School Library Journal » » App Reviews The world's largest reviewer of books, multimedia, and technology for children and teens Tue, 26 Jul 2016 15:17:44 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Creative Play with “The Very Hungry Caterpillar” | Touch and Go Tue, 26 Jul 2016 12:22:09 +0000 There are a number of “Eric Carle” apps for young children with a concept focus: in Eric Carle’s My Very First App (Philomel/Night & Day Studios), a matching game, children learn about animals and their homes, while Counting with the Very Hungry Caterpillar (Penguin/Night & Day Studios) offers levels of math activities. StoryToys has recently released an app with a creative focus, based on the artist’s books. Cathy Potter reviews it below.

hungryYoung children will have hours of fun experimenting with colors, textures, and shapes in The Very Hungry Caterpillar: Creative Play (StoryToys Entertainment, iOS, $2.99; PreS), the latest in the suite of apps inspired by Eric Carle’s iconic picture books. The app includes 20 templates featuring characters from Carle’s works including Brown Bear, Mr. Seahorse, and the Mixed-Up Chameleon.

Navigation is intuitive. A menu at the top of the screen provides users with options for drawing, painting, or creating collage art. Kids can tap the scissors for cut-paper collage mode, touch the brush to paint, or select the pencil for drawing. The menu includes an impressive array of textures, patterns, and colors from which to choose. Collage art in the style of Carle is created by tracing dotted lines on the template to add various patterns of paper to the page, an activity that also provides an opportunity for users to exercise their hand-eye coordination. Background music can be switched on and off; on, the music provides a soothing ambiance for young artists.

Children who wish to create their own pictures may choose a blank canvas instead of the templates. As they work, a curved arrow serves as an undo button allowing them to clear their work one step at a time in both drawing and painting modes. There’s also the option to save pictures to a gallery or the iPad’s camera roll.

Creative Play will encourage young children to imagine, illustrate, and possibly write as they create their own masterpieces; its simplicity belies its possibilities. And, after spending time with some of their favorite characters, children just may be inspired to revisit their favorite Carle books. Language options are available, as is a trailer.—Cathy Potter, Falmouth Elementary School, Falmouth, ME

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Los Pollitos | Touch and Go Mon, 18 Jul 2016 14:16:31 +0000 Los Pollitos/Little Chickies, Encantos Media Studio has released an app loaded with activities related to the traditional song.]]> Earlier this year we posted a few suggestions for those looking to start or enhance their collection of Spanish-language apps. Here’s one to add to that list.



Los Pollitos/Little Chickies is a song familiar to many children whose first language is Spanish, and it’s a tune frequently taught to preschoolers in the United States. In conjunction with the recent publication of Susie Jarmillo’s flap-filled, accordian-shaped book by the same name (Encantos, 2016; PreS), Encantos Media Studio has released an app (iOS, $2.99; Android $.99; PreS) loaded with activities that relate to the traditional song.

Once viewers crack the eggs on the app’s opening screen (and watch the chicks hatch) they will be brought to a page with access to the activities. First, there’s the song. Tapping the picture of the radio on this screen allows children to listen to it in any one of eight languages: Italian, Hindi, Chinese, Japanese, French, Portuguese, Spanish, or English. (Switching from one rendition to another is simple.) A touch to the guitar offers children an opportunity to strum along to the tune as the chicks join in on drums, tambourine, and maracas. Other interactive activities include decorating an egg (with a variety of facial features, colors, and patterns), and selecting flowers for a bouquet. The cheerful chicks respond to viewers’ creative endeavors with appreciative cheeps or “pios.” The app will be enjoyed by children who love music or know the song. Story programs that incorporate the classic tune or music will want to make sure this app is loaded onto their iPads.—Daryl Grabarek, School Library Journal

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


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The Voyages of Aladdin and Sinbad | Touch and Go Tue, 05 Jul 2016 13:44:23 +0000 A thieving villain, a stolen lamp, faraway worlds, and intrigue on the high seas—what more could adventure seekers desire? Here’s a tale that offers readers and listeners all of that—and introduces them to characters from classic literature. 

aladdin coverChildren will enter an enchanting world filled with danger and mystery on opening Jose Miguel Vilar-Bou and Matias Alinovi’s The Voyages of Aladdin and Sinbad (BelMontis, iOS, $3.99; Android, $2.99; Gr 3-6), a nonlinear storybook app by the creators of Rom and the Whale of Dreams. In this story, an evil Wizard-King has stolen and hidden Aladdin’s magic lamp containing the genie. The young Prince of Persia and Sinbad set sail in search of the lamp, traveling to magical lands including the Water Island, the Kingdom of Dreams, and the White Dome. In a soothing voice, a female narrator tells the story as words are highlighted on the page. The app is available in three languages; if English was selected on the title page, the Spanish or Chinese translation can be chosen to appear on the bottom of the screen.

Navigation is intuitive. A tap to the lower right corner of the screen turns the page; a tap on the map icon allows viewers to see where Aladdin’s ship has journeyed. Users may jump to the locations noted on the map to explore and move around within the story. Exotic string music and sound effects—waves crash, thunder booms, and seagulls squawk—add atmosphere. The descriptive language, rich vocabulary, and compelling dialogue will appeal to readers. Those who wish to read independently and/or without sound effects may switch off the narration and the music.

Alejandra Zuniga Cardenas’s intricate pencil, ink, and collage illustrations in earth tones capture the excitement of the story. During the voyage, Aladdin and Sinbad must defend themselves against terrifying serpents, giant birds, and sea creatures. Tapping the screen allows viewers to animate the scenes by moving objects and triggering weather. At various points, readers are asked to make decisions about where the characters should go and what they should do. Should they travel to Upside-Down Kingdom or drift away in the current? In the end, they must decide how to punish the Wizard-King.

The action-packed story line, original music, beautiful illustrations, and interactive format that allows readers to choose plot directions, make this a stellar choice sure to captivate middle grade readers.–Cathy Potter, Falmouth Elementary School, Falmouth, ME


Screen from The Voyages of Aladdin and Sinbad (BelMontis) illus. by Alejandra Zuniga Cardenas

Screen from The Voyages of Aladdin and Sinbad (BelMontis) illus. by Alejandra Zuniga Cardenas


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Shakespeare’s “The Tempest” |Touch and Go Thu, 23 Jun 2016 13:56:25 +0000 Just when we thought we had seen nearly everything the app world has to offer on Shakespeare’s plays and sonnets, along comes Heuristic Media’s The Tempest. Behind the app is the famed actor Ian McKellen, who along with professor Jonathan Bate, and business partner Richard Loncraine, has plans to release an app for each of Shakespeare’s 37 plays. For more on the project, which begins with Shakespeare’s last play, hear what McKellen has to say about it in a trailer produced by Heuristic Media or in this Empire Podcast (skip to minute 17:00). Chris Gustafson reviews the production for School Library Journal below.


Shakespeare_icon_bigOn opening The Tempest (Heuristic Media, iOS, $5.99; Gr 7 Up), viewers will be able to choose which of three levels they would like to approach the text (level l recommended to those new to Shakespeare). From there, it’s straight into the play. Those comfortable with the work of the Bard, are likely to begin reading, stopping occasionally to tap the underlined text to access the pop-up definitions of words and phrases. They’ll also see line number notations and thumbnail picture links to images or sets of images from art or theater productions of the play. In portrait mode, viewers can watch as actors (Ian McKellen, Derek Jacobi, Frances Barber, etc.) recite lines while the text scrolls below.

To go deeper, students can tap the menu icon on the bottom of the screen, which pulls up the “Table of Contents,” offering several enticing options. There’s “Play at a Glance,” a summarizing feature. The “Character Map” organizes characters by scene, presents their individual lines in chronological order, and connects to images or videos. Another feature allows students to take notes as they read. Links to “Shakespeare’s World and Times” and “Essays and Videos.” With access to a First Folio, viewers can zoom in and look closely at the earliest version of the play. In addition to the reproductions, videos, and photos, the app is illustrated with distinctive, stylized pen-and-ink drawings washed in earth tones.

