February 18, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

Reaching for the Sky: Tinybop, Inc. | Touch and Go

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Sparking curiosity, diving into big ideas, and making connections to the world,” are design objectives of the innovative developer Tinybop, Inc., and all are in evidence in Skyscrapers (iOS, $2.99; K -Gr 5), the seventh volume in their “Explorer’s Library” series.

Like the other apps in the series (Plants, Homes, Human Body, Simple Machines, Weather, and The Earth), there are no instructions or directions; children are encouraged to dig in and play to discover how the app and the environment work. In Skyscrapers, the form and structure of the buildings can be altered and the water and electrical systems activated; a side panel allows for access to these and other functions.

A variety of facades (curtain walls) and spires are available along with a palette of colors as children customize their buildings and develop a skyline. As they do so, they’ll observe how adding floors (commercial or residential) causes the depth of a building’s foundation to increase and flights of stairs to be added, etc. Inside the buildings, they’ll be thrilled to discover they can move figures about to ride the elevators and use the lavatories. A tap to an icon allows for several up-close system views: in one, children can watch as an electricity meter rises and falls when they switch lights and appliances off and on. In another, they can observe how and where water drains and what  happens when a foreign object (a rubber ducky) clogs the plumbing. (They can also activate the repair.)

Monitoring the effect of weather on a skyscraper in Skyscrapers (Tinybop, Inc.) illus. by Mike Ellis

Monitoring the effect of weather on a skyscraper in Skyscrapers (Tinybop, Inc.) illus. by Mike Ellis

Equally fascinating is watching the environmental effects of lightning, wind, or an earthquake on a building. Wind will cause it to sway, an earthquake causes it to shake, while sparking an electrical storm will cause lightning to strike the lightning rod (and travel down the structure to a grounding rod beneath the building). In buildings 18 floors or taller, viewers can install a “mass damper” and see how it alleviates environmental effects on a building.

Ambient sounds (moving elevators, thunder, etc.) are heard as figures travel about the building and the weather outside changes. Whimsy enters, too: children can add elephants or massive rocks to the floors (the added weight impacts the building’s foundation) and hot-air balloons float across the sky, along with a small plane trailing the player’s name on a banner. As with other Tinybop apps, extended play rewards viewers, who will want to return again and again to add or subtract to their  skylines.

While there are no directions, there are labels with options for five languages. In addition, a free online PDF offers detailed background notes, including discussion questions—a boon to teachers and homeschooling parents. The Tinybop blog offers more information on the app’s design and an interview with the illustrator Mike Ellis A trailer is also available.—Daryl Grabarek, School Library Journal

For additional app reviews, visit School Library Journal’s dedicated app webpage.

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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.

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