December 8, 2022

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


By Daryl Grabarek

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 for additional reviews, commentary, and interviews with people in the field.


The Artifacts. Lynley Stace. Illus. by author. Music by Chris Hurn. Developed by Slap Happy Larry (Lynley Stace, Daniel Hare). 2011. iOS, requires 3.01 or later. Version 1.1. $1.99.

Gr 4-9-Leave it to a couple of Australians to come up with a story about an imaginative 13-year-old boy who invents ways to entertain himself even when deprived of stimulus. Asaf is a collector of objects and treasures, a finder of gems that other people might consider trash. When his parents, exasperated by his clutter, leave behind his collections when the family moves, he is at first sad, but then begins to collect anew–amassing words, ideas, and facts until his mind becomes his treasure vault.

The narration of this 21-page story is automatic, but in order to find dialogue and explore Asaf’s thoughts and surroundings, readers must experiment with tapping and tilting, stroking, and shaking. Not all enhancements are intuitive, giving the app experience a welcome exploratory quality. Especially effective and surprising are pages that reward repeated tapping with interesting words or amusing book titles. “Practical Onomatopoeia” and “Amoeba Almanac” are books every library should have—if they existed.

Stock sound effects are used in amusing ways, and the narrator’s voice is quiet and friendly. Mysterious storybook-style original music recalls Tim Burton movies, with wordless choral parts and tinkly glockenspiel. Subdued digital paintings match Asaf’s introspective mood, becoming gradually richer as he populates his mind with colorful thoughts.— Paula Willey, Pink Me (1/16/12)


Barnyard Dance! Sandra Boynton. illus. by author. Narration And Vocals By John Stey. Music And Sound By Michael Ford. Developed by Boynton Moo Media and Loud Crow Interactive, Inc. 2011. iOS, requires 3.2 or later; Android, requires 2.2 or later Version iOS 1.1; Android 2.0. $3.99 in both platforms.

PreS-K-“Trot with the turkey. Leap with the frog. Take another spin with the barnyard dog.” There’s fun to be had on every page of this classic board book title, put to the tune of jaunty banjo music. Dancing, prancing, and promenading two-by-two across the screen, these farmyard animals are having a grand time—and so will viewers.

The app opens to a view of a table covered with a red-and-white checked cloth; resting on it is a violin, a banjo, a copy of Barnyard Dance! (Workman, 1993), and a plush Boynton toy sheep. From this screen viewers can choose to have the “the big guy” (John Stey) read the story or select read it on their own, adjust the volume, and view the credits.

Words are highlighted as they are read and voiced again when tapped. Each page offers some amusing activity; touching the creatures causes them to twirl, skitter, slide, bow, swing, or scramble about (as they introduce readers to some new vocabulary). There are sound effects galore: quacks, clucks, cheeps, and squeaks. “With a BAA and a MOO and a COCKADOODLEDOO,” everybody will be hotfooting it to an online shop to purchase this lively production.—Renee McGrath, Nassau Library System, NY (1/18/12)

The Numberlys. William Joyce. Directed by William Joyce and Brandon Oldenburg Narrated By Mike Martindale. Music By John Hunter. Developed by Moonbot Studios, LA, LLC. 2012. iOS. Version 1.0.3. $5.99

PreS Up- Numberlys is a cinematic story with a gorgeously rich orchestral soundtrack, punctuated by more than 20 activities, in which numbers are forged, hammered, and stretched into the 26 letters of the alphabet. For in this futuristic world there are no letters; it’s ordered, yes, but lacking in color and homey names, like Ralph and Pamela. The opening vertical landscape presents a reverent and clear homage to Fritz Lang’s Metropolis, as does the dial of the home button, the recurring electric halos on the letters as they are formed, and the leitmotif of the bell-shaped pipes spewing smoke accompanied by the resounding brass section.

The production, shot in black and white, with crisply defined shadows, myriad shades of grey, and even that 24-frames-a-second flicker, tells of five rotund friends (named 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5, each sporting a respective number of Seuss-like puffballs atop a single strand or cone of hair), who are tired of eating the same gloopy food at factory break time, and want to create something different. “At first it was awful. Then at last…artful,” and out of a mistake, arises “A.”

