School Library Journal » » App Reviews http://www.slj.com The world's largest reviewer of books, multimedia, and technology for children and teens Sun, 01 May 2016 13:04:53 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.2.7 Opera Notes: Apps | Touch and Go http://www.slj.com/2016/04/reviews/apps/opera-notes-apps-touch-and-go/ http://www.slj.com/2016/04/reviews/apps/opera-notes-apps-touch-and-go/#respond Thu, 21 Apr 2016 13:20:31 +0000 http://www.slj.com/?p=178772 Two apps from DADA Company introduce different aspects of the opera to children. School Library Journal reviewer Pam Schembri evaluates them below.

 

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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

 

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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 http://www.slj.com/2016/04/reviews/apps/elmos-world-revisited-touch-and-go/ http://www.slj.com/2016/04/reviews/apps/elmos-world-revisited-touch-and-go/#respond Thu, 14 Apr 2016 14:25:36 +0000 http://www.slj.com/?p=178026 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 http://www.slj.com/2016/04/reviews/apps/the-digital-shakesperience-touch-and-go/ http://www.slj.com/2016/04/reviews/apps/the-digital-shakesperience-touch-and-go/#respond Mon, 04 Apr 2016 14:31:22 +0000 http://www.slj.com/?p=176745 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.

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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 http://www.slj.com/2016/03/reviews/apps/dna-play-touch-and-go/ http://www.slj.com/2016/03/reviews/apps/dna-play-touch-and-go/#respond Thu, 31 Mar 2016 14:25:02 +0000 http://www.slj.com/?p=176427 Image from avokiddo.com/dnaplay/

Image from avokiddo.com/dnaplay/

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 http://www.slj.com/2016/03/reviews/apps/kings-queens-castles-on-the-ipad-touch-and-go/ http://www.slj.com/2016/03/reviews/apps/kings-queens-castles-on-the-ipad-touch-and-go/#comments Thu, 24 Mar 2016 14:18:55 +0000 http://www.slj.com/?p=175501  

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 http://www.slj.com/2016/03/reviews/apps/can-you-really-afford-this-manor-downton-abbey-on-the-ipad/ http://www.slj.com/2016/03/reviews/apps/can-you-really-afford-this-manor-downton-abbey-on-the-ipad/#respond Thu, 17 Mar 2016 14:26:50 +0000 http://www.slj.com/?p=174725 “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

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 http://www.slj.com/2016/03/reviews/apps/diversity-in-apps-a-movement-grows/ http://www.slj.com/2016/03/reviews/apps/diversity-in-apps-a-movement-grows/#comments Tue, 08 Mar 2016 16:35:27 +0000 http://www.slj.com/?p=173638 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 (www.facebook.com/diversityinapps) 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 diversityinapps@gmail.com.

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All About Dinosaurs | Touch and Go http://www.slj.com/2016/03/reviews/apps/all-about-dinosaurs-touch-and-go/ http://www.slj.com/2016/03/reviews/apps/all-about-dinosaurs-touch-and-go/#respond Thu, 03 Mar 2016 12:28:03 +0000 http://www.slj.com/?p=173276 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.

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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 http://www.slj.com/2016/02/reviews/apps/five-million-robots-and-counting-a-developer-grows-in-brooklyn/ http://www.slj.com/2016/02/reviews/apps/five-million-robots-and-counting-a-developer-grows-in-brooklyn/#respond Thu, 25 Feb 2016 16:23:49 +0000 http://www.slj.com/?p=172309 tinybop_logo

 

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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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Renaissance Artists Duke It Out | Touch and Go http://www.slj.com/2016/02/reviews/apps/renaissance-artists-duke-it-out-touch-and-go/ http://www.slj.com/2016/02/reviews/apps/renaissance-artists-duke-it-out-touch-and-go/#comments Thu, 18 Feb 2016 14:25:36 +0000 http://www.slj.com/?p=171677 I’ve been following Time Traveler Tours & Tales’ Sarah Towle with interest as she works on a new StoryApp with a manuscript written by author Mary Hoffman. The tale, In the Footsteps of Giants, is set in Florence, Italy, and features Renaissance artist Michelangelo (and his monumental David). Towle has been blogging about her fundraising efforts, her progress on the app, and, most recently, her arrival in Florence. In light of that, it was fun to have the opportunity to spend some time with that other Renaissance man, Leonardo da Vinci (and his cat), in a production from StoryToys Entertainment. As our reviewer Wayne Cherry notes, the two artists are “archrivals” in Leonardo’s Cat—find out why below.

