April 23, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

Down with the Dinos | Touch and Go

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With brief texts offering a touch of drama and some basic facts, Oceanhouse Media’s “Smithsonian Prehistoric Pals” series, based on the books by Dawn Bentley, have found an audience with young children. Fans of the series will be familiar with Triceratops Gets Lost and It’s Tyrannosaurus Rex!. The developer has recently released A Busy Day for Stegosaurus and Pteranodon Soars; both of those productions are reviewed below.

Interior screen from 'A Busy Day for Stegosaurus' (OM) Carr

Interior screen from ‘A Busy Day for Stegosaurus’ (OM) Carr

From the moment she awakens until she settles down to sleep, it’s A Busy Day for Stegosaurus ($2.99; PreS-Gr 2). The story, based on the book by Dawn Bentley (Soundprints, 2003), begins as this Jurassic creature leaves her egg-filled nest at dawn in search of food. The slow-moving dinosaur encounters other animals, both friendly and predatory (there’s a fight with an allosaurus, but the spikes on Stegosaurus’s tail and the bony plates along her back protect her). As the day progresses, viewers learn about the diet, habits, and habitat of these mighty creatures. Returning to her nest later in the day, Stegosaurus discovers her eggs have hatched.

The story is clearly narrated by Al Gates and each word is highlighted as it is read. If they choose,  children can read the story on their own, or record a narration. A simple swipe turns pages, and a tap on a picture will bring forth voiced labels; a double tap to a paragraph will cause it to replay. Individual pages can be selected from the on-screen menu. Karen Carr’s art depicts lush landscapes and offers some few close-up images and dramatic perspectives. Background sound effects such as animal calls and cries enhance the story, but there is little animation besides panning and zooming on the pages. A straightforward production with limited interactivity for young dinosaur fans.—MaryAnn Karre, West Middle School, Binghamton, NY

Interior screen from 'Pteranodon Soars' (OM) Carr

Interior screen from ‘Pteranodon Soars’ (OM) Carr

Less story than vignette, Pteranodon Soars (Oceanhouse Media, $2.99; PreS-Gr 2), based on Dawn Bentley’s book of the same title (Soundprints, 2004), follows a female of the species as she takes flight, dives for fish, eats, easily evades a mosasaur (“her enemy”) lurking in the water, dives again, and carries food to her hatchlings on a cliff side nest. Following the 12 pages of scenes are three short paragraphs of pteranodon facts (fewer than in a strong encyclopedia entry). The sole interactive features are language-based: tap any word to see it highlighted and hear it read; tap a portion of the illustration to see its label and hear it voiced (“water,” “prey”). Additional enhancements are atmospheric sound effects—surf, wings, cries, splashing—and gentle pans and zooms (app, not user, controlled).

The home screen offers “Read To Me” (Al Gates reads; user turns pages); “Auto Play” (narration plus automatic page turns); and “Read Myself” options. Carr’s illustrations are gorgeous; Bentley’s sentences are simple, clear, and fairly short. One quirk is the obscure placement of the settings. Absent from the home screen, they’re tucked under an arrow (then the familiar gear) icon once you enter the app. From the settings, viewers can mute sound effects, select pages, and record an apparently limitless number of narrations. Each can be named separately and emailed for sharing—a great feature for classrooms or reading instruction. Pteranodon Soars is most suited to those settings or situations; it’s not as strong a choice for fact-hungry dinosaur enthusiasts looking to be immersed or dazzled.—Emily Lloyd, Hennepin County Library, Eden Prairie, MN

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