Readers may never get around to clicking on the question mark icon on the bottom of the screen when reading the play, which would be a shame, because it will take them to the most useful section of the app, “Navigating the Play.” This video tutorial is guaranteed to save students time as it explains and demonstrates how to get the most out of the production’s features and views. “Content Levels” can also be accessed here (support material changes with the level chosen). Just as valuable is the unassuming “Settings” link, which allows readers to customize many reading experience features.

Novice and experienced readers of Shakespeare can choose to skim the surface or to dig for a deeper understanding of the play, the playwright, and the historical context. App fans will be laying hopeful wagers on which play will be next. Chris Gustafson, Whitman Middle School, Seattle Public Schools

"Nymphs, Reapers, Spirits" Photo of a production of "The Tempest." Scene from Heuristic Shakespeare: The Tempest

“Nymphs, Reapers, Spirits” Photo of a production of “The Tempest.” Scene from Heuristic Shakespeare: The Tempest

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“Moonbeeps” from Moonbot | Touch and Go Thu, 16 Jun 2016 13:49:19 +0000
Remember the days when children made their own fun, playing hide-and-seek, or catching fireflies on a summer evening? Maybe crafting a rocket ship from a cardboard carton? Moonbot Studios (The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore, The Numberlys) does. Their latest series of apps (“Moonbeeps”) celebrates that play—in digital, of course—perhaps for those rainy days? Paula Willey (@pwbalto, reviews the series below.
In Moonbeeps: Hide and Seek (Moonbot Studios, LLC, iOS, $2.99; PreS-Gr 3), a charming but fairly challenging version of the familiar neighborhood game, kids are tasked with finding four giggling, humming little friends. Taps lead viewers through a small grid of suburban houses, while swipes change the perspective to allow them to peer around trees or behind a shed. If a seeker seems stalled, a little hint pops up to prod them in the right direction. Once all the friends are found, they have a dance party, naturally.

Four different seasonal palettes are available, and children will quickly learn that the blobby fruit-colored pals are easiest to find in winter. It’s a simple app, yet repeated play reveals unexpected details. Each character, though largely pre-verbal, exhibits distinct personality and physical traits. There are 30 objects to find along with the friends, and once all those items are discovered, the kids get to wear party hats. Sound effects vary by season, with whistling winds in winter, twittering birds in spring, and a distant barking dog in autumn, among others. Reminiscent of Teletubbies in its wordless, gentle play, and Yo Gabba Gabba for its cheerful use of color and music. Elegant and warm, this is a winner, with a broad age appeal.




WHIRRRRR! Wah-wah-wah-wah! Bzzzzzrtt! Kids make crazy noises during imaginative play all the time, and now—there’s an app for that! Gizmo (Moonbot Studios, LLC, iOS, $.99; PreS-Gr 1) works as a dashboard for imaginary spaceships of all types. Buttons, sliders, switches, and levers produce sound effects, flashing colored lights, and animations. Combinations of controls vary these effects—or don’t. There are no instructions, no tutorial—this is an app that rewards adventurous, experimental users with interesting results. Tapping a control does one thing—what happens when you press and hold? Since this works on the iPhone as well as the iPad, don’t be surprised to see a toddler reenacting the Kobayashi Maru simulation from her shopping cart cockpit next time you’re at the supermarket.



Imagine a moonlit walk in the woods on a summer night, the stars above, a Mason jar clutched in your hand. Night sounds surround you—frogs,buzzing insects, an occasional owl, and the wind in the trees—or is that a rushing stream? Luckily, a multi-member symphonic pop band The Polyphonic Spree is accompanying you on your walk in Moonbeeps: Fireflies (Moonbot Studios, LLC iOS, $2.99; PreS-Gr 1), providing celestial synthesizer chords and a patter of percussion as a soothing soundtrack.

Catch the glowing orbs that represent fireflies, or leave them alone. Look around, and all you’ll see are more trees, more stars, maybe a little mist. The developers suggest using Fireflies as a nightlight—it switches off after 15 minutes of inactivity—but it would also do good service as a soporific cool-down after a busy day or stressful episode. One warning, however, those fireflies can be darned hard to catch, more difficult than real fireflies, in fact. The quick-draw reflexes it takes to chase them down (they practice avoidance strategies) are a bit at odds with the otherwise relaxing user experience.—Paula Willey. @pwbalto,

 For additional app reviews, visit School Library Journal‘s dedicated app webpage.
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Apps for Nature Lovers | Touch and Go Thu, 09 Jun 2016 13:27:12 +0000 Nature lovers will delight in these two immersive, introductory apps from Bright World eBooks offering up-close and panoramic views of animals and environments. They’re free for a limited time, so download them today.


Screen from A is for Amphibian (Bright World ebooks)

Screen from A is for Amphibians (Bright World ebooks)


Targeting the interests and needs of nature lovers and STEM learners, Bright World eBooks has produced an app inviting young readers to explore the world of frogs. What sets A is for Amphibians (iOS, Free; K-Gr 3) apart from other apps is its use of spectacular 3D imagery.

Three choices—narrated, self-paced, and recording—are available in the “Reading” mode, which provides an overview of the characteristics and life cycle of the frog. The first two options also offer opportunities to hear words pronounced and access to a narrated dictionary. Kids will enjoy the chance to record their own narration.

The same environment seen in the text mode can then be explored with swipes and taps under “Exploring.” Here, two options are available, “3D Pond” and “3D World.” The first provides an immersive visual experience and facts about the many animals that live in and around the pond alongside frogs, extending the breadth of the base book. Users can travel through the habitat, zooming in for close-up views. A tap to one of the creatures encountered on this animated screen (dragonflies, golden shiner, Louisiana Waterthrush, etc.) elicits its name in bold print and narrated information.

In “3D World” young herpetologists spin a globe and tap on a frog native to one of the different regions around the world. For each animal, a full-color, high-quality illustration of the creature is provided (above a ruler, for relative size) as well as photograph of its habitat. Narrated segments offer information about the frogs, and sometimes, an audio of their vocalizations.

“Gaming” presents a version of concentration and a role-playing adventure that requires players to avoid some of the dangers that a young frog might encounter. Both activities include several levels of increasingly difficult challenges that test viewers’ recall about what they have learned. Quality narration, sound effects, and music can be separately controlled, while clearly marked icons on the opening screen makes navigation easy.

Adults using the app with children can access the developer’s home page, privacy policy, credits, and its extended learning options located behind a lock.—Elisabeth LeBris, LTC Director, Sears School, Kenilworth, IL

Screen from Ocean Forests (Bright World eBooks)

Screen from Ocean Forests (Bright World eBooks)

From its opening screen, Ocean Forests (Bright Worlds eBooks, iOS, Free; K-Gr 3) encourages kids to “dive” into its 3D kelp forest where an aquatic adventure awaits them. The app’s dashboard offers access to three modes: “Reading,” “Exploring,” and “Gaming.” “Storybook” in “Reading” delivers information about the environment (the kelp forest, holdfasts, fronds, and the ocean’s canopy) and its denizens. In the narrated version, words are highlighted as they are read, and word pronunciation and an audiovisual dictionary are available. Each life-form described by the narrator is seen in an inset with 3D interactive rotations—a great option for visual and ELL learners.

Users who prefer to read at their own pace can opt for the “Read By Myself “ mode, where arrows allow them to advance, or to return to a previous screen. Tapping a word generates a voicing, enforcing the app’s rich vocabulary experience. The “Record My Voice” mode will aid students who want to enhance their fluency and read-aloud skills.