Interior screen Leonardo's Cat (Story  / )

Interior screen, Leonardo’s Cat (StoryToys Entertainment LTD/Savage Studios)

In Leonardo’s Cat (StoryToys Entertainment Limited/Savage Studios, iOS, $2.99; Gr 3-7), the Renaissance artist and inventor da Vinci discovers that this archrival Michelangelo has stolen his latest creation: the Automaton. Unfortunately, the contraption has been disassembled and must be retrieved piece by piece. To gather each part, the inventor’s faithful feline, Scungilli, relies on viewers’ ability to employ some of Leonardo’s ingenious devices effectively (parachute, canon, springboard, etc.) as they propel the creature through a 16th-century Italian town filled with staircases, waterways, traps, and other obstacles.

Gameplay is puzzle-based as users place chosen devices in predetermined locations to navigate to the next level. Which invention to use at each point is up to gamers; not all choices are obvious and there are limits to the number of times each device can be employed per screen. Each invention can be adjusted to a setting that determines how far or at what angle it will project the cat as it leaps over a canal, or parachutes to a soft landing, etc. A tap to the device changes the projection angle of the canon or the height and distance the spring will launch the animal—working in a subtle physics lesson. (Users, who are familiar with The Incredible Machine (Sierra Entertainment), will find the gameplay here reminiscent of that platform.)

Interior screen Leonardo's Cat (  )

Interior screen, Leonardo’s Cat (StoryToys Entertainment LTD/Savage Studios )

Colorful cartoon graphics, background images of some of the da Vinci’s drawings, animated sequences, a cherry soundtrack, and Sir Patrick Stewart’s familiar voice (standing in for da Vinci’s), will entertain and challenge viewers through level 60. And who knows, they just may learn something about the inventor and period while they are at it.–Wayne Cherry Jr., Library Director, First Baptist Academy, Houston, TX

Eds. note: A trailer, including background on the creation of the app with conceptual designer Michael Firth, is available.

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All Aboard DADA Trains | Touch and Go http://www.slj.com/2016/02/reviews/apps/all-aboard-dada-trains-touch-and-go/ http://www.slj.com/2016/02/reviews/apps/all-aboard-dada-trains-touch-and-go/#respond Thu, 04 Feb 2016 04:05:59 +0000 http://www.slj.com/?p=169945  

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

DADA trains

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

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

 

Interior screen from DADA Trains (DADA Company)

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

 

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

 

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Coloring Books Make the Leap to Digital | Touch and Go http://www.slj.com/2016/01/reviews/apps/coloring-books-make-the-leap-to-digital-touch-and-go/ http://www.slj.com/2016/01/reviews/apps/coloring-books-make-the-leap-to-digital-touch-and-go/#respond Tue, 26 Jan 2016 15:42:17 +0000 http://www.slj.com/?p=168690 Millie Marotta's Coloring Adventure for the iPad, it appears the coloring book trend has successfully made the leap to digital.]]> Millie Marotta's

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

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

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

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

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

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Wuwu & Co. | Touch and Go http://www.slj.com/2016/01/reviews/apps/wuwu-co-touch-and-go/ http://www.slj.com/2016/01/reviews/apps/wuwu-co-touch-and-go/#respond Thu, 21 Jan 2016 15:00:08 +0000 http://www.slj.com/?p=168298 Wuwu &Co. appears to be one of those apps in which a soothing narrator reads a story. But when readers are told to “pick up the book,” a new level of interactivity is revealed.]]> Here’s an review that’s been in our queue for a few weeks. The app, which comes to us by way of Norway and Denmark, recently made the list of  Cybils 2015 app finalists.  Andrea Lipinski of New York Public Library reviews it below.

 

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

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

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

Interior screen from WuWu & Co (Step In Books)

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

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

Eds. note: A trailer is available.

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

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Nosy Crow’s “Goldilocks and Little Bear”| Touch and Go http://www.slj.com/2016/01/reviews/apps/nosy-crows-goldilocks-and-little-bear-touch-and-go/ http://www.slj.com/2016/01/reviews/apps/nosy-crows-goldilocks-and-little-bear-touch-and-go/#comments Thu, 14 Jan 2016 15:14:21 +0000 http://www.slj.com/?p=167194 Nosy Crow, the developer known for its delightful contemporary remakes of folktales, has just marked its fifth year in business with the release of another beloved children’s story, reviewed here by Lalitha Nataraj. For a behind-the-scenes look at the creation of the music for the app, Steve Burke shares his process with viewers from concept to computer to mixing studio. Consider sharing this fascinating video (and app) with older music students and aspiring composers. 

