School Library Journal » » Apps The world's largest reviewer of books, multimedia, and technology for children and teens Fri, 27 Mar 2015 20:36:40 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Westward Bound | Touch and Go Thu, 26 Mar 2015 13:44:40 +0000 photo

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


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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

]]> 0
The New Immigrants NYC 1880-1924 | Touch and Go Thu, 19 Mar 2015 15:44:03 +0000  

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

]]> 0
Outstanding STEM Apps: Digital resources on life science, physical science, and earth and space sciences Mon, 09 Mar 2015 15:59:34 +0000 The renewed interest in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) education in the United States began with the awareness that 21st-century employment opportunities in technology and science would continue to expand rapidly, outpacing our nation’s pool of trained workers. There was also the concern that the U.S. would lose whatever competitive edge it had in related global industries. Since then, STEM legislation has been introduced in Congress, and federal dollars have supported a range of education initiatives and programs to address the issue. The apps listed below are some of our STEM favorites, culled from SLJ’s column “Touch and Go.” They satisfy current academic interests in increasing the number of accessible science and digital resources. For additional titles, visit our dedicated app webpage (

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

Life sciences

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Physical sciences

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Earth and space sciences

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For additional app reviews, visit our dedicated webpage.

]]> 0
March 2 Is Seuss Day | Touch and Go Thu, 26 Feb 2015 15:40:23 +0000 Each year, in celebration of Dr. Seuss’s birthday on March 2, we offer reviews of Seuss apps published during the previous 12 months—and check to see if we might have missed a few earlier titles. Oceanhouse Media (OM) is the place to go if you are looking for any of Geisel’s books in digital. To date, OM has published dozens of Seuss and “Dr. Seuss Learning Library” titles for iOS, Android, and other devices. Earlier round-ups of Seuss apps have included Happy Birthday Dr. Seuss! and The “Very Serious” Nonsense of Dr. Seuss. And FYI, the Dr. Seuss Camera – Happy Birthday to You! Edition is still free, if you would like to create a few birthday cards in his honor. This year we report on three apps.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For additional app reviews visit our Touch and Go webpage.

]]> 0
Time For Bed: Story Apps To Put Them In the Mood | Touch and Go Wed, 18 Feb 2015 19:00:53 +0000 A child being tucked into bed, a cat creeping around a house, a raccoon scavenging through trash cans, and circus animals settling down for the night, are some of the sights and sounds seen and heard in these soothing story apps guaranteed to ease children into bedtime routines.

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

Screen from "City Nights"  (Tidepool)

Screen from “City Nights” (Tidepool) Russell

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

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

Screen from

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

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

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

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

Screen from " Not Without Bear" (appropro) Hines

Screen from ” Not Without Bear” (appropro) Hines

Not Without Bear (appropro, iOS, $2.99; Nook, $2.99; PreS), written and illustrated by Anna Grossnickle Hines and based on the print book of the same title (Orchard, 2000), features a scenario that will be familiar to households with young children: revisiting the day’s activities in search of a missing lovey. Here viewers help Audrey and her mother as they look under couch cushions, in drawers, and through cupboards, until at last the stuffed animal is found and the girl and bear are tucked safely into bed. The appealing art is bold and bright, featuring animations and page turns that can easily be manipulated by small fingers. A narration, accompanied by a few sounds effects and musical interludes, enhance this simple but satisfying story.  Available in English, Spanish, and German.—Daryl Grabarek, School Library Journal

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


]]> 0
Theodore Gray’s ‘Molecules’ | Touch and Go Thu, 12 Feb 2015 14:50:44 +0000 Fans of The Solar System, The Elements, and other apps from Touch Press, should have an inkling about what to expect from Theodore Gray and Molecules. In the review below you’ll find out about a new technology that allows scientists—and you—to view simulated models of molecules—views seen before only in a “very few laboratories.”

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

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

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

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

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


]]> 0
David Wiesner’s Spot-On App | Touch and Go Thu, 05 Feb 2015 16:05:35 +0000 Pushing boundaries? That’s nothing new for three-time Caldecott winner David Wiesner, author and illustrator of stunningly original picture books. Lately he’s been busy working on an app for Houghton Mifflin Harcourt that offers viewers intriguing imaginary worlds to explore. The title is Spot, and it’s due to release on February 19th. We had a chance to view a demo of the app and talk with Wiesner about the fruition of a story he describes as “long simmering.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Any more plans to create in this format?

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




A trailer of Spot is now available.

]]> 0
Ancient Civilizations Up Close | Touch and Go Thu, 29 Jan 2015 15:59:49 +0000 For sneak peeks of the apps reviewed today, visit the Kids Discover website. You’ll find a trailer and “learning tools” for both Ancient China and Incas.

