on producing one quality activity, fueled by the power of the user’s imagination and sense of humor.—Cindy Wall, Southington Public Library, CT

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Interior screen ‘Gruffalo: Games’ (Magic Light/Stormcloud Games) Scheffler

Gruffalo: Games (Magic Light Pictures Ltd/Stormcloud Games Ltd., $4.99; PreS-Gr 1) is an engaging app inspired by Julia Donaldson’s The Gruffalo (Dial, 1999), illustrated by Axel Scheffler. Games consists of six interactive activities featuring characters from the popular picture book. While Mouse outwits Gruffalo in the book, in the app, children get to match wits with the creature.

An easy-to-navigate menu invites players into a colorful wooded world offering a variety of games. In “3 in a Row,” the Gruffalo’s not-so-terrible claw emerges to scratch a tic-tac-toe board in the dirt, challenging children to strategize. In “Nut Catch,” players must help Mouse secure nuts while he dodges falling pinecones and caterpillars and races against the clock to top his best score. “Jigsaw” requires children to complete six puzzles of increasing complexity, and for “Snap,” a card game, speedy fingers that can grab matching pairs before Gruffalo does are an asset. “Marching Bugs” and “Match Me” call problem-solving, observational skills, and nimble reactions into play as children explore patterning and engage in shape, color, letter, and number recognition. The activities, which  children will want to revisit to surpass earlier scores, are executed with taps and swipes. Background music and sound effects blend seamlessly into each game, building anticipation while remaining unobtrusive. Whether familiar with Donaldson’s story or not, kids will find Gruffalo: Games loads of fun. Available in English, French, and German.—Diane Sustin, Cuyahoga County Public Library, OH

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Screen from ‘Petting Zoo’ (Fox and Sheep) Niemann

Simple line illustrations by famed illustrator Christoph Niemann belie Petting Zoo’s (Fox and Sheep GmbH, $2.99 in iOS and Android; PreS-3) masterful presentation. The app features 21 animals, each with their own chapter of whimsical animations. The opening screen depicts a pencil drawing an image of a hat, from which a rabbit with impossibly long ears emerges. Swiping and tapping the creature stretches or squishes it and youngsters will gleefully await the next delightful animation sparked by their fingertips. Though the app is eminently intuitive, a simple, visual tutorial may be accessed from the title screen.

Users have the option of turning the animated transitions off between screens, but doing so significantly limits the fun. What child wouldn’t want to see animals morph from one shape to another: the rabbit into a house from which a break-dancing dachshund emerges? Or witness a lion’s tail turn into the body of an alligator, whose mouth then fills with sharp teeth? Bold colors and black line are featured throughout, but some of the scenes feature animate objects. Occasionally the twangy guitar sound track can feel at odds with the sounds accompanying the animations, but if and when that happens, users can mitigate sensory overload by switching the music off.

Since it has neither text nor narration, this app provides an excellent opportunity to get kids to talk about what’s happening on the screen. With its element of surprise, viewers never tire of in Petting Zoo‘s charm. A trailer is available.—Lalitha Nataraj, Escondido Public Library, CA

Eds. Note: Petting Zoo is available in “English, Dutch, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Portuguese, Russian, Simplified Chinese, Spanish, and Traditional Chinese”.

IMG 0898 225x300 Game On! Playful Apps for Children (and Adults)  | Touch and Go

Screen from ‘Monument Valley’ (ustwo Studio Ltd.)

Lured in by the lovely, serene graphics and lulled by peaceful, intriguing music, users will find themselves unable to leave the mesmerizing Monument Valley (ustwo Studio Ltd, $3.99 for both iOS and Android; Gr 3 Up). Time loses all meaning as viewers help the tiny princess Ida climb ladders and descend stairs and follow paths that defy gravity, if not geometry, as they solve each puzzle (10 “chapters” so far with the promise of more to come). The puzzles or structures that Ida must navigate—underground, in the clouds, and at sea—call to mind the work of M. C. Escher and the properties of a Mobius strip, and invite contemplation and play.

Every screen offers surprises—piers that move up and down, panels to step on, handles that reorient the entire maze. Boxes unfold from within walls and stairways shift, resembling the stair hall at Hogwarts. Pesky crows impede the girl’s progress, but a bright yellow “totem” gives her a boost just when she needs it. A guru in a turban admonishes her with unhelpful advice. Marvelous details abound: Ida’s footsteps pit-pat, barely audible, as she scurries up and down; murals on the walls of the mazes tie in to the mysterious underlying narrative. A sound track of muted gongs, plucked strings, and ambient chords, along with architecture full of domes and arches, give the game a vaguely Eastern atmosphere. These mind-bending puzzles are devious enough to still pose a challenge after more than one go-around, which is nice, because Monument Valley is a literally captivating place to visit.—Paula Willey, Pink Me

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

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Put a Little Spook On Your iPad | Apps for the Halloween Season http://www.slj.com/2014/10/reviews/put-a-little-spook-on-your-ipad-apps-for-the-halloween-season/ http://www.slj.com/2014/10/reviews/put-a-little-spook-on-your-ipad-apps-for-the-halloween-season/#respond Wed, 22 Oct 2014 23:49:04 +0000 http://www.slj.com/?p=113938 Librarians who work with young children will tell you that it’s around the age of five that kids start asking for scary stories. Granted, there’s scary and then there’s not-so-scary, which is usually what those children are looking for. Last year’s Halloween app column featured productions for these youngsters. This year’s selection will be fun to share with the middle grades during any season, but especially fun as the holiday approaches.

ghosts cover 225x300 Put a Little Spook On Your iPad | Apps for the Halloween SeasonGhosts: Encyclopedia of Phantoms and Afterlife (Terrylab, free download, $2.99 in-app purchase; Gr 4 and Up), 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. Once inside, they can enter their name on the first page, which will personalize the entries. Chapters are selected by holding the heart-shaped planchette over the icons on a Ouija board, which offer information about “Ancient Ghosts,” “Ghosts of Cemeteries,” “Animals’ Ghosts,” “Poltergeists” and other topics.

Under each icon, text written in script appears on yellowed pages. Chapters provide stories about types of ghosts, legends of ghostly trains, ghost twins, and tales of ancient rituals. Readers will learn about the cat that lived in an ancient abbey in the county of Cheshire in England (tap the screen and paw prints pitter patter across the page), and other spirits, and have an opportunity to decode ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics. Once a chapter is finished, the page beings to burn, revealing the Ouija board where another topic can be selected.

Embedded in the 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.—Danielle Farinacci, Sacred Heart Cathedral Prep, San Francisco, CA

sher 2 300x225 Put a Little Spook On Your iPad | Apps for the Halloween Season

Interior screen from  ‘Sherlock’ (HAAB) Doyle

While a free “lite” version of Sherlock: Interactive Adventure (HAAB Entertainment, free, lite download, $2.99 full, in-app purchase; Gr 5 Up) is available, in order to experience all the features of this a fully narrated, visually rich tale of Baker Street’s celebrated sleuth, viewers will want to own the complete version.

