April 22, 2014

SLJ’s App Review: Best of Apps & Enhanced Books (May 2012)

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Reviews in this column first appeared in SLJ’s blog Touch and Go. 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

 

Bats! Furry Fliers of the Night. Mary Kay Carson. Bookerella / Story. 2012. iOS, requires 4.0 or later. Version: 1.01. $4.99.

PreS-Gr 4–Science teachers and bat lovers rejoice! In seven brief chapters this nonfiction title takes readers and listeners on a vivid nighttime trek through an Asian jungle, a northern farm, and a southwestern desert to view a variety of these nocturnal mammals.

An illustrated table of contents opens the title. Viewers can start at chapter one, “Fliers with Fur,” or select another section covering such topics as “Seeing with Sound” or “Bat Colonies.” The simple, informative text can be listened to or read; both the narration and sound effects can be switched on or off. Each screen includes a few lines of boxed text, and often, a caption describing the photographs, illustrations, and maps used to depict bat species, their anatomy, habits, and habitats. Older readers can dig a little deeper; touching illuminated points will cause more text to appear. (One animated sequence offers an explanation of echolocation.)

The graphics and sound effects vary as readers travel to the various regions, guided by illuminated and blinking arrows. Highlights for children include a make-your-own-bat-screech capability, opportunities to seek-and-find the hidden creatures, and the chance to steer a bat on a nighttime flight. A link to further study and conservation efforts is an added bonus. (For adults there’s information on what to do if you find a bat in your home, instructional materials for purchase, and an opportunity to join Bat Conservation International.) This engaging app is great for classroom use and will be visited many times over.–Amy Shepherd, Librarian, St. Anne’s Episcopal School, Middletown, DE (2/17/12)

 

Barefoot World Atlas. Nick Crane. illus by David Dean. Touch Press LLP and Barefoot Books, Inc. 2012. iOS, requires 5.0 or later. Version: 1.1.0. $7.99.

K-Gr 5–Based on the Barefoot Books World Atlas (Barefoot Books, 2011), this stunning title takes full advantage of the iPad’s interactive capabilities. Upon opening the application, an illustrated, 3-D globe appears. Mountains, oceans, lakes, and forests are painted onto the Earth’s surface in a range of bright colors. A swipe to the screen spins and tilts the globe, with a pinch and a pull, viewers zoom in for a closer look.

Children won’t be able to resist tapping the colorful animated images that rise above the landmasses and ocean surfaces as they circle the planet. The illustrations represent various aspects of an area or country (wildlife, landmarks, recreation, transportation, etc.). A jeep bounces over the Malawian landscape, tundra swans fly above the Arctic, and children kick a soccer ball about in Portugal.

A touch to any illustration will enlarge it as a description of the item, animal, or scene opens on the right of the screen. (If they choose, viewers can have this text read aloud.) Tapping an icon accesses a corresponding photograph of the image. Photographs from the Gems and Jewels app (Touch Press, 2011) and the British Geographical Society, which accompany several entries, can be rotated 360 degrees. An entry about Charles Darwin includes an image of the naturalist’s pocket sextant that can be viewed from various angles.

Readers explore regions and/or countries by selecting from icons at the top of the screen. A touch to the flag reveals an alphabetical menu of sovereign nations. When a country is selected, the globe rotates to that location. Live data about each nation appears of the screen including the current time, temperature, and its distance in miles from the viewer’s location. Additional facts include population, highest point, number of cars owned per 1000 persons, and average carbon dioxide emissions per person, per year—all of which make for fascinating reading and comparisons. Older children will enjoy comparing country statistics in the scrollable list that opens upon tapping on a fact.

As users travel around the world, the pleasing background music changes to reflect the cultures and countries they visit. (A settings menu allows readers to turn off the narration, music, features, and flags.) The Barefoot World Atlas is a highly engaging, educational experience that warrants repeat visits.–Cathy Potter, Falmouth Elementary School, Falmouth, ME.

 

Chasing Fireflies: A Haiku Collection. trans. by Peter Beilenson. Honeybee Labs. 2012. Score by Colin Wambsgans. iOS, requires 3.2 or later.Version: 1.2. $3.99.

Gr 5 Up–A cherry tree, a winding stream, and a cozy house nestled under an ever-changing sky set the backdrop for an interactive collection of more than 150 haiku. This stunning iPad app presents traditional 17-syllable poems by masters Basho, Issa, and others, and exemplifies the Japanese reverence for nature and the four seasons. For those who are unfamiliar with haiku, a two-page introduction offers information on this traditional form of expression and its themes.

A subtly animated background along with soft music and ambient sounds invite users to linger over each poem. For many, it’s often all too easy to breeze through a collection of haiku given the economy of the form, but the beauty of this app encourages a deeper, almost meditative reading experience, in keeping with the original intentions of the poets.

Each screen contains three selections and the accompanying animation and sounds evoke images brought to mind by the verses. For example, a grouping of poems that reference rainfall, twilight, and a temple bell are accompanied by a rainy evening sky and the occasional gong.

