March 22, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

Best of Apps & Enhanced Books | April 2013

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Brian Cox’s Wonders of the Universe. Brian Cox and Andrew Cohen. Visual design by Anthony Webster. Collins/BBC/the OTHER media. 2012. iOS, requires 5.0 or later. Version 1.21. $5.99.

Gr 9 Up Based on two popular BBC science series hosted by physicist Brian Cox, this app immerses viewers in the science behind our solar system and the universe. It contains content from both television series with video clips, animated images, and infographics, alongside an incredibly rich and deep text.

Opening instructions guide users on how to navigate the app’s text and image gallery. The content is organized under the two broad areas (space and the universe), and both of these sections contains a number of subheadings or chapters. Chapters begin with a video clip introduction by Cox. Discussions start small–for example, sub-atomic and atomic particles expands to conversations about galaxies and the universe. A search box linked to a detailed index will help viewers locate specific information.

Cox is a great guide and the two-and-a-half hours of film clips of him discussing a variety of topics bring viewers to new levels of understanding. For instance, in considering the more than 2000 objects that circle the Earth, the author demonstrates what this “congestion” looks like with a clip of the identified asteroids in motion, and later, onsite at the Barrington Crater in Arizona.

Also included are more than 50 high-resolution 3D images that illuminate phenomena such as black holes and nebulae. These, along with authors’ renderings, can be saved, tweeted, emailed, or posted to Facebook.

To describe the content as multi-layered hardly does justice to this production. It’s a course in itself, taught by an engaging instructor, who while imparting his vast knowledge instills his students with awe and wonder appropriate to these otherworldly topics and scenes.—Daryl Grabarek, School Library Journal

Kids Discover Galaxies. 2013. Version 1.1. Free.
Kids Discover Space. 2012. Version 2.0. $3.99.
ea: Kids Discover. iOS, requires 4.3 or later.

Gr 5-8 Kids Discover has produced a number of apps based on their magazine series. Two of the recent offerings include the exemplary Galaxies and Space. The first focuses on the Milky Way and beyond, whilethe secondcovers our solar system.

In both productions, the writing is clear and engaging and the apps do an excellent job of presenting information via text and interactive features. In addition to navigation guides and visual indices, and a combination of pop-up text and/or captions, notes on important figures, Q & A’s, and definitions, these productions include a range of easily accessed elements such as film clips, animations, narrated segments, and background sounds that beautifully illustrate and enhance the accompanying text. For example, the more interactive Galaxies includes a projection of the Milky Way that allows viewers to zero in on Earth’s location and view it from a variety of angles.

Along with some spectacular photography, the apps contain reproductions, artists’ renderings, and colorful cartoon drawings. The activities included at the end of the texts–a jigsaw puzzle, a connect-the-stars drawing feature, etc.–are more appropriate for a younger audience, but these represent only a small portion of the otherwise stellar content. Overall, these are visually stunning, informative introductions to their subjects.—Lindsay Cesari, Baldwinsville School District, NY

You Are Stardust. Elin Kelsey. illus. by Soyeon Kim. Think Thirty-Three/Owlkids Books. 2012. iOS, requires 5.0 or later. Version 1.2. $4.99.

PreS-Gr 3How often do we take the time to stop and observe the world around us with the children in our lives? You Are Stardust, based on the picture book of the same title, encourages us do just that. Written by environmentalist Elin Kelsey, the text is rooted in science, yet surprisingly poetic.

A comforting female voice narrates the text, accompanied by melodic tones, chimes, and sounds from nature. The book provides a springboard from which to see the interconnectedness of things, to imagine, and to ask questions. It reminds readers to “Be still. Listen,” and suggests that, “We are all connected. We are all nature. We are all stardust.”

Soyeon Kim’s diorama artwork was created using linen fabric; Japanese paper; dried flowers; and color-washed, 2D line drawings suspended inside wooden boxes. It’s extraordinary. The whimsy and 3D feeling of the original art successfully transfers to the digital version and subtle animations of wings flapping, falling stardust, and floating whales further help to enliven the text.

The app opens with two viewing and listening options and opportunity for children to make their own diorama. “More about Stardust” can be accessed to discover how Kim created her art, to read a note from the author, and more.

If it’s been a while since you’ve marveled with your kids about how the electricity in our brains is similar to lightning or the way baby birds learn to sing, You Are Stardust is a great place to start.—Kathleen S. Wilson, NYU/Tisch School of the Arts, New York, NY

Daryl Grabarek About Daryl Grabarek

Daryl Grabarek is the editor of School Library Journal's monthly enewsletter, Curriculum Connections, and its online column Touch and Go. Before coming to SLJ, she held librarian positions in private, school, public, and college libraries. Her dream is to manage a collection on a remote island in the South Pacific.