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. Once viewers understand the story, they can return to individual screens to reread the text and thoroughly examine the details that they may have missed. Objects, located with a magnifying glass, can be gathered in a “collection” that provides details about the items, the mystery, and Sherlock Holmes. 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.—Pamela Schembri, Newburgh Enlarged City Schools, Newburgh, NY

Eds. note: For additional Halloween apps, see our 2013 and 2012 selections.

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Brian Cox’s ‘Wonders of Life’ | Touch and Go http://www.slj.com/2014/10/reviews/apps/touch-and-go/brian-coxs-wonders-of-life-touch-and-go/ http://www.slj.com/2014/10/reviews/apps/touch-and-go/brian-coxs-wonders-of-life-touch-and-go/#respond Thu, 09 Oct 2014 13:30:01 +0000 http://www.slj.com/?p=112289 photo 162 300x225 Brian Coxs Wonders of Life | Touch and GoHe refers to himself as a bit of an “academic ” and lucky for us he is. Brian Cox is also a highly engaging, enthusiastic teacher of all things science. His Wonders of the Universe app, based on a BBC series, is an immersive exploration of our solar system and beyond. In his latest production, Wonders of Life, Cox delves into the origins and mysteries of life on Earth. Amy Shepherd reviews it below.

In Wonders of Life (HarperCollins/William Collins, iOS, $4.99; Gr 4 Up) Brian Cox and Andrew Cohen have created a magnificent app that will vastly expand users’ knowledge of myriad life-science topics. Life is packed with information, delivered via a comprehensive text and illuminating commentary, graphics, two-plus hours of HD video, and more than 1,000 high-resolution and 30 3-D images of creatures and their habitats. The visuals are breathtakingly beautiful, enticing viewers to explore more deeply.

photo 171 300x225 Brian Coxs Wonders of Life | Touch and Go

Interior image from Brian Cox’s Wonders of Life (HarperCollins/William Collins)

The app is comprised of 74 main pages or articles, each with multiple subtopics that can be accessed through an illustrated bar of thumbnails along the bottom of the screen. From the menu bar, the pages can be sorted by continent and information under the categories of “sensory,” “microscopic,” and “elements and processes,” while a search box locates topics of interest by keyword. Viewers will travel with their host to a variety of locations around the world for a look at plant and animal life that thrives in the cenote caves of North America to Madagascar for a close-up look at the aye-aye and its “strange suite of adaptation” (rodentlike teeth and a ball-and-socket joint). Other discussions and explorations include such topics as the origins of life, the life cycle, a common ancestor, the carbon cycle, and the golden jellyfish.

Although the production is well organized, not everyone may find the arrangement intuitive. Users will want to take the time to explore the production’s nuances (there’s a guide), so as not to miss any of its detailed and complex content. Musical interludes play as viewers browse. Sound quality is excellent throughout.

photo 170 300x225 Brian Coxs Wonders of Life | Touch and Go

Brian Cox prepares to demonstrate how an electric field can bend a stream of water  (HarperCollins)

An Internet connection is necessary to stream video and there are more resources available for those who wish to register. Users can share or post images through their social media accounts. While the core audience is secondary students and adults, younger children will appreciate the stunning photography; all will gain a deeper appreciation for our planet and the intricacies of life. A worthy investment and a fantastic resource for students.—Amy Shepherd, Librarian, St. Anne’s Episcopal School, Middletown, DE

Eds. note: Video clips from the series are available on the BBC website.

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The Civil Rights Movement & More | Best of Apps & Enhanced Books http://www.slj.com/2014/10/technology/apps-tech/the-civil-rights-movement-more-best-of-apps-enhanced-books/ http://www.slj.com/2014/10/technology/apps-tech/the-civil-rights-movement-more-best-of-apps-enhanced-books/#respond Fri, 03 Oct 2014 13:00:38 +0000 http://www.slj.com/?p=110448 SLJ1410w APP HisDreamOUrStories The Civil Rights Movement  & More | Best of Apps & Enhanced BooksHis Dream, Our Stories: The Legacy of the March On Washington. Terry Golway. (MetroDigi, Comcast NBCUniversal). 2013. iOS, requires 7.0 or later. Free, via the iBook app.

Gr 6 Up –Outstanding writing and more than 20 compelling videos combine to tell the story of the 1963 gathering on the Washington Mall that culminated in Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech. Among the many who braved the overwhelming crowds (estimated between 200,000 and 300,000) and record-breaking heat to attend—and/or share their stories here—were Jesse Jackson, Mamie Chalmers, Peter Yarrow, and Andrew Young. In addition to reminiscences of that day, the app provides context for each vignette with details on the Greensboro sit-ins, the Montgomery Bus Boycott, the Detroit Walk to Freedom, and the Atlanta Student Movement.

Among the video narratives is Jesse Jackson’s account of his arrest in Greensboro, NC; his comments on Dr. King’s “broken promise” message; and his memories of the civil rights leader’s death. Other visuals include black-and-white archival photos of individuals, events, and documents, often several to a screen.

Originally written to mark the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington, this updated e-version includes fascinating bonus material including interviews with event organizers Roy Wilkins and Dr. King just days prior to the event. There’s also an interactive component that allows readers to upload and save their own stories and photos for personal use and/or sharing. An excellent springboard for further study or classroom discussion.–Celeste Steward, Alameda County Library

SLJ1410w APP HowIBecameAPirate The Civil Rights Movement  & More | Best of Apps & Enhanced BooksHow I Became a Pirate. Melinda Long. (Oceanhouse Media). illus. by David Shannon. 2014. iOS, requires, 6.1 or later. Version 2.6. $3.99.

PreS-Gr 1 –Ahoy, mateys! Did you hear? Melinda Long’s picture book illustrated by the inimitable David Shannon is now an app. The story tells of one Jeremy Jacob’s adventure with a group of pirates during a family outing to the beach. The scalaways are looking for a spot to bury treasure and someone to do it, and spying Jeremy’s sand castle causes them to realize, “He’s a digger, he is, and a good one to boot!”

A sea chantey plays in the background on opening the app and sound effects such as crashing waves, squawking seagulls, and booming thunder can be heard throughout. Shannon’s bold illustrations display well on the iPad and slight animations, including characters that blink, a rowboat that rocks, and falling rain, add to the liveliness.

Children can choose to read the story independently or listen to the winning narration that alternates between the gruff tones of Braid Beard the pirate and Jeremy’s young voice. One feature provides children with the opportunity to record their own narration. A charming story, enhanced by the iPad’s capabilities.–Cathy Potter, Falmouth Elementary School, Falmouth, ME

SLJ1410w APP SpiesofMississippi The Civil Rights Movement  & More | Best of Apps & Enhanced Books

Spies of Mississippi: The Appumentary. (Joe Zeff Design) 2014. iOS, requires 6.0 or later. Version 1.0.5. Free.

