Each month in our print issue of SLJ we’ll be publishing reviews of some of our favorite apps and enhanced books. The reviews, which were originally featured in our blog Touch and Go, aren’t without criticism, but we feel these products represent some of the best titles in a new field. After each review, you’ll find the date it appeared online. Online, there are links to related resources, a trailer (if one exists), and a “purchase” button. Please note that later versions of some of these titles may now be available. Visit Touch and Go at slj.com for additional reviews, commentary, and interviews with people in the field.—Daryl Grabarek
Gr 9 Up-Chopsticks, an intriguing mystery told primarily through images, is as captivating as an app as it is in the print format. The pictures, which include photos, drawings, and paintings, are gorgeous, sharp, and luminescent on the iPad. Navigation is intuitive and there’s a “how to use” section with instructions, just in case.
The app’s interactive components are experienced by tapping the animated musical notes subtly floating around the screen. Included are video clips, songs, sound effects, dialogue captions, and animated IM conversations mimicking the appearance of actual messages as the characters type them.
Some of the interactive features add more value to the story than others. Youtube links that were clunky in the print version are, of course, easier to access in the app, and the video clips effectively bring readers into the story as participants, as they watch cartoons and TV performances along with the characters. Other interactive components feel unnecessary; why require viewers to tap on the screen to access dialogue captions?
For the most part the app offers the same content as the book, and teens who have read the print version will be disappointed if they expect a dramatically different experience with the app. (Since the app contains audio, they may wonder why the story isn’t narrated.) A few additional photos and videos not found in the book will pique viewers’ interest, but don’t break new ground. The most touching and surprising bit of extra content is an audio file of the main character’s deceased mother singing to her as a baby, accessed by touching the image of a cassette recorder.
Read in a linear fashion, the story leaves unanswered questions, so viewers will be delighted to discover they can shuffle the pages of the app and experience it a different way. Will a shuffle reveal new aspects of the story? There’s sure to be speculation.
Both the print and the e-version of Chopsticks will have their fans. The story is fascinating and complete in either one. Without question, the app stands on its own as an enjoyable multimedia experience.–Allison Tran, Mission Viejo Library, CA (2/6/12)
Middle School Confidential 2: Real Friends vs the Other Kind. Annie Fox. illus by Matt Kindt. Free Spirit. Developed by Electric Eggplant. 2012. iOS, requires iOS 4.0 or later.Version: 1.1.1. $2.99.
G r 5-8-It’s a question that every young person has pondered–who are my real friends? This app, the second in the “Middle School Confidential” series, will help young adults answer that question as they navigate the murky waters of friendships and relationships with the opposite sex. Eight brief chapters in graphic novel format each address a different topic, such as self-confidence or peer acceptance, through a story about a group of 12-year-olds.
Realistic dialogue is enhanced by authentic background sounds and vivid watercolor illustrations. The dialogue is used to present perspectives on how different people respond to a situation, subtly walking readers through alternative viewpoints. Matt Kindt’s illustrations deftly capture the characters’ emotions and draw readers deeper into the story. In chapter 6, for example, the artist depicts a heart being crushed when one of the characters hears a girl he likes call him a “loser.”
A “Meet the Cast” feature, which can be accessed at any time, provides background information on the diverse group. Interactive quizzes allow readers to gauge how they would handle certain situations. Explanations of why each response is correct or incorrect will help readers develop effective decision-making skills.
Zoom capabilities allow viewers to get a closer look at panels and oftentimes activate sounds. An auto-save feature bookmarks pages. Remove the sound effects and interactive quizzes and this app is simply a digitalized version of Fox’s book (Free Spirit, 2009) by the same title. Even so, it offers an effective way to approach character development and interpersonal relationships with a difficult-to-engage population.–Nicole Knott, Watertown High School, Watertown, CT (2/10/12)