Goldilocks-and-Little-Bear-Nosy-Crow-Fairytale-story

 

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

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

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

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

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Spanish-Language Apps: A Starter Collection| Touch and Go http://www.slj.com/2016/01/reviews/apps/spanish-language-apps-a-starter-collection-touch-and-go/ http://www.slj.com/2016/01/reviews/apps/spanish-language-apps-a-starter-collection-touch-and-go/#respond Thu, 07 Jan 2016 14:21:45 +0000 http://www.slj.com/?p=166508 Apps en familia, and our bilingual (and multilingual) app recommendations for children with the parents who use your library. If you don't have Spanish-language apps on your library devices, it's time to start a collection.]]> apps en familiaIn 2014, The Joan Ganz Cooney Center, a research lab focusing on children, digital media, and education published Family Time with Apps: A Guide to Using Apps with Your Kids. (free on iBooks). A Spanish-language edition of the guide, Apps en familia, became available last fall as an iBook and downloadable PDF. The 20-page booklet addresses the educational value of digital media and offers best practice suggestions. Research-based findings on using apps and recommendations on some of the family activities available through them—from creating photo albums to bird watching—are also included. A separate section answers parents’ questions and provides resources for locating quality products.

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

RECOMMENDED

Screen from ABC Action (

Screen from ABC Actions (Peapod Labs LLC)

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

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

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

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

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

Screen from xx by Tinybop

Screen from Plants (Tinybop Inc.)

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

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

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

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Parents, Privacy, and Pesky Sibs: A Middle School Perspective | Touch and Go http://www.slj.com/2015/12/reviews/apps/parents-privacy-and-pesky-sibs-a-middle-school-perspective-touch-and-go/ http://www.slj.com/2015/12/reviews/apps/parents-privacy-and-pesky-sibs-a-middle-school-perspective-touch-and-go/#respond Thu, 17 Dec 2015 15:11:27 +0000 http://www.slj.com/?p=164762 Titles in Annie Fox’s “Middle School Confidential” series have been popular with middle grade readers since they were first published in print. The books—and apps—tackle real-life situations and issues—from self-confidence and stress to friendships and crushes—that a group of fictional tweens and teens encounter, along with positive suggestions and commentary. The first two titles in the series, Be Confident in Who You Are  and Real Friends vs. the Other Kind (available in iOS and Android) were reviewed in this column earlier; we wanted to make sure this app received a review as well. Chris Gustafson reviews it here.

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

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

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

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Top 10 Apps 2015 http://www.slj.com/2015/11/reviews/best-of/top-10-apps-2015/ http://www.slj.com/2015/11/reviews/best-of/top-10-apps-2015/#respond Mon, 23 Nov 2015 23:30:20 +0000 http://www.slj.com/?p=161831 SLJ’s resident app guru, curates a stellar list of the best educational and story apps produced in the past year.]]> TOP10-2015-Apps_100pxWith new developers and authors joining the field and established companies continuing to push boundaries, app innovation is lighting up digital devices. In this year’s best-of-the-year column we celebrate productions that inform and challenge, encourage discovery, and engage students in a range of interactive activities. As always, our selections focus on story apps and curriculum-related content reviewed during the past year in SLJ’s Touch and Go column and highlight the range of material available for children and teens.


TOP10_APPS_ArcadiaWith no desire to thrust himself “into the vanguard of digital innovation,” Iain Pears nonetheless finds himself there with Arcadia (Touchpress, Gr 8 Up), a multilayered, nonlinear, genre-bending app that offers three story strands and the ability to flow seamlessly from one tale to another. There are literally hundreds of paths to explore as readers wend their way through Pears’s lyrical prose and timeless settings. A daring concept, well executed.


TOP10_APPS_WiesnerAuthor and three-time Caldecott winner David Weisner is all about innovation, and his first app, Spot (HMH, PreS-Gr 2), explores five fantastical worlds, all entered through the dot on the back of a bug. Pinching and zooming, viewers progress deeper and deeper into sets of visual environments and narratives, illuminated by Weisner’s resplendent, richly hued art, featuring quirky scenarios and atypical perspectives—and a few familiar creatures. Intriguing.


TOP10_APPS_NewImmigrantsMining resources from a range of cultural institutions, The New Immigrants NYC 1880–1924 (Vangard Direct, Gr 4 Up) presents a curated collection of 100-plus primary and secondary sources, from historical essays and oral histories to archival photos and video clips related to the second wave of U.S. immigration. Leveled questions and prompts, teaching strategies, related links, and other useful tools make this a classroom must-have for its insights into historical thinking and the experience of the millions of early 20th-century arrivals to our nation.


TOP10_APPS_MoleculesThe latest addition to Touchpress’s impressive library of science apps is Theodore Gray’s stunning Molecules (Gr 9 Up). Deep content and superb visuals, including extraordinary 360-degree views, are just the beginning: users will also learn about and experience a new technology that allows scientists—and now, them—to watch simulated models of molecules—views seen before only in a “very few laboratories.” For armchair enthusiasts and students.


