February 22, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

Charlie Brown, ‘Icky Mr Fox,’ and ‘The Lost Song’ | Touch and Go

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There must be a collective noun for an assortment of apps. If not, we need to coin one. How else to describe this week’s selections, which include a beloved comic strip character, a mischievous critter with questionable intentions, and a story marked with music and message?

Interior screen from ‘Charlie Brown’s All-Stars!” (Loud Crow) Schulz

It’s summer and Charlie Brown’s All Stars! (Loud Crow Interactive/Verso Story Engine. iOS $3.99; Android $2.84; Gr 1-5) are trying desperately to win a baseball game. After 999 straight losses, one by one the team members toss in their hats, only to be lured back onto the field when they hear that Mr. Hennessy of Hennessy’s Hardware is willing to sponsor them as a team–uniforms and all.

The home screen opens to a picture of baseball equipment, drawings of team members, and a copy of a Charles M. Schulz book by the same title. A tap to the book cover offers viewers the option of playing a short intro, which foreshadows Charlie Brown’s troubles on the field, or jumping into the long-playing story. Navigation throughout is seamless: arrows and images of baseballs indicate page turns and swipes, and there are clues to what screen readers are on in each chapter. Character voices are integrated into Stephen Shea’s narration and the text is highlighted as it is read; individual words can be tapped to hear them voiced.

All Stars! incorporates the gamut of interactivity found in book apps today. With a swipe to the screen viewers can lend Charlie Brown a hand as he pitches and by tilting the tablet they can help this earnest kid try to catch a fly ball. Other interactive opportunities include assisting Linus as he inflates and fills a pool, and tapping characters to hear added dialogue. Charlie Brown’s All Stars! is based on the TV special that first aired in 1966 and has long been a favorite story of children.–Omar Ramirez, Northlake Public Library, Northlake, IL

Interior screen from ‘The Lost Song’ (Ravensburger)

Imagine a land without music. In The Lost Song (Ravensburger Digital/Daedalic Entertainment. $1.99; PreS-Gr 2), the use of color and animation help tell the story of young Henry’s life in Silentium, a town void of song. Inside the town, everything is grey and people move about only to work. One day the boy discovers a treasure that he can’t identify (a violin) in an attic and runs away with it. As the boy goes beyond Silentium, colors begin to brighten and cheerful sounds fill the air. He meets a ghost named Mimi who introduces him to music, commenting that it will tell him, “who you once were, who you are and who you want to be,” a message repeated at the story’s end.

A menu hides under a musical note on each page. A tap reveals a scroll of thumbnail images, hints of animated illustrations, and puzzles. Readers will appreciate the hints as some animations are less obvious than others. Reading and listening, language, volume, and sound effect options are available.

Lost Song is a satisfying story; its cartoon art and interactive features will entertain, but may not entice readers to return. However, young users are likely to linger on the pages where touching a variety of animals creates a symphony of sound. The puzzle option, limited to jigsaw puzzles, will disappoint users expecting variety.

The narrator’s voice is pleasing, but at times the narration does not follow the written text exactly, causing potential confusion for children reading along. Multilingual users should be aware that while the text is available in English, German, French, Italian, and Spanish, the “Read to Me” feature is only available in English and German. A melodious tune and song in German opens and closes the app.–Deirdre Reddington, Uniondale High School, Uniondale, NY


Interior screen from ‘Mr Icky Fox’ (ickypen) Bitskoff

The British developer ickypen offers two interactive stories for young listeners and readers. In Aleksei Bitskoff’s The Icky Mr Fox (Free; PreS-Gr 1), Mr Rabbit and Mr Mole are enjoying tea and biscuits in their underground burrow when the determined fox shovels through. Unfortunately for him, the tunnel dirt caves in, allowing the rabbit and mole to escape. In Bitskoff’s Icky Mr Fox’s Rainbow ($1.99; PreS-Gr 1), Mr Rabbit and Mr Mole climb a rainbow intent on visiting each other. While they enjoy their tea and biscuits atop the rainbow’s arc, Mr Fox hurries to saw it into  pieces. When when he does, the quick creatures are able to escape on puffy clouds. Both stories offer hidden animations.

The illustrations, featuring earth tones in The Icky Mr Fox and pastels in Rainbow, are quite good and offer lots of detail, but the story lines are simplistic. The narrator reads with a flat British accent. (Both stories offer text with the sound on or off.)  Occasionally the stories instruct readers to “tappy-tap” or “swipey-swipe.” Almost all the figures and objects in the pictures are labeled and voiced when touched.  Easy-to-use “back” and “next” arrows make page turning easy, but there was no way to return to the beginning of the stories with one swipe or tap.  Animations and music are minimal. The developer’s website offers a peek at Rainbow.–Debbie Whitbeck, West Ottawa Public Schools, Holland, Michigan


Daryl Grabarek About Daryl Grabarek

Daryl Grabarek dgrabarek@mediasourceinc.com 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.