Category Archives: Apple

Kalley’s Machine Plus Cats: App Review, by Awnali Mills

When my friend Rachel Sharpe emailed me about this wonderful app that I just had to try, I jumped right on it because she has great taste in apps. Once again, she was right! Kalley’s Machine Plus Cats ($2.99 iPad/iPhone) is a fun little story with great graphics and interactivity and worked well in storytime.

Kalley's 1The story is about this wonderful machine that a little girl named Kalley has invented. On each screen, she shows her father different parts of the machine, each one interactive. You can pull the levers, push the buttons, use the puffer and the smasher, paint things different colors (and combine primary colors to create secondary colors), and sort things into different bins. Kalley’s father thinks all of this is wonderful, but he’s baffled by the point of all this machinery. At the end of the story, the little girl finally explains that this machine makes food so that her father won’t have to go to work, but can stay home with her. Sadly, her father explains to her that he works for more than just the ability to purchase food, and Kalley proclaims that she’ll just make machines to do those things too!

And, that’s the story behind the app. The developer came home from work and his daughter had designed this machine on paper for the very same reason that appeared in the story. The developer turned her idea into an app as a way of possibly making her dream of daddy staying home a reality. I like a heartwarming-tale-meets-cold-hard-technology story as much as the next person, but it doesn’t make a bad app into a good one. Fortunately, this is a pretty good one.

Kalley's 2What I liked: The interactivity is pretty fabulous. There’s enough stuff here to keep kids playing with it for a long time, and it’s sneakily educational. Being able to watch as cats play around the machinery, and using the machinery to try and tease them is fun (cats cannot get hurt). You can also remove the cats as one of the options. You can have narration or not as you choose, and have background music or not. It’s easy to navigate, and there are no ads or in-app purchases. I loved that it featured a girl as the engineer. I love the message that kids have the power to create things to improve their lives.

What I didn’t like: The “puffers” and “shrinkers” on my app didn’t work, although the screenshots shown on the app’s website show them working. While this is disappointing, it didn’t lessen the charm of the working machinery. Some of the word choices irritated me, particularly when the girl tells her father, “It stamps shapes of the things that you choosed.” Yeah, I know that it’s a little kid speaking, but obviously incorrect grammar makes me a little crazy.

Kalley's 3I liked this app enough to use it in a food-themed storytime. I wasn’t sure how all the interactivity would translate to a storytime setting, but I managed to work some of the machinery while I was reading, and worked some of it after reading the page—practicing ahead of time is crucial here. If I had to do it over again, I would lower the volume a bit (I had it on full blast) so that the noise of the machinery didn’t compete with my voice as much. The kids were glued to the screen and seemed to enjoy the story. I meant to make the app available for play after stories, but kids were mobbing the flannelboard I had made available for play and I got distracted. Maybe next time!


Awnali Mills works in the Children’s Dept. of a public library and she gets the snot scared out of her by sudden loud sounds coming out of apps she’s trying out. She blogs at The Librarian is on the Loose.
Little eLit is a collaborative think tank of professionals thinking about the topic of young children, new media, and libraries. Individuals who share their viewpoints, experiences, and presentations in Little eLit blog posts are expressing their personal views and do not represent Little eLit as a whole.

Sago Mini Monsters, an app review by Carissa Christner

Screen Shot 2014-10-25 at 9.07.34 PM

Sago Mini has created many delightful toy-apps for young children. Last week, I had an opportunity to use Sago Mini Monsters in storytime at my library and everyone loved it!  Gameplay is simple:

1.  Drag a monster silhouette up from the primordial goo at the bottom of the screen.

2. Decorate the monster using your finger to draw in one of 5 colors.

3. Tap on the checkmark to tell the game you’re done drawing on the monster and your monster will grow eyes, horns and a mouth (although if you don’t like those, you can pluck them off and different features will grow in their place).

4. Feed the monster foods that pop up from the goo (could be cake, could be a boot…)

5. After the monster has eaten, its teeth look quite dirty, so it’s time to brush!

6. Pull more accessories up from the goo (a hat! a bandaid! a lightning bolt! the options are vast.) and finish designing your monster.

7. Take a picture (or don’t) and tap on the checkmark when you’re ready to meet a new monster.

I love this app for the open-ended (but not overwhelmingly option-heavy) art play and for the silliness factor that makes users of all ages giggle. The storytime kids loved telling me how to design the monster (What color should we choose next? Should we draw spots? Stripes? Squiggles? Where should we put this mustache? Do you like these eyeballs?) and they loved watching it eat crazy food and brushing its teeth.  One mom told me that her daughter loves to use the app and then go into the bathroom and brush her own teeth.  Every time. Hooray for the sneaky health lesson!

