March 22, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

A Summer App Recap | Touch and Go

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For those of you who have been sitting under a shade tree or on a beach these past two months—and we hope that’s most of you—we’re offering a recap of app reviews published over the summer. The list includes picture books, poetry, music, a reference guide or two, and some beloved characters and timeless stories. These are titles you’ll want to load onto your devices ASAP. Follow the links to the full reviews and pricing information.

If your school year ends in May or early June, you may have missed Nosy Crow’s latest foray into the world of fairy tales, Little Red Riding Hood. “Seamless interactivity, nonlinear storytelling, immersive game play,” and more than a touch of humor, characterize this production featuring vibrant illustrations and a lively narrative. Children will find themselves lost (in a good way) in this delightful version as they get their protagonist through the woods to grandma’s house, and the woman out of a pickle (or cupboard, in this case). Screen time options for new readers are built into the production.

Two apps both elementary children and their teachers and parents will appreciate are Julie Hedlund’s A Troop of Monkeys and A Shiver of Sharks (Little Bahalia Publishing). In addition to introducing collective nouns, these interactive titles offer gentle environmental messages and stunning collage artwork. In each app, reading strategies and discussion questions for the animal groups can be found behind the “Parents & Teachers” tabs, and lists of the Common Core standards and Bloom’s Taxonomy objectives addressed are provided. From a surfeit of skunks with their “stinky, foul fumes” to a “cast of crabs” scuttling sideways, these are titles that are sure to find favor with kids.

Recommend our column titled “A Starter Collection of Apps for the Preschool Set” to teachers who have just purchased their first classroom iPad. It’s a list of our favorite apps reviewed over the past two years and it features both classic (Beatrix Potter’s The Tale of Peter Rabbit/Loud Crow Interactive) and contemporary stories (Tad Hill’s How Rocket Learned to Read/Random House Digital). The age range for most of these quality productions extends to first grade.

Mo Willems hardly needs to be introduced to children; once one kindergarten or first grade student discovers his “Elephant and Piggy” books, it’s impossible to keep them on the shelf. The author’s signature silliness extends to his apps, which offer storytelling, drawing, and game options. His latest production is Pigeon Presents: Mo…on the Go! (Disney Publishing Worldwide Applications). In the “Pigeon’s Dream Drive” activity children must steer a bus through a maze of streets;  “Dance-o-Rama,” featuring Gerald and Piggie, asks users to choose three dances for each character to perform on a stage to the tune of disco music. Willems is the host of “Mo’s Squillems,” a drawing game, and appears in other activities as well—activities that our reviewer noted, encourage both “imaginative play and problem solving.”

The memorization of poetry has witnessed a resurgence with several recently published collections of poems to “learn by heart.“ Two apps, Orel Protopopescu’s The Word’s a Bird (Syntonie) and “Poetry by Heart,” (Inkle/Penguin Group USA) may inspire your students to do a little memorizing of their own. The first app, which includes four poems, lovely watercolor artwork, and amusing animation, is a tribute to spring for young listeners and readers. Poetry by Heart presents a fill-in-the blank format for secondary students. Readers add missing words to the poems, line by line. Attempts are scored (and mistakes are corrected) and endless opportunities to try again are provided as users learn the verses. Selections, which range from Edward Lear’s “The Owl and the Pussy-Cat”  to “Walt Whitman’s “O Captain!,” are labeled for level of difficulty. The free app comes with two poems and additional thematic four-poem “bundles” are available for purchase. Don’t miss the trailer for this one; it’s loads of fun and can be used to introduce the app to students.

Michael Morpurgo’s War Horse (Touch Press) is the story of a young man reunited with his beloved horse on the battlefields of World War I. The book was first published in 1982 and since then has seen many incarnations—novel, play, film, and now app. The app includes the full text, illustrated with watercolor art. As School Library Journal’s reviewer noted,Touch Press developers are in tune with the  Common Core State Standards; the timeline connects readers to short, intriguing interviews, reproductions and maps, well-captioned archival photographs, and short informational text, much of which can be read aloud at the touch of an icon. ”Insight” videos showcase the author discussing different aspects of his book and the war, and experts offering details about soldiers’ uniforms, tanks, battlefields, German trenches, war songs, and more—all accompanied by visuals. From the home screen viewers can tap” Performance” to see the author stage an 80-minute, abridged version of the book with live music before an audience.”

Also from Touch Press is Beethoven’s 9th Symphony, an in-depth look at what many consider to be the  composer’s greatest work. The title includes four versions of the symphony (by four conductors) and each one can be listened to while reading the score, or watching an electric pin-light version that lights up the corresponding parts of the orchestral chart as various instruments come in and out. During all the performances, an informal, phrase-by-phrase analysis explains the music. In addition there are notes on  Beethoven’s life, the genesis of the Ninth Symphony, and “Insights” into the work “by some of the world’s finest musicians and scholars.” A trailer of the app is available.

Screen from ‘National Geographic Birds’

The perfect companion to a unit on birds or a field trip to the nature preserve? National Geographic Birds: Field Guide to North America (National Geographic/IXONOS). The app allows nature lovers to identify winged creatures, learn about their habits, and record sightings, all before they can say Ladder-backed Woodpecker. Like the print version of the guide (2006; Jon L. Dunn and Jonathan Alderfer, eds.), this production offers an overview of species on our continent, their appearance and behavior, as well as labeled color images and habitat and range maps. Users have the option to add notes and/or a photo and share the event. Viewers will be able to hear the caterwauling of a pair of Barred Owls, and the laugh of a Marbled Godwit, among hundreds of other sounds and songs. This last feature is one students are sure to sing about.

For the college bound, “Fiske Guides” have always been go-to resources. Two years ago they launched an interactive app with information on more than 300 colleges with options to add notes, email admissions offices, and more. The latest addition to their list is the Fiske Guide to Colleges 2014 Best Buys in higher education. While the sampler is limited—only 14 of the 41 “Best Buy” school are included— they represent a range of school locations, sizes, and majors. Included are photos, and data on enrollment, average test scores, and more.  Direct links to school websites are sure to become a favorite feature. The publisher plans to release additional college samplers this fall.


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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.