Navigation is simple and attractive. Users can select a starting point from a wheel representing a journey through the seasons, or simply press the “start” button. The app’s orientation works seamlessly in portrait or landscape. Interaction, such as turning the house’s lights on and off, is limited but elegant, ensuring that the haiku are the focus. Each screen provides the option to share the poetry on Twitter or Facebook, effectively bringing a centuries-old poetic form into the digital age.–Allison Tran, Mission Viejo Library, CA (3/5/12)

 

Double Birthday! Version: 1.0.0.

It Was Me, Mom! Version: 1.0.2.

Miko Goes on Vacation. Version: 1.0.2.

No Bath! No Way! Version: 1.0.1.

ea title: Brigette Weninger. illus. by Stephanie Roehe. Minedition. 2012. (Miko) Auracle/Auryn, Inc. iOS, requires 4.3 or later. $.99.

PreS–Resourceful and oh-so-charming Miko the mouse, and his faithful friend Mimiki, a stuffed animal, star in four tales. In Double Birthday! (2005), Miko receives a number of presents and finds a way to share them with Mimiki, while a game of ball in the house and a broken vase lead to a confession—of sorts—in It Was Me, Mom! (2005). When Miko Goes On Vacation (2006), he makes sure Mimiki is safe before venturing off to enjoy the beach. And after another wonderful day outdoors, the youngster worries that he will wash away all the traces of fun he had in No Bath! No Way! (2005, all Minedition). The stories are true to the original books and feature situations and sentiments familiar to young children.

The viewing/listening options are the standard “Read To Me,” “Read Myself,” and “Auto Play.” Children can also choose to narrate and personalize the stories. (Reverting to the original text requires a tap to the screen.) In all modes, the names of objects are labeled and voiced when they are touched. Movement through the book is achieved by a swipe to the screen or a tap on the mouse icon at the bottom of the page.

Straightforward texts, colorful illustrations, and unhurried narrations that capture the earnest and playful spirit of the youthful protagonist characterize these endearing stories.–Wendy Woodfill, Hennepin County Library, MN (3/23/12)

 

Tales for Great Grand Children. John Jackson. Illus. by Daniela Jaglenka Terrazzini. JJ Books/Digital Leaf. 2012. iBook, requires 1.3.1 or later; $5.99. iOS 4.3.3 or later. $4.99 for 13 tales or $.99 each.

Gr 2-7–Some of these 13 satisfying, Brothers Grimm-like stories, explains the author, are “worked up” from fragments of folklore and mythology he came across in Nepal and the north of India, whereas others are translations of the tales as he found them. Either way, stories such as “The Hole in the Roof,” in which a lazy farmer’s comeuppance is endured by his wise spouse, and “The North Star,” in which the troublemaking wife of a king is banished to the forest, will enchant listeners, transporting them to faraway locales and teaching them about other cultures.

The illustrations—one per story—are gorgeous, and feature small movements that observers will enjoy pointing out, such as a scurrying mouse or a multicolored quilt rising and falling on a snoring giant’s chest. Unobtrusive intervals of music and other sound effects are perfect complements to the author/narrator’s sonorous (English-accented) reading. The material can also be read without narration.

The tales’ presentation features a few problems that will keep readers and listeners on their toes, however. The writing sometimes lack sufficient punctuation to make reading fluent. In the story “Vijaya,” an illustration appears before the text that describes it, and might lead to confusion. However, these are minor issues that will not prevent the enjoyment of being introduced to new tricksters and discovering familiar themes presented in new ways. (Teachers will find that these tales will breathe new life into folktale and oral culture units.)

Bonus material following the stories features two videos describing the author’s Asian journey and the illustrator’s technique. This material is included in a free download along with an introduction and the story “The Hole in the Roof.” Additional tales can be purchased individually or as a collection.–Henrietta Thornton, Library Journal (2/29/12)

Treasure Island. Robert Louis Stevenson. illus. by Matthew Cruickshank. Narrated by Denny Delk. Space Dog Books, Inc. 2012. iOS, requires 5.0 or later. Version: 1.3. $7.99.

Gr 6 Up–Looking for a way to introduce students to Stevenson’s classic tale of pirates, treasure, and mutiny? Look no further than Space Dog’s 136-page, abridged version featuring numerous interactive illustrations, animations, and “immersive soundscapes.”

Navigation is smooth: a swipe of the finger turns pages and a pull-down tab allows readers to select chapters. There’s no read-aloud option here, but the terrific sound effects are sure to draw readers into the story: the creaking ship, the blowing wind, the crashing waves, the cracking fires, the moaning pirates, and in a few places, voiced lines (“Ha, ha, ha, I’ll tell you the first time I ever seen a mermaid”). There’s also a bit of song. Some of the sounds are automatic; others are activated by a swipe, a tap, or a shake. All enhance the storytelling.

Full- and half-screen images depict life near the Bristol docks with townspeople and sailors going to and fro, and scenes at sea of pirates facing storms and in hand-to-hand combat. Many of the pictures are animated and viewers will notice smoke rising from chimneys, birds in flight, and candles flickering. There are also interactive elements such as a pistol to fire or a spyglass to open and close. A touch to an icon on the pull-down tab will alert readers to these delightful interactive elements. An atmospheric, engaging version sure to entice students.–Joy Davis, Ouachita Parish Public Library, Monroe, LA (3/12/12)

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