App Review of Hansel and Gretel: Lost, by AnnMarie Hurtado
What makes a great book app? There are many viewpoints on this, but for me I think a great book app has to tell a good story and use animation and interactive elements to further the comprehension of the words in the story, rather than simply distracting the reader. One book app which meets my criteria for a great book app is Hansel and Gretel: Lost by PB & J Publishing.
The interactive elements actually move readers through the plot, which is a real win for beginning readers. The reader makes Hansel throw his breadcrumbs, and watches as little forest gremlins gobble them up. The reader helps Gretel climb the tree to see the witch’s gingerbread house. They later help Gretel kick the witch into the boiling pot and bust her brother out of his cage.
The screen elements are well-synchronized with the narration. For example, when the reader mentions a gopher digging a hole, the gopher pops up, and when the reader says the children looked to the left and then to the right, their view changes accordingly.
But let’s not focus only on the technological aspects of this app—the point of a book app is the story! The story is a good retelling, infused with lots of humor. It is a bit less creepy than the original; for example, in this version the children have loving parents who do not abandon them. The illustrations are cheerful and also help to make the darker aspects palatable for small children. The witch is grotesque yet comical. The spoken narration is lively. There are funny moments added into the story, like Gretel dipping the witch’s glasses in butter, and scrubbing worms off of the witch’s foul feet.
One of my favorite funny parts is when Hansel dares Gretel to go into the forest. Each time the reader taps on Hansel, the words he uses change, and he goes from calling his sister a “chicken” to calling her a “scaredy cat” or a “timid tuna.” He acts out the animals and makes animal noises. I like the early literacy aspects of that. I think kids will like it too, because having the ability to alter Hansel’s dialogue is very empowering.
My one complaint with the storytelling is that the character of Hansel is not as kind or as resourceful as the Brothers Grimm’s Hansel. Some of the original Hansel’s smart ideas are suggested by his sister in this version. But I don’t think this will be noticed by children, and anyway Gretel has always been the ultimate heroine of this story. I can see why the creators made this decision: it shows a clear change from the mean Hansel who calls Gretel a scaredy cat to the grateful Hansel who is proud of how brave his sister is. That adds an interesting new layer to the story, one which children will relate to.
Both the storytelling and the animations that enhance it pull the reader in and make the reader are a part of the story. When my four-year-old reads this story, I see that she is fully comprehending everything and reacting to it with either laughter or horror. And that is what great storytelling is all about!
AnnMarie Hurtado is a youth services librarian with Pasadena Public Library.
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