By Daryl Grabarek
There’s no doubt about it: app production has skyrocketed. But curiously, a number of children’s book publishers and app developers are now thinking twice about the format. After dipping the proverbial toe in the water, some companies have put app development on hold, while others are exploring their options, trying to determine how to create these costly innovative items and still make a buck. Some organizations, including Random House and Sesame Workshop, have extended their partnerships to include apps, and many more bookshelf apps, such as MeeGenius! and Wanderful, are hosting collections of titles that are grouped by theme, specialization, or publisher. In a word, the world of apps is in flux.
But that doesn’t mean there hasn’t been a slew of exceptional products this year, and you’ll find a number of them on our list. As with most year-end lists, this one is subjective, and it includes only apps that have been reviewed in School Library Journal’s column Touch and Go. You’ll note a front-runner, but those items that follow can stand proudly side-by-side.
1. Moonbot Studios deserves high praise. Its Oscar-winning team, led by kids’ book creator William Joyce and film director Brandon Oldenburg, was one of the first to create an app, IMAG.N.O.TRON (pictured), that features augmented reality—a technology that layers digital images and information onto the real world. How does this cutting-edge app work? Clutching an iPad, simply hold the app over a page of Joyce’s bestseller The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore (S & S/Atheneum, 2012), an ode to the joys of reading. As soon as the app recognizes an image, the magic begins: books suddenly start to flutter, fly, and softly recite their lines; characters begin to wink; images are seamlessly transformed from 2-D into 3-D, and a bicyclist appears to glide off the printed page. Moonbot’s signature wit and originality are in evidence here, but with this app, seeing is truly believing.
2. Jessica Anthony and Rodrigo Corral’s young adult novel, Chopsticks (Penguin/Citrus Suite), is a format-bending mystery that’s told through photos, news clippings, and artwork—and the kicky digital version packs some added punch. Will the embedded songs, YouTube videos, animated IMs, sound effects, and a “shuffle” feature that lets viewers choose alternate readings help solve this sophisticated puzzle? The verdict’s still out.