Tag Archives: iPhone

Apps I Like: The Artifacts

Some of my favorite stories create not only an interesting plot and compelling characters, but also a real sense of mood and place–and they incorporate details that make me want to revisit it again and again. Unlike most of the picture book apps I have, The Artifacts (a recent storybook app by the independent team Slap Happy Larry) succeeds mightily in accomplishing all of the above.

This app appears to be aimed at the older school-aged kids (8-11 or so). It’s about a kid who collects stuff–all kinds of junk from his neighbors’ trash. His parents don’t understand his need to collect, and the story is about what happens when the family moves away.

The Artifacts

The app does a wonderful job of creating a rather haunting, but irresistable mood.

I love the illustrations and the color palette the artist chose, as well as the gentle story, which would be wonderful in printed form. However, the interactive features do a fantastic job of taking full advantage of the iPad’s touchscreen and gyroscope capabilities, elevating enjoyment of the story to a whole new level. Most of the pages feature objects or words that appear when the screen is tapped, but others use the swiping/coloring technique to reveal new illustrations underneath, and a couple of them allow the reader to tilt the screen to move objects in ways that further the ideas in the story. It all makes for a very immersive, and very entertaining, experience.

While my kids are aged 6 and 7, we were all completely charmed by The Artifacts, and I bet you will be too. It’s a real steal at only $1.99 in the Apple App Store, and is a universal app which will work on any iOS device. Go git it!

Print Books vs. Ebooks

IKEA Library

Dream library, IKEA version

As long as I can remember, I’ve had the dream of one day owning a house big enough to hold a room with a dedicated library of all my books, complete with one of those rolling ladders to allow me to reach the high shelves. This dream personal library has a velvet chaise lounge with a beautiful bronze floor lamp next to it, and a fireplace, bear rug, the whole luxurious nine yards.

I made a startling realization the other day: if we abandon the fantasy of the chaise lounge/floor lamp/fireplace, I’ve already got the dream library, since I have more than 600 books in my Amazon Kindle Cloud Drive and more than 200 iOS apps, half of them book apps.

Dream library, Kindle version

I write this post today because I’ve been hearing the following statement lately, from a variety of people:

“I like ebooks and all, but I prefer the feel of a real book in my hands.”

While I don’t really care if these folks hold on to their dead tree books as long as they like, I think they’ll eventually change their minds. Here’s why.

Ebooks Are Convenient

Between all my gadgets (Android phone, two iOS devices and a Kindle Touch) I have access to hundreds of books (many obtained free, or at discount prices) in my favorite genres. I send cookbooks, craft books and other how-to or multimedia books to the Kindle Reader on my iPad; mysteries, business books, chick lit and other text-based books I want to read soon to the Kindle Touch, and the rest (books I may want to read someday) to the Kindle Cloud Reader, which effectively stores them in the cloud for free. I use the Kindle Reader on my phone when I don’t have access to one of my other reading devices and I’m unexpectedly caught with an extra few minutes in my day. I like having my library accessible anytime, anywhere–I don’t have to be on the velvet chaise lounge after all.

Page turns are managed with a single touch to the right-hand side of the screen, and I can get to any place in the book easily, within a couple of touches.

Ebooks Enhance the Experience of Reading

I love the ability to touch a word I don’t know and get the definition instantly. I love that the Kindle system keeps my place no matter which device I’m using. I also love the way many of the book apps I have for my kids not only hold their interest but encourage literacy and retention through interactive features (one company that does this especially well is Oceanhouse Media with word highlighting and the ability to hear a word aloud when it’s pressed in their storybook apps).

Ebooks Are Lighter and Easier to Maneuver

I’ve been reading the Song of Ice and Fire series by George R. R. Martin. Because I am a cheapskate, I decided to read the third book (A Clash of Swords) in paperback, since I found it at my local used bookstore and purchased it with store credit. This book, in mass market paperback form, is heavier and bulkier than my Kindle Touch and won’t stay open without my propping it with a heavy object, so it’s difficult to hold with just one hand. I like the fact that I can store all the ebook versions of the others in the series (and hundreds of other books) on a single device that weighs less than the small-format paperback.