When they venture into “Exploring,” viewers will find themselves in a 3D animated watery forest, where creatures, such as leopard sharks, harbor seals, green sea turtles, and bat rays swim among the fronds. A tap to any animal triggers narrated information about it. The animation is amazing: viewers will feel as if they swimming underwater in a luscious, green forest. The zoom feature allows for close-up and/or panoramic views, while the sound effects evoke the mysterious nature of this ocean world. A helpful flashlight icon button highlights the clickable sound options.

“Gaming” includes two activities that reinforce the information users have gleaned. One, “Retrieve Our Subs!” presents 10 multiple-choice questions, text instructions included (that may have to be read to the youngest users). In “Mind Match” a memory game, viewers pair words with images. Both activities become more challenging as children advance to the next level.

Bright World eBooks provides free classroom materials to accompany the app on the Teachers Pay Teachers website, including a teacher’s guide, story starters, award certificates, and a Bingo game. Ocean Forests is a great supplementary resource for primary classrooms studying marine biology. Consider sharing it before a trip to the beach, a marine wildlife park, or an aquarium. It should be noted that Bright World eBooks markets its other products in the app—behind locks.—Krista Welz, North Bergen High School Media Center, NJ

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

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Small in a Big World | Touch and Go Thu, 02 Jun 2016 14:02:19 +0000
Vibrant watercolor art and an empowering message make this app—and story—”worth sharing.”
Screen shot from Milli

Screen shot from Milli: A Small Snail in a Big World (MixlVision Digital/Honig Studios)

If any uneasiness remains at the thought of handing a child an iPad instead of a print book, here is an instance where it would be well worth the trade. While digital stories may not replace print materials entirely, the argument for their value is growing increasingly significant. With gorgeous illustrated frames and a vibrant palette of colors, Milli:A Small Snail in a Big World (MixtVision Digital/Honig Studios, iOS $2.99, Android, $2.71; PreS) is digital storytelling at it’s most successful. This Eric Carle-like world of creatures is gentle yet diverse, with a colorful cast of animals helping Milli discover what it is that snails do best.

The story evokes classic children’s literature, with myriad wise creatures and subtle lessons often found in fairy tales or folktales. The narration is pleasant and moves forward at a comfortable pace, keeping the text rhythmic and upbeat. In each frame, there is much more that meets the eye, offering young children plenty to uncover.  In various scenes, a tap to the screen will send butterflies into flight, pinwheels and flowers to twirl, creatures to pop up from a pond, ants to crawl across the page, and characters’ thoughts to become visible—elements often accompanied by sound effects or snippets of a tune. Several games add value to the story and give children focus on character and plot. Full of interactive delights, Milli is thoughtful story with great emotional depth. A story worth sharing.–Caroline Molnar, Delaware City Schools, OH


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CHOMP On This App | Touch and Go Thu, 26 May 2016 13:22:17 +0000 Petting Zooin novelty and engagement. There's now a contender. ]]>  

Christoph Niemann’s Petting Zoo featured 21 whimsical animals, each with the potential to morph into shapes and animations triggered by viewers. At the time, apps were something new for this author/illustrator/graphic designer, who, in a New Yorker article “The Story of My App, documented his path from artist with an inspiration to app creator who learned how “insanely difficult” it was to make the product he wanted. Petting Zoo was a huge success, no surprise given Niemann’s talent. It was hard to imagine another app that would rival the novelty and engagement of Zoo anytime soon. Well, there’s now a contender, and it’s titled CHOMP.

Christoph Niemann’s latest production, CHOMP (Fox and Sheep GmbH, iOS, $2.99; Android, PreS Up) is designed for children, but one that teens and adults will find as much fun—and as addictive—as youngsters.

The interface is simple and easy to navigate. Niemann has provided approximately 60 hand-drawn, clever templates, each featuring a cut-out paired with an amusing animation. Users position the device’s camera so that a face appears in the cut-out—either theirs or another person’s. By tapping the screen an animation will begin. For example, with faces in place, a drummer plays a set; a strongman, dripping with perspiration, lifts weights; a musician belts out a tune on a saxophone; a faucet drips a photo; the head of a robot springs a gasket, and a shark chases a swimmer around and around in the water, then dances on his or her head.

Christoph Niemann's CHOMP

Christoph Niemann’s CHOMP (Fox & Sheep GmbH/Jon Huang)

Children can move from template to template by swiping and viewing themselves in each drawing, or can create a video of the action with or without audio. Videos can be saved to the device and/or shared on social media.

One of the most winning features of the app is that children can play with it on their own or with a group of friends, creating silly animated selfies or a gallery of pictures. Its ease of use and high fun factor will make CHOMP in high demand in programming and perfect for makerspaces. A trailer is available.–Elizabeth Kahn, Patrick F. Taylor Science & Technology Academy, Avondale, LA


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Wordplay on the iPad | Touch and Go Thu, 19 May 2016 13:32:30 +0000 In this column, Touch and Go reviewer MaryAnn Scheuer takes a look at three apps that offer children opportunities to experiment “with the way letters combine to form words” while helping them “identify common sight words and predict spelling patterns.”  How do they rate? Find out below.

TG-HangArtThe classic hangman game receives an update in HangArt (Literary Safari; iOS, $1.99; Android, $0.99; Gr 1-3), an app that weaves in several learning opportunities. Children can play a version of the game, draw pictures of the target words, and record their own stories. Visual clues set this version of hangman apart from others. As players guess a letter correctly, the drawing pad gradually reveals a picture of the word—providing visual clues. The illustrations feature a diverse cast, and the coloring options notably offer a wide range of skin tones. In a child-friendly twist, the chalkboard draws a stick figure hanging from a monkey bar when players make an incorrect guess,

Easily accessed options reveal first and last letter help, use uppercase or lowercase letters, and switch music and sound effects off and on. The “Word Gallery” allows readers to review terms and add their own drawings. The app is likely to appeal most to children who are already reading, can guess spelling patterns successfully, and build a collection of words. The “Story Studio” selects six picture cards of unlocked words, and lets children record their own short stories using these images. While the letter tracing activity offers fine-motor skill practice, it may not interest children who can already read proficiently enough to guess many of these words. However, recent app updates improve the ability to select or skip this feature.

TG-Planet-LettraThe multilingual Planet Lettra (Studio Goojaji; iOS; $1.99; Gr 2-5) encourages open-ended creativity and fun as children build words, choosing English, Spanish, or French. Appsters combine letter bubbles to create terms—play reminiscent of the game Boggle, without the competition. Letters fuse together to create silly combinations, invented terms, or actual words. The bubbles can be tricky to manipulate—-children will need to experiment with them to develop the best way to control them.

If the new word bubble is among the more than 100,000 words recognized by the app, it will be read aloud by the narrator and chomped on by the planet’s monsters. Children will be delighted to discover that double tapping on a bubble triggers the narrator to pronounce it, even if it is an invented word. This app supports word recognition as “smart” letter bubbles (when users hold down a bubble) hint at combinations that lead to real terms. The real joy here is in playfully discovering what letters can do. Viewing is best on the iPad screen.

TG-MysteryWordTownMystery Word Town (Artgig Studio; iOS, $2.99; Android, $2,99; Gr 1-3) provides a more focused word-building approach. Players exercise their spelling skills by filling in the blanks to complete terms from letters that they have collected. A Wild West theme sets the tone. Players choose an avatar to hunt for crooks to apprehend and hidden gold treasure to locate. In order to move from room to room, viewers must spell the target words correctly. Players can choose to play the game with or without audio hints as they try to solve the mystery words. Preset spelling lists allow for easy gameplay, and customizable lists are a useful feature encouraging flexible play. (Adults and children could easily enter weekly spelling lists for a twist on spelling drills.) Unfortunately, one of the avatar headgear choices is a Native American headdress, an item of spiritual significance earned by the wearer. Its use in this context is inappropriate, and mars an otherwise well-designed educational game.–Mary Ann Scheuer, Berkeley Unified School District,CA, and Great Kid Books


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

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Charlie and Lola: Back in Town | Touch and Go Thu, 12 May 2016 13:23:42 +0000 The beloved characters of Lauren Child and her distinctive line-and-collage art illustrations, can be found in books—both picture and easy chapter—on television, and now on digital devices.