Gr 7 Up –A stunning combination of the written word and the visual arts. The app, based on the book by Rick Bowers (National Geographic, 2010; also an iBook) and Dawn Porter’s documentary film of the same title (Trilogy Films, 2014 ), takes viewers inside the Mississippi State Sovereignty Commission’s (MSSC) clandestine, “state-funded” campaign to maintain racial segregation in the state during the 1950s and ’60s. As noted in the foreword of Bowers’s book, the history of the MSSC is a story that involves “spies and counterspies, agents and double agents, informants and infiltrators…[along with] dedicated civil rights workers and fearless student activists, truth-telling journalists and justice-seeking lawyers who dared to challenge the status quo.” This will be a shocking history lesson to most, and the app combines text; archival photos; police reports and other documents (some made public as recently as 1998); and film clips (introduced with music), to tell the story.

The MSSC actively sought to thwart the work of civil rights activists before, during, and after the 1964 Freedom Summer, and the book, film, and app draw connections between it and the activities of the white supremacist organizations, including the deaths of Medgar Evers, James Chaney, Mickey Schwerner and Andrew Goodman. Interactive biographies of individuals that make appearances in Porter’s film are provided as well as three film segments and a time line containing numerous resources.

Extensive Common Core-aligned lesson plans with weblinks and discussion questions for grades 6-8 and 9-12 are offered along with an “all grades” resource list and suggestions for related enrichment activities. A first-rate production.–Joy Davis, Ouachita Parish Public Library, Monroe, LA

For additional app reviews visit the Touch and Go webpage.

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A Virtuoso Performance: ‘Vivaldi’s Four Seasons’ | Touch and Go http://www.slj.com/2014/10/reviews/apps/touch-and-go/a-virtuoso-performance-vivaldis-four-seasons-touch-and-go/ http://www.slj.com/2014/10/reviews/apps/touch-and-go/a-virtuoso-performance-vivaldis-four-seasons-touch-and-go/#respond Thu, 02 Oct 2014 13:43:36 +0000 http://www.slj.com/?p=111430 A new app from Touch Press is always cause for celebration. This one combines an illuminating text, insightful video commentary, and two acclaimed performances in an examination of the life of Antonio Lucio Vivaldi and his most famous work.

photo 74 300x225 A Virtuoso Performance: Vivaldis Four Seasons | Touch and Go

Suzy Klein introduces ‘Vivaldi’s Four Seasons’ (Touch Press/Grammophon)

In Vivaldi’s Four Seasons (iOS, $10.99; Gr 9 Up), Touch Press, with the help of Deutsche Grammophon, has engineered a production that mirrors the groundbreaking work this developer accomplished in Beethoven’s 9th and the Liszt Sonata in B Minor.

On opening the app, viewers have the option of beginning with a brief history of Antonio Lucio Vivaldi’s life and composition or one of the two complete performances of the Four Seasons:  the celebrated interpretation by Trevor Pinnock or Max Richter’s Recomposition, an “unmistakable homage to the original.”

The history covers the composer, violinist, and cleric’s life from his birth in Venice in 1678 to his death in 1741, his career highlights, and the “genius and modernity” of his work. Each of the violin concertos in the Four Seasons (“Spring,” “Summer,” “Autumn,” and “Winter”) is examined in detail through bar-by-bar descriptions of the music and information on the four sonnets originally printed with them. Interspersed is video commentary by cultural critics and musicians (Suzy Klein, Daniel Hope, and Avi Avital), who discuss the works in general terms and consider the technical aspects of the compositions. Topics addressed include the rediscovery of Vivaldi in the 20th century; the composer’s “operatic mind”; his use of the violin; and the two recordings offered here, with audio selections.

Sound quality is excellent throughout. A BeatMap consisting of dots representing the various instruments of the orchestra is visible as users listen to either of the performances. (Pulsating dots indicate when their corresponding instruments are playing.) Bars stretching across the bottom of the screen keep time and note the measure, while a tap to a treble clef symbol will bring up sheet music for individual instruments.

The Pinnock performance adds a third bar to the screen, presenting a choice between “sonnet” and music “commentary.” For example, just moments into “Winter,” the “sonnet” view reads: “In the strong blasts of a terrible wind….” Under commentary, this note appears: “A virtuosic ‘harsh blast’ of wind from the violin primo….” The Richter performance provides three simultaneous views of the musicians and a Beatmap, any of which can be enlarged to full screen. (Holding a finger on the map will solo each section.)

While this is a deep and complex production, both fans of classical music and those interested in learning more about Vivaldi and/or music will find much to enjoy in this splendid app. Schools with music programs, libraries with music collections, and any collection experimenting with circulating iPads should consider it an essential purchase.–Mark Richardson, Cedar Mill Community Library, Portland, OR

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The New News-O-Matic | Touch and Go http://www.slj.com/2014/09/reviews/apps/touch-and-go/the-new-news-o-matic-touch-and-go/ http://www.slj.com/2014/09/reviews/apps/touch-and-go/the-new-news-o-matic-touch-and-go/#respond Thu, 25 Sep 2014 13:28:40 +0000 http://www.slj.com/?p=109859 news 300x225 The New News O Matic | Touch and Go

What do kids make of the snippets of world news they hear, see on the news, or read as headlines passing by newsstands? While educators agree that producing informed global citizens is an important goal, few outlets present this information for young students.

News-O-Matic, a subscription app launched in June 2013 by Press4Kids, delivers news and human interest stories five days a week to children. The app, which is available for iOS and Android, has been downloaded in classrooms, libraries, and homes in 147 countries has earned high praise from Teachers with Apps, the American Association of School Librarians, and other educational organizations. Its recent enhancements are bound to garner more attention.

The five daily stories, which are written between first to sixth grade reading levels (Lexile 450–1050) and average 200–300 words, are posted under such headings as “Kids in the News,” “Around the World,” “Wacky,” or “Discovery.” Features present information in a variety of formats, serving a range of different learning styles. Each article is accompanied by a variety of sharp color photos and reproductions and a map loaded with extras. Many of the articles include time lines and graphics, and links within the articles allow children to access additional photos, a related video, audio definitions, and an “actionable” suggestion (”Take steps in your life to go green. Try to use less energy, for example.”).

volcano 300x225 The New News O Matic | Touch and GoRecent stories have included “U.S. Troops Head to Iraq,” coverage of the NATO summit in Wales,  President Obama’s September 10th speech (video clip included), Scotland’s independence referendum, and the People’s Climate March. The start of the NFL season, a dinosaur discovery, a “Volcano Warning in the Philippines,” and Malala Yousafzai have also been the subject of recent posts. Children can access up to 10 previous issues, or a total of 50 stories. There are no outside links or advertising, and each article is vetted by a psychologist.

In August, a Spanish-language option was added under the “Read-to-Me” icon in Android editions—and will soon be available for iOS and Kindle subscriptions. While the app has been used with struggling readers and exceptional learners through middle school, Lillian Holtzclaw Stern, founder of Press4Kids, notes that the Spanish-language option has been a boon to ESL classrooms and the global community Press4 Kids continues to build, particularly through its interactive options.

