February 20, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

Best of Apps & Enhanced Books | June 2013

Get the latest SLJ reviews every month, subscribe today and save up to 35%.

BBC Earth Wonders.BBC Worldwide LTD. 2013. iOS, requires 5.0 or later. Version 1.0. $3.99.
Gr 2 Up–Earth Wonders offers a collection of images showcasing the fierce and fascinating beauty of our natural world, including rare animals, plants, and natural phenomena. As such, it supports science research, though the brevity of the text may make it a supplemental resource. The app’s real standouts are the hundreds of high-quality photos and numerous videos that bring information to life in a way that text cannot. These can be accessed alphabetically, or by theme, or by tapping a globe.

Providing glimpses into the incredible and often dangerous facets of nature, the videos are sometimes grisly; sensitive viewers may be disturbed by a pack of lions hunting and devouring an elephant. Then again, what child can resist seeing a Venus fly trap capture its prey? Other videos are sheer awe and beauty, such as the time-lapse scenes of the aurora borealis. Users may be put off by the somewhat clumsy interface and the prominent link to purchase the BBC’s Planet Earth television series after each video, but kids will love navigating via the spinning globe. Overall, a welcome resource for those with a keen eye for nature.–Allison Tran, Mission Viejo Library, CA

Fire Station. $2.99
Firefighter Dress-Up. $0.99.
ea vol: JumpSeeWow, Inc. 2012. iOS, requires 5.0 or later. Version 1.0.
PreS-Gr 2-Do your students and know the difference between a fire truck and a fire engine? In Fire Station, Clover the Rabbit takes kids through a cheery animated town where 10 documentary videos on the firehouse and firefighters’ equipment are embedded. Intuitive picture cues are tapped to launch the short films, which range in length from one to five minutes.

The narrated video clips include tours of the two aforementioned vehicles and the station. They star actual firefighters who describe their daily tasks, point out and name the different parts and functions of their vehicles, and demonstrate how they operate. (Two of the videos are available for preview at the Jump SeeWow site.) Children can easily navigate the app, swiping across screens to move through scenes. A few of the images around town are also interactive, but there are no cues pointing to the interactions. One video is of baguette making at the bakery, which may not interest children invested in the firefighter theme.

The app would work well in a preschool or early elementary setting as part of a unit on community workers, and is sure to appeal to children who can’t get enough information on the subject of firefighters. Firefighter Dress-Up is a related app with the same cartoon characters available to color and dress. There’s no text and the interface is clumsy. The clothing doesn’t snap into place easily and users must exit the app to clear the picture. Stick with Fire Station; young enthusiasts will find much to revisit in that production.–Shelley Harris, Oak Park Public Library, IL

Tracking Trash: Flotsam, Jetsam, and the Science of Ocean Motion. Loree Griffin Burns. 2013. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. iBooks 3.0 or later; iOS, requires 5.1 or later. Version 1.0. $ 9.99.
Gr 4-9–“There is a lot more trash out there than I expected.” This was the observation of a marine pollution researcher after his first flights over the Eastern Garbage Patch, an area of the Pacific Ocean where currents converge to create a floating landfill the size of Alaska. The vivid images, clear descriptions, videos, and animated diagrams in the iBook edition of will no doubt bring readers to the same realization. The title, one in the “Scientists in the Field” series (HMH, 2007) follows the efforts of Curt Ebbesmeyer and other scientists whose work studying ocean currents included tracking the routes of “roughly 80,000 sneakers” and 28,800 plastic tub toys adrift in the Pacific Ocean after two (separate) cargo spills, and referred to as “the largest and (cheapest) ocean drift experiment ever undertaken.”

The ebook has been enhanced with age-appropriate video content—one or two short multimedia components per chapter, including a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) animation of ocean currents that is both soothing and dizzying at the same time. The news is not all bad, though—readers also learn about scientists and conservationists who use techniques as basic as beachcombing and as advanced as satellite tracking to identify and clean up our oceans. Tracking Trash inspires further research and individual commitment to the environment, and with links to relevant websites and ongoing projects accessible from the tablet, the creators of the app have made it easy for students pursue their interests. Bonus: unlike the print version, the ebook edition isn’t made out of a tree and won’t end up in a landfill.–Paula Wiley, Pink Me