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

Screen from 'Ancient China' (Kids Discover)

Screen from ‘Ancient China’ (Kids Discover)

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

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

Interior screen from 'Incas' (Kids Discover)

Interior screen from ‘Incas’ (Kids Discover)

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

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

]]> 0
Bopping Through Biomes | Touch and Go Thu, 22 Jan 2015 15:22:54 +0000 tinybopAt Launch Kids, a full day devoted to children’s publishing at the Digital Book World Conference, Warren Buckleitner, editor and founder of Children’s Technology Review, noted that after a few years of app invention and originality, innovation had begun to level off. There are always exceptions, of course, and at one point Tinybop was mentioned. If you haven’t yet seen that developer’s Human Body, be sure to take a look. Plants, the second app in Tinybop’s “Explorers Library” is up for review today.

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

Interior screen from 'Plants' (Tinybop) Caudry

Interior screen from ‘Plants’ (Tinybop) Caudry

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

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

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

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

]]> 0
Predators, Pollinators, and Prairie Dogs: An Ecosystem Revealed | Touch and Go Thu, 15 Jan 2015 15:40:57 +0000 We first experienced augmented reality with Moonbot’s Imag.N.O.Tron app, used in conjunction with the print version of The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore. Holding the iPad squarely over the book and giving the app a moment to “recognize” an image, allowed it to pull characters, scenes, and scenery off the page and into our 3-D space—creating a thrilling cinematic experience. Since then, we’ve seen other terrific examples of this technology, including The Numberlys Imag.N.O.Tron (Moonbot again), and Horrible Hauntings, which works with Shirin Yim Bridges’s book of the same title. Pop-up app seems to be growing in popularity as a term for these apps. The app reviewed today by Sara Lissa Paulson has both book and pop-up versions.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

]]> 0
“Stephen Hawking’s Snaphots of the Universe” |On the iPad Thu, 08 Jan 2015 15:01:42 +0000 Interior screen from 'Stephen Hawking's Snapshots of the Universe" (Random)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

]]> 0
Goodnight, Goodnight, Construction Site | Touch and Go Thu, 18 Dec 2014 15:40:45 +0000  


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


]]> 0
The Human Body—Animated | Touch and Go Thu, 11 Dec 2014 05:48:00 +0000 DK The Human Body takes high school students system by system through the body via labeled illustrations and a few animated scenes and videos. As School Library Journal’s reviewer stated, it’s best “for big-picture anatomy instruction and excellent for memorization—labels can be turned off so that viewers can test their memories.” The two apps reviewed here are appropriate for younger audiences, and like the DK Human Body impart information primarily through illustration and animation.


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

For additional app reviews visit the Touch and Go webpage.

]]> 1
SLJ’s Top 10 Apps for 2014 Thu, 04 Dec 2014 15:30:44 +0000 SLJ1412w-Top10-Apps_icon

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

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

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

SLJ1412w-Top10_Apps_JackBeanstalkTraditional tales with a twist are Nosy Crow’s (Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood) forte, and in Jack and the Beanstalk (PreS-Gr 1), the innovative British developer has added gaming and concept-building to this retelling of a classic story. As they help Jack, kids will have a chance to practice their reading skills, learn about narrative structure, and use their knowledge of counting and patterning as they tilt and swipe their way through nine doors to outwit the boy’s nemesis. Loads of challenges, an exhilarating chase, and a chance to fell a formidable foe—to an audio track of clever quips and piano melodies—what more could thrill-seekers ask for?

SLJ1412w-Top10_Apps_WondersofLifeIn Brian Cox’s Wonders of Life (HarperCollins/William Collins; Gr 4 Up), the renowned physicist-cum-BBC host and Andrew Cohen take viewers around the world on an awe-inspiring trip to locations both forbidding and exotic while delving into the origins and mysteries of life on Earth. The app’s illuminating text and commentary, 1,000-plus high-resolution photos, numerous 3-D images, and hours of video clips will leave viewers with a profound respect for and curiosity about the diverse life forms and environs found on our planet, and inspire a desire to protect them. Up-close footage of numerous species is guaranteed to produce lots of “ooohhh…” moments.

SLJ1412w-Top10_Apps_PierreFor those lucky children who have the opportunity to attend musical performances, Sergueï Prokofiev’s beloved story of the boy named Peter who bests a wolf is often their first introduction to the orchestra. Now Pierre et le Loup (Camera Lucida/Radio France/France Télévisions; Gr 1 Up), a delightful production of that tale, can be enjoyed by those miles away from a concert hall. Superb storytelling through music, film, animation, graphics, and humor will wow viewers, as will the cool Mativision technology. An occasional word is spoken in French, but in context, easily understood by all. Magnifique!

