February 17, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

Best of Apps & Enhanced Books | August 2013

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Beethoven’s 9th Symphony. Touch Press/Deutsche Grammophon. 2013. iOS, requires 6.0 for the Free (Lite) or iPad $13.99 versions 1.0.1. Compatible with the iPhone 4 or above, optimized for iPhone 5. $7.99.
Gr 7 UpWhen considering Beethoven’s 9th Symphony you’ll be tempted to go for the free app, but don’t do it; it’s the best kind of worst tease. Instead, purchase the full version, but you’ll need to decide: iPhone or iPad app? Don’t skimp. The phone app has all the music of the iPad app, but lacks the commentaries of the experts. Your last consideration will be the listening options; the app states, “BEST WITH HEADPHONES.” Trust me, it is.

The production’s home page streams the “Ode to Joy,” and although you sense you will be humming it all night, don’t resist. Once you begin to explore the symphony, you won’t be able to stop. There are four performances each with a different conductor: Ferenc Fricsay, Herbert von Karajan, Leonard Bernstein, and Sir John Eliot Gardiner. Each concert piece can be listened to while reading either the full synchronized score or a replica of Beethoven’s handwritten score (amazing), or watching an electric pin-light version that lights up the corresponding parts of the orchestral seating chart as various instruments come in and out. Bernstein’s performance also includes a video of the maestro conducting the symphony with the Wiener Philharmoniker in 1979.

During all the pieces, a phrase-by-phrase analysis by David Owen Norris explains the music in an endearing, informal manner. For example, midway through the first movement he writes, “Those opening sparks of rhythm have caught fire, and in their light we can see we’re back at the beginning….” Norris also contributed the historical analysis that offers background on Beethoven’s life, including his descent into deafness and the genesis of the Ninth Symphony.

Finally (and really, this shouldn’t come last), there are the “Insights” by some of the world’s finest musicians and scholars. Don’t skip this section. Start with Suzy Klein, who makes the Ninth Symphony accessible and drops in some humor along the way. Conductor Gustavo Dudamel helps explain Beethoven’s status as a universal symbol of music, and pianist Alice Sara Ott shares why the “Ode to Joy” is the basis of hope, optimism, and human rights, and discusses why music is a unique language that can unite people with idealism. Without hesitation, an app for all collections.Pamela Schembri, Newburgh Enlarged City Schools, NY

Over in the Jungle. Marianne Berkes. Dawn Publications. 2013/2012. illus. by Jeanette Canyon. iOS, requires 4.2 or later; $4.99. iBooks, 1.3 or later. $6.99.
PreS-KSung to the tune of the classic children’s counting song, this app, based on Berkes’s picture book of the same title (2007), is sure to become a favorite of the preschool crowd. In addition to the rainforest setting, this version features outstanding design, vibrant art, realistic sound effects, a supplemental nonfiction text, and a challenging game.

Each page of the rhyming text introduces a jungle animal and a number of offspring from one to ten. Ocelots, honey bears, howler monkeys, leaf cutter ants, and other rainforest animals make an appearance, offering children an opportunity to learn about creatures they may not have encountered before. Taps, swipes, and jiggles to the screen trigger movements and/or additional sound effects.Users can choose to read the story themselves, have it read to them, or listen to it sung. As the words are voiced, the text is highlighted. Those choosing to listen to the song will be treated to the catchy tune that retains the narration’s expressiveness. A touch to the arrow that appears on every page will allow children to hear the text (or song) repeated.

At the end of the story, viewers are invited to find the 55 offspring depicted populating one final, colorful jungle scene. An icon in the shape of a leaf brings users to a menu page from which they can access animal facts and photos; author, illustrator, and publisher information; and other apps by the developer.Over in the Jungle is a feast for the senses. From the authentic background sounds to the deftly crafted polymer clay animals of the images, each page is a delight. This app is perfect for sharing one-on-one or in a storyhour.Cindy Wall, Southington Library, CT

For additional app reviews, visit Touch and Go’s webpage at SLJ.com under Blogs and Columns.