From Charlie and Lola: M Little Town

A scene created in Charlie and Lola: My Little Town (BBC Worldwide/Scary Beasties) Lauren Child

Lauren Child’s Charlie and Lola have made the leap from books to television to tablet with great success. Based on a game from a television episode, the Charlie and Lola: My Little Town app (BBC Worldwide/Scary Beasties, iOS, $3.99; Android, $4.61; PreS-K) features six creative activities that lets players personalize environments of their creation, including dressing up characters, composing jazzy songs, building houses with blocks, and painting critters and landscapes, all of which unlock decorative stickers.

A request to access the camera pops up when first opening the app, allowing players to use a photo for  the profiles, three of which are available, while external links and gameplay directions are locked behind a math problem in an adults-only section.

In this user-friendly app, Charlie provides verbal instructions, while Lola adds commentary and encouragement. The main menu and next game are always available, making navigation easy. The cheery collage art and British English narration (check marks are “ticks” and players can “rub out with the rubber”) will be familiar to children who have watched the television show.

Gameplay is simple and intuitive. The building blocks conform to physics, toppling if not balanced properly, and the birds each have their own musical phrase to arrange and rearrange to create new tunes. A variety of coloring tools are available for the artwork and decorative glitter can be added to the drawings. Towns can exist underwater, in space, in mountains, or in worlds of the players’ invention. While there is a finite number of stickers to be earned, everything can be edited and re-edited, making gameplay open-ended with no constraints other than imagination.–Shelley Harris, Oak Park Public Library, IL


Lola from Charlie and Lola (BBC Worldwide/Scary Beasties) Lauren Child

Following on the heels of Charlie and Lola: My Little Town, BBC Worldwide and Scary Beasties have released a second app featuring Laura Child’s irrepressible siblings of book and television fame. The latest app, subtitled I’ve Won! (iOS, $3.99, Android, $3.99; PreS-K), is a board game that can accommodate up to four players at a time. Player or players can choose to represent Charlie, Lola, or friends Lotta or Marvin, on the board. Three boards are available with the largest five by five squares.

Lotta from Charlie and Lola: I've Won (

Lotta from Charlie and Lola (BBC Worldwide/Scary Beasties) Lauren Child

Players advance by rolling (tapping) a die that appears on the screen and moving the corresponding number of spaces. The square that the character lands on presents a challenge in the form of a game or activity that involves matching, spelling (simple three-letter sight words with clues provided), spotting differences, a maze (which requires tilting the device to move through the maze), and so on. Counting and fine-motor skills come into play throughout the game. Missteps or errors are returned with encouragement to try again, and cheers are sounded as stars fill the screen after correct answers are offered or activities completed. The first character to make it to the final square wins, and confetti and balloons rain down on him or her. Board challenges change and rearrange after a game is completed.

Beloved characters, bright visuals, seamless functionality, musical accompaniment (with an on/off button) and the variety of challenges in this well-designed app will have children coming back for more.–Daryl Grabarek, School Library Journal

Eds. note: Charlie and Lola: My Little Town and Charlie and Lola: I’ve Won can also be purchased as an iTunes bundle.

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Bison, Birds, & Bugs: Arty Apps from Labo Lado | Touch and Go Thu, 05 May 2016 13:52:59 +0000 Clean design, smooth functionality, delightful animation and gaming, and availability in multiple languages are just some of the attributes that recommend these Labo Lado apps.


A completed creature in Labo Leaves (Labo Lado)

Perfect for young children, Labo Leaves (Labo Lado Inc. iOS S1.99, Android $.99; PreS-K) provides users with 18 design templates. Each screen in the app presents four to seven colorful leaves of various shapes, sizes, and colors that children can drag to the correct (outlined) spot to create a figure or a familiar creature such as a fish, pig, dog, chicken, or cow.  When the picture is completed correctly, users are rewarded with a short, humorous animation. There is no text or narration to this crisply designed app, but a soothing melody plays in the background and the animated sequences feature sound effects. Arrows direct users how and where to turn the page; the rest is intuitive.

Adults who work with children may want to use the app as a starting point for hands-on preschool art and science projects. For youngsters, hand-eye coordination and fine-motor skills come into play.  The app is user-friendly and no Internet connection is necessary once it is downloaded. A strong addition to the Labo Lado’s collection of creative apps. Available in several languages.–Amy Shepherd, Librarian, St. Anne’s Episcopal School 


A clothesline of images to choose from in Labo’s Pebble Art (Labo Lado)

A clothesline row of 22 pictures greets children on opening Labo’s Pebble Art (Labo Lado, iOS, $1.99, Android, $2.06; PreS-Gr 1). After selecting an image with a tap, viewers are brought to a screen where the picture has been deconstructed. Their job is to reassemble the image puzzle fashion; a grey outline is provided. The shapes are large and few, so the task is not particularly difficult but it will call in young children’s visual discrimination and fine-motor skills.

Once the image is complete, a palette of bright colors becomes available (along with a thumbnail image of a painted image). Children can color the image by finger if they desire; a tap to a check mark icon indicates the painting is complete. Behind each finished painting is a related animated scene or game that incorporates the picture the appster has just completed. A blackbird walks along a grassy landscape seeking worms (some more dangerous than others), a caterpillar becomes a xylophone capable of creating a tune, and a screen floods with colorful beetles of different colors, sizes, and body types that when matched with its pair tallies into points discreetly noted in a corner of the screen. While most kids won’t even notice the points accumulating, the games are timed. At the end of each one, confetti drops and a final score is noted. The app contains no narration, but background music accompanies the activities and some of the games incorporate their own songs or tunes. Simple, clean images, smooth functionality, and a variety of charming animations and delightfully inventive activities will keep kids coming back for more. Available in six languages.—Daryl Grabarek, School Library Journal

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




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Opera Notes: Apps | Touch and Go Thu, 21 Apr 2016 13:20:31 +0000 Two apps from DADA Company introduce different aspects of the opera to children. School Library Journal reviewer Pam Schembri evaluates them below.



Screen from Let’s Go to the Opera! (DADA Company) DADA Company Edutainment S.L.

There is much to learn about the opera before attending a performance and Let’s Go to the Opera! (DADA Company, iOS $2.99, Android $2.99; Gr 3-5) offers a basic understanding of the fundamentals. Children can hear how the stage director, set designer, costume designer, make-up artist, conductor, orchestral players, and singers work together to create a performance, but the information provided is a broad overview. Some of the best material is accessible while listening to singers perform in distinct vocal ranges, however, this page has functionality problems. While here, there is no navigation panel and users must turn the page or click a curling arrow (for the “next” singer). Each screen (selected from a visual index) reloads at the beginning, regardless of the number of viewings, and the app has no pause option.

When viewing the composer gallery, there are no names listed; users select one of six pictures to access the text behind it. How many 10-year-olds know what Rossini looked like? It’s slightly frustrating as a teaching tool. The short biographies require users to understand vocabulary such as preeminent and phenomenon, but this shouldn’t be too much of a deterrent. There are interesting facts to be gleaned and entertaining segments to tap and watch (the make-up artists can change wigs and face paint) but there isn’t any depth to the app. If paired DADA company’s Play Opera, the musical excerpts match, which is a plus, but the selections aren’t great. The final and strongest option in the app is a short video from a performance of Die Valkyrie, which shows the glory of a Wagner opera.

For an easy introduction to opera, this is an enjoyable, but limited, app. However, it’s not likely to inspire repeat visits. English and Spanish reading and listening options are available.—Pamela Schembri, Newburgh Enlarged City Schools, Newburgh, NY



Screen from Play Opera (DADA Company) DADA Company Edutainment S.L.

