April 19, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

Haunted Houses & Headless Horsemen: Halloween Apps | Touch and Go

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Halloween is here! Below you’ll find excerpts from previously published app reviews of both classic and contemporary stories for a range of ages—along with a bit of augmented reality guaranteed to raise the hair on anyone or anything’s neck. From witches and monsters to haunted houses and headless horsemen, there’s something for everyone.

horrible hauntingsIt was a stroke of genius to combine augmented reality technology and a collection of ghost stories. Horrible Hauntings is a free app (Trigger) that works in conjunction with Shirin Yim Bridges’s book of the same title (Goosebottom Books, 2012; Gr 5 Up). Each of the 10 folktales and legends begins with an excerpt followed by a history of the story’s origin and reports of sightings of the ghost or ghoul in question. Illustrating each tale—from “The Flying Dutchman” to “Bloody Mary”—is an oil painting by William Maughan depicting a variety of settings for spectral viewings: a dark forest, an unlit gallery, a shadowy moor, The Tower of London. Viewers are instructed to hold their iPad or iPhone device directly over the illustrations and watch as the apparitions appear. On one screen a woman in a brown dress floats down a deep staircase accompanied by eerie music; in another, the Headless Horseman charges off the page; and in a third, a skeleton clanks across a stone floor. The trailer will give readers a peek at this very cool technology.


Screen from It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown (Loud Crow)

For the younger crowd, there’s Charles M. Schulz’s It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown (Loud Crow Interactive; K-Gr 4; $5.99), narrated by Peter Robbins, “the original voice” of the comic strip character on the big screen. As our reviewer noted, “In addition to listening to the story of the Peanuts gang on the eve of Halloween, children can interact with this app. Sometimes it’s as simple as touching a character to make him or her move or speak, while at other moments it’s helping Lucy bob for apples, or playing the piano with Schroeder. Many of these actions aren’t apparent at first glance, so exploring each page is essential.

Readers can jump into the story by creating their own avatar, but this requires an account (email and password necessary). While it’s free to make the avatar, access to costumes requires coins. These can be earned by unlocking rewards or they can be purchased. Once the avatar is created, it will appear in the story. Overall, a fun retelling of a holiday classic that have readers and listeners wanting to hit replay, but they should be cautioned about potential costs.”

room on a broom“Magic Light Pictures has released the Room on the Broom ($3.99; PreS-Gr 3), a game app based on Julia Donaldson’s picture book of the same title (Dial, 2001). Navigation is easy; viewers need only to swipe the screen to access the eight games. Creative juices will flow as players place stars in the night sky to create patterns for the witch to follow on her broom. Lively chamber music plays in the background as users search for the hat that’s lost in the forest, try to catch items blowing in the wind by tapping on the screen, or search for the wand hidden in a landscape featuring a pond and dotted with trees. A game that is sure to be a favorite with the preschool crowd involves feeding French fries to a dragon. Each activity offers three levels of challenge. Subtle sound effects such as rustling leaves, chirping birds, and scampering squirrels add to the whimsical atmosphere. This simple, yet engaging app will entertain children and may even prompt them to pick up the book. A trailer is available for viewing.”


Dave Morris’s Frankenstein (Dave Morris/Inkle, Ltd.)

“For a “sophisticated take on Mary Shelley’s classic,” try Dave Morris’s Frankenstein (Inkle, Ltd.; Gr 8 Up; $4.99). In this version, readers are asked to choose the direction of the story. Our reviewer found the artwork “delightfully atmospheric.” The ideal audience for this app?  “Readers who couldn’t get enough of  Darren Shan’s horror series, moved on to Kenneth Oppel’s This Dark Endeavor, and [are] drawn to Rick Yancy’s “Monstrumologist” books.” A trailer is available.”