For a limited time, it’s free in the app store (all decked out for Halloween!), so grab it while you can. Read about the other monster apps I used in my storytime here. Make your own Sago Mini Monster finger puppets by downloading the pdf’s here (then printing them at 25% and adding a strip of paper at the bottom to wrap around your finger).

CATS Winter Workshop: APPles & Androids, by Stephen Tafoya

I had the opportunity to present at the CATS (Children and Teen Services) Winter Workshop in Colorado at the end of January. The program was called APPles & Androids, and I would like to highlight the points from the workshop for you here.

Before we got into the slides, we did our first APP-tivity. Using Endless Alphabet, I told the participants that I needed their help. “These rascally monsters just came through and messed up all my letters and I need you to help me put the letters back in order to build the word.” By asking choice/contrast questions, I had the participants tell me which letter was first, which one came next (or after) that first letter, and so on. As you may know, when you touch a letter in the game, it makes the letter sound. So, when I touched the letter, I had the participants make that letter sound with me, and told them they could even use their hands to show me what they think the letter sound looks or acts like. Once we put all the letters back in place, we cheered ourselves on a job well done, and then we listened to what the meaning of the word was. I shared with the participants some language I may tell parents. “By asking your child questions about which letters go where and having them repeat the silly sounds, you are helping them build letter and sound knowledge and the order sounds go in to make up a word. You can also have your child play and act out the word meaning to help build their vocabulary!” And that was our first APP-tivity.

Then we started in with the slides. I gave everyone the big picture of tablets in society. From there, we took a look at the different tablets that are available, and ones you may consider buying for programming use. Starting with the Kindle Fire, we discussed the different models, and how having access to Kindle Freetime Unlimited would make this tablet great for a digital literacy station. Going into Android, I highlighted the specialty “kid” tablets and spoke about Android tablets in general. Now that the newer Androids have the ability to create custom profiles this is a huge draw; however, they still don’t have the content that Apple does in their App Store, but they are growing. That led us into Windows 8. Not a whole lot to offer in terms of how we use them in libraries with children. Maybe someday.

From there, it was all about the iPad, the various models, the pluses of all the app content that is available, and how to evaluate apps in the App Store (I live demoed that piece). From there, the discussion led to how iPads can be used in the library with young children, the most common use being implementation in Storytime. I shared other ideas, things I’ve done or seen in other libraries, stuff that other libraries could potentially do. Then we went into the big picture of how and why the Librarian should be the media mentor (SPOILER: it’s so the PARENT in turn becomes the MEDIA MENTOR) 😀

I did another APP-tivity with everyone, using Sago Mini Forest Flyer and how to “think outside the app”. I taught everyone how to make a flying bird friend using their fingers and taught them this song:

I’m a little birdie,
Flapping through the forest,
Looking to see what I can see.

So they flapped along as I moved the bird on the screen and then placed her on one of the animation spots. When the bird started to interact, I would say, “What’s this? Our friend Bernadette (what they named the bird) smashed her face right into the cupcake! How silly, Bernadette! She must really love cupcakes!). Now, we are going to sing our song and fly again with our friend, but this time I want someone else to talk and tell me what Bernadette does.” And we did a few rounds of that.

At the end, I gave them language to tell parents like, “Through talk, singing our song, and play, you are helping your child build Vocabulary and Narrative Skills.”

We concluded our workshop with tips like Know Thy App (when you use it the first time, after each app update, to the point where you could do it in your sleep), Extra Tech Prep Time and Have a Backup Plan WHEN (not if) the tech does fail. And toIntegrate Naturally as it relates to their specific community (ie. slowly build it into storytime, survey parents first, etc.).

The workshop was well-received, questions throughout, and overall the CATS Workshop was a hit! Lots of great presenters, STEAM-related content, yummy food and friendly fellowship.

View the presentation slides here:–androids

Stephen Tafoya works as a Technology Trainer for a library district, and he partners with Youth Services Coordinators to engage kids and teens with technology in library programming.

Happy Halloween!

Check out the Digital Media Diet’s Top 10 iPad Book Apps for Halloween!  And for the record, I prefer weird, misshapen pumpkins too.

eBook review: Freight Train

Freight Train
Harper Collins Publishers
Available from iTunes store
available for iPhone or iPad, but optimized for iPhone

I was so excited when I saw this story about the making of the Freight Train eBook on the Horn Book website. My three-year-old son loves the Donald Crews book, and I thought an interactive eBook version would make a great addition to our eLibrary.

My son loves it, and so do I…mostly. The book is a very good fit for an eBook adaptation. The songs that were chosen as the soundtrack are appealing recordings of great, classic railroad songs. The read-aloud voice is appropriate to the book, and the interactive elements  enhance the experience, rather than detracting from it (e.g. the child moves each car to add it to the train, and it connects with a satisfying clang).

