March 21, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

Screen Gems: High-Quality Picture Ebooks and Apps for Tots

1607Gems-APPs-TN In a time when babies and toddlers often lounge in strollers while glued to electronic devices, what’s a librarian to do? Proclaiming “No electronics in early learning land!” isn’t practical—or advisable. Better to purchase ebooks and iPads, and select age-appropriate, high-quality apps to share with tots.

Many of us in schools and public libraries do this already. But more of us could be engaging parents and caregivers in conversations about early learning and electronics. We should be teaching them, as the Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC) suggests in a white paper, how to be “media mentors” and educating them to make smart app and ebook choices for the under-five set.

Here are some questions you can ask yourself and discuss with parents: Is the app age appropriate? Is it intuitive for young learners? Is it free of gender or cultural bias? Are there multiple language options for dual-language families? Can the young user control the music or turn it off?

These queries can help you assess whether a picture ebook or app meets the high-quality mark for early learning. This summer, share one or two from this list with parents and caregivers, and start a media conversation.


Picture Ebooks to Share

Barton, Byron. Trucks (Oceanhouse. iOS, $1.99).

Children can explore Barton’s signature art, see trucks in action, learn related vocabulary, and personalize the story with their own narration.

Boynton, Sandra. Moo, Baa, La La La (Loud Crow, iOS, Android, $3.99).
There’s everything to love about the silly farm animals in this classic Boynton title. Tots can hear the story being read aloud while they tap or swipe each animal to generate a “moo,” “baa,” or “la la la” at the appropriate time.

Christelow, Eileen. Five Little Monkeys Jumping on the Bed (Oceanhouse, iOS, Android, $2.99).
Youngsters can listen to this story or read it independently. They can also click on the pictures to listen and learn words.

Crews, Donald. Freight Train (HarperCollins, iOS, $.99).
This fully interactive app takes children on an exciting train trip that introduces them to colors, numbers, and words, while featuring the lively sights and sounds of the railroad.

SEUSs, Dr. Mr. Brown Can Moo, Can You? (Oceanhouse, iOS, Android, $3.99).
This was the first of Dr. Seuss’s titles to be appified. Young kids can tap, swipe, and narrate their own stories. They’ll learn new vocabulary by tapping pictures, following highlighted narration, and listening to the story as it is read aloud.

Sesame Street. The Monster at the End of This Book (Sesame Workshop, iOS, $4.99).
This classic gets a creative jolt with the addition of sound, interactivity, and literal bells and whistles. Children will laugh as Grover becomes increasingly desperate to prevent readers from reaching the end of the story.

LOGUE, Mary, and Pamela Zagarenski. Sleep Like a Tiger (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, iOS, $12.99).
The ebook version of 2013 Caldecott Honor title Sleep Like a Tiger has a gentle narration and all the wonder of Zagarenski’s mixed-media illustrations, offering a road map to slumber. Youngsters can pore over the details each time they read/listen to the ebook as a beautiful bedtime ritual.

RINKER, Sherri Duskey, and Tom Lichtenheld. Goodnight, Goodnight, Construction Site (Oceanhouse, iOS, $2.99).
Readers will enjoy the poetically simple text and interactive illustrations in this faithful rendition of the best-selling picture book. The option to record their own narration to the pictures builds creativity and vocabulary.

The Three Little Pigs (Nosy Crow, iOS, $4.99).
Narrated by children, this ebook has the perfect balance of pizzazz, entertainment, and educational value. The 3-D art makes the illustrations pop in differing perspectives. Look for the spider and bunny that appear on virtually every page as they follow the three pigs on their misadventures with a not-so-scary wolf. Blow in the microphone to try and blow down the pigs’ houses.

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Picture Book Apps

TULLET, Hervé. Press Here (Chronicle Books, iOS, $1.99).
Living up to the creativity of the book, this open-ended app allows children multiple interactions, all unique and based in imaginative play. Users can follow and manipulate blue, yellow, and red dots as they shrink, change shape, disappear, and reappear. Different outcomes guarantee that this app will get repeat visits.

KUNHARDT, Dorothy. Pat the Bunny (Penguin Random, iOS, $3.99; Android, $2.99).
Tots can play hide-and-seek with the bunny, create music, pop bubbles, catch butterflies, and more in 14 interactive scenes based on this story, now 75 years young.

HILLS, Tad. How Rocket Learned to Read (Penguin Random, iOS, $4.99).
Featuring Tad Hill’s adorable artwork and original story, this app stars pup Rocket in a more interactive setting. The story can be listened to or read independently. Additional early literacy games are included.

WILLEMS, Mo. Don’t Let the Pigeon Run This App (Disney, iOS, $5.99).
Hilarity ensues whenever Willems’s pigeon is around. With a high engagement factor and an even higher laugh factor, this app, voiced by Willems himself, will have preschoolers creating silly stories over and over.

CARLE, Eric. My Very Hungry Caterpillar (StoryToys, iOS, Android, $3.99).
The iconic story isn’t retold here; rather, children interact with the caterpillar in a digital, nature-filled playground with sound and music. The structure and pace is unhurried—perfect for slow exploration. After five days of play, the caterpillar builds a chrysalis and turns into a butterfly that joins the playground. Children can begin exploring again by tapping on a new caterpillar egg.

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Early Learning Apps

Metamorphabet (Vectorpark; iOS, Android, $3.99).
The 26 letters of the alphabet morph into more than 90 words and objects in this interactive app. Users transform letters with a drag, a poke, a spin, or other movement. A clear voice pronounces each word after the letters become objects.

Mother Goose on the Loose Feltboard (Software Smoothie; iOS, free).
Youngsters can build nursery rhyme knowledge while singing their favorites verses and playing with characters on a felt board. Tots can even create their own narratives by combining characters from different rhymes.

Axel Scheffler’s Flip Flap Farm (Nosy Crow; iOS, $.99).
Create unique farm animals with the swipe of a tiny finger, and hear rhyming poems about them. With more than 100 possible combinations of flaps that contain verses, this app will get creative juices flowing.

Zoo Animals: Touch, Look, Listen (StoryToys, iOS, Android, $1.99). Introduce early learners to more than 60 animals from around the world. This app features crisp photographs, clear narration, and the option to label photos in English, Spanish, Chinese, French, or German.

This article was published in School Library Journal's July 2016 issue. Subscribe today and save up to 35% off the regular subscription rate.

Lisa G. Kropp About Lisa G. Kropp

Lisa G. Kropp is the assistant director of the Lindenhurst Memorial Library in Lindenhurst, NY, and a forever children’s librarian.