These options are one of News-O-Matic’s strong features, appreciated by readers who rate stories; submit questions, artwork, and letters to the editor; and participate in surveys designed to get them thinking about and debating such issues as “Should plastic bags be banned?” “Should France sell the Mona Lisa be sold to help reduce its debt?” and “Should the Redskins change their name?” (Thirty thousand reader interactions per week are the norm, and a number are published daily.) There are also daily jigsaw puzzles, a mystery word, and an event to consider and place in a time line.

newsomaticguide web 252x300 The New News O Matic | Touch and GoA Teacher’s Guide is sent late in the afternoon for the following day’s edition. For each upcoming article, a Lexile level and a Common Core State Standard is offered, along with a multiple choice and discussion question and a vocabulary word or words. Worksheets (handy charts, organizers, etc.) are provided that will have kids answering simple questions related to individual stories. While not all questions or activities call children’s critical-thinking skills into play, they do allow for review and teachers may want to use them for a quick comprehension assessment.

Outside of the new Spanish-language listening option and MLA citations for each article, most of the app’s recent enhancements are designed for teachers. Educators can log in with Google+ or Edmodo Connect, create a class, choose reading levels for each student or group, and set up an analytical dashboard. Daily reading and comprehension assessments are embedded, which deliver data on students and classes. Teachers can also chat with the classroom. All of these options are available on Android and will be arriving very soon on iOS. What’s does the future hold for News-O-Matic? Both a parent portal and a middle school edition, reports Stern.

Weekly, monthly, and yearly rates are available for the app’s consumer version (free download and in app-purchase after 10 trial editions, iOS and Android). Site licenses are also available. The yearly rate for a school is $9.99. However, apps purchased through Apple’s volume program (VPP) are discounted 50 percent for more than 20 downloads.

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Ken Burns, Curated | Touch and Go http://www.slj.com/2014/09/reviews/apps/touch-and-go/ken-burns-curated-touch-and-go/ http://www.slj.com/2014/09/reviews/apps/touch-and-go/ken-burns-curated-touch-and-go/#respond Thu, 18 Sep 2014 11:27:37 +0000 http://www.slj.com/?p=109401 photo8 300x225 Ken Burns, Curated | Touch and GoKen Burns has been busy. The award-winning filmmaker’s seven-part television series, The Roosevelts, recently premiered on PBS, and Ken Burns, the app, was just released (Ken Burns LLC/Big Spaceship/Red Glass; iOS, Free lite version, $9.99 in-app full version; Gr 9 Up).

The app is both a visual time line of American history and a thematic compilation of clips from Burns’s documentaries, which have been praised  for their wide-angle treatments incorporating interviews and archival photos and videos. The time line, which also serves as an index, is a string of discs featuring images from the documentaries covering aspects of our nation’s history from 1619 to the present. Each disc is a link to a short clip from one of Burns’s feature-length films or series. The discs bunch up between the years 1850 and 1950—a period he has spent much time researching for “The Civil War” (1990); “Jazz” (2001); “The Dust Bowl” (2012); “The War” (2007); and other histories.

Viewers can travel the time line following the sequence of excerpts chronologically through the centuries, hop from clip to clip pursuing their interests, or access all the clips available under a film title (excerpts from 25 films are available).

photo3 300x225 Ken Burns, Curated | Touch and GoThe excerpts are also curated. Under the themes of “Art,” “Hard Times,” “Innovation,” “Politics,” “Race,” “War,” and “Leadership” are 3 to 20 scenes selected by Burns from his films. In his introduction, the filmmaker states that these groupings or “playlists” allow viewers to see history through a different lens. The past “is just random events. However, over the course of time we see things emerging. Patterns. Interconnections. In the case of history, it’s all about ghosts…if you are aware, then history becomes that guide to the present, and you are able to participate not just in that moment, but in all moments.”

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Screen from “Chinese Exclusion” from the film ‘The West.’

The playlists offer viewers opportunities to make numerous connections, including those that Burns points out in his introductions to each set: connections between perceptions of the political situation during the prohibition era and our reading of the current political climate, the thread of race through the American narrative, and how war brings out the worst in humankind and sometimes the best. And the list goes on. Under “Hard Times,” for example, are 10 scenes including the clips titled “Share the Wealth” from the film Huey Long; “Hunger and Thirst” from Prohibition; “FDR’s Fireside Chat” from Empire of the Air; and “Hard Times” from The Dust Bowl. The free “lite” version of the app includes the entire “Innovation” playlist—14 scenes from 10 different films. Topics related to art, music, and sports (particularly baseball), also make frequent appearances.

Functionality is smooth, the clips load quickly, and both visual and sound quality are excellent. A “Watch the Film” tab (on static screens) brings viewers to local PBS stations to view the full-length films, and/or to iTunes, Netflix, and Amazon where they can purchase the episodes and/or series. A thoughtful look at the panorama of American history and one man’s oeuvre.—Daryl Grabarek, School Library Journal

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

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Fresh Ideas for iPad Maker Programming | Touch and Go http://www.slj.com/2014/09/reviews/apps/touch-and-go/fresh-ideas-for-ipad-maker-programming-touch-and-go/ http://www.slj.com/2014/09/reviews/apps/touch-and-go/fresh-ideas-for-ipad-maker-programming-touch-and-go/#respond Thu, 11 Sep 2014 14:06:15 +0000 http://www.slj.com/?p=108845 School Library Journal draws on a small but dedicated group of reviewers that spend hours exploring, comparing, and evaluating apps. I value their opinions and am always eager to hear how they are using apps in their libraries. Recently I asked Cindy Wall to to update me on her app programming. She and her colleague Lynn Pawloski, authors of The Maker Cookbook: Recipes for Children’s and ‘Tween Library Programs (Libraries Unlimited, 2014), responded.

Even with three decades of experience between us, working in both school and public libraries, we’re always on the lookout for inspiration. For the past three years, iPads have provided a wellspring of ideas and enhanced our children’s programming at the Southington Public Library in Connecticut. The following are three activities we have presented, each one designed for a different age group.

photo 300x225 Fresh Ideas for iPad Maker Programming | Touch and GoBudding tween iPad and film enthusiasts will be fascinated by the opportunity to create a stop-motion film from still photographs in the tradition of Wallace and Gromit, Gumby, The Nightmare Before Christmas. With the Stop Motion Studio app they can work independently and control all aspects of their cinematic experiments (iPad camera, props, plot, dialogue, music, etc.). But be forewarned: this activity may require four to eight hours to produce a film longer than a few seconds. However, it’s the perfect activity in a school library after a morning of testing or in an afterschool program, or in a public library over a weekend or holiday break.

A Stop Motion Film Workshop should include an introduction to the history of the stop motion film technique—clips from related films, an explanation of visual storytelling and accompanying tools, such as storyboards or shot lists. [It’s also a great opportunity to mention or booktalk Brian Selznick’s The Invention of Hugo Cabret (Scholastic, 2007) featuring film pioneer and inventor Georges Méliès.]

The Stop Motion Studio app is intuitive and easy to use, but a live demonstration of its functionality is recommended. Devote the majority of the workshop to filming and kids are bound to come up with some unique productions. Consider capping the activity with a film premiere for faculty, friends, and/or family to showcase the children’s hard work and newly acquired skills. In addition to being creative and fun, the program is a great self-esteem and confidence-building activity.

photo1 225x300 Fresh Ideas for iPad Maker Programming | Touch and GoWhile the iPad is the star of the above workshop, it plays a supporting role in our iZen Garden Program. During this activity, children ages 7-10 will learn about Eastern culture while practicing the ancient art of relaxation through the arrangement and re-arrangement of garden elements. Media specialists might present the activity as a curriculum extension for a unit on Japan while public librarians might include it in their Maker offerings.

