Category Archives: Apps I Like

Thoughts on Bedtime Reading and Interactivity

Something a little disconcerting happened last night at storytime. During our nightly bedtime reading ritual, to be specific.

My girls and I were enjoying a new interactive storybook–one of our very favorites. Great production values, cute story, wonderful interactive features. So wonderful, in fact, that my two girls fought over who would get to press buttons on the screen on every page. For the first time ever, I had to stop the story in the middle because of the bickering. All of us went to bed a little annoyed.

Now, I’ll be the first to say that one solution would be to force the girls to alternate pages–take turns, if you will. That often works–unless there is more than one button on a page. Fairness makes sense to all concerned parties, until someone breaks the rules and chaos can then ensue.

The trouble is that I’m starting to think buttons don’t have a place at bedtime. Don’t get me wrong–I’m still crazy about the story app we fought over. I just think the place for it is during playtime, not bedtime. I think at bedtime, there’s still nothing wrong with a calm, thoughtful story, read by either a parent or other appropriate adult. Print books are great for this, but there can be a place for apps as well. I like the options to turn off both automatic page turns and the voiceover, so that we can go through the book ourselves if we choose.

Here is a list of my very favorite bedtime story apps, listed in no particular order. If you’re looking for a calmer, gentler bedtime, you might like these as much as I do!

The Legend of Spookley the Square Pumpkin

The Legend of Spookley the Square Pumpkin

Developer: Oceanhouse Media

Writer: Joe Troiano

Illustrator: Susan Banta

This adorable story is made so much better by the first-rate voiceover, provided by Bobby “Boris” Pickett, the guy who co-wrote and sang on the 1962 hit novelty song “Monster Mash.” Cute art, nice message (sometimes being different is good) and appropriate music and sound effects all add up to a perfect bedtime story, especially near Halloween. A word on how powerful the app form can be: I just ordered the paperback through Scholastic because it’s only $1 this month, but just between you and me, I will miss Pickett’s voice every time I pick it up.

Bella Goes BUMP in the Night

Bella Goes Bump in the Night

Developer: Patuto Press

Writers: Derek & Gina Roché

Illustrator: Jonathan Ashley

I just love the fanciful artwork in this story about a little girl facing the nighttime monsters in her imagination. Deliciously creepy without being outright scary, the app also features beautiful typography, word highlighting and an adventurous heroine. There is an in-app coloring book function, but it’s a separate option off the main menu and doesn’t pop up within (and therefore detract from) the story.

Maid Marian Muffins

Maid Marian Muffins

Developer: Maid Marian Muffins LLC

Writers: Jamie & Jessica Vander Salm

Illustrator: Ana Benaroya

This story is about a lady and her dog who go off in search of the perfect blueberry muffin and finding none in the entire borough of Brooklyn, decide to make their own–and share! The girls and I especially like the funky illustrations and funny character expressions. I like the ‘big idea’ that if you can’t find something, creating it yourself can be a great solution. This app also provides parents the option to record their own voiceover, which I like.

Mr. Wolf and the Ginger Cupcakes

Mr. Wolf and the Ginger Cupcakes

Developer: Blue Quoll

Writer/Illustrator: Lucia Masciullo

Mr. Wolf and the Ginger Cupcakes is a clever and charming retelling of the classic Little Red Riding Hood story. It includes all the elements of a perfect bedtime story app: beautiful illustrations, amusing and engaging story, and a crisp British-accented voiceover. I like the ability to adjust the volume of the lively background music (it is a bit loud at the default setting). You can choose from seven languages as well.

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There are others, but these are four of my favorite standalone bedtime story apps (designed for the iPad) without all the bells and whistles. Did I miss any? Share your favorites too in the comments.

Apps I Like: Are You My Friend?

Are You My Friend? coverOK, so it’s not exactly an app. But the first book in the Raymond and Sheila Stories, Are You My Friend? is the ‘appiest’ story I’ve found so far in the iBookstore–and that’s a good thing.