Introducing opera to a child can be daunting (if you consider the racy subject matter and typical length of productions) and Play Opera: Mozart, Puccini, Rossini, and Verdi Masterpieces for Kids (DADA Company, iOS, $2.99; Gr 4-6) delivers one option. Five short illustrated excerpts, each no longer than four minutes, might keep children interested, but the appreciation will be at surface level. The selections are random, and include the following: From Luisa Fernanda (which is not an opera, but a zarauela by Torroba) “Ay mi Morena, Morena clara!” “Pa pa pa” (the best of the selections for the obvious response it elicits) from Mozart’s Magic Flute, Rigoletto’s “Bella figlia dell’amore” (Verdi), Turandot’s “Nesson Dorma” (Puccini) and Rossini’s sextet, Siete Voi” from La Cenerentola.

None of the selections are titled within the app, and they are not consistently the most popular or entertaining of the operas. Short text introductions provide a paragraph of  information to each selection. Casual users, if curious about the musical excerpt, will need to map through the plot using an outside resource, search for the song, and correlate correctly. The excerpts do not include a pause button, and sometimes cut out in the midst of the piece.

The illustrators offer five different artistic styles, with “Siete Voi” providing the most meaning and the “Pa pa pa” birds of the Magic Flute offering lighthearted amusement. Viewers aren’t provided with instructions, but if they tap the screen, animations may occur. The illustrations either help or confuse, which makes the app difficult to recommend. The app may be suited as a jumping off point to spark a desire to listen and learn more about the art form. Available in English, French, and Spanish.—Pamela Schembri, Newburgh Enlarged City Schools, Newburgh, NY

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“Elmo’s World” Revisited | Touch and Go Thu, 14 Apr 2016 14:25:36 +0000 Devoted fans of television are often willing to watch reruns of their favorite shows, and that goes for young enthusiasts as well as adults. In Elmo’s World and You, Sesame Street remixes some segments from its television show (and related products) to create this app. Cindy Wall reviews it below.

TG_Elmos-World-And-You_TNParents looking to purchase some fresh Sesame Street material will find Elmo’s World and You (iOS, $5.99; PreS) a disappointing rehash of the “Elmo’s World” television and DVD (Elmo’s World: Pets! and Elmo’s World: The Beach) segments. The app contains fewer vignettes than the broadcast format and attempts a modern look by adding a character called “Tablet.”
Two areas of exploration, “Pets” and “Beaches,” come with the initial purchase (“Games” is an additional purchase, more will become available). Both segments offer the same format and same activities. Each opens with the Elmo’s World song and the opportunity for users to select crayons to color on the screen. The app, like the television segments, melds animation and live-action scenes. Elmo’s pet fish Dorothy joins him and users are asked to tap the Muppet’s door to access the themed content.
With a heavy reliance on video clips, some of which children may tap to randomly overlay theme-appropriate stickers onto, viewers answer questions such as, “Which one makes a good pet?” by tapping on a chair or a cat. Users may also count with the furry red creature or watch the silent Mr. Noodle act out some silly answers (and the correct one) in response to questions such as, “How do you spread out your beach towel at the beach?”  A musical sequence allows kids to play along with Elmo by tapping a picture of a tambourine, maracas or piano keys. There are additional video-based segments, all of which may be accessed individually via an arrow at the top of the screen. (In one segment, the device’s camera places user’s images not in the action with Elmo as touted, but in a cloud in the sky.) A perfunctory parent section adds little. Aside from the always lovable Elmo—who young children can’t seem to get enough of—families looking for additional engagement, or own the DVDs (Elmo’s World Pets and/or Elmo’s World Beach), which offer added footage and educational opportunities, can pass on this app.Cindy Wall, Southington Public Library, CT.
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The Digital “Shakesperience” | Touch and Go Mon, 04 Apr 2016 14:31:22 +0000 A trove of digital material is available to students of Shakespeare and thespians today—resources that will change the way they experience the Bard’s works. From Sourcebooks, Inc., comes the “Shakesperience”—a series of six plays (Hamlet, Julius Caesar, Macbeth, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Othello, and Romeo and Juliet) that promise to “transport readers from the page to the stage.” Each iBook contains the text of the play along with insight from actors on their roles, audio and visuals of celebrated performances, and much, much more. Extensive commentary and notes, video recordings of famed actors performing each of Shakespeare’s 154 sonnets, and a facsimile of the 1609 Quarto are among the highlights of the stunning Shakespeare’s Sonnets from Touchpress. If your students are studying parody, don’t miss Ryan North’s To Be or Not to Be from Tin Man Games. These are just some of the resources included in this round-up of Shakespeare apps and iBooks that have been reviewed in SLJ ‘s web and print pages. With thanks to Pam Schembri and Kathleen S. Wilson—our go-to Shakespeare reviewers.



ShakespearianceLet’s face it. Who hasn’t struggled with Shakespeare? Sourcebooks’ “Shakesperience” iBooks, which build on their earlier print plus CD series, are designed to remedy this problem by helping readers connect with the playwright’s texts more easily and more deeply. Othello (Sourcebooks, 2012; Gr 9 Up; $5.99) catapults users from a colorful book cover image directly into act 1, scene I on a screen designed to look like the double-page spread of an open book. Indexes and navigation icons are hidden until the top of the screen is touched.

The text drives the iPad experience: behind words and phrases highlighted in blue are explanatory notes, and by the second page turn, users will discover audio scene introductions by the renowned Shakespearian actor Sir Derek Jacobi, and short, read-along audio recordings by notable stage and film actors. Comparative audio renditions of individuals performing carefully selected classic lines (Paul Robeson, John Kani, and Hugh Quarshie as Othello and Emma Fielding and Uta Hagen as Desdemona, etc.), bonus archival recordings by F. Scott Fitzgerald and Edwin Booth, and video clips from live performances will enhance viewers’ engagement with the play.

Additional layers of information include galleries of captioned stage black-and-white and full-color photographs; costume and set renderings; production notes; authoritative articles providing historical context; and interviews with actors, directors, and a voice coach. Tools for note-taking, highlighting, and bookmarking are available, as are embedded definitions and a searchable glossary of more than 1400 terms. A table of contents aids access. For teachers and students, as well as all of those who missed the brilliance of Shakespeare the first time around, The Shakesperience: Othello, is a dream come true.—Kathleen Wilson, New York University, NY, NY

to be or not to beFans of parodies, bawdy humor, and absurd retellings of classic stories are sure to appreciate Ryan North’s To Be or Not to Be (iOS $2.99; Android $1.99; Gr 9 Up). An irreverent take on Shakespeare’s Hamlet, the app was initially funded through a Kickstarter campaign and adapted by Tin Man Games from North’s 700-page novel, To Be or Not To Be: A Chooseable-Path Adventure (Breadpig, 2013). North’s version remains respectful of Shakespeare’s basic plot structure and is interspersed with fragments of the Bard’s original text, but it’s full of modern slang as well, and, through numerous branching options, regularly veers off the beaten path on wildly imaginative tangents. It is lots of fun, but probably not for the serious scholar. North clearly delights in playing with the play.