The program should include an overview of what zen gardens are featuring a multimedia presentation of both traditional and contemporary styles, an exploration of the iZen Garden app, and the creation of tabletop gardens.

The app allows users to create a virtual garden as they experiment with a variety of styles, compositions, and designs. It encourages exploration and provides choices such as fossils, plants, and butterflies. To create a physical tabletop garden, participants can use boxes or plastic containers; sand of various colors; and design elements such as stones, marbles, and aquarium beads. Tools, such as plastic fork rakes, will be helpful. Participants can keep their end products: sensory art projects that are reinvented each time the elements are repositioned.

photo2 300x225 Fresh Ideas for iPad Maker Programming | Touch and GoWhile Stop Motion Film and iZen Garden programming can be adapted for a range of ages, an “Our Maker Neighborhood” environment is just right for the youngest students and patrons. Transform your classroom or media center into a simulated community designed to encourage free play with stations representing local institutions.

The elements of the environment may include a “Touch-a-Tech Station” consisting of iPads loaded with simple Maker apps; “the Museum,” a table of basic art projects; “the Theater,” incorporating costumes, puppets, and musical instruments; “the Garment District,” comprised of activities for children learning to dress themselves (lacing, tying, buttoning, zippering); and a “Construction Junction” area for blocks, tools, and trucks. Together the stations provide developmental opportunities in motor and problem-solving skills, hand-eye coordination, spatial awareness, and language, as well as exercises in creative and divergent thinking, social play, perseverance, and concentration.

There are a variety of Maker apps available for use with this target audience. Some of our favorites are: Grandpa’s Workshop, Grandma’s Kitchen, Toca Builders, Playart, Art Maker, ColAR, Leo’s Pad, Pettson’s Inventions (1 & 2), Morton Subotnick’s Pitch Painter, Play Lab, Sago Mini Doodlecast, Bamba Toys and Wombi Helicopter. New apps are released daily and we are constantly updating our lists. You can find our favorites for this and other programs on our dedicated Pinterest page. All of the apps mentioned in this post cost less than $5.00 and several are free.

The number of iPads with which your school or library has access to impacts the way your programs should be planned and held. All of the above suggestions may be offered with one iPad that participants share or use in turn. Don’t let the number of tablets you own dictate whether or not you present any program; create class projects with one iPad, group projects with multiple iPads and individual projects with a 1:1 iPad to child ratio. Small details can derail an activity, so be sure to charge your iPads and install the relevant app(s) before the day of the lesson or event.

The programs listed promote engaging, hands-on opportunities for learning, but preparation is the key to presenting an optimal experience. Step-by-step instructions are included in our book The Maker Cookbook: Recipes for Children’s and ‘Tween Library Programs (Libraries Unlimited, 2014).

Cindy Wall is the Head of Children’s Services at Southington Public Library in Southington, CT.
Lynn Pawloski is a Children’s Librarian with the Southington Public Library in Southington, CT.

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

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Classic Tales for the iPad | Best of Apps & Enhanced Books http://www.slj.com/2014/09/reviews/apps/touch-and-go/classic-tales-for-the-ipad-best-of-apps-enhanced-books/ http://www.slj.com/2014/09/reviews/apps/touch-and-go/classic-tales-for-the-ipad-best-of-apps-enhanced-books/#respond Fri, 05 Sep 2014 13:00:40 +0000 http://www.slj.com/?p=107231 SLJ1409w APP PIERRE LE LOUP Classic Tales for the iPad | Best of Apps & Enhanced Books

Pierre et le loup. (Peter and the Wolf) Sergueï Prokofiev. Camera Lucida/Radio France/France Télévisions. 2014; iOS, requires 5.1 or later. Version 1.1. $3.99.

Gr 1 Up –This beautiful and whimsical version of Prokofiev’s classic includes a 30-minute, mixed-media film and playful, music-oriented activities. The movie presents the story of Peter and the Wolf through a visually striking combination of animation intermixed with live-action scenes of a child interacting with members of the L’Orchestre national de France and musical director Daniel Gatti. Throughout, scenes incorporate the use of colorful backgrounds, silhouettes, various fonts, and musical notations. While the limited narration is in French, all can enjoy the movie.

The 10 interactive activities are accessed in one of two ways: through the menu bar at the bottom of the screen or by swiping an arrow on the top right corner. The activities explore each of the characters (Peter, the Wolf, Bird, Cat, Duck, Grandfather, and Hunters) and their musical themes.

Some screens incorporate Mativision technology; in one of the activities viewers must scan a nighttime scene by moving the iPad as they try to snap of photo of le loup as it creeps through in the woods. In another, as viewers hold the iPad, they can turn it to get a 360-degree virtual “bird’s-eye” view of the orchestra playing the musical theme for Peter. It should be noted that although each activity is supported by brief spoken and written instructions in French, the activities are intuitive and viewers should have no difficulty determining how to play. This wonderful exploration of a classic symphony for children won the prestigious 2014 BolgnaRagazzi Digital Award in the nonfiction category.–Leanne Bowler, School of Information Sciences, University of Pittsburgh

SLJ1409w APP Heaney FiveFables Classic Tales for the iPad | Best of Apps & Enhanced Books

Seamus Heaney: Five Fables. Touch Press/Flickerpix/Faber and Faber. 2014. iOS, requires 7.0 or later. Version 1.0.0. $11.99.

Gr 4 Up –For selection purposes, the most important words in this title are “Seamus Heaney.” Yes, that Seamus Heaney—winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature, acclaimed translator of Beowulf. The plots of the five featured fables (“The Two Mice,” “The Lion and the Mouse,” “The Preaching of the Swallow,” “The Fox, the Wolf and the Carter,” and “The Fox, the Wolf and the Farmer”) will be familiar to any reader of Aesop, but Heaney’s brilliant and accessible translations of these works, originally written in verse by Scottish author Robert Henryson in the 1400s, is vastly more complex than the picture book versions readers may be imagining.

There are three access points to the fables. There’s Heaney’s translation, which can be read with or without the actor Billy Connolly’s rich narration. Ian Johnson also guides listeners as he reads and smooths out the puzzling vocabulary of Middle Scots, while the sly and charming animated versions emphasize the setting, characterizations, and humor of each story, with musical accompaniment, and a choice of either narration.

All the elegant elements that mark Touch Press apps are present. An illuminating introduction opens the production and more complex information is presented as users go deeper into the app. The stories are annotated; a tap to the “commentary” icon brings up notes which are displayed side-by-side with the corresponding text. Fables also includes a number of valuable video clips featuring commentary by Connolly, and Heaney and other scholars, providing background and opinion on the vocabulary, context, translation, morals, and Henryson. Navigating between the features is easy.

