February 24, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

A Bevy of Alphabet Apps | Touch and Go

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Judging from the number of alphabet apps, it appears that every major and minor developer has created at least one. This week we look at five of them, each worthy of a child’s attention. From Alphabeasties Amazing Activities color and draw opportunities to those vocal, wiggly letters that must be dragged into place in Endless Alphabets, each app includes some level of interactivity.

Auyrn, the creator of a number of award-winning apps, offers its Alphabet Animals (reviewed here) free of charge until February 15, 2014. The California-based company has recently moved their substantial collection over to their new StoriesAlive app. StoriesAlive can be downloaded for free, and along with it comes a number of apps, including Alphabet Animals.


Screen from "Alphabeasties Activity App"

Screen from “Alphabeasties Amazing Activities” (CJ Educations) Werner & Forss

Based on the popular book by Sharon Werner and Sarah Forss (Blue Apple, 2009), Alphabeasties Amazing Activities (CJ Educations Corp. iOS, $3.99; PreS-Gr 1) provides a fun way for young children to learn to write both upper and lowercase letters before they have the fine motor skills to hold a pencil. In the “Read & Write” section of the app, children have the opportunity to uncover an animal illustration by correctly writing each letter of the alphabet—“E” for elephant, “M” for monkey, and so on. Animated arrows model the proper stroke order of each letter, encouraging  children to trace the letter on the screen with a finger. The app is either very exacting or slightly buggy in this mode; it can take several tries before the app will accept the child’s efforts, even when the line appears perfectly placed. After the child completes the strokes, their hand-drawn letter is transformed into a typeset version, introducing the appearance of different fonts.

This app addresses the needs of both visual and aural learners with its appealing colors and engaging animation, as well as a cheerful voice announcing each letter and corresponding animal name. Users  will delight in anticipating what color “ink” will be used to write each letter, and guessing what animal will ultimately be revealed. The app also features a “Color & Draw” section with mazes, virtual stickers, and matching games that reinforce the letter knowledge gained in the “Read & Write” component, as well as a “Learn” section featuring basic flashcards that voice the letter when tapped.–Allison Tran, Mission Viejo Library, California

Screen from xx (Auryn) MacDonald

Interior screen from “Alphabet Animals” (Auryn) MacDonald

Suse MacDonald is known for her colorful picture books, including the Caldecott Honor Alphabatics (S & S,1986). Fans of that concept title will enjoy Alphabet Animals: A Slide-And-Peek Adventure (Auryn, 2013; iOS, Free until 2/15/14; PreS-Gr 1), which highlights a succession of expressive creatures set against boldly colored backgrounds, each representing a letter of the alphabet. Each screen features an animal posed in a way that corresponds to the letter it begins with. For example, a rotund orangutan becomes an “O,” the horns of a yak form the arms of the letter “Y,” and a seated zebra mirrors the shape of a  “Z.” Sliding out a pull-tab on the edge of the images animates the animals; on “H,” the horse lifts its tail and right front leg. Friendly voices identify the individual animals and letters when tapped. Sliding the cards back into place returns the animals to their original positions. As the cards shift, so do the eyes of the creatures. An added feature lets users create framed animal pictographs (confetti flies when complete), which can be emailed or saved in a photo album.

Navigation is intuitive, allowing children to explore the app on their own; a catchy tune can be switched on or off with a tap to the image of a musical note that appears on each page.The app’s colorful graphics and simplicity are sure to charm both children and adults, with the benefit of pull-tabs that won’t be damaged with repeated use.Kari Allen, National Writing Project in New Hampshire

photo-171Children can choose to be read to, or read Dr. Seuss’s ABC (Oceanhouse Media, iOS $3.99, Android, $3.99; PreS-Gr 2, originally Beginner, 1963) on their own; both modes are available in this app. Emergent readers may choose the first option initially as Seuss’s nonsensical language can be a challenge. However, like this developer’s other productions, the text is highlighted as it is read and tapping on a word or an image will cause its name to be voiced.