Humorous alliteration and puns and a wonderful German-accented narration, temper the grim, grey world. So do the games. The activities are the vehicle for the five friends and for the viewers to work together to forge the remaining letters of the alphabet. The games highlight forces, simple machines, and electricity, and are as engaging for 10-year-olds as they are for 4-year-olds.

The youngest viewers will be captivated by the creation of the letters that they are learning as shapes, and relish the colorful, transformative world of language that ensues. Older players may see this as a cautionary tale about getting stuck in routine (a red light, if pressed, will repeat the dreary factory existence of working and eating, working and eating), and recognize the benefits of collaborating to creating a better world.—Sara Lissa Paulson, PS 347 – “47” The American Sign Language & English Lower School, NY, NY (1/30/12)

Our Amazing World: Penguins. Wayne Lynch. Photos by author. Developed By Matchbook Digital LLC. 2011. iOS, requires 3.2 or later. Version 1.1. $2.99.

Gr 4 Up-The stunning work of wildlife photographer Wayne Lynch will captivate viewers in this first app in the “Our Amazing World” series. Thirteen species of penguins are depicted nesting, swimming, courting, and foraging in locations across the Southern Hemisphere. Captions along the bottom of the screen identify the species depicted in each of the 60-plus images and the location of each shot. In several photos, the vivid black, white, and yellow colors of emperor penguins provide a striking contrast against a brilliant blue sky and the white antarctic ice. One impressive photo captures a rockhopper penguin yawning; visible is the surface of its pink tongue and mouth, covered with spines that help trap food.

Navigation is easy: a horizontal swipe across the screen advances to the next photo; a tap on the screen pulls up a scrollable menu of thumbnail photos, and a vertical swipe delivers a detailed paragraph related to the image. The information includes interesting facts about the physical attributes, habitat, breeding habits, and diet of the featured penguins. The vocabulary (and lack of a glossary) make this app more appropriate for older students. There are no source notes or lists of related resources.

Nature lovers will be attracted to the breathtaking photographs, and the information will prove useful to students looking for an overview on the life cycle and habits of these birds. However, the lack of interactive features may limit the engagement of some users.—Cathy Potter, Falmouth Elementary School, Falmouth, ME (1/1/12)

Skulls. Simon Winchester Narrated By The Author. Photography By Nick Mann. Skull Collection By Alan Dudley. Developed by Touch Press LLP. 2011. iOS, requires 5.0 or later. Version 1.0.1. $13.99.

Gr 6 Up- Skulls is an elegant, fascinating app, uniquely shaped by the strong essays of Simon Winchester, the stunning photographs of Nick Mann, and the quirky audio notes of skull collector Alan Dudley. Chapters, ranging from musings on skull anatomy to skulls in art, offer an essay by Winchester with a series of vivid, arresting photos. The text, which is displayed in white against a black background alongside beautifully illuminated photos, gives the sense of traveling through a museum exhibit. In portrait view, the display switches to black text on a white screen.

Navigation is easy and intuitive, but full of surprises. Scrolling down the right side of the screen activates wavy lines that connect images to hyperlinks in the essay. Tapping the link or the photo provides a full-screen, captioned version of the image that can be easily rotated and enlarged. One link from this page offers a screen that can be viewed used with 3-D glasses, while another (“View Species”) presents some basic factual information. Also available is “Alan’s Notes,” an audio file of collector Dudley briefly reminiscing about how he acquired each skull. Tapping the Wolfram Alpha icon pulls up more facts for each species.

There’s plenty of information here, but what sets this app apart is the way reference is combined with commentary and even wry humor. An example is the chapter introducing the collector, which features a photo of a leg with an electronic ankle tag attached to illustrate Dudley’s brushes with the law as he sought exotic skulls.

In his introductory chapter, Winchester refers to Skulls as a book, and if this is the future of eBooks, we are in very good hands. The app’s design encourages readers to engage with the key-word searchable text. They can also navigate between chapters from a contents link or by using a progress bar at the bottom of the screen.

Students and adults alike will be fascinated by these images and appreciate an opportunity to manipulate them for closer views. They‘ll also enjoy Winchester’s audio narration, which is available on each page in this absorbing title.—Chris Gustafson, Whitman Middle School, Seattle, WA (1/25/12)