This is a picture book aimed at kids 4-8, and in much the same way as the Franklin turtle series, features animal characters interacting and muddling through common relationship issues. Raymond is the central character, a young alligator whose best friend at the beginning of the book is his teddy bear Snowball. He has an older sister Sheila, who is usually busy doing something with her friend and next-door neighbor Ilana. Ilana has a little brother of her own named Iggy, who is Raymond’s age. The story centers around the apprehension Raymond feels as he tries to make a new friend in Iggy.

Are You My Friend screenshot

It’s clear the developers behind Are You My Friend? spent a lot of time getting this iBook edition just right. With word highlighting, lively background music, different sound effects on each two-page spread and whimsical artwork, this is a rich multimedia experience that is rare in the iBookstore. I was particularly impressed with the voiceover artist and was surprised to find out all the voices were done by a single person!

The story itself could stand on its own as a print edition–and the multimedia extras don’t detract or annoy. The anti-bullying message is one that parents will appreciate, but the age-appropriate text, colorful art and endearing characters will keep kids interested too.

Bottom line: One of the first iBooks to feature background music, voiceover narration and words highlighted as the text is read, Are You My Friend? is a children’s book that provides a rich, app-like experience and a solid, engaging story as well.

Developer: Electric Eggplant

Author: Annie Fox

Illustrator: Eli Noyes

$4.99 in the iTunes iBookstore

(Full disclosure: I received a copy of this iBook for review purposes.)

Apps I Like: Benny the Cat by Touchoo

Benny the Cat by Touchoo

I’m a big fan of the Touchoo apps. These guys have done a marvelous job of creating content for younger kids that truly takes advantage of the touchscreen medium that is the iPad/iPhone (read my review of their One Little Boy app). So their third effort, Benny the Cat, has some big shoes to fill.

This app isn’t a story so much as a ‘slice of life’ book where the child gets to interact with Benny on each page–including feeding him, petting him, and helping him get ready for bed. The art by Tamar Hak is whimsical and is accompanied by amusing sound effects and very simple text. My girls are a tad old for this level of story at ages 5 and 6, but all three of us were charmed by this adorable kitty app. I think it’s just right for toddlers and preschoolers, who will love helping take care of Benny.

Benny the Cat is $2.99 in the iTunes App Store. Have you cuddled YOUR cat today?

(Full disclosure: I received a copy of this app for review purposes.)

Apps I Like: The Three Little Pigs from Nosy Crow

There seem to be tons of versions of The Three Little Pigs in the App Store. Actually, there are 63 versions in the iPad category alone. Is there something special–something magical–about this folk tale, that makes it worthy of interpretation over and over again?

As it turns out, the magic isn’t actually in the story–it’s in the presentation. At least when the folks at Nosy Crow do it!

Nosy Crow is a small, independent publisher in the UK that makes both printed books and apps for kids up to age 14. The Three Little Pigs is their first app–and it’s a stunner. The app has earned the coveted Kirkus Star, and for good reason. The story is exactly as you remember it, but the interactivity that’s been built into the app is what’s so special.

Kids can touch the characters to prompt them to speak, flip them, and help them run faster (useful when the wolf is chasing the pigs). There’s a bunny who (I think) hides on every page, which provides a puzzle element to the story. The Three Little Pigs is also one of the only storybook apps that takes advantage of the iPad’s movement sensors (accelerometer, gyroscope, and compass)–as you tilt the device, the figures and objects seem to pop up off the background, and you can (to some extent) see behind and around them. It’s amazing!

The voices are wonderful too (all in lovely British accents), as is the music. The animation is amusing and appropriate to the story. There are several extras built in, like the ability to zoom in and out, shake to make objects fall, and you can even help the wolf blow down the houses by blowing into the device’s microphone.

Everything about this app is top-notch, and I have to say: it makes other app versions of the Three Little Pigs irrelevant. Nosy Crow has set the bar very high for storybook apps, which is great for both developers (this will push all of us to create better apps) and of course for kids. Get this fantastic app for $7.99 in the Apple App Store.