Those looking for connections to state standards will find them straightforward; for example, ample opportunities to apply the Common Core English Language Arts Reading Literature standard (4) which focuses on the analysis of a writer’s craft and word choice, or the Reading Literature standard (10) that asks students to analyze how an author draws on and transforms source material are both present. Upper elementary and middle school students can contrast the animated versions to simpler retellings. High school students will marvel at Heaney’s thoughtful translation as they compare it to the original text and will benefit from the different readings, the commentary on the translation, and the scholarly insights. A stellar production offering plenty to delight and amaze.–Chris Gustafson, Whitman Middle School Teacher Librarian, Seattle Public Schools.

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The March Goes On | Touch and Go http://www.slj.com/2014/08/reviews/apps/touch-and-go/the-march-goes-on-touch-and-go/ http://www.slj.com/2014/08/reviews/apps/touch-and-go/the-march-goes-on-touch-and-go/#respond Tue, 26 Aug 2014 19:02:41 +0000 http://www.slj.com/?p=105934 The celebration of the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom last August saw the release of a number of new resources on that historic day and the Civil Rights Movement. This year, two of those resources have iPad iterations. Both include text, images, and videos that are essential viewing for students studying the era. Add them to your collection today. Both are free. 

photo3 300x225 The March Goes On | Touch and Go

Screen from ‘His Dream, Our Stories’ (Comcast NBCUniversal)

Those seeking information on the 1963 March on Washington will find a wealth of material on that event—and others that led up to it—in Terry Golway’s powerful His Dream, Our Stories: the Legacy of the March On Washington (MetroDigi, Comcast NBCUniversal, Free, via the iBook app; Gr 6 Up). Outstanding writing and more than 20 compelling videos tell the story of the gathering on the Washington Mall that culminated in Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech. Among the many who braved the overwhelming crowds (estimated between 200,000 and 300,000) and record-breaking heat to attend—and/or share their stories here—were Jesse Jackson, Mamie Chalmers, Peter Yarrow, and Andrew Young. In addition to reminiscences of that day, the app provides context for each vignette with details on the Greensboro sit-ins, the Montgomery Bus Boycott, the Detroit Walk to Freedom, and the Atlanta Student Movement.

Mamie Chalmers remembers hearing Dr. King speak at the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, AL. She talks about her arrest (and five days in jail) after sitting down for sandwiches where African Americans weren’t being served, and her participation in a demonstration where she was sprayed with water from a high-pressure hose that resulted in permanent hearing loss in one ear. Jesse Jackson recounts his arrest in Greensboro, NC, Dr. King’s “broken promise” message, his memories of the civil rights leader’s death, and talks about the work that still needs to be accomplished.

The numerous visuals include black-and-white archival photos of individuals, events, and documents, often several to a screen. Originally written to mark the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington, this updated e-version includes fascinating bonus material including interviews with event organizers Roy Wilkins and Dr. King just days prior to the march. There’s also an interactive component that allows readers to upload and save their own stories and photos for personal use and/or sharing on social media. Readers can also submit a story for possible inclusion in a future edition.

Viewers will come away with a better understanding of the era and be able to grasp the enormity of the struggle for freedom as they listen to the voices of those who were part of the movement. An excellent springboard for further study or classroom discussion.—Celeste Steward, Alameda County Library

photo4 300x225 The March Goes On | Touch and Go

Screen from ‘Spies of Mississippi’ (Jeff Zeff Design)

Spies of Mississippi: The Appumentary (Joe Zeff Design, Free; Gr 7 Up) is an amazing collaboration between the written word and visual arts. The app, based on the book by Rick Bowers (National Geographic, 2010; also an iBook) and Dawn Porter’s documentary film of the same title (Trilogy Films, 2014 ), takes viewers inside the Mississippi State Sovereignty Commission’s (MSSC) clandestine, “state-funded” campaign to maintain racial segregation in the state during the 1950s and ’60s. As noted in the foreword of Bowers’s book, the history of the MSSC is a story that involves “spies and counterspies, agents and double agents, informants and infiltrators…[along with] dedicated civil rights workers and fearless student activists, truth-telling journalists and justice-seeking lawyers who dared to challenge the status quo.” This will be a shocking history lesson to most, and the app combines text; archival photos; police reports and other documents (some made public as recently as 1998); and film clips (introduced with music), to tell the story.

The MSSC actively sought to thwart the work of civil rights activists before, during, and after the 1964 Freedom Summer, and the book, film, and app draw connections between it and the activities of the white supremacist organizations, including the deaths of Medgar Evers, James Chaney, Mickey Schwerner and Andrew Goodman. Interactive biographies of individuals that make appearances in Porter’s film are provided as well as three film segments and a timeline containing numerous resources.

photo2 300x225 The March Goes On | Touch and Go

Screen from ‘Spies of Mississippi’ (Jeff Zeff Design)

Teachers will appreciate the extensive Common Core aligned lessons plans with weblinks and discussion questions for grades 6-8 and 9-12 as well as an “all grades” resource list and suggestions for related enrichment activities. Students will be fascinated with the story and find the app’s visual elements particularly compelling. Also available are additional stories of citizens’ experiences during the era, submitted through a joint venture sponsored by the Library of Congress and Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, and hosted on the AARP website. Viewers can also submit their own stories. A first-rate production.—Joy Davis, Ouachita Parish Public Library, Monroe, LA

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

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A Mystery Unravels | Touch and Go http://www.slj.com/2014/08/reviews/apps/touch-and-go/a-mystery-unravels-touch-and-go/ http://www.slj.com/2014/08/reviews/apps/touch-and-go/a-mystery-unravels-touch-and-go/#respond Wed, 20 Aug 2014 19:58:10 +0000 http://www.slj.com/?p=105928 Prepare to spend time with this app. On opening it you’ll find yourself in a labyrinth and a mystery, and it’s up to you to decide where the story goes. Download the first chapter (it’s free) and experience the adventure described below.

loose strands 225x300 A Mystery Unravels | Touch and GoRoland Bartholomew Dexter III lives a life of rigid rules and inflexible routines. His family runs a barbershop that, oddly, has only one customer. The boy works in the shop sweeping the floor and, because his family is so poor, helps to recycle the hair into everything his family needs from clothing to (gross!) dinner (hairburgers, toupée brûlée, anyone?). The most important rule, according to his parents, is that Roland never ever go outside. The boy begins considering the possibility that his family is trapped and that the rules are meant to keep them inside. Soon, however, thanks to a visit from a girl named Becky, Roland discovers that his dreams of the outside may well be the key to saving his family.

photo1 225x300 A Mystery Unravels | Touch and Go

Screen from ‘Loose Strands’ (Darned Sock) Frizzell

In the vein of the wildly popular stories in which readers are able to dictate the direction the story takes, Markian Moyes’s Loose Strands (Darned Sock Productions, $4.99; Gr 3-6) illustrated by Jeff Frizzell, allows viewers choices at certain story junctures. Each decision has ramifications, of course. Once a decision is made, a story map flashes onto the screen. The map, a seemingly endless grid, has lines circling through the boxes indicating the pages readers have already visited. When a choice eliminates certain avenues, those boxes are filled in.