Ebooks Are Less Wasteful

Lately when I hold a print book, especially a hardcover, I’m hit with the overwhelming feeling of wastefulness. There’s something pretty unpleasant about the fact that the book I hold in my hands is a real, tangible slice of what used to be a living thing, processed and assembled for the sole purpose of my entertainment or learning. I offset this as much as I can by taking physical books I don’t want anymore to my local used bookstore, then offering the ones they don’t want on PaperbackSwap.com, but the fact is: printed books use up resources (paper, ink, glue and more) that no longer need to be expended for the same entertainment or educational value.

Ebooks Can be Updated Much Faster, and at Less Cost

Non-fiction books in print form eventually become outdated. Information changes and evolves as humans gain more knowledge about a topic, or when materials or ways of doing things are improved. But let’s be honest: most non-fiction print books will be truly useful for only a fraction of their lives. After that, the next edition replaces it–at significant cost. Textbook publishers have profited from this with great success for many years–at the expense of both teachers and students.

It’s time for ebooks to become the preferred way to distribute educational materials and other non-fiction content, which can be updated quickly and redistributed almost instantly, to all users of the material, with no expending of the tangible resources needed to print a new edition.

However, Ebooks Aren’t Perfect

For me, the five reasons above are pretty compelling for the shift to digital. But there are some things about ebooks I don’t like as well. These shortcomings aren’t enough to send me back to paper, but they are worth mentioning:

  • The Kindle ‘Farthest Page Read’ Feature Needs a Reset Button. The ability of Amazon’s Kindle devices to keep my place is great, but occasionally I accidentally make my way to a later page that doesn’t actually reflect where I am in the book. When this happens, keeping my place manually becomes a pain in the neck. I’d love to see a way to reset this, but I imagine it won’t happen, since the addition of this feature would make it much easier for spouses and other family members to share books on the same family of devices. But since I let my kids and spouse share my print books, I’d sort of like to share my ebooks with them too, in a hassle-free way. Come on, Amazon!
  • Prices of Ebooks from the Big Publishers are Too Expensive. Books coming from the big 6 publishers are priced according to their artificial and rapidly-crumbling world of print scarcity and their hardback-to-trade-paperback-to-mass-market-paperback release schedule. This is archaic and needs to change. Why should the ebook version of a title ever cost more than the mass market paperback would? It all comes down to greed, and an over-reliance of the old way of doing things. Eventually these outdated practices will put many of these publishers and retailers (remember Borders?) out of business.
  • Ebook Lending Needs to Be Improved. It’s nice that I can lend one of my Kindle books to someone else (if the publisher allows it), but I can only do it once. After that, the book can’t be lent again. I don’t mind the restrictions of one-person-at-a-time and my own inaccessibility during the lending period (since these are in force for my print books too) but let’s remove the artificial restriction of once only, and let me lend a book I’m finished with over and over if I choose.
  • Ebook Devices Aren’t Durable or Affordable Enough. When iOS devices and other ebook readers are able to withstand normal wear and tear by school-aged children (i.e. being dropped on the floor) and are cheaper than $50, we will see a true revolution. Until then, they aren’t practical enough to replace most of the printed books in my house, which are now children’s books. Plus an entire segment of the population (the lower middle classes and below) have little to no access yet.

So, what I’m saying is: in spite of the drawbacks, ebooks have become just as ‘real’ to me as print books are. I love them both, but I’m not buying many print books anymore. And eventually (probably within the next five years or so) most of the rest of you will be saying the same thing.

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.

Apps I Like: My Little Pony by Ruckus Media

I have to come clean here. As a parent of two young girls, I am often on the lookout for stories that provide strong female characters and feature empowering, not stereotypical situations. Therefore I frown on, but do not forbid, traditional pink/princess/fluffy stuff like Barbie, the Disney princesses and (gulp) My Little Pony. However, I know both my girls love My Little Pony, and I thought the new app from Ruckus Media deserved a chance at my house. Could it take advantage of the format and provide an experience beyond simple entertainment?

