Tag 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.

Advertisements

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.)

Apps I Like: Middle School Confidential-Real Friends vs. the Other Kind

Are adults the only ones who have to deal with ‘frenemies’? Unfortunately, the skill of navigating the stormy waters of relationships is needed pretty early. Middle School Confidential: Real Friends vs. the Other Kind is the second app in the award winning series by Electric Eggplant, and stands out as a resource for helping kids in their tween years work through friendships.

I reviewed the first app in this series last year, and the same team (Annie and David Fox) is behind this new offering as well. Annie says that the topic of friendships is the most common issue she sees in the emails she receives from kids this age, and this story came out of her desire to “empower tweens and teens to change the way they deal with feelings and situations–to show them that they are the key to creating the kind of relationships they want.”

Middle School Confidential App

This app is similar to the first one in that it contains several stories about a group of kids (the same characters from the first in the series) in an appealing comic book format. Each story focuses on a different scenario and character, and these seemed believable to me. There are quizzes sprinkled throughout, which I think kids will enjoy. There is also a handy character ‘cheat sheet’, which gives the reader insight into each of the kids and their behaviors.

Annie Fox handles common middle-school relationship issues with wisdom and sensitivity. I especially liked the way a bit of background was revealed on one of the troubled characters–a great lesson for kids, and helps them see that if someone is behaving unkindly, there’s often bigger issues lurking below the surface.

The Middle School Confidential apps are some of the very few apps designed for teens and tweens. Luckily for them, the apps feature professional writing and artwork, appropriate themes and high-quality production values. I love where this series is headed, and I’m glad kids this age have Annie Fox and Electric Eggplant on their side. I wish all story apps for kids contained this level of thoughtful attention and mindfulness of the target audience.

I notice this app has been optimized for the new iPad’s retina display, and it’s only $2.99 in the Apple App Store.

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

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!

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: 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.)