SLJ1412w-Top10_Apps_endless“High-octane” and “fun” are the words that best describe Endless Alphabet (Originator, Inc; PreS-Gr 1), a playful, letter-matching, speech-developing app. It’s hosted by an animated horned blue monster and a bevy of boisterous creatures who stand at the ready to provide prompts and encouragements, enunciate letters and words, and frolic and cheer when a word is completed. Visual and audio definitions plus a regularly replenished list of terms make this app a winner.

SLJ1412w-Top10_Apps_IncredNumbers“Math is Beautiful,” states the introduction to Ian Stewart’s Incredible Numbers (Touch Press/Profile Books; Gr 7 Up), and the app delivers an “elegant proof” of that claim. From pi to polygons and factorials to infinity, this interactive exploration of mathematical concepts and their applications in nature, music, and cryptology, will appeal to a range of users, including those who may not yet have the vocabulary for all of the topics addressed. Illuminating visuals and activities will help students grasp concepts. A dictionary, brief bios, and puzzles to solve make this an essential resource for high schools that teach advanced mathematics.

SLJ1412w-Top10_Apps_His-dreamAbundant archival visuals, more than 20 compelling videos, and outstanding writing tell the story of the historic August 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom that culminated in Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech in Terry Golway’s moving and powerful His Dream, Our Stories (MetroDigi/Comcast NBCUniversal, Gr 6 Up). Jesse Jackson, Peter Yarrow, and Andrew Young are a few of the individuals who gathered on the Mall that day, and here they share their stories about that and other milestone events of the civil rights movement. Not to be missed: an interview with event organizers Roy Wilkins and King just days prior to the march.

SLJ1412w-Top10_Apps_KenBurnsIncorporating video clips and archival photos from 25 of his feature-length films and documentaries, Ken Burns (Ken Burns LLC/Big Spaceship/Red Glass; Gr 9 Up) provides students with a time line of American history from 1619 to the present. Cogent commentary and curated playlists offer viewers an opportunity to explore individual productions and/or trace the threads of “Innovation,” “Race,” “Leadership” and other themes as connections and patterns emerge across time. An engrossing glimpse into the panorama of our nation’s history and one filmmaker’s oeuvre.

SLJ1412w-Top10_Apps_WorldAtlasIn 2012, The Barefoot World Atlas (Barefoot Books/Touch Press; K- Gr 5) made our best list, cited for its delightful animations, captivating cartoon art, clear color photos, informative narration, and access to real-time data. With the same attention to detail and graphics, this year the developers have enhanced this app, adding “packs” of information on topics ranging from “Great Cities” and “International Soccer” to “World Art” and “North America.” Hang onto your armchair, traveling has never been more fun.

SLJ1412w-Top10_Apps_monumentvalleyWhile it wouldn’t be difficult to convince adults that Monument Valley (ustwo; Gr 4 Up) contains lessons in spatial awareness and problem-solving, we wouldn’t want to deny the app’s pure pleasure value. In maze-like settings featuring pastel colors, players must advance a diminutive princess up ladders and stairs and through shifting structures that defy both gravity and logic. With no instructions, it’s up to appsters to use their smarts to bring their heroine through to the final chapter of this captivating, addictive narrative and game.

SLJ1412w-Top10_Apps_GruffApps can provide readers with occasions to spend time with their favorite characters, and fans of Julie Donaldson’s Gruffalo will be delighted to encounter that creature in the Gruffalo: Games (Stormcloud Games Ltd./Magic Light Pictures Ltd; PreS-Gr 2), a series of interactive activities that will have kids honing fine-motor, color-, letter-, and number-recognition skills. Axel Scheffler’s cheery illustrations manage to make this goofy fellow with “terrible claws, and terrible tusks in its terrible jaws” look friendly.

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

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

]]> 1
Mighty Mosasaurus | Touch and Go Thu, 13 Nov 2014 05:25:14 +0000 Oceanhouse Media has released a number of apps based on the Smithsonian ‘Prehistoric Pals’ print series. Mosasaurus is the latest. If your patrons and students are keen on prehistoric creatures, take a look at some of the other apps from this developer as well as March of the Dinosaurs produced by Touch Press.

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


Interior screen from ‘Mosasaurus’ (Oceanhouse Media) Carr

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

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

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

]]> 1
A Mysterious Thief with an Unusual Mission| Touch and Go Thu, 06 Nov 2014 15:07:49 +0000 Here’s a story that can be used in a literacy lesson on prefixes, but as our reviewer notes, one-time around may be enough.

