Apps I Like: JibJab Jr.

Remember Elf Yourself? This was a holiday promotion by OfficeMax from a few years back. Just upload head shots of you and your family (or co-workers, or frenemies), position the eyes correctly, then watch as your group dances and sings in a hilarious customized holiday card that begs to be shared. I helped crash the OfficeMax website the year it debuted.

Or perhaps you recall the side-splitting “This Land” cartoon that went viral during the 2004 presidential campaign. I still can’t watch this animated duel between George W. Bush and John Kerry without giggling uncontrollably.

As it turns out, an outfit called JibJab was behind both projects (and many others). The people on the JibJab team are masters of funny animation, especially photos of human heads superimposed on delightfully ridiculous bodies, doing silly things and dancing along to hilarious original music.

Their new initiative is an iPad app called JibJab Jr., which contains a series of childrens’ books and allows you to make your child the center of each story. This sounded like a fantastic idea to me–so I was eager to try it out.

The set up is easy enough. After downloading the app, just insert your kid’s face (choose a photo already on your iPad, or take a new one)–elegant and intuitive controls let you position the photo (rotate, resize, move) for best effect. Next enter said child’s name and gender, choose a matching skin tone, and you’re ready to explore the customized story–starring YOUR KID!

The free app includes one story–The Biggest Pizza Ever. I think all kids love pizza (and so do I) so this story hooked me from the very first page. Full of over-the-top superlatives, silly but artful animation and well-designed pages and typography, I adored this story. My kids and I all had to try it out with our own customization, and each reading of the story generated giggles all around. The Biggest Pizza Ever seems to have the same spirit as the Elf Yourself and other classic JibJab offerings–which is a Very Good Thing.

JibJab Jr. Pizza Story

I also downloaded and tried out the Ocean Commotion story, which is beautiful and just as well-done as The Biggest Pizza Ever, but seems to lack the trademark JibJab silliness. This doesn’t have to be a bad thing though–it may be more appropriate for quiet times (like bedtime).

JibJab Jr. Ocean Story

The JibJab team states that they don’t want to be part of the deluge of ‘hyper-clickable toys’–they are more interested in ‘enhancing the special wind-down time you spend with your child sharing stories at bedtime.’ Hear, hear! I’m glad there are no buttons to press, just cute, engaging, personalized stories.

However, the books contain no audio–no voiceover narration, no music and no sound effects. I think this is taking the move away from interactivity a bit too far. After all, the original songs and e-cards JibJab is known for would be nothing without audio. I believe the careful and thoughtful addition of sound effects and parent-recorded narration would make the JibJab Jr. books near-perfect.

Bottom line: you and your kids will love JibJab Jr. And (based on information from their recent customer newsletter) it looks as though they will be adding audio to their books soon. The app and the pizza book are free. The other books are a bit pricey at $7.99 each, but you can save some cash by signing up for the monthly book subscription (each month you get a new book for $3.99). Not bad! Get yours here.

(Full disclosure: I received a free copy of the Ocean Commotion book for review purposes.)

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