Apps I Like: Spot the Dot by Ruckus Media

When I heard that David A. Carter had developed an app in conjunction with Ruckus Media, I thought: “This is a match made in heaven!” My kids and I are already big fans of Carter’s pop-up books (I even have a copy of his wonderful Elements of Pop-Up, a hands-on how-to book for aspiring paper engineers) AND other Ruckus apps, so you can imagine how eager I was to try out Spot the Dot. But did it measure up to my high expectations?

The app is not a storybook app–more like an activity book (in line with the other geometric shape pop-up books Carter has developed). There are ten ‘playspaces’ for the user to explore, all featuring a ‘find the colored dot’ activity. A clearly-articulated male voiceover guides folks through each playspace. Lively animation, a beautiful color palette and well-chosen sound effects and music add to the experience.

The presentation is such that people of all ages will find themselves amused while searching for the elusive colored dot. And the icing on the cake: when the app is restarted, the dots will show up in a different location, so the puzzle solutions can’t be memorized! I consider that feature to be a real gift–straight from the app creators to me, adding exponentially to the replay value and entertainment factor.

I don’t give out star ratings for my informal reviews, but if I did, Spot the Dot would get five stars out of five. I just love it! Get your own copy for $3.99 on iTunes (iPad only), or if you’d like to try it out for free before purchase, download the Lite version, which includes three of the ten playspaces for you to sample. What are you waiting for?

(Full disclosure: I received a copy of this app for review purposes.)

Bartleby’s Book of Buttons: Vol. 1 Now FREE!

I feel compelled to tell all of you that one of my very favorite storybook apps is FREE, now until its sequel is released next month. Bartleby’s Book of Buttons: Volume 1 is wonderful in that it incorporates puzzles on every page that the reader must solve before going on to the next page.

The video above is a walkthrough of the app from Kirkus Reviews (which awarded the app the Kirkus Star–well deserved, IMHO).

My advice to you: run go get this app while it’s FREE. I really can’t recommend it highly enough, and I’m eagerly awaiting the next Bartleby adventure from Octopus Kite!

Apps I Like: Two French Apps

While the rest of the world was in England last week for the royal wedding, I was in the French Alps! er, I mean Apps. I had a chance to try out two nifty French-themed kids apps, and I think you’ll like them too.

Word Wagon by Duck Duck Moose

Word Wagon: Kids spell words by dragging the letters in place.

The first app is Word Wagon by Duck Duck Moose, an award-winning developer of educational game apps for kids. This app is all about spelling words and is designed for youngsters just learning to read. A cute little rodent named Mozz lives under the Eiffel Tower (and he wears a beret!). He and his bird friend Coco guide kids through each word.

I really liked the artwork, French-themed music and animation, and I also like the fact that the letters are mentioned by name and pronounced as they should sound in the word. When the word is formed correctly, it is spoken and then the word is collected in the wagon.

Kids can see how many words they’ve formed, and along the way they collect stars which can be used to form constellations. There are four levels of difficulty in the app, which is nice because each of my two kids can enjoy the app at their own ability level.

While definitely an educational app, Word Wagon is well designed and makes learning spelling and phonics fun. It’s $1.99 and is designed for the iPhone, although it looks great at 2x on my iPad.

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GoKids Apps: Save Paris! is a clever app for older kids by Fun Educational Apps. You are tasked with saving Paris from evil alien invaders who are focused on ‘Glooping’ everything in sight!

Your mission is to learn about France and Paris, and then use your new knowledge by pairing facts with their definitions in a match card game. If you miss too many it’s Game Over. If not, you’ll be rewarded with a fun ‘whack-a-mole’ game, where the object is to tap on the aliens as fast as they pop up.

I admit I went through only the first three missions of ten. The material covered is wonderfully comprehensive and includes geography, language, culture, history and more. This would be a fantastic resource for kids 8-12, especially those who are visiting France, taking French or doing a unit on France in geography or history class. But the alien invasion theme and the game action would probably draw kids back just for that aspect of the app.

With high-quality art, music and gameplay, GoKids Apps: Save Paris! is a crash course in French culture sandwiched between top-secret missions to defeat green Gloop aliens. What’s more fun than that? Find it in the App Store for $1.99.

(Full disclosure: I received a copy of each of these apps for review purposes.)