My Little Pony by Ruckus Media

My Little Pony - Twilight Sparkle: Teacher for a Day by Ruckus Media

The app is centered around a My Little Pony story called Twilight Sparkle: Teacher for a Day which I suspect comes from the television show. The story is straightforward enough, and features Twilight Sparkle’s adventure after she is asked by Princess Celestia to share a history lesson with the Cheerilee students about Equestria.

My Little Pony story

The story features all the ponies your child knows from the show and the toy figures.

Word highlighting is included when the ‘Read to Me’ option is selected on the main screen. I think this is a must-have feature for a storybook app and I’m glad to see it here.

There are also little short videos that pop up between pages here and there that follow the story, as well as little bits of hot spot animation that are fun the first few run-throughs but don’t add a whole lot to the experience.

Sprinkled throughout the story are optional activities like mazes and spot-the-difference panels. Completing these correctly wins the reader words, which can be used to fill in the blanks in Twilight Sparkle’s diary. Best of all, there are several of the randomly-generated activities, so kids don’t get bored when going back to try to earn all the words.

My Little Pony maze

Finishing the activities earns you words, which you use later on to complete several pages of Twilight Sparkle's diary.

The diary is my favorite feature of this app, because it could be used to help kids hone reading comprehension skills. The reader uses the words collected along the way to fill in the blanks in the diary. Tapping on a single word reads it to you, and once you’ve placed all the words in their proper spots you have the option to read the entire diary.

My Little Pony diary

Use the words earned by doing the activities to complete Twilight Sparkle's diary.

Of course, you can place any word in any blank you wish–which provides a fun Mad Libs-style wacky reading, if you desire. I admit I felt a little rebellious doing this!

The main theme of the story (friendship and working together leads to great things) is hard to miss, but I liked the secondary theme even better (it’s OK if you’re not great at everything–ask a friend to help you out). And for my youngest daughter who loves all things girly, I’m happy anytime she chooses to interact with an app that aids literacy, even if pink princess pony parties are involved.

Bottom Line: Great production values and familiar characters add up to a solid, if unsurprising, app experience. If your kids like My Little Pony, they will love this app. Reasonably priced in the App Store at $3.99, and the app is universal (designed for both the iPhone and iPad).

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

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.)

How to Get Free Books

FREE Books!If you’ve stopped by this blog before, you already know I like book apps. What I haven’t shared nearly as often is my love for ALL types of books, especially mysteries, YA and middle grade novels, business and other how-to volumes, and even the occasional chick lit book. Because the only thing better than a good book is a good FREE book, I have found myself visiting a few special online destinations to help me be one of the first to know when a book shows up free or at a steep discount.

Book Apps

For those of you looking for the best deals and free offers on apps, look no further than the Daily Deal Page at Digital Storytime. I don’t know how she does it, but Carisa Kluver (the muscle behind Digital Storytime) handpicks the best deals on storybook and other apps for kids twice a day! I LOVE it and check it at least every day or two.

Free App Alert doesn’t specialize in book apps, but stories will show up in their daily listing of apps that are temporarily offered FREE. I have found many cool apps this way, mostly game apps.

Amazon Kindle Books

While I don’t actually own a Kindle, the Kindle app on my iPad gets a lot of use. And with the help of the following three sites, my wallet doesn’t have to be adversely affected (much!).

Pixel Of InkMy favorite Kindle deal site is Pixel of Ink. This site provides brief write-ups on books that have recently come down in price or are being offered FREE in the Kindle store. They seem to mention books of high quality, helping me separate the good stuff from the dreck.
I admit I stop by the site a couple of times a day when I remember, but sometimes I need a bit of prodding. That’s where their Twitter feed, daily email newsletter and Facebook page come in handy.