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

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

Thankfully, given the nature of North’s humor and all the story twists and turns, the interface is extremely streamlined and easy to use, consisting of arrows to jump forward and back through checkpoints and a menu icon which includes font and sound options and access to achievements, the artwork that’s been unlocked, and credits. For the most part, the screens are image-free, consisting primarily of text boxes on colorful backgrounds. Those up for an unusually offbeat and entertaining take on Hamlet, will no doubt love Ryan North’s To Be or Not to Be.Kathleen S. Wilson, New York University, NY, NY

shakespeare at playImagine 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 Shakespeare at Play (Rick Chisholm Productions, Ltd. 2014. Free for basic app. $3.99 ea. for Video eds., $1.99 ea. for Notes eds.; Gr 9 Up). The app 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 while 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; 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 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 (“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

Screen from Shakespeare's Sonnets (Touchpress)

Screen from The Sonnets by William Shakespeare (Touchpress)

In an app that will appeal to even the most reluctant of students, Touchpress has assembled a brilliant team of scholars and actors to produce the equivalent of an undergraduate course in Shakespeare’s sonnets. Each of the 154 selections in Shakespeare’s Sonnets (also by Illuminations, The Arden Shakespeare, Faber and Faber Ltd; 2012; Gr 11 Up; $13.99) begins with a video recording of an actor’s recitation of the work delivered by Stephen Fry, Patrick Stewart, Fiona Shaw, or another noted performer. As the verse is presented, users can choose to view the performance full-screen, or read the work as the corresponding text is highlighted. Additional notes analyze individual lines.

Don Paterson provides commentary for each sonnet, and contributes to the fascinating section titled, “Perspectives.” Here students will gain a better understanding of Shakespeare’s contribution to the form, discover speculative theory about his sexuality, and learn the origins of original pronunciation. Cicely Berry shares thoughts on how academics have “stolen the sound of Shakespeare from us” in that people feel they “must” study him to appreciate the language of his work. Author Katherine Duncan-Jones considers the use of the sonnet to explore private emotions without the use of puns and wit. There are also a few discussions about the true authorship of the verses.

Every “Perspectives” entry is composed of text and a corresponding video. These unpretentious, you-are-there conversations allow users to feel connected to the sonnet as a form, and illuminate the meaning and intent of the works. Shakespeare’s narrative poem, “A Lover’s Complaint” is also given attention. The app includes a text-only category of notes from The Arden Shakespeare offering information on context and illusion and the reception and criticism of the selections, but that section and the facsimile of the 1609 edition of the Sonnets pale in comparison to the video-rich resources.

Large buttons on the home page link each section, and sonnets can be accessed by actor or number. A scroll feature on a top menu bar allows users to move through a list of the poems. Students and teachers will want to watch the videos multiple times, in English classes, as well as theater class for its acting suggestions. An essential purchase for upper-level literature classes and anyone interested in Shakespeare performance.—Pamela Schembri, Newburgh Enlarged City Schools, Newburgh, NY

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


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DNA Play | Touch and Go Thu, 31 Mar 2016 14:25:02 +0000 Image from

Image from

While genetics is a topic generally taught in secondary schools, a new app from Avokiddo introduces the concept of DNA, and mutability, to a younger audience.

Avokiddo’s DNA Play (iOS, $2.99, Android $2.99; PreS–Gr 3) takes a joyful approach to a science concept. Through a series of hands-on activities, children experiment with and manipulate the gene sequence of a creature, creating and altering its shape, limbs, and physical features. There’s no text, so no actual discussion of what DNA is, but notes for parents offer some basic information. As the developer states, the app “introduces kids to the concept of DNA and the magnificence of its mechanics through a fun to play interactive experience.”

On opening the app, users are greeted with music and a large play button that encourages them to dive into the content. (From the home screen they can also select a language; 11 are available.) On the maker screen, a one-eyed, three-toed figure stands alone, with colorful nucleotide shapes at its feet. Users then drag and drop the shapes into the gaps on the DNA strand at the top of the screen. Once six (two-piece) base pairs are complete, another part of the creature is added: head, face, eyes, arms, legs, or body. Bright colors and silly animations are the norm.

Creature created in DNA Play

Creature created in DNA Play (Avokiddo)

Children can switch the sequence of the base pairs and as they do so will see the creature’s body structure change, revealing how mutations can alter a figure, or life form. Tapping on the creature also triggers body changes.

Adding to the fun are opportunities to have the figures skateboard, dance, sleep, and eat (vegetarian-only option is available in the settings.) Astute appsters may notice that the skateboarders and dancers’ movements change with the length of their legs, etc. Creation options are nearly infinite and the play is engaging enough to entertain children for some time. Screen shots of the finished creatures can be saved.

While users might not realize that they are experimenting with nucleotide shapes and DNA strands, they are being introduced to the concept of mutability. A useful to supplement a science lesson.Krista Welz, North Bergen High School Media Center, NJ

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


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Kings, Queens, & Castles on the iPad | Touch and Go Thu, 24 Mar 2016 14:18:55 +0000  

Two deep and highly engaging illustrated apps bring European history—from battles to scandals—to the iPad.

Elizabeth I from Kings & Queens (Aimer Media, Ltd.)

Elizabeth I from Kings & Queens (Aimer Media, Ltd.)

Kings & Queens: 1,000 Years of British Royal History (Aimer Media, Ltd. iOS $1.99; Gr 5 Up) provides a millennium’s worth of information on the lives, loves, and legacies of the British monarchs. Content can be accessed from two menus: “Portraits” or “Royal line of succession,” both of which also serve as scrolling time lines. A tap to the main menu allows users to search, browse all kings and queens, or view the royal family lineages alphabetically.

When readers select the portrait of Queen Victoria they will see Her Majesty’s eyes blink. (This and other animated portraits add a touch of charm to an otherwise informational app.) After reading two screens of biographical info, students can delve deeper into history of the period through profiles on related individuals. The real treat hides under the small picture frame—eight formal portraits of Victoria from childhood to her late years. Romance and scandals aren’t shied away from in the royal profiles and a “Top Facts” bar on the main menu leads viewers to information under such topics as “Crowning Achievement,” “Kingly Cruelty,” “Throne under Threat,” and “Awkward End.”  Brief, newsy spotlights on a variety of subjects from the Domesday survey of 1086 to the Seven Years War can be accessed from the time line as well, and there are a multitude of hyperlinks. Royal enthusiasts will enjoy the “My Favourites” option where they can store profiles of monarchs. These entries can be easily uploaded or shared via text or email. Short, oversimplified quizzes on the monarchs are also included.

The Royal Collection Trust is responsible for the care of the Royal Collection. It aims to preserve treasures of past monarchs and to ensure that the art is available to future generations. They handily fulfill their mission with the app’s illustrated, easy-to-read text that makes complicated lineages and political tangles accessible. Its interactivity is in its fluid navigation features. A rich, well-designed resource from a premier source.–Deirdre Reddington, Uniondale High School Library, NY


timeline battle castlesEurope’s mightiest fortresses and key battles are just a tap away in Ballista Media’s updated version of Timeline Battle Castles (iOS $9.99; Gr 6 Up), created by the producers of the British Battle Castle documentary television series and the show’s popular host, Dan Snow. This latest iOS version presents another winning multimedia platform that makes medieval history accessible.

A highly interactive time line filled with more than 1000 entries links users to text, photos, film clips, museum-quality archived images, and interactive maps. The app delivers a sizeable amount of information in easily digestible bites, perfect for young enthusiasts of medieval life. Each entry provides well-written content on major castles across Europe and the Middle East, as well as key battles, sieges, and historical profiles from 1000–1500 BCE.

The map can be searched and filtered by century, decade, or year. Users can access information by swiping through the illustrated chronology or using a keyword search box. A quick tap on the help screen yields a video featuring Snow demonstrating how to use the app. An Internet connection is required for the videos.

The app’s visual experience is top notch. The tablet’s retina capability makes viewing the photographs a real treat. Users can effortlessly navigate European history and explore more than 500 stunning photos of castles, many with computer-generated 360-degree views. Users will be captivated by the more than 100 videos, including clips from the Battle Castle TV series, siege weapons in action, footage of actual replica castle construction, and demonstrations of various aspects of medieval life, such as how to catch a rat or how to make a pen out of a goose feather. Superb edutainment in a highly polished, multilayered package, and an essential purchase for secondary history fans.–Celeste Steward, San Leandro Public Library, CA

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

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Can You Really Afford This Manor? Downton Abbey on the iPad Thu, 17 Mar 2016 14:26:50 +0000 “Downton Abbey” withdrawals? While recent articles point to television shows, movies and books, and even travel for those experiencing the symptoms, there is always the iOS option. But buyers beware; the price can be steep.


