BEST OF
Coral Reef
Tinybop, Inc. 2018. iOS, requires 7.0 or later. Version 1.0.2. $2.99.
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K-Gr 4—There's nothing quite like being beneath the surface of the ocean, looking up to see the rays of the sun penetrating down from above, feeling the undulations of the underwater swells, quietly observing the sea life, and listening in awe to the muted sounds around you. Coral Reef does a great job of capturing this experience. The app's strength is in the way it introduces children to the biodiversity and interconnectedness of an underwater ecosystem by allowing them to make choices, to set things in motion, and to watch, wait, and see what happens as the cycle of life unfolds.The main menu is a colorfully illustrated underwater scene with the sun visible just above the rippling surface of the water, its rays illuminating seven underwater plant and animal species arranged around a cluster of large, coral-covered rocks. Choosing any one of the seven species reveals a different scene to explore. When, for example, the blacktip reef shark is selected, a new scene appears showing a shark swimming over the sandy ocean floor. Icons of a sea anemone, a rock, a clownfish, and a big blue octopus, representing the interactive options, can be tapped to be added to the scene. Selecting icons and waiting and watching will allow users to detect many additional activities.When a clownfish or an octopus is added, viewers observe the predatory nature of sharks. To protect themselves, the clownfish tend to nest in the sea anemones, which have tentacles that are poisonous to sharks. The octopuses can camouflage themselves against the rocks, making themselves nearly invisible. When many octopuses are added more sharks will appear, a feeding frenzy will ensue, and red blood will cloud the water. The realities of the food chain beneath the ocean surface can be darkly dramatic! Other interactive scenes introduce children to concepts implied but not explicitly stated, such as photosynthesis and decomposition.Audio effects, which are used selectively to portray sounds like the burbling of water, and the scraping of parrotfish, add greatly to the overall experience, as do the gentle animations and whimsical illustrations. Other benefits include the option of displaying labels in 28 languages and a free, downloadable extensive guide for adults in English.
VERDICT A playful way to introduce children to the wonders of life beneath the sea.

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