“Each knock in Peekaboo Trick or Treat with Ed Emberly (Night & Day Studios, Inc.; PreS; $1.99) brings one of 14 creatures to the door, until all the characters assemble for a quick dance. When viewers bid this friendly group farewell, they’ll see the silhouette of a witch as it passes through moonlight, and a final scene where a gorilla, robot, and puppy snore soundly while a bat hangs upside down, eyes wide open, and “Happy Halloween” is heard. The bold, flat colors of the story will appeal to the intended audience. Listeners can choose between a child or adult narrator. With the sound off, emergent readers can practice their developing skills on the one word that appears on each screen.”

go away big green monsterFor the youngsters who want their thrills “without the fright,” don’t miss Go Away, Big Green Monster! (Night & Day Studios, Inc.; PreS-K; $2.99), based on Emberly’s popular title featuring die-cut illustrations. Read the full review of this app, and take a peek at the trailer…this is one production that will have children and adults tapping their toes.

A young girl in a witch costume lets her dressed-up friends know, You Can’t Scare Me! (Auryn; K-Gr 2; $1.99) in the Wendy Wax story, but inadvertently scares herself when she sees her own image in a mirror. The simple rhyming text and the pictures—a collage of photos against colorful interiors—aren’t particularly exciting, but children will have fun playing the “Match” and “Spot the Difference” games, and personalizing the app.

In Meet Heckerty! 
(Broomstick Productions; PreS-K; Free) children encounter a 409-year-old witch who wakes up one morning to discover she is covered in warts. The wrong spell, chanted with the help of her cat Zanzibar, doesn’t reverse this condition, but leaves Heckerty hopeful that viewers will still want to be her friend.

ghosts“Ghosts: Encyclopedia of Phantoms and Afterlife (Terrylab, Gr 4 and Up; $4.99), a collection of tales about ghosts and ghostly phenomena, features high-quality graphics and animation and spooky mood music. If you’re looking for something to put kids in the Halloween mood, this app, billed as “an entertaining mystic interactive horror story book” is likely to do the trick.

To begin their journey, viewers must clear their way through the cobwebs, dust, and detritus on the opening screen to locate a skeleton key that will unlock the volume. Chapters are selected by holding the heart-shaped planchette over the icons on an Ouija board, which offer information about “Ancient Ghosts,” “Ghosts of Cemeteries,” “Animals’ Ghosts,” “Poltergeists” and other topics. Embedded in sections are pop-up notes and animated maps and illustrations. Skeletons and messages emerge from behind shattered mirrors, specters appear in windows, insects crawl across pages, and shadows pass over screens as words and letters tumble off the page and haunting sound effects and music are heard in the background. An unnerving, but fun, interactive romp through the legends and lore of the spirit life. For a peek, take a look at the trailer. Also available in Russian. (Free download, $2.99 in-app purchase).


Screen from Sherlock: Interactive Adventure (HAAB) Doyle

Sherlock: Interactive Adventure (HAAB Entertainment, $2.99; Gr 5 Up) is a fully narrated, visually rich tale of Baker Street’s celebrated sleuth. The app doesn’t come with instructions, but from page one (and “play”) Simon Vance’s narration will bring “The Red-Headed League’ to life. The audio is important; although some students may be familiar with Arthur Conan Doyle’s intelligent and amusing style, some may not understand the elevated vocabulary without Vance’s fluid narration creating the proper context. Timing is everything in storytelling and on auto-play, the music and sound effects flow seamlessly as the visuals unfold.

The humor of Holmes’s observations, his quirky investigative style, and the satisfying ending are seamlessly integrated. A map of London highlights where events take place and a “dossier” collects profiles on the characters that appear in the story. The menu offers access to these files, while the slides and settings are found along the bottom of the screen. More titles in the series are promised. A great app to introduce the writing of Doyle. Available in English, French, German, Russian, and Spanish.”

little witch at school“In SlimCricket’s Little Witch at School  (iOS, $3.99, available in English and French; Android, $3.49; PreS-Gr 4) a young witchery student must complete three exercises to pass her exams. The tasks require viewers to use their number recognition and/or math skills (addition or multiplication) to assist the witch and her faithful friend Peepo color in Spidali’s web; letter recognition, to discover the magic word at Miss Oxford-Webster’s Well of Knowledge; and an understanding of sequencing to pass through a maze in an ogre’s belly. Three levels of difficulty allow a range of ages to play. The story has two modes, “Read to Me” and “Read by Myself.” Pleasant background music plays in both options, but listeners may find the character’s accents somewhat irritating in the narrated version.

