OnceAppon: a Good Night Story Maker, by Emily Lloyd
OnceAppon, released in May 2014, is a beautifully-illustrated app that invites users to assemble a “hero” with an avatar maker, and see that hero imported into a readable story customized with their own choices. It’s the most exciting ebook and creation app for young children (preK-1st) that I’ve seen in a long time. As of now, OnceAppon is free for iPad, with no Android version. It lends itself to hours and hours of individual use, and could be an absolutely magical addition to a digital storytime.
OnceAppon’s avatar maker is wonderful, offering lots–but not an overwhelming amount–of options for customizing your hero’s hair, facial features, wardrobe, and accessories. (Hilariously, something that looks a lot like Google Glass is an available accessory.) The graphics are vivid and gorgeous, and when your avatar is imported into a story, the tiniest details are visible and clear.
13 different skin tones are available for avatars. In the current version, skin tone is the last thing you choose if you follow the menu in order, and the option to change it (the default is a tannish white) isn’t apparent until you scroll to the menu’s bottom. I’d like to see skin tone moved up higher in the menu, so kids will know right away that they can customize it, but that’s my only quibble with the avatar maker. I imagine many kids could spend hours playing with it, without even moving to the second step of importing their hero into a story. “Dress-up” apps, while popular, are often terrible, and OnceAppon’s avatar maker is an excellent “dress-up app” in and of itself.
I was thrilled to find that the available options (hair length, dresses or pants, etc) remain the same no matter which gender you choose for your avatar. You do need to choose one of two genders, but the only indication or result of your choice is whether your hero is referred to as “she” or “he” once imported into a story. All told, OnceAppon is even gender-friendlier than Toca Tailor (in which anyone can wear ruffles or a skirt, but the “boy” avatar has short hair and the “girl” has long hair). Once you’ve made an avatar, you name it (the name will be imported into the story) and name its creator (so a variety of kids using the app on the same iPad could save their own, or one child could save several). It doesn’t look like there’s a limit to how many can be saved.
After you’ve got an avatar, it’s time to make choices about your story. The basic storyline remains constant: your protagonist wants to play all night and invites other characters to play with her, but the other characters are occupied with pieces of a nighttime routine: eating dinner, showering (baths might have made more sense to young kids), and brushing their teeth while in their pajamas. A new day breaks, and the other characters are ready to play, but your hero, having had fun playing on her own, is ready to sleep (your avatar’s eyes actually droop as she grows sleepier–a fantastic detail). She promises to play another day.
Before generating the story, you’re invited to choose one of four settings (unfortunately called “themes,” not settings, in the app): the sea, the North pole, the jungle, and outer space. Other choices you make, usually from around five options, include which games you want to play, the sorts of characters you want to run into (giraffes, astronauts, etc), what characters are eating for dinner, what your character will eat for a snack (one quibble here–all options are processed and sugary), and so on. Once your story is generated, you can read the text, record your reading if you like, or listen to the default narration (which will incorporate all of your choices, but not the name of your avatar). The story is written in rhyme which mostly succeeds.
I’m excited to add OnceAppon to the list of apps I encourage parents and caregivers to explore with their kids. I’ve often recommended Collins Big Cat’s free ebook apps that include a “story creator”–the option to write your own stories using the settings and props from their stories. OnceAppon allows users to make a story (somewhat) their own and relieves them of the pressure of having to come up with their own plot, which will make it friendlier than Collins Big Cat’s apps to some. In addition to individual use, I can easily imagine using OnceAppon in a digital storytime setting with 3-5-yr olds: after choosing the avatar in advance (it could be especially fun for kids if you make one of yourself, or especially relevant if you make a character whose skin tone and name resonate with your group’s demographics), you could encourage the group to choose the setting and other options together, then generate your customized story live and read it aloud. If you like matching apps to ECRR2 practices, OnceAppon could be classified as a READ, PLAY, and/or (when explored together) TALK app.
OnceAppon again, is free as of now. Users are presented (not forcefully) with the option to purchase a hardcover book version of their story.Emily Lloyd is a public librarian and lives in Minneapolis. ~*~
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