Another resource I recommend is Kindle Nation Daily. Run by Steve Windwalker (cool name, eh?), this site has a searchable, continually-updated list of Kindle freebies, sorted with the most recent additions at the top by default. This is a complete list (with no curation), which is useful every once in a while when Pixel of Ink doesn’t mention something I think I might like.

eReaderIQ ListingOne I’ve discovered recently is eReaderIQ. They have a similar freebie listing to that found at Kindle Nation Daily, but they add a Recent Price Drops section that is generated by their readers and includes a wide range of prices. I like the icons that appear next to each title, showing you at-a-glance which books are lending and TTS enabled, etc.

Dead-Tree Books

While I am quickly making the transition away from printed media, I admit this effort is sometimes stymied by my cheapskate tendencies. I refuse to spend $9.99 or above for a Kindle book I can get cheaper as a paperback. I take special delight in circumventing the outdated and no-longer-relevant new book retail process and getting books secondhand.

The best way to do this is through PaperbackSwap.com. The idea behind the site is genius. Start by putting up for trade a pile of physical books you no longer want (paperbacks and hardbacks are welcomed, as are audiobooks). Agree to ship (at your expense) one of these books to another member who requests it. Doing this earns you a credit, which you can use to request a book of your choice from another member.

I have scored many hard-to-find and out-of-print books through PaperbackSwap, which I love. If there is a book you want that isn’t available, just add it to your wish list. It might take a while, but someone will eventually post it, and the system will offer it to the next person on the wait list for that book. I also really like the fact that the books I don’t want any more get shipped to someone who is happy to receive them.

Scored any free books lately? Got any other resources you’d like to share? Let me know in the comments.

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.)

Pink! Review at Fun Educational Apps

Fun Educational AppsThe folks at Fun Educational Apps have posted a review of my storybook app I Don’t Like Pink! Here’s some of what they said:

“we liked the bright and colourful illustrations and the light amount of animation…we really liked the topic and messages, where quite often kids think stereotypes applies to everyone.”

“We also liked the moral of the story where although Gabi is strong minded she is respectful…The book app offers a great opening to kids discussion,  a great lesson on how to be true to yourself and show a way to use creative problem solving.”

Read the entire review at Fun Educational Apps. Their site is great, by the way–it is chock-full of reviews, app giveaways and it’s all organized by category. Check it out!

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.)

Interview with Digital Storytime’s Carisa Kluver

the Digital Storytime site

a recent review at Digital Storytime

If you have an Apple mobile device and small kids, you probably a) look for well-made apps that are both educational and fun; and b) like to get good deals on those apps. Digital Storytime was created with both those needs in mind, and is turning into a must-bookmark site for busy parents like me. I was able to snag a few minutes of time with Carisa Kluver, Digital Storytime‘s creator/founder, who cheerfully agreed to answer my nosy questions!

Carisa Kluver, Digital Storytime's creator

Carisa Kluver, Digital Storytime's creator

1. As both an educator and a parent, you come at the concept of digital literacy from two valid perspectives. Tell us a little bit about your background. When did you realize that the iPad could be used as a digital bookshelf for your kids?

I spent the past 20 years working with children, youth and families in a variety of roles. I have a BA in Anthropology and an MSW, spending most of my career teaching health education to adolescents & training teachers, often for after-school programs to prevent teen pregnancy. I still do contract work occasionally, training teachers for a comprehensive sexuality education curricula series called Our Whole Lives. Before I left the workforce to have my little boy 5 years ago, I had settled into research work on teen pregnancy prevention and was even published in an academic journal. [That article took 6 years to see publication, so every time I push the ‘publish’ button on the blog, I think, “Now that’s instant gratification for a writer.”]

