April 20, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

Winston Churchill, Snow White, and the Alphabet | App Reviews

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Think Like Churchill (Touch Press) ©Jaime Huxable

Metamorphabet. Patrick Smith. Vectorpark. illus. by the author. 2015. iOS, requires 7.0 or later. Version 1.03. $3.99.

PreS-Gr 2–Fluid animation combines with imaginative word pairings in an alphabet app that offers abundant visual and poetic appeal. Touching a featured letter transforms it into a blocklike, 3-D sculptural form. With a few more taps, the shape begins morphing into images representing words starting with that same letter. A beard pops out of the bottom of the letter B, followed by a beak. When the beak opens, out flies a swarm of bugs. Printed words help reinforce the concepts, and users can tap the words to hear them voiced. Sound effects (cymbals, horns, birds chirping, etc.) enhance the presentations. Warm humor and surprises create the perfect tone.

The clear narration and intuitive navigation will allow young children to use the app independently. However, vocabulary choices (knight, kaleidoscope, tongue, etc.) indicate that this app might not be the first choice for developing early reading skills. Seek Metamorphabet for its bold artwork, fluid design, and playfulness—it’s a delight at every turn.–Mary Ann Scheuer, Emerson School, Berkeley, CA

Snow White. Nosy Crow. illus. by Ed Bryan. 2015. iOS, requires 7.0 or later. Version 1.0.1. $4.99.

PreS-Gr 3–Nosy Crow adds another outstanding title to its series of fairy tale adaptations with this cheerful retelling. Young readers will enjoy the delightful voiceovers supplied by children, gentle soundtrack, and charming illustrations. The app is intuitively navigable with arrows on each page and a map that allows readers to jump from scene to scene. The plot stays close to the Brothers Grimm tale, though the gory details are slightly toned down. Refreshingly, one of the dwarves is female, removing the original tale’s uncomfortable notion that Snow White’s main role is to tidy up after a group of men.

The app strikes an appealing balance between storytelling and interactivity. Dialogue can be extended according to individual preference in the “Read and Play” and “Read by Myself” modes, and the iPad’s microphone, camera, and gyroscope features are used cleverly, enabling viewers to see their own face in the Evil Queen’s magic mirror, rock the infant Snow White to sleep by tilting the device, or wake the sleeping princess with a shout. The production also offers standard drag-and-drop elements so children can help clean the dwarves’ cobweb-ridden cottage and mix the Evil Queen’s potion. The only potential drawback is the app’s subtle parallax effect that can’t be disabled—the shifting backgrounds could induce dizziness when displayed on a large screen in a presentation setting. Nevertheless, Snow White is a terrific choice for enjoying one-on-one, and is a welcome addition to any book app collection.–Allison Tran, Mission Viejo Library, CA

Think Like Churchill. Touch Press/Hodder & Stoughton/W.S.C. Churchill Heritage. Guided by Boris Johnson. illus. by Jaime Huxable. 2015. iOS, requires 7.1 or later. Version 1.1.0. $3.99.

Gr 5 Up–How do a lifetime of choices prepare a leader to guide a nation wisely in wartime? The app uniquely combines sound effects, music, text, art, a little animation, and viewer choice to dig deeply into deciphering the character of Winston Churchill, the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, during and after World War II.

The index invites users to explore five episodes in Churchill’s life, beginning with a childhood skirmish on a bridge and concluding with the evacuation of Dunkirk. Although the episodes can be viewed in any order (navigation from one to another is easy), a clearer understanding of the man is developed by working through them chronologically. The narrative is spare, but readers can choose to learn more by exploring hot spots that offer additional information.

The art and use of captions will appeal to readers of sophisticated graphic novels as detailed scenes in muted colors lead them through each event. Quotes from Churchill are recognized by their peach-colored backgrounds. Once users have absorbed all the evidence within each scenario, they’re invited to predict: What would Churchill do? Their choice is confirmed as correct or briefly acknowledged as incorrect, and his actual decision is provided.

Readers then analyze their choice and motives, and an intriguing graphic compares their motives with what is known about Churchill’s. At the end of each episode, a collage of related photos, letters, postcards, and the texts of speeches yield their contents when tapped. Typed notes for some of Churchill’s most famous speeches are surprisingly touching.

Think Like Churchill provides nonfiction text; includes primary sources; promotes analysis, evaluation, and higher-level thinking; and is beautifully designed and fun. The creators promise additional free content to come, and readers won’t be able to resist signing up to receive the next chapter, about D-Day. They may also wonder what their choices reveal about them. As Dumbledore said, “It is our choices, Harry, far more than our abilities, that show what we really are.”–Chris Gustafson, Whitman Middle School, Seattle School District

This article was published in School Library Journal's June 2015 issue. Subscribe today and save up to 35% off the regular subscription rate.