On most pages in this long-playing story interactive animations can be triggered with a tap to hot spots causing birds to tweet, clouds to change color, and a grammaphone to play. Making use of a gyroscope effect gives pages further movement and depth, and a surprising camera effect literally puts users in the story.  During the course of her adventures the little witch passes her test but loses her name, ending her story with a question mark. Interested readers may choose to download The Witch with No Name to satisfy their curiosity.”

FrankenweenieFans of popular culture will want to take a look at Frankenweenie: An Electrifying Book (iBooks2; Free; Gr 6 Up), a behind-the-scenes look at the making of Tim Burton’s stop-motion animated film (Disney, 2012). “Frankenweenie” is the story of a boy who resurrects his dog, and kids are encouraged to Frankenweenie-fy their pets (Disney; Gr 3 Up; Free) with that app. Selecting a photo of a favorite animal from their camera roll or Facebook album, viewers can manipulate the image by adjusting the contrast or selecting a backdrop, or adding a name, the “Frankenweenie” logo, or a new set of eyes or ears before saving or emailing the black-and-white picture. Photos of friends and family will likely be fair game when this app gets in kids’ hands.


Screen from The Fall Festival (Oceanhouse Media) Mayer

“With visual and audio enhancements that support the story, Mercer Mayer fans will enjoy The Fall Festival (Oceanhouse Media, $1.99; PreS-Gr 1), the latest addition to the library of “Little Critter” apps. Closely aligned to the print version (HarperCollins, 2009), this nicely narrated story of a family outing offers viewers opportunities to enjoy the autumn colors, eat apples, take hayrides, play games, select pumpkins, and other activities related to the harvest season. Well-placed, high-quality background sound effects add to the story. The simple text (“I see so many apples. I try one. Mom pays the man.”) will engage emergent readers who can tap on objects or text to hear the labels or words voiced. Of particular note is the ability for users to record their own narration. At the conclusion of the story, children are encouraged children to start it again to look for the images of mice and spiders found throughout, which will be tabulated automatically as they are located.”

trick or treatIn Gina and Mercer Mayer’s Trick or Treat Little Critter (Oceanhouse Media, iOS $1.99; Android, $1.99; PreS-K), Halloween preparations are in order sending the Critter family out shopping for candy, decorations, and costumes. Pumpkin selection at a local farm follows. Back home, jack-o’-lantern drama is averted (sister) when Father draws a face on the chosen pumpkin instead of carving one, but Little Critter does get to enjoy a jack-o’-lantern (and pumpkin seeds) at school. When Halloween night arrives, everyone dons their costumes for an evening of trick-or-treating on neighborhood streets filled with ghosts and goblins and a pirate or two. A hoard of candy is taken in (not without a few tears), and admired. Familiar symbols of the holiday are incorporated into the colorful scenes. Children can have the story’s text read to them, but beginning readers may want to give it a try on their own. Users also have an opportunity to record their own narration. A game–locating images of a mouse found throughout the text–is also embedded.

And finally, don’t miss the MeeGenius! Bookshelf collection of narrated holiday stories—each title can be sampled before purchase. Sesame Street’s Michaela Muntean’s Which Witch is Which? (Sesame Street), Steven J. Simmons Alice and Greta, Barbara Barbieri McGrath’s The Little Green Witch, and Haunted Party by Iza Trapani, are a few of the available titles.


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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.