TOP10_APPS_SnowWhite2“Mirror, mirror on the wall, who’s the fairest of them all?” The Nosy Crow name is synonymous with playful, award-winning digital updates of classic fairy tales, and their latest production, Snow White (PreS-Gr 2), is another winner. Employing cool iPad technology and loads of interactive opportunities, kids can rock the infant princess in her cradle, help the Evil Queen mix a sleep-inducing concoction, and view themselves in the magic mirror. This cheery retelling featuring colorful, droll illustrations and a child narrator is the perfect antidote to Disney overload.


TOP10_APPS_SpanishThe same exuberant, colorful creatures that populate Originator’s earlier productions are back for some Endless Spanish/Infinito Español (PreS-Gr 4) in this introduction to common terms and usage, for both native and second-language learners. Cheers, prompts, and confetti are offered as encouragement and congratulations, while spirited animations, enactments, pronunciations, and translations ensure kids have fun while they learn. ¡Vamos a jugar!


TOP10_APPS_Churchill“What would Winston Churchill do?” As five episodes from the British Prime Minister’s life are related, students are offered an opportunity to Think Like Churchill (Touchpress; Gr 5 Up) and to predict what the leader actually did in the situation. The activity encourages higher-level thinking and analysis, and its assortment of related photos, letters, postcards, and snippets from speeches provide primary sources for viewers to reference. The appealing cartoon art is an added draw. Entertaining and educational.


TOP10_APPS_ArchitectApprentice Architect (Touchpress; Gr 3-6) is a highly visual, conceptual introduction to the work of the visionary Frank Gehry. There are plentiful avenues of discovery to travel as children explore the Fondation Louis Vuitton museum in Paris and consider some of the decisions architects make about shape, color, pattern, and light as they design their own buildings. Two-dimensional and 3-D tools, 360-degree and cut-away images, and gamelike activities will keep aspiring artists engaged.


TOP10_APPS_LumiBright, bold graphics, playful environments, and joyful sound effects all recommend LumiKids Park, Beach, and Backyard (Lumosity/Lumos Labs, Inc.; PreS-K). What sets these apps apart is how they challenge kids’ cognitive flexibility, visual-motor coordination, planning ability, and other skills as children work their way through increasingly difficult rounds of winning activities related to shape, color, size, and balance. Delightful and deep.


TOP10_APPS_WWFChildren love animals, and the plight of endangered animals is a subject many feel passionate about. World Wildlife Fund’s app WWF Together (World Wildlife Fund, Gr 3 Up) offers facts on the status of dozens of creatures, while exploring in greater detail the difficulties 16 species are now facing. New articles, breathtaking color photos, a 3-D global locator, and instructions to create a menagerie of origami creatures are a few of the extras in this super update.

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“World Wildlife Fund Together” | Touch and Go http://www.slj.com/2015/11/reviews/apps/world-wildlife-fund-together-touch-and-go/ http://www.slj.com/2015/11/reviews/apps/world-wildlife-fund-together-touch-and-go/#respond Thu, 19 Nov 2015 14:43:59 +0000 http://www.slj.com/?p=160793 WWF Together app, available free on iOS, Android, and Kindle Fire. ]]> Children love photo-essays and stories about animals and educators looking to introduce global issues into the curriculum often find endangered animals a good place to start. The World Wildlife Fund provides a digital offering on the topic, with an update to their WWF Together app, available free on iOS, Android, and Kindle Fire.

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

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

Screen from WWF Together

Screen from WWF Together (World Wildlife Fund Inc.)

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

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

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

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On Tour Through “My Incredible Body” | Touch and Go http://www.slj.com/2015/11/reviews/apps/on-tour-through-my-incredible-body-touch-and-go/ http://www.slj.com/2015/11/reviews/apps/on-tour-through-my-incredible-body-touch-and-go/#respond Thu, 12 Nov 2015 14:26:50 +0000 http://www.slj.com/?p=160421 When it comes to the human body, there’s no lack of digital products that explore its inner workings. DK The Human Body takes high school students system-by-system through the body via labeled illustrations and a few animated scenes and videos. The Heart and Lungs Lab (isygmes S. C.) for middle grades can be adapted to different learning levels and styles and is available in both Spanish and English. Tinybop’s Human Body for elementary students has no text beyond labels, but offers interactive features and an extensive online guide in 10 languages. Zybright’s app, reviewed below, has a few additional features.

Screen My Incredible Body (Zybright) "The Lung"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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WonderBox: Explorations in Science, Geography, Music, and Design | Touch and Go http://www.slj.com/2015/11/reviews/apps/wonderbox-explorations-in-science-geography-music-and-design-touch-and-go/ http://www.slj.com/2015/11/reviews/apps/wonderbox-explorations-in-science-geography-music-and-design-touch-and-go/#comments Wed, 04 Nov 2015 11:35:03 +0000 http://www.slj.com/?p=159166  

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

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

Sharing sneaker designs in WonderBox

Sharing sneaker designs in WonderBox (Duck Duck Moose)

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

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

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

For additional app reviews, visit our dedicate app webpage.

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