Category Archives: Picture Books

Apps I Like: Roxie’s Doors and Roxie’s a-MAZE-ing Vacation Adventure

I’ve had my iPad2 for more than two years, and I’ve downloaded and tried hundreds of apps. Therefore, you might forgive me if I’ve become slightly jaded and unimpressed with many of them, for various reasons.

This is why I’m so excited to talk about a couple of apps from OCG Studios and the talented author/illustrator Roxie Munro: Roxie’s Doors and Roxie’s a-MAZE-ing Vacation Adventure. These two apps have rekindled my love for all things iPad, especially for games that the entire family can enjoy.

Roxie’s a-MAZE-ing Vacation Adventure

Roxie_Maze02

That’s my little red car in the lower left. I’m still looking for the penguin on this screen.

This game app is sort of a cross between Where’s Waldo? and a first-person adventure game. But it’s a devilishly clever maze too–and there are no instructions to tell you what to do (they aren’t needed). You’ll drive, walk, ski, fly and raft from screen to screen, picking up star points along the way and trying to locate objects, letters, penguins and other animals in Munro’s very detailed and beautiful artwork. Just as in real life, you can’t go the wrong way down a one-way street, and construction and other obstructions can keep you from taking the obvious route through a screen. This makes the maze quite challenging at times–in fact, I got stuck at one point and had to get my eight-year-old daughter to show me how to get to parts of the maze I’d been unable to navigate to.

The attention to detail in this app is truly wonderful. I like seeing my name on the side of a blimp!

The attention to detail in this app is truly wonderful.
I like seeing my name on the side of a blimp!

The navigation is intuitive, and there are little goodies (sound effects, etc.) to discover on each screen. The replay value is high, because the objects you’re expected to find change every time you come back to the app. It’s easy to see that both the developer and artist took great pains to get this one right. At three bucks for the iPad version, this one is a steal.

Roxie’s Doors

I’d categorize this app as a book, since there are words on the screen next to the illustrations, and matching narration by the author. But it’s also a delightful lift-the-flap and seek-and-find activity app. Each screen presents the reader with a door of some sort, and the words explain a series of objects which need to be found. What is so interesting about this book is that the doors/flaps/pockets can’t always be opened just by tapping on them. For instance, I needed to unzip a backpack pocket by dragging my finger across the bag–simply tapping it didn’t work. So the reader needs to try different approaches in order to find all the objects.

Roxie_Doors01

An apple and a hat (and a bunch of other objects) are hidden on each page.

One thing that can’t be shown in screen shots is the gorgeous three-dimensional effect built into every page of Roxie’s Doors. The app takes advantage of the iPad’s gyroscope, so readers will get a slightly different view of the room depending on how they tilt the tablet around. In some cases, items are hidden along the doorway edges and the screen will need to be tilted quite a bit in order to locate them.

Some items are hidden on the back of the door, behind the story text!

Some items are hidden on the back of the door, behind the story text! Words change from red to green once the item has been found.

As with Roxie’s a-MAZE-ing Vacation Adventure, there are sound and other effects that can be activated by tapping (turn the fire engine lights and siren on, for example). Beautiful artwork, engaging play and intuitive presentation make this one a winner, especially at only $2.99.

Both of these apps push the boundaries of what great children’s apps can be. My hat is off to both Roxie Munro and OCG Studios, and I will be on the lookout for their next collaboration.

Guest Blog at The Digital Media Diet

Library Card

The Amazing Library Card

A while back, Carisa over at Digital Storytime asked me to guest blog for her at The Digital Media Diet. I finally came through, and she posted it today! It’s a look at what I’ve been working on lately, and why. I’d be honored if you’d check it out and let me know what you think.

 

Book Review: Two New eBooks for Kids

I’m lucky to be connected with folks who create books in non-traditional, cutting-edge ways. A couple of them have created some pretty neat new ebooks, and I wanted to share these with you.

The Monarch Butterfly: An Interactive Picture Book by Liz Castro

With the plethora of information available about the Monarch butterfly, you’d think there’d be nothing left to say about these fascinating creatures. After spending over an hour with Liz Castro’s new iBook The Monarch Butterfly: An Interactive Picture Book, I’ve decided that this assumption is wrong.

Clearly a labor of love for Castro, this book is fantastic and pushes the boundaries of what an iBook can do. Each page features lovely and detailed full-color photos, some taken very close up. There are informative captions too, but these are hidden behind yellow arrows, so that the reader can pull them out when/if needed, or enjoy the photos alone.

Also included are amazing time-lapse photos presented as videos, showing different parts of the creature’s life cycle, such as a very hungry caterpillar munching on a milkweed leaf and the magic of transformation as the butterfly makes its way out of its chrysalis. These are set to classical music and are a perfect example of appropriate use of the format–in this case, to inform and engage.

Definitely worth the price at $4.99, the well-done interactive features of this iBook make it very app-like. Highly recommended for teachers, librarians, parents and anyone wanting to get a closer look at a very interesting insect.

Are We Lost? by Annie Fox, illustrated by Eli Noyes

AreWeLost

Remember Raymond and Sheila? These are brother-and-sister alligators I wrote about when they first appeared just over a year ago in their first book Are You My Friend? by Annie Fox. In this new installment titled Are We Lost?, the two head to the beach for some summer fun. Before long, Raymond is ready for some ice cream, and with his big sister’s approval, he heads off to get it. As you might imagine, what seems so simple never is, and misadventures (and a little bit of chaos) ensue.

I love the tone Fox takes with these books. She seems to understand that what usually seems like no big deal to adults often looms larger than life for kids, and her handling of shyness and other common childhood fears is respectful and empowering.

The illustrations are again done in a colorful, fun-loving style by Eli Noyes, and there is a parent guide at the end to initiate discussions with your own kids.

Available soon for the Kindle, Are We Lost? is a cute, reassuring story for young readers.

(Full disclosure: I received electronic copies of both books for review purposes.)

Best Kids Apps Reviews I Don’t Like Pink!

One of my favorite new app review sites (Best Kids Apps) has reviewed my storybook app I Don’t Like Pink! They even put together a teaser video–wow! Here’s some of what was mentioned in the review:

“This is a wonderful book app that is loaded with lessons. The author, as well as the illustrator, Brooks Jones is a natural born teacher…A great gift for Christmas time and interacting with many friends and family members. This app is a great addition to your kid’s toolbox for life!”

Check out the entire review here.

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.

* * * * * * *

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.)

Used Bookstore Find: a Will Terry Book!

More Snacks by Will Terry

Check out what I found at my local used bookstore: a like-new copy of one of Will Terry‘s books! You may remember that we were able to get Will Terry to guest-host the weekly #storyappchat back in June, and he did a bang-up job. I do love his books but they seem to be a little hard to find, so you can imagine how stoked I was to get my hands on this: and for less than a buck, too!

The girls and I will take this book out for a spin at bedtime. And Will: thanks for sharing your fantastic art with the world!