Apps I Like: My Underwear by Todd Parr

Sometimes I come across something so delightfully ridiculous, so perfectly preposterous, that I find it irresistible. Such is the case with the My Underwear app by Thumb Arcade, featuring artwork by Todd Parr.

This app is all about having fun with underwear! There are four games within the app: a) a painting activity where you first choose your preferred style of underwear, then color, paint and apply stamps (I find this surprisingly addictive) b) match the underwear to the corresponding animal (sometimes by color, sometimes by pattern)–and you can place the underwear on the animal’s head! c) a game where you feed underwear into the waiting mouth of a hungry monster, and d) a version of the old Concentration card game, where you match pairs.

The first video above is the official app trailer, and the second actually shows someone walking you through all four activities.

Both my girls and I find all four activities fun, and I’ve seen both daughters return to the app on their own over and over. The high-quality music is lively and well-suited to the colorful art. The iPad version is appropriately-priced at $2.99, and (because it uses very intuitive navigation and no reading is needed to play the games) is appropriate for ALL ages. Enjoy some silly fun with your kids today!

Apps I Like: Middle School Confidential

When my son was in his tween years, I remember one of my friends describing middle school as ‘that place they send kids while they’re trying to figure out who they are.’ This age can really be rough on everybody–and there are non-trivial issues kids have to deal with. A refreshing new app by Electric Eggplant is designed to address many of these topics.

The team behind the app includes the talents of David and Annie Fox, two experienced designers who’ve worked on many bestselling electronic games. Annie is an authority on parenting and produces a regular podcast called Family Confidential.

The Middle School Confidential app actually started as an award-winning series of print books, but it really shines in app form. The app is a story presented in a graphic novel/comic book format, with appropriate sound effects and music playing in the background. Issues like bullying, self-esteem, body image and fitting in are handled in a sensitive but authentic way with no condescension.

The characters are a group of friends in middle school, and the story follows their interactions with each other. The situations shown in the app rang true to me, and the artwork should appeal to tweens/early teens. At the end of each chapter the main point is repeated, but somehow an appropriate balance is achieved, so it never seems heavy-handed. This app is the first in a series, and if the next installments are as good as the first, I’d recommend Middle School Confidential as a great resource for both kids and their parents.

This video is a trailer for the print book series, but the same artwork and music is found in the app:

My daughters are just entering elementary school, and I admit I look upon their passage into middle school with trepidation. Apps like Middle School Confidential will make the journey a little easier! Designed for the iPad, it’s well-priced at $3.99 in the App Store.

(Full disclosure: I received a copy of this app for review purposes.)

Apps I Like: Dragon Checkers by Storyboy

Dragon Checkers for the iPad

I got Dragon Checkers several months before I was able to try it out (because it’s iPad only). It was one of the first apps I installed when the new iPad2 arrived. Turns out it was worth the wait! This fantastic variation on the old favorite checkers game is a real gem. Play against a human opponent or the computer, and choose a dragon champion at the onset who will represent you on the board.

The dragons featured in the game come from the All About Dragons story app (also from Storyboy), so I guess you could call Dragon Checkers an app tie-in. All About Dragons was already one of my family’s favorite story apps, so being able to enjoy some of the same artwork and listen to the same background music and sound effects in Dragon Checkers is a real treat.

The game includes extras like an Undo button, a character highlight (so you know whose turn it is) and my very favorite: ROAR buttons on each side, which can be pressed at any point during the game. My daughter and I use these right after capturing pieces, to communicate supremacy and domination. This makes the staid game of checkers so much more fun to play.

Since this was my first board game app for the iPad2 (well, except for Scrabble which I’d bought within minutes of setting up the iPad) it took a couple of matches before I started realizing some of the huge benefits to board game apps on the iPad: no pieces to lose, no cheating (the game won’t let you make an illegal move) and the ability to stop the game and resume it later, without having to recreate the placement of all the pieces. This is just another reason I love well-made apps on the iPad!

For two bucks you can’t buy a better checkers app. Go get Dragon Checkers, and play with someone you love today! ROAR!