With text pages that can turn in any direction and richly drawn, often animated illustrations that are reminiscent of Tony DiTerlizzi and Holly Black’s artistic style in The Spiderwick Chronicles (S & S), readers will delight in this intricate, interactive story that unfolds, and changes, along a strand of hair. From start to finish it’s a long trip, but once children have completed the story, chances are they will want to go back and explore all its possible outcomes.Wayne R. Cherry, Jr., First Baptist Academy, Houston, TX

For additional app reviews visit our Touch and Go webpage.

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Interactive & Imaginative: New Apps for Young Children | Touch and Go http://www.slj.com/2014/08/reviews/apps/touch-and-go/interactive-imaginative-new-apps-for-young-children-touch-and-go/ http://www.slj.com/2014/08/reviews/apps/touch-and-go/interactive-imaginative-new-apps-for-young-children-touch-and-go/#respond Thu, 07 Aug 2014 13:18:46 +0000 http://www.slj.com/?p=104831 In this week’s selection we highlight three apps for children preschool-grade one: a live-action production to reinforce concepts and two flights of fancy. What do they have in common? In a word, action!

ABC action 300x225 Interactive & Imaginative: New Apps for Young Children  | Touch and Go

Interior Screen “ABC Actions” (Peapod Labs, LLC)

ABC Actions ($2.99; Peapod Labs LLC; PreS-Gr 1) is an alphabet of action words offered in both English and Spanish. In either mode the app opens to a grid of letters and words in alphabetical order. When one of the entries is pressed, a photo of a child or children engaged in that activity appears along with the word spelled across the bottom of the screen (“hug,” “abrazar,” etc.”); the word is also voiced. For each entry, viewers can also access an additional image (by swiping the screen) or a live-action video, and a simple sentence describing the activity.

Some of the letters offer one or two screens of action words, others three or more, and several are not represented at all (“E,” “I,” “N,” “Q,” “U,”V,”X,” “Z” are absent in the English version; “F,” “J,” “K,” “O,” “Q,” and “T”-“Y” in the Spanish version). Other access points to the images are the letters of the word spelled across the screen. If one is tapped, the screen will jump to that letter—as long it’s not one that’s missing.

The colorful photos illustrating the activities are crisp and clear and the accompanying videos are generally of interest. However, adults may pause cause at one of the photos of a boy diving (“D”), which looks unsafe, and children may lose interest or be confused by the video discussing the difference between two punches (“P”) unless they are familiar with the specific martial art referenced.

The app is in a horizontal presentation only. Parental settings offer choices between upper and lower case letters; music and videos off or on; and language options. However, trying to access or change these settings is frustrating and involves lots of ineffective swiping. Despite some flaws, the app offers spelling support and second language practice for ELL students and children learning Spanish. –Renee McGrath, Nassau Library System, NY

photo 2 300x225 Interactive & Imaginative: New Apps for Young Children  | Touch and Go

Interior image from “How I Became a Pirate” (Oceanhouse Media) Shannon

Ahoy, mateys! Did you hear? Melinda Long’s picture book How I Became a Pirate (Harcourt, 2003), illustrated by the inimitable David Shannon, is now an app (Oceanhouse Media, $3.99; PreS-Gr1). The story tells of one Jeremy Jacob’s adventure with a group of pirates during a family outing to the beach. The pirates are looking for a spot to bury treasure and someone to do it, and spying Jeremy’s sand castle causes them to realize, “He’s a digger, he is, and a good one to boot!”

Sound and animation have been added to this version of the story. A sea chantey plays in the background on opening the app—setting the stage for the exciting nautical tale—and sound effects such as crashing waves, squawking seagulls, and booming thunder can be heard throughout. Shannon’s bold illustrations in rich colors display well on the iPad and slight animations, including characters that blink, a rowboat that rocks, and falling rain, add to the liveliness.

Children can choose to read the story independently or listen to the winning narration that alternates between the gruff tones of Braid Beard the pirate and Jeremy’s young voice. (In the “Read to Me” mode, words are highlighted as they are voiced and the when objects are touched, their labels appear). Navigation is easy; children can tap the arrows at the bottom of the screen to turn back a page or advance to the one that follows.

Pirate is a charming story that is enhanced by the iPad’s capabilities. One feature provides children with the opportunity to record their own narration, encouraging them to revisit this engaging story as they develop their independent reading skills. A trailer is available. —Cathy Potter, Falmouth Elementary School, Falmouth, ME

laura cover 225x300 Interactive & Imaginative: New Apps for Young Children  | Touch and GoIt’s a storyline many children are likely to be familiar with: imaginative play before bedtime inspires out-of-the-world dreams. In the case of Klaus Baumgart’s whimsical Laura’s Journey to the Stars (Bastei Luebbe GmbH & Co. KG, $2.99, PreS-K) sleeping siblings adventure into a fantastical version of space.

With no printed text, the narration, appropriate music and sound effects, and animations carry listeners from screen to screen. While the pacing on some pages is slow, an abundance of moving parts that wiggle or move across the screen when touched attempt to compensate. With some exploration, children may find three hidden games within the app. However, with no special indicators of where the games are younger users may have difficulty locating them on their own, and older users may tire quickly of these elements.

From a tab at the bottom of any screen, viewers to jump to any of the 15 pages, and a return to the first page allows access to a settings menu (the icon is a teddy bear with tools). A text-prompted double-finger swipe unlocks the settings and allows viewers to adjust narration and music levels, access the German and Chinese language versions, rate and share app information, and visit a bookshelf that will take them to the app store to review other offerings.

While children and families with Baumgart’s “Laura’s Star” series may find the app engaging, parents or and educators looking for something to read with children may want to look elsewhere.—Brad Clark, Wilsonville Public Library, OR

For more app reviews for preschool-grade 12, visit our Touch and Go webpage.

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The Rules of Summer; Shakespeare at Play | App Reviews http://www.slj.com/2014/08/reviews/apps/the-rules-of-summer-shakespeare-at-play-app-reviews/ http://www.slj.com/2014/08/reviews/apps/the-rules-of-summer-shakespeare-at-play-app-reviews/#respond Wed, 06 Aug 2014 19:00:24 +0000 http://www.slj.com/?p=104216 snail 2 600x450 The Rules of Summer; Shakespeare at Play | App Reviews

Interior screen, “Never Step on a snail.” from “The Rules of Summer” (We Are Wheelbarrow)” Tan

The Rules of Summer. Shaun Tan. We Are Wheelbarrow. 2014. iOS, requires 6.3 or later. Version 1.3. $4.99.

Gr 3 Up –Atmospheric, textured, surreal—the work of Shaun Tan is easily described as cinematic. His tableaux appear to be stills from a larger story, his settings hint at a world fully imagined far beyond the frame. Music and other sounds are implied by objects and actions in the picture. And in fact, Tan is an animator as well as an illustrator, receiving an Academy Award in 2011 for Best Short Film (Animated) for his adaptation of his The Lost Thing (Lothian Books, 2000).