Each letter is presented in its upper and lowercase form, introduced here as “BIG” and “little” and followed by a verse (“T…..T/t…….t/What begins with T?/Ten tired turtles/on a tuttle-tuttle tree.”) containing examples of words that begin with it, and an illustration. Fans of Seuss will recognize his familiar style of art, and perhaps, a character or two. Sound effects and music have been added (with on/off options), as well as a feature that allow users to record their own voices.–Daryl Grabarek, School Library Journal

Interior screen from

Interior screen from “Elmo Loves ABCs” (Sesame Workshop/Symbio)

In Elmo Loves ABCs (Sesame Workshop/Symbio, iOS $4.99, PreS-K), children are greeted by the familiar–and ebullient–Sesame Street character who shares his alphabet love and encourages children to choose from the 26 letters framing his image. For each one selected, upper and lowercase letters (identified as such) appear, as do dotted lines demonstrating to children how to trace them with their fingers. Prompts and congratulations from Elmo are offered along the way.

Once children finish this exercise for an individual letter, three items corresponding to it appear on the bottom of the screen. For “M,” it’s milk, a mountain, and a mouse; for “Z,” zucchini, a zipper, and a zebra. Tapping each picture elicits a related Sesame Street video clip, an animation, or a live-action clip of children and the featured item. Additional game-like activities are included (identifying the correct letter from a group, etc.) that reinforce the concepts, as well as a few videos from the television series: songs and sequences devoted to the entire alphabet.

With help from an adult, children can personalize the app by adding a name, photo, audio, and video. There is also a “tracker” feature that may interest some parents. It records their child’s “favorite letter,” “favorite activity,” and “average time played,” etc.

The familiar, beloved character and literally hours of engaged learning will bring children to this app again and again.—Daryl Grabarek, School Library Journal

Screen from "Endless Alphabet" (xx) xx

Screen from “Endless Alphabet” (Originator, Inc.)

Endless Alphabet (Originator, Inc., iOS $5.99. Android, $4.99; PreS-Gr1), a playful letter- matching, speech-developing app, opens with a parade of colorful, Pokemon-like creatures dancing across the screen. The host, a horned blue monster, then settles into place with his mouth open to reveal a carousel of 59 alphabetically arranged cards, each one featuring a word and one or more characters ready to frolic. At the bottom of the screen is a dial for choosing whether to play with all the words or just the new ones (word selection is regularly updated).

After scrolling through and selecting cards, the fun begins. Clicking on a term scatters its letters across the screen as a creature stampede tears across the display. Gray letter-shaped spaces are left behind, and users drag the colorful letters to their correct spots to move to the next challenge, providing an easy and enjoyable way to boost children’s letter-recognition skills. Audio assistance is provided by the letters springing to wiggly life as they are dragged, insistently emitting “their” sound. Dragging the “y” of yawn, for example, starts a creature yelling, “yuh-yuh-yuh,” which halts when it is placed correctly (users hear a sad “uh uh” if the letter is brought to the wrong spot). Upon success, the word jumps around in celebration and a little monster acts it out (lying down and emitting an exaggerated yawn, for example), while a female voice recites its definition, a recitation that can be activated at any time by pressing a small “word” button. This creative offering will be popular with preschoolers generally, but its boisterous audio feature will be particularly useful with children in speech therapy who need a boost to get them talking or speaking more clearly.—Henrietta Thornton-Verma, Library Journal


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.



  1. Martha Bisek says:

    Stories alive cannot be downloaded for free – today, February 13

    • Daryl Grabarek Daryl Grabarek says:

      Martha, I just deleted my StoriesAlive app and tried downloading it again – it worked for me, so perhaps if you try again later it will work for you. I hope so. The alphabet app comes with the StoriesAlive download until tomorrow only.