March 24, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

SLJ’s Top 10 Apps of 2013

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Whether it’s happenstance or the fact that digital producers have heeded the call for more nonfiction materials across formats, it’s been a robust year for informational apps. Top developers such as Touch Press continue to create innovative works of stunning quality and depth, and a host of newcomers have joined the game. We’ve seen more museum and magazine apps, or in the case of Kids Discover magazine, issues-to-apps. Producers of digital stories and book-inspired titles have also released works of visual distinction and engagement. Bookshelf collections such as Storia and Reading Rainbow have expanded, and others by individual publishers keep sprouting up. What follows is a list of some of our favorite productions, selected to represent the range and variety of materials available for children and teens reviewed by School Library Journal since late 2012. As in the past, our number one is a developer—our way to sneak in more than the allotted “10” apps.

 With striking high-resolution visuals, spectacular 3-D imaging, and quality texts to match, Touch Press’s apps remain frontrunners in the field. Among its noteworthy productions this year was The Orchestra ( Gr 3 Up), brimming with videos of musicians demonstrating the qualities and range of their instruments, orchestral excerpts, thoughtful commentary, and an insightful text. It’s a captivating—and complete—package that is also an indispensable resource for students of music. On a very different topic, Touch Press offers a thrilling virtual tour of Egypt’s Giza Plateau for those who venture inside Pyramids 3D (Gr 6 Up). Navigating the ancient necropolis, viewers can explore nine sites, all yielding information on the chambers, wall carvings, and paintings deep within. Film enthusiasts will marvel at Disney Animated ( Gr 4 Up), a treasure trove of movie clips, images, and information about the history and production of the studio’s 53 animated feature films. Embedded interactive workshops let budding animators try their hand at industry techniques.

A classic fairy tale receives an invigorating update in Nosy Crow’s splendid Little Red Riding Hood (PreS-Gr 4). Along with its playful nonlinear storytelling, a winsome narration, and vibrant artwork filled with humorous—and wacky—touches, this flawlessly interactive app includes games and activities that propel the story forward and send this big bad wolf on his way.

Based on the popular BBC science series hosted by the renowned physicist, Brian Cox’s Wonders of the Universe (HarperCollins/BBC; Gr 9 Up) immerses viewers in a spectacular look at the mysteries of our solar system and beyond. Cox is an engaging guide who instills in his viewers the awe appropriate to these otherworldly topics and scenes. Add an incredibly deep text, animated images, infographics, high-resolution 3-D images, and hours of video clips, and you see why it’s no wonder this app made our list.

Mo Willems’s titles are de rigueur in classroom collections where children are learning to read. His Pigeon Presents: Mo…on the Go! (Disney Publishing Worldwide Applications; PreS-Gr 1) provides a look at the author’s repertoire of earnest and exuberant characters, while also offering his fans storytelling input and entertaining game and drawing activites. Upbeat music, honking horns, quacking ducklings, plus a dancing elephant and cameo appearances by Willems add to the fun.

It’s fascinating to see how a developer takes the format of Roxie Munro’s maze books and creates a challenging digital product, Roxie’s Puzzle Adventure (OCG Studios; PreS-Gr 6). These 16 landscape puzzles, each with multiple levels of difficulty, will turn kids into champion problem solvers as they hone their visual and fine-motor skills. Seamless interactivity, intuitive navigation, and cheery art add to the appeal of this winning production. Depth, detail, and loads of fun for a range of ages.

No longer must fledgling birders juggle a field guide, a journal, and a pen on the trail. All they need is National Geographic Birds: Field Guide to North America (Gr 4 Up) and voilà, they’re ready to go. The app presents an overview of 995 species with labeled color images, habitat and range maps, video clips, and options to create photo-enhanced lists. From the caterwauling of a pair of barred owls to the warble of a hermit thrush, the opportunity to listen to each creature’s sounds is truly something to sing about.

It was no easy feat selecting our favorite Kids Discover production. These apps have been released one per month, each based on a nonfiction topic initially featured in the print magazine. Like its companion apps, Matter (Gr 5-8) features superb illustrations, clear diagrams, and informative videos. The vivid visual interpretations go a long way in illuminating the concepts here. Be sure to explore the other science and social study topics in this engaging series.

In Lynley Stace’s Midnight Feast (Slap Happy Larry; Gr 6 Up), a short story for tweens and teens, a young girl living in a not-too-distant future world escapes the reality of her dark existence through her rich imagination. Music, sound, color, and interactivity are used to great effect, adding layers of meaning to this sophisticated tale. Extensive “Key Questions and Close Reading Notes” are included for classroom use.

Serving truth, justice, and tighty-whities, Dav Pilkey’s underdressed superhero reigns supreme in the Adventures of Captain Underpants (Scholastic; Gr 2-6). Along with the full text of the immensely popular print title, the app’s awesome animation and games, recording options, and irresistible Flip-o-Rama pages will make fans of uncouth humor want to linger over this story. Will adults consider all the sound effects enhancements? Unlikely, but kids will love them.

A sword-wielding boy on a quest, monstrous obstacles, and scenes engulfed in flames. What more could fans of graphic novels and adventure stories ask for? Niko and the Sword of Light (Imaginism Studios; Gr 4-6) delivers all that and more in colorful, animated panels featuring speech bubbles that translate into a pitch-perfect narration and a whopper of a tale.


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

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.



  1. Super list, DG! So glad Touch Press took on The Orchestra – the subject deserves the great treatment, and Touch deserves the sales. Every school music room should buy that app. And the National Geo Birds app – yay!!

  2. Have you had a chance to check out Night Zookeeper Teleporting Torch at all?


  3. Little Red Riding Hood looks fantastic – love the illustrations! My kids are big fans of the Peppa Pig apps. They’re educational as well as fun – definitely worth checking out!

  4. I love Kids Journal and had it to download on my school ipads. When I went to search for it in the app store because it wouldn’t load on my classroom ipads, it was gone. Anyone know anything about this?