When my 40th birthday rolled around in April 2010, my plans to celebrate in Vegas seemed a bit beyond our budget, so I ‘splurged’ on a 16GB wifi iPad instead. Within a month I was downloading kids books. I was a little stunned at how revolutionary the change in my own reading routine was with my own child. I am a lover of print kids books and never liked digital books on computers. My nieces & nephews make jokes about how I only send them books for every gifting opportunity–so much so that they would be stunned to get anything else from me. I never thought I’d be willing to transition from print to digital–let alone so quickly.

2. Digital Storytime is quickly becoming the site of choice for parents who want information and reviews of storybook apps for the iPad. What made you want to create the site?

Long before the idea for our site, I loved finding good iPad kids books. But the shopping experience was dreadful. The kids books aren’t even separated out from the erotica in the app store. I also couldn’t afford my growing book app habit without serious bargain shopping. By October I had amassed over 100 book apps by watching sale promotions very closely. That’s when the idea to start my own site hit me. I was also talking to our local children’s librarian about the book apps and trying to describe them. She just looked confused and had never heard of these books. When I explained that they have no ISBN numbers, she was even more mystified.

At the same time, I was getting a crash course in marketing. I was trying to help out my husband’s Android kids game, Dash & Ditto’s Playground, and in the process I spent a lot of time on app review sites for both Android & iOS kids apps. I wanted a way to really search and sort through information and tried to find something like that for kids books for the iPad. Of course such a site simply didn’t exist. My husband needed a database project for a class he was taking in php, so I gave him a project … a big one. 😉

3. I love how each app is rated on six different metrics (Animation, Audio Quality, Interactivity, Re-Readability, Extras and Bedtime)–I find this very helpful when I evaluate apps for my own kids. Have other parents responded to the site? What sort of feedback have you been getting?

I have gotten wonderful feedback from almost everyone – from parents & educators to authors/illustrators and even developers themselves. Parents in particular have said the site is a ‘godsend’ even. It makes me blush a little. 🙂

We are also in the process of several big makeovers for the pages on our site. The response to the first page to change, the deal page, was great. We really appreciate the specific feedback … things like the different colors for free and paid apps on the buttons came from a reader suggestion.

We actually have two more categories I rate books on, Originality & Educational, that will debut with our site makeover later this month (May).

4. The Daily Deal page is a fantastic, time-saving resource for those of us who have limited funds (and who doesn’t?). Educational and book apps show up there whenever the price drops below their regular retail price (including FREE)! How did you get the idea for this great feature?

My friends know me for being notoriously frugal. My deal-finding abilities in the non-digital world are legendary. In order to start the review site I needed lots of good books to choose from to fill the site quickly with reviews. I didn’t get promo codes for books at first, so I was industrious about finding free deals and watching for price drops on chart topping books. I even started following lots of developers on twitter to hear about deals more quickly. Once I started getting promo codes, I decided to turn this bargain hunting into the deal page to share my finds. At first, I just figured a couple good friends would download stuff … but it turns out the things I wanted in a site were things lots of parents & educators wanted too.

5. There is some controversy about the use of screens for reading with children instead of traditional printed books. As an educator and a parent, what are your thoughts on moving storytime into the digital age?

This is a complicated issue. I do have concerns about screen time. That’s why I added the blog, The Digital Media Diet. Everything is about balance, mindfulness and being present as a parent (both literally and figuratively). I also think all screens (and content) are not created equally. I use my child’s behavior as feedback … if he is zombie-like and whiny after getting to play with an app, I can tell it is the kind of screen time that needs to be a treat, not the digital meal.

I expect there will be some growing pains as our society adjusts to digital kids books. I don’t get the controversy though. I guess I just don’t think we can do anything to stop this trend. The transition seems to be happening faster than anyone expected, though. The costs of printing (in financial and environmental terms) are simply too great in comparison to the ease of digital publishing and downloading. And that’s even without the extra features that make picture books come alive. Once you’ve walked through this particular door, you can’t go back. (IMHO)

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A big thanks to Carisa for helping me out with the blog today! If you’ve never visited Digital Storytime, the Daily Deal page or the Digital Media Diet blog, head on over there and check it out! You can Like them on Facebook too.