So it seems quite natural—as natural as anything associated with the eerie, offbeat imagination of Tan could be—for him to create an app version of his new book Rules of Summer (Scholastic, 2014). The title itself implies sunlit, child-governed anarchy, exploration, arbitrary tests of fearlessness—a world in the process of being interpreted anew through a child’s eyes. And in this app, what they see is mind-blowing.

The user is invited in with the words, “This is what I learned last summer.” Each page features a single line (“Never leave one red sock on the clothesline.” “Never step on a snail.” etc. ) and a hand-drawn icon. Tapping the icon pulls viewers into a painting, landing on a very small detail of the big picture. Subsequent pictures tell a story of two boys, perhaps brothers, adventuring with various robotic and/or monstrous friends through odd landscapes. The print version of Rules is easier to decipher, narrative-wise. But the oblique presentation of Tan’s paintings in the app, together with the muted clanks, birdsong, hums and tinkles of the sound track leaves more room for speculation. It’s a beautiful app that rewards repeat visits.–Paula Willey, Pink Me

Shakespeare at Play. Rick Chisholm Productions, Ltd. 2014. iOS, requires 6.0 or later. Version 6.2. Free for basic app. $3.99 ea. for Video eds., $1.99 ea. for Notes eds.

Gr 7 Up –Imagine how different our experience of a film would be if all we had to go on was the written script; if we never viewed the film on the big screen. Without the actors, sets, lights, and music our experience would be completely different. The same can be said of Shakespeare’s plays, which were in many ways the films of his day, a time when literacy rates were extremely low and plays were written to be seen as live performances. The Bard’s words and phrasing were unfamiliar and confusing to many back then, and even today, it’s a rare student who doesn’t struggle with Shakespeare on first encounter.

Tim Chisholm, the founder of Shakespeare at Play, and Rick Chisholm, the producer, have taken these lessons to heart in the design of their app, which allows students to watch custom video productions of Shakespeare’s plays and at the same time scroll through the complete texts, word for word, scene by scene, stopping, starting, and rewinding the video as needed or accessing definitions. What’s different, and so helpful, is that the video has been produced specifically to correspond to Shakespeare’s complete plays, unlike so many film versions that deviate from the original texts, often changing Shakespeare’s wording and eliminating scenes entirely.

Each play in the series is organized into acts and scenes and the lines of the original texts are all numbered for easy reference. The video performances are professionally produced and the youthful actors will appeal to high school viewers. Costumes and sets are minimal, as they were in Shakespeare’s day, but the props, lighting, and fog effects are used to great advantage to help support the action and enhance the emotional tenor of the scenes.

The app is clearly designed and easy to use, starting with the landing page, called My Library, which displays the available plays. Once a play is selected, the screen splits in two, with a wide, horizontal video window on top and a scrollable text window on the bottom. Both the video and the text windows can be expanded to full screen at any point.

Just under the video window, in the middle of the screen, three clickable icons indicate additional information that’s been designed to scaffold the viewing and reading experience for students each step of the way: a megaphone (for audio introductions to each scene by Noam Lior of the University of Toronto with plot highlights and other items of interest); a feather (for text descriptions of scenes); and two theatrical masks (for text descriptions of characters). In addition, informative annotations, also by Lior, are ever-present in the bottom window. A custom glossary of words and phrases, Shakespeare FAQs, and options to download any or all of the video scenes are readily available in the index, which is accessed through an icon at the top left of the screen.

The app is free with text-only versions of eight of Shakespeare’s plays. Currently, video versions for Hamlet, Macbeth, and Romeo and Juliet and Notes Editions, which include additional text information but no video, for A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Hamlet, Macbeth, and Romeo and Juliet are also available from within the app.–Kathleen S. Wilson, New York University, NY

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Seamus Heaney and a Tale of Five Fables | Touch and Go http://www.slj.com/2014/07/reviews/apps/touch-and-go/seamus-heaney-and-a-tale-of-five-fables-touch-and-go/ http://www.slj.com/2014/07/reviews/apps/touch-and-go/seamus-heaney-and-a-tale-of-five-fables-touch-and-go/#respond Thu, 31 Jul 2014 13:57:51 +0000 http://www.slj.com/?p=104179 If you’re wondering why the Irish poet and playwright Seamus Heaney chose to translate Robert Henryson’s 15th-century versions of Aesop’s fables, you’ll find out in this iPad app.  Begin with Heaney’s introduction to the collection, where he observes that the stories include “some of the fiercest allegories of human existence” and the “gentlest presentations of decency in civic and domestic life” along with “satire and social realism—even if the society involved is that of wild animals.” But perhaps even more importantly Heaney notes, “that unless this poetry is brought out ‘a great prince in prison lies.’” If your students aren’t familiar with Heaney and Henryson, it’s time to introduce them.

photo7 300x225 Seamus Heaney and a Tale of Five Fables | Touch and Go

Partial screen shot from “Seamus Heaney: Five Fables” (Touch Press)

Seamus Heaney: Five Fables (Touch Press/Flickerpix/Faber and Faber $11.99; Gr 4 Up). For selection purposes, the most important words in this title are “Seamus Heaney.”  Yes, that Seamus Heaney—winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature, acclaimed translator of Beowulf. The plots of the five featured fables (“The Two Mice,” “The Lion and the Mouse,” “The Preaching of the Swallow,” “The Fox, the Wolf and the Carter,” and “The Fox, the Wolf and the Farmer”) will be familiar to any reader of Aesop, but Heaney’s brilliant and accessible translations of these fables, originally written in verse by Scottish author Robert Henryson in the 1400s, is vastly more complex than the picture book versions readers may be imagining.

photo5 300x225 Seamus Heaney and a Tale of Five Fables | Touch and Go

Screen shot from “Seamus Heaney: Five Fables” (Touch Press)

There are three access points to the fables. There’s Heaney’s translation, which can be read with or without the actor Billy Connolly’s rich narration. Ian Johnson guides listeners as he reads and smooths out the puzzling vocabulary of Middle Scots, while the sly and charming animated versions emphasize the setting, characterization, and humor of each story (with musical accompaniment), and offer a choice of either narration.

All the elegant elements that characterize Touch Press apps are present. An illuminating introduction opens the production and more complex information is presented as users go deeper into the app. The stories are annotated; a tap to the “commentary” icon brings up notes which are displayed side-by-side with the corresponding text. Fables also includes a number of valuable video clips featuring commentary by Connolly, and Heaney and other scholars, providing background and opinion on the vocabulary, context, translation, morals, and Henryson. Navigating between these features is easy.

Those looking for connections to state standards will find them straightforward; for example, ample opportunities to apply the Common Core English Language Arts Reading Literature standard (4) which focuses on the analysis of a writer’s craft and word choice, or the Reading Literature standard (10) that asks students to analyze how an author draws on and transforms source material are both present. Upper elementary and middle school students can contrast the animated versions to simpler retellings. High school students will marvel at Heaney’s thoughtful translation as they compare it to the original text and will benefit from the different readings, the commentary on the translation, and the scholarly insights. A stellar production offering plenty to delight and amaze.—Chris Gustafson, Whitman Middle School Teacher Librarian, Seattle Public Schools

For additional app reviews visit our Touch and Go webpage.

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