March 19, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

Classic Tales for the iPad | Best of Apps & Enhanced Books

Get the latest SLJ reviews every month, subscribe today and save up to 35%.


Pierre et le loup. (Peter and the Wolf) Sergueï Prokofiev. Camera Lucida/Radio France/France Télévisions. 2014; iOS, requires 5.1 or later. Version 1.1. $3.99.

Gr 1 Up –This beautiful and whimsical version of Prokofiev’s classic includes a 30-minute, mixed-media film and playful, music-oriented activities. The movie presents the story of Peter and the Wolf through a visually striking combination of animation intermixed with live-action scenes of a child interacting with members of the L’Orchestre national de France and musical director Daniel Gatti. Throughout, scenes incorporate the use of colorful backgrounds, silhouettes, various fonts, and musical notations. While the limited narration is in French, all can enjoy the movie.

The 10 interactive activities are accessed in one of two ways: through the menu bar at the bottom of the screen or by swiping an arrow on the top right corner. The activities explore each of the characters (Peter, the Wolf, Bird, Cat, Duck, Grandfather, and Hunters) and their musical themes.

Some screens incorporate Mativision technology; in one of the activities viewers must scan a nighttime scene by moving the iPad as they try to snap of photo of le loup as it creeps through in the woods. In another, as viewers hold the iPad, they can turn it to get a 360-degree virtual “bird’s-eye” view of the orchestra playing the musical theme for Peter. It should be noted that although each activity is supported by brief spoken and written instructions in French, the activities are intuitive and viewers should have no difficulty determining how to play. This wonderful exploration of a classic symphony for children won the prestigious 2014 BolgnaRagazzi Digital Award in the nonfiction category.–Leanne Bowler, School of Information Sciences, University of Pittsburgh


Seamus Heaney: Five Fables. Touch Press/Flickerpix/Faber and Faber. 2014. iOS, requires 7.0 or later. Version 1.0.0. $11.99.

Gr 4 Up –For selection purposes, the most important words in this title are “Seamus Heaney.” Yes, that Seamus Heaney—winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature, acclaimed translator of Beowulf. The plots of the five featured fables (“The Two Mice,” “The Lion and the Mouse,” “The Preaching of the Swallow,” “The Fox, the Wolf and the Carter,” and “The Fox, the Wolf and the Farmer”) will be familiar to any reader of Aesop, but Heaney’s brilliant and accessible translations of these works, originally written in verse by Scottish author Robert Henryson in the 1400s, is vastly more complex than the picture book versions readers may be imagining.

There are three access points to the fables. There’s Heaney’s translation, which can be read with or without the actor Billy Connolly’s rich narration. Ian Johnson also guides listeners as he reads and smooths out the puzzling vocabulary of Middle Scots, while the sly and charming animated versions emphasize the setting, characterizations, and humor of each story, with musical accompaniment, and a choice of either narration.

All the elegant elements that mark Touch Press apps are present. An illuminating introduction opens the production and more complex information is presented as users go deeper into the app. The stories are annotated; a tap to the “commentary” icon brings up notes which are displayed side-by-side with the corresponding text. Fables also includes a number of valuable video clips featuring commentary by Connolly, and Heaney and other scholars, providing background and opinion on the vocabulary, context, translation, morals, and Henryson. Navigating between the features is easy.

Those looking for connections to state standards will find them straightforward; for example, ample opportunities to apply the Common Core English Language Arts Reading Literature standard (4) which focuses on the analysis of a writer’s craft and word choice, or the Reading Literature standard (10) that asks students to analyze how an author draws on and transforms source material are both present. Upper elementary and middle school students can contrast the animated versions to simpler retellings. High school students will marvel at Heaney’s thoughtful translation as they compare it to the original text and will benefit from the different readings, the commentary on the translation, and the scholarly insights. A stellar production offering plenty to delight and amaze.–Chris Gustafson, Whitman Middle School Teacher Librarian, Seattle Public Schools.

This article was published in School Library Journal's September 2014 issue. Subscribe today and save up to 35% off the regular subscription rate.