Downton Abbey: Mysteries of the Manor (iOS, Free to download, IAP, taggames/Activision; Gr 7 Up) is a loosely defined mystery wrapped around a hidden-object game. The story, which takes a long time to unfold, requires players to find multiple items that Downton servants are suspected of stealing or misplacing.

In order to advance to each new level, players must spend valuable resources. As they move throughout the abbey, they will find themselves in increasingly cluttered rooms, looking for items in increasingly obscure places. Often, in order to locate one object, players are required to find another first, which leads them on a circuitous route (that may have them wondering why they started down a particular path in the first place). Every time a room is unlocked, players are rewarded with a few lines of dialogue by the show’s familiar characters. Payoff can come in a few minutes, or, after days of effort.

While downloading the app is free, the resources viewers start with (energy, shillings, diamonds), are limited. Shortly after the game begins, options that encourage them to spend those resources faster are visible. Players are frequently invited to make in-app purchases (IAPs), which can range from $1.99 for a purse of shillings to $99.99 for a vault of diamonds. “HURRY” opportunities (costing resources) appear during more advanced tasks.

To receive an energy boost—energy that would otherwise not replenish—players are invited to watch promotional videos. While it is common practice to have gamers earn perks in this way, especially in free games, the promotional videos are problematic. Often, they play at a much higher volume than the rest of the app, and they are more likely to freeze during the introductory screen.

There are positive aspects to this game. There is that deeply satisfying click that happens in players’ brains when they locate an object, especially if it was well-hidden. Fans of the BBC series will recognize the music playing in the background throughout the app. And viewers may even learn about 19th-century gadgets, toys, and articles. It isn’t necessary to be familiar with the television show in order to understand the game. It also isn’t necessary to be a fan of mysteries, because that end of the story is eventually dropped. That said, the app is mostly likely to satisfy those that enjoy a challenge and hidden-object games.—
Andrea Lipinski, New York Public Library

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Diversity in Apps | A Movement Grows Tue, 08 Mar 2016 16:35:27 +0000 diversity in apps

In late 2014, Sandhya Nankani and Kabir Seth, the founders of two independent app companies “committed to addressing the diversity gap in children’s digital media,” found themselves at the same conference. From a conversation that started that weekend, the two decided to “push the industry forward” to a greater commitment to diversity, and in 2015, Diversity in Apps (DIA) was born. School Library Journal spoke with Nankani about the group’s membership, mission, and plans.

How did you and Kabir Seth approach establishing a digital community focused on diversity? What were your first steps?

When Kabir and I met, we realized that we had a lot in common. We are both South Asian and grew up as children of immigrants with very little access to content—be it television, movies, or books—that reflected us and our experiences. As independent app producers, we were both also coincidentally creating children’s content that focused on storytelling, myths, and folktales. Kabir was interested in using the digital experience to merge narrative storytelling with physical and tangible puzzles such as tangrams. I was coming to app development after spending a number of years creating print and digital products in educational publishing. I was interested in figuring out ways to create pedagogically sound literacy experiences that celebrate play and honored diversity by serving as “sliding glass doors, windows, and mirrors” into children’s worlds. When I wrote a blog post for the Joan Ganz Cooney Center about my observations about the diversity gap in children’s digital content, I was struck by the immediate outpouring of responses from individuals in education and the media; it turned out that pockets of conversations on the subject were happening in silos, not in any sort of coordinated public fashion. So, Kabir and I reconnected and reached out to our networks, and others who were thinking about and working around this topic in children’s media. A group of us decided to take action.

In addition to content creators and developers, who are the other members of your group?

Our founding members come from a cross section of disciplines. They are media mentors and librarians, veterans of print and digital educational publishing, educators, researchers, and policy makers. (See our full team here.) And, we’re growing! What’s exciting about the interdisciplinary nature of our group is that it reflects the very nature of kids’ digital media. Digital content today is being created by so many people—including by parents and children—and in so many spaces. It’s also being consumed in many different environments—libraries, schools, homes, and community centers, just to name a few. Our goal is to bring all of these voices together to exchange and share ideas, and to move the industry forward in thinking about the concepts of diversity as in kids’ digital media in a deep and meaningful way.

Can you talk a bit about that mission?

Diversity in Apps is a grassroots coalition. Children’s content lives on and crosses over multiple platforms—TV, apps, websites, and games—so we have come to see our work around apps as the first step in a wider Children’s Media Diversity Initiative. Our mission is to raise awareness about the need for inclusive, equitable, and diverse children’s digital content. At the same time, we’re committed to being a pragmatic, hands-on group that identifies best practices for creating truly diverse products. We are also committed to recognizing producers, publishers, companies, and content creators that are already creating quality, innovative products in this realm.

One of the group’s goals is “articulating a definition of diversity.” Have you come up with a definition?

We started out with the definition that diverse apps for children must incorporate and represent people of color, gender diversity, people with disabilities, LGBTQIA, and ethnic, cultural, and religious minorities beyond the arena of special interest or niche products. But we also recognize that when talking about apps and other digital products, diversity is not just representation in content—that is, the importance of children seeing reflections of themselves and the world around them in the material they consume. It’s also about equity and access. We are painfully aware of the wide digital divide that impacts equitable access to technology. Among the many points in the recent report from The Joan Ganz Cooney Center,  “Getting a Read on the AppStore,” is “expert-awarded apps tend to cost $1-$2 more than top 50 paid apps, possibly perpetuating an ‘app gap’ whereby more affluent families will end up with higher quality apps.”  Any discussion about diversity in apps must take all of these factors into consideration. And, finally, we’re thinking about diversity as it relates to the production process and the teams that are creating, distributing, and marketing children’s content.

At the Tech With Kids conference last year in San Francisco, developers admitted to their need to “do more work on diversity.” In what specific areas did they feel they could improve?

Developers recognized that the communities lowest in income tend to have fewer books in their homes and fewer digital experiences that reflect them and their experiences. They discussed the need to create more content that crosses the divides and barriers of race, class, and gender. They also talked about the challenge of designing an app that is appealing to a wide audience—one that goes beyond class or race, and shared that parents are asking for content that speaks to the different learning styles, language abilities, and needs. Raul Gutierrez, the founder of Tinybop, Inc., spoke about the company’s Apps for Impact, which plans to give away free high-quality educational apps to Title 1 schools, and to libraries, Head Start programs, and community centers, so that there’s a generation of kids who will have access to, and can eventually build apps, using tools such as Hopscotch, Tynker, and The Foos that reflect their diverse experiences.

Are there hurdles creators and developers face in promoting diversity?

Diversity is an accepted need in the world of children’s publishing, and the dialogue happening there is actually shifting the landscape. But to achieve a wider commitment to creating diverse apps, we need research-based evidence that shows why and how diversity matters in early childhood in print and digital (including apps and games). For developers and creators, one of the biggest hurdles is discoverability. How do people find diverse products in the marketplace? Are there keywords that can be used across the industry—whether in existing review databases or in the marketplace itself—to support teachers and parents as they search for products that are mindful of diversity?

At Diversity in Apps, we applaud companies such as Toca Boca and Tinybop, which are actively designing for gender neutrality, and which bake diversity into the entire company, from hiring decisions to the production process. But more needs to be done on this front. As our founding member Kevin Clarke, who does lots of consulting for kids’ media companies, has shared, diversity is often considered at the end of the production process, instead of embedded at the beginning. Throwing “diversity sauce”—as he calls it—onto a product is not a solution. A goal of DIA is to get more companies to recognize both the social impact and ROI (return on investment) value of producing diverse apps and digital content.

