April 19, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

Best of Apps & Enhanced Books | October 2013

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Pigeon Presents…Mo on the Go! (Disney Publishing Worldwide) © Willems.

Matter. Kids Discover. 2013. iOS, requires 5.0 or later. Version 1.0. $3.99.
Gr 5-8–Another high-quality nonfiction offering from Kids Discover. The text introduces readers to the following concepts: atoms, elements, states of matter, mixtures, and physical changes versus chemical changes, as well as real-world examples of the states and their properties. The writing is clear and precise and well suited to those unfamiliar with the topic. Because the app is both comprehensive and illustrative, it could easily serve as an interactive stand-in for texts of a more static nature.

The bright, sharp visuals are stunning; each page is pleasingly arranged with an appropriate balance of information and illustration. Animations, sound effects, and short video clips are incorporated throughout, demonstrating, for example, how a steam engine works and what happens when a piece of dry ice (solid carbon dioxide) is dropped into a glass of water. Accompanying the text is a matching activity, a five-question quiz, and problems for calculating volume. The brief, how-to section that appears when the title is first opened serves as a tutorial. Between the lucid writing and the beautiful visuals, this app will have many classroom applications.–Lindsay Cesari, Baldwinsville School District, NY

Pigeon Presents: Mo…on the Go! Mo Willems. Disney Publishing Worldwide. 2013. iOS, requires 4.3 or later. Version 1.0. $3.99; Nook. Version 1.0. $2.99.
PreS-Gr 1–Pigeon is back, and this time he’s joined by several beloved Mo Willems characters in a number of entertaining game options. Narrators instruct users on how to operate the activities as upbeat piano music sets a playful tone. In “Pigeon’s Dream Drive” children steer a bus driven by the bird through a maze of streets. The object? To pick up ducklings without being caught by a mad cow. Honking horns, barking dogs, and quacking ducklings add to the fun.

“Dance-o-Rama,” featuring Gerald and Piggie, asks users to select dances for each character to perform to the tune of disco music. Leonardo the Terrible Monster hosts the “Monster Maker,” which requires viewers to choose from an array of body parts to build a creature. Children can also create Knuffle Bunny-inspired pictures using the iPad camera.

Willems makes cameo appearances in both “Monster Maker” and “Dance-o- Rama,” and he’s the host of “Mo’s Squillems,” a drawing activity designed for one or two players. In that game, children create pictures based on a squiggly line provided on the page. Each visit brings a new squiggle, offering endless possibilities. Mo…on the Go! is more than entertainment; it encourages imaginative play and problem solving.–Cathy Potter, Falmouth Elementary School, Falmouth, ME

War Horse. Michael Morpurgo. Touch Press/Illuminations. 2012. iOS, requires 5.0 or later. Version 1.0.2. $6.99.
Gr 5-9–Transforming a book into an app begins with a solid story and War Horse (Egmont, 1982) is that. Young Albert, a British citizen, lies about his age, enlists, and searches the Great War battlefields of France until he finds his beloved horse, Joey, which had been sold to the military. The two are on the front together for part of the the war, with the horse as the poignant narrator, puzzling over and accepting the brutality and senselessness of World War I.

An attractive, clearly organized home screen provides multiple entry points into the story. Swiping the numbered 3-D watercolor illustrations across the top of the page lets readers select a chapter to open. In both portrait and landscape views the pages of text fade in at the top of the screen and fade out at the bottom as readers scroll down. It’s easy to adjust text size and screen brightness, to move between chapters, and to switch Morpurgo’s home-spun reading of the text on or off. Clicking on the time line link at the top of the screen opens a column of images and key words that can be tapped to provide information about the war concurrent with that section of the story.

Touch Press developers are in tune with the Common Core State Standards; the time line 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. Navigation is intuitive and elegant, with all the aspects of the app working smoothly together. So much to like!–Chris Gustafson, Whitman Middle School Library Teacher, Seattle School District, WA

For additional app reviews, visit our Touch and Go webpage.

This article was published in School Library Journal's October 2013 issue. Subscribe today and save up to 35% off the regular subscription rate.