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

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

Interior screen "The UnStealer) (The Happy Dandelion)

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

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

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

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

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


]]> 0
Ken Burns & Vivaldi on the iPad | Best of Apps & Enhanced Books Mon, 03 Nov 2014 20:22:25 +0000 SLJ1411w-Apps-race

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

]]> 0
Game On! Playful Apps for Children (and Adults) | Touch and Go Thu, 30 Oct 2014 14:16:17 +0000 We see lots of game apps and while many will hold children’s attention for a while, only a few will have them returning again and again. The five reviewed below are spot-on. Three are for the preschool through early elementary set, but Monument Valley and Petting Zoo had the adults in our office passing around the tablet.

Screen from

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

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

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

Interior screen 'Gruffalo: Games' (  )

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

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

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

Screen from 'Petting Zoo' (  ) Niemman

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

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

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

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

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

Screen from 'Monument Valley' (    )

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

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

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

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

]]> 2
Put a Little Spook On Your iPad | Apps for the Halloween Season Wed, 22 Oct 2014 23:49:04 +0000 Librarians who work with young children will tell you that it’s around the age of five that kids start asking for scary stories. Granted, there’s scary and then there’s not-so-scary, which is usually what those children are looking for. Last year’s Halloween app column featured productions for these youngsters. This year’s selection will be fun to share with the middle grades during any season, but especially fun as the holiday approaches.

ghosts coverGhosts: Encyclopedia of Phantoms and Afterlife (Terrylab, free download, $2.99 in-app purchase; Gr 4 and Up), a collection of tales about ghosts and ghostly phenomena, features high-quality graphics and animation and spooky mood music. If you’re looking for something to put kids in the Halloween mood, this app, billed as “an entertaining mystic interactive horror story book” is likely to do the trick.

To begin their journey, viewers must clear their way through the cobwebs, dust, and detritus on the opening screen to locate a skeleton key that will unlock the volume. Once inside, they can enter their name on the first page, which will personalize the entries. Chapters are selected by holding the heart-shaped planchette over the icons on a Ouija board, which offer information about “Ancient Ghosts,” “Ghosts of Cemeteries,” “Animals’ Ghosts,” “Poltergeists” and other topics.

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

Embedded in the sections are pop-up notes and animated maps and illustrations. Skeletons and messages emerge from behind shattered mirrors, specters appear in windows, insects crawl across pages, and shadows pass over screens as words and letters tumble off the page and haunting sound effects and music are heard in the background. An unnerving, but fun, interactive romp through the legends and lore of the spirit life. For a peek, take a look at the trailer.  Also available in Russian.—Danielle Farinacci, Sacred Heart Cathedral Prep, San Francisco, CA

Interior screen from  (HAAB )

Interior screen from  ‘Sherlock’ (HAAB) Doyle

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

The app doesn’t come with instructions, but from page one (and “play”) Simon Vance’s narration will bring “The Red-Headed League’ to life. The audio is important; although some students may be familiar with Arthur Conan Doyle’s intelligent and amusing style, some may not understand the elevated vocabulary without Vance’s fluid narration creating the proper context. Timing is everything in storytelling and on auto-play, the music and sound effects flow seamlessly as the visuals unfold.

The humor of Holmes’s observations, his quirky investigative style, and the satisfying ending are seamlessly integrated. Once viewers understand the story, they can return to individual screens to reread the text and thoroughly examine the details that they may have missed. Objects, located with a magnifying glass, can be gathered in a “collection” that provides details about the items, the mystery, and Sherlock Holmes. A map of London highlights where events take place and a “dossier” collects profiles on the characters that appear in the story. The menu offers access to these files, while the slides and settings are found along the bottom of the screen. More titles in the series are promised. A great app to introduce the writing of Doyle. Available in English, French, German, Russian, and Spanish.—Pamela Schembri, Newburgh Enlarged City Schools, Newburgh, NY

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

]]> 0
Brian Cox’s ‘Wonders of Life’ | Touch and Go Thu, 09 Oct 2014 13:30:01 +0000 photo-162He refers to himself as a bit of an “academic ” and lucky for us he is. Brian Cox is also a highly engaging, enthusiastic teacher of all things science. His Wonders of the Universe app, based on a BBC series, is an immersive exploration of our solar system and beyond. In his latest production, Wonders of Life, Cox delves into the origins and mysteries of life on Earth. Amy Shepherd reviews it below.

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


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

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

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

Brian Cox prepares to demonstrate (   )

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

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

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

]]> 0