The Diversity in Apps enewsletter, which was launched in late January, speaks to a broad community of interested parties—creators, developers, educators, and parents. What are your goals for the publication?

Our weekly newsletters are a curated roundup of the top stories that relate to diversity and children’s media. Our hope is that they will raise awareness of the many angles from which diversity impacts children’s content. We also hope that the newsletter will serve as a tool to raise awareness about the goals and work of DIA, to connect us to resources and other individuals and organizations working in this area, and, of course, to grow our membership. We imagine it as a two-way street.

What role do you envision for the educators in your group?

We had an enlightening #EdTechBridge Twitter chat last October, where we learned a great deal from educators about their use of educational technology, including apps, and their needs, definitions, and ideas about diversity. We’re eager to continue such conversations and to partner with educators on research projects, papers, presentations, curated lists, and more. Educators are on the front lines and have much to share with us in terms of what’s working, and most importantly, what they and children need and want to see. We’re fortunate that several of our founding members are educators. They bring a unique perspective to the table—connecting the dots between early childhood development, learning styles, and educational technology—and can help us collect research-based evidence of the value of diverse content in shaping self-perception.

In addition to the DIA enewsletter, what other resources, events, or initiatives do you have planned?

One of the first products that we’re excited about putting out later this year is a diversity checklist for digital producers to use during the development and production process that identifies milestones and matters to consider. We’re working on it in partnership with the Joan Ganz Cooney Center at Sesame Workshop, the organization that issued the report on Diverse Families and Media: Using Research to Inspire Design. On a personal level, I have started documenting the process of mindfully creating a diverse app over at Medium and will be writing about the connections between research about early childhood development, literacy, and equity, and the decisions we make as producers and developers.

DIA is also working on a selection tool for parents, librarians, and educators to use to evaluate children’s apps for diversity, and we’ll be reaching out to app reviewers such as Children’s Technology Review, Common Sense Media, School Library Journal, and Teachers with Apps to start conversations about how to incorporate this criteria into their existing frameworks for review.

We’re very interested in connecting with app distributors (Google Play Store, AppStore, etc.) to explore the ways in which diverse apps can be more easily discovered. I have started to curate collections (for example, apps for Chinese New Year) and will continue to write about my experience hunting for diverse kids apps. It has been quite an adventure! As a group, we will also be working on recognizing innovations in the field and figuring out ways in which we can be a clearinghouse for developers, parents, librarians, and teachers on apps for kids and other digital content. We’re also intrigued by the idea of putting out a tool such as the We Read Too app, which consolidates a database of diverse apps.

How can people learn more and/or participate in your community?

We had a great launch event with the Children’s Media Association in November, 2015, and are looking forward to and planning more panel discussions and conference panels over the course of the year. Folks can sign up at our website for updates or to reach out to us to volunteer. They can also follow us on Facebook ( and on Twitter (@diversityinapps) or subscribe to our weekly newsletter. If anyone is interested in helping out or has an idea for an event or a project, they can sign up to join our efforts on our website or email us at

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All About Dinosaurs | Touch and Go Thu, 03 Mar 2016 12:28:03 +0000 We’ve reviewed a number of apps about dinosaurs and prehistoric creatures, including the heart-stopping March of the Dinosaurs, which combines fact and fiction as relates the story of two late-Cretaceous creatures at the end of an Arctic summer, and several apps in the   Smithsonian Prehistoric Pals” series, such as A Busy Day for Stegosaurus and Pteranodon Soars. How does Y Factory’s All About Dinosaurs compare with others available on the subject? Caroline Molnar reviews it below.


Opening screen of All About Dinosaurs (Y Factory) Illus. by Jongseok Kim


The tagline of Y Factory, the developer of All About Dinosaurs (iOS, $2.99; Android, $2.45; K-Gr 3), states: “Sparkling ideas sprouting, Fresh discoveries peeking, Where learning happens naturally, Y Factory.” The words sound promising, but lack fluidity. Like the company’s slogan, the app’s premise is encouraging, but the execution is awkward.

The tedious, in-app download that occurs on launching, fortunately, does not return. It is followed by an opening scene of a group of creatures, accompanied by dramatic music. In all, 30 dinosaurs from three time periods are featured in the app, with users deciding where to navigate first. For each period, and each time they visit, children must first complete its home screen, matching stickers to dinosaur outlines, to access information cards on the animals. A paragraph or so of facts are provided for each. A limited zoom-in feature is embedded in a small selection of additional facts on the creature (what it ate, where it lived, etc.) Beyond viewers being able to enter their height to view how tall they stand in comparison to the subject dinosaur, the app lacks the interactive extras of some of the more exciting app productions. The less-than-spectacular visuals feature colorful creatures and light animations. The accompanying audio is appropriate, but a bit basic; users can switch it, and the very limited narration, off or on.

For most children, this app is best explored with a parent or teacher, and it may satisfy those looking for a few facts. However, considering the limited information provided, the title is a stretch. At present, there are more compelling options for exploring the lost world.—Caroline Molnar, Delaware City Schools



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Five Million Robots and Counting: A Developer Grows in Brooklyn Thu, 25 Feb 2016 16:23:49 +0000 tinybop_logo



Raul Gutierrez, founder and CEO of Tinybop, Inc., a design studio in Brooklyn, NY, believes in the power of play. “Sparking curiosity, diving into big ideas, and making connections to the world” are key to his philosophy when it comes to creating apps—and lifelong learners. Gutierrez and his team of 22 engineers, artists, and researchers have been producing apps featuring striking visuals, cool animations, and serious sound effects. Beyond labels in multiple languages, the iOS apps contain no text. However, in Human Body, viewers can release a mosquito and discover what body systems react to its bite, follow a piece of a fruit through the digestive system, or learn how the diaphragm works; rolling through various landscapes and seascapes in Earth, users observe an avalanche in progress, watch as a river changes formation over time, or activate a volcano, and in Homes, kids can step inside the Mongolian ger (yurt), an adobe structure in Guatemala highlands, or a row house in the Northeastern United States, and once there peer into cupboards, start cooking, or open a child’s book.

With the release of Weather, the company boasts nine apps in its two collections for children ages four through nine. Its “Digital Toys” collection—Robot Factory, Monsters, and Everything Machine—provides users with the tools (multiple “appendages, gadgets, and gizmos”) to build, test, play, and save creations. And the numbers are astounding; kids have designed more than 5.2 million robots and created more than 120,000 machines.

The six apps in the “Explorers Library” address units covered in the classroom. Developing a product for this collection, the team first looks at what kids are studying about the subject and examines the resources they are using, including books and films. Working with focus groups, they determine what it is children want to know about the topic, which, helps them determine the scope of their app. And the apps they produce offer more rewards the longer kids explore; responses to interactive play in Tinybop’s apps aren’t repetitive. For example, in Weather, variables affecting a particular weather system and “playscape” can include the time of day, the speed of the wind, the height of the clouds, and/or the amount of rain.

Tinybop apps are now available in 60 languages and have been downloaded in 155 countries. A large percentage of current sales are international, and statistics they have gleaned have produced other visible, intriguing finds: Human Body is a huge seller in Russia, and Homes outranks other apps in the amount of time kids spend exploring.

For each app, an extensive online handbook for parents and educators is available (in multiple languages) and can be downloaded for free. These guides present background information on the topic, screen-by-screen suggestions of items to investigate, and prompts and questions to initiate discussion. And in line with their holistic approach, the company hosts a blog offering suggestions on books for kids, articles on learning and creativity, design sites to peruse, and much more.

With a stated mission to address the digital divide and “make a difference in the lives of all kids,” the company launched Apps for Impact last fall, partnering with other developers to bring apps into Title I schools, “and other underserved communities.” Kika Gilbert, head of Community at Tinybop, also notes that the company strives to build equity as they create apps, reaching out to members of the community for input; for example, citing Homes, what might be found in a typical house or apartment in Guatemala or Yemen.


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