A couple of minor complaints: the default read-aloud setting plays the music and the narration at the same time, and so parts of the book are read at the same time that lyrics are sung. It’s distracting. Also, some of the illustrations that were added to make the app interactive seem like they were imported from another book. I love the clean visual style of the original illustrations, so the change in style for the added elements was jarring. My son doesn’t seem to care, but it grates on me a bit. And finally, the book is optimized for iPhone, so if you expand it on the iPad the resolution is a little fuzzy.

Overall, though, it’s an engaging and fun adaptation of the print book, and has become one of my son’s favorites.

eBook/App review: Numberlys

Numberlys for iPad and iPhone
Moonbot Studios
$5.99 from iTunes

Wow. Just…wow. Numberlys is a beautifully designed story app for iPhone and iPad, created by Moonbot Studios, makers of The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore. It tells the story of the creation of the alphabet in a world that only has numbers. The black-and-white style is reminiscent of Fritz Lang’s Metropolis, and the animation is worthy of Pixar. The story (which can be accompanied by narration or not) is interspersed with interactive games and tasks that show the creation of each letter of the alphabet.

This app definitely has appeal for children, although it’s probably most appropriate for the over-4 crowd. My three-year-old is taking some time to get into it. At first he lost interest pretty quickly, but every time he plays with it he gets a little farther into the story and seems to be paying more attention to the narrative and not just skipping ahead to the games. While he hasn’t gotten all the way through the story yet he’s moving in that direction, and seems utterly fascinated by the animation, even more so than the games.

Some of the games are quite simple, and some are  a touch more challenging. My son has needed a little help to understand the instructions and complete some of the tasks. And while the story centers around the creation of the alphabet, I wouldn’t recommend this app as an educational tool for learning letters. It’s really about the story and about making full use of the capabilities of the technology. There are plenty of alphabet apps out there if your goal is to help your child learn his or her letters, but for style, whimsy and sheer imagination, you can’t beat Numberlys. As an added bonus, this is one of the few apps that Mom and Dad will enjoy as much or more than their children. There’s plenty for both adults and kids to appreciate, and I think this app was worth every penny of the $5.99 I spent. Gorgeous!

lunchbox reviews

Lunch Box Reviews is a busy little website that reviews mostly iTunes products (apparently Android apps are coming soon!) and allows users to post their own reviews.  Apps are arranged by Platform, Age and Category, and they also have handy dandy search functions that allow you to refine your search.  You can save lists of your own apps, and they post the “Top Ten Best Of” lists daily.  They maintain a blog and a What’s New section for keeping up with the most up-to-date stuff.

App Review: Twinkle Twinkle

Twinkle Twinkle
by Super Simple Learning
for iPhone and iPad
$2.99 from iTunes

Twinkle Twinkle is an app based on the song “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star.” It includes animated videos of the song (sung by either an adult or a child), an interactive story, and a simple counting game. The story tells of a friendship between a little owl and a star.

This is a sweet song and story combo that’s ideal for young kids, and could be used as a bedtime story or song. The story takes the animation from the videos and adds very simple and subtle interactive elements, e.g. touch the owl and he blinks or flaps his wings; touch the star and it twinkles. The reader navigates through the story with right and left arrow buttons. There’s a home button in the upper left corner, but it can be hard to see on certain pages of the story. The counting game is also very simple – 20 stars appear on the screen and as the child touches each one, it spins, lights up and counts off. There is no way to change the number of stars that appear or change settings to make the game more challenging.

It’s a good introductory app for kids who might get overwhelmed by flashier interactive elements. The focus here is on the song and story so it’s more of a direct analog to a tree book than some other ebook apps, but can help children learn about interactive elements in a very easy and low-key way. I found after a few times through the story my son started ignoring the interactive elements and just clicked through to get to the song, which is his favorite part.

One other minor point of confusion: the animation in the videos and the story is the same, but the story is interactive and the videos are not. The first couple of times watching the video, my son kept touching the owl and the star expecting the same reactions as he saw in the story. Instead, touching the screen brought up the controls for the video player. It took a couple of turns through the app before he figured it out and stopped trying to interact with the videos.

If you want a free preview, check out the Youtube video:

App Review: First Words

Review submitted by the lovely Genesis.

Here’s my tip for getting through a restaurant meal with a toddler: get the FirstWords apps from Learning Touch. We have both the Animals and the Vehicles apps ($1.99 each). They also offer a Deluxe edition for $4.99 that has animals, vehicles, colors, shapes, etc.

FirstWords shows a picture of an animal or vehicle, with letter tiles spelling out the name of the object. There are corresponding letter tiles scattered randomly below the image and the child has to move the letter tiles to their appropriate place by correctly matching tiles. Each time my son touches a letter tile, the app reads the letter. When he touches the picture, the app says the name of the object. Once he successfully puts all the letter tiles in their correct places, the app reads each letter, says the whole word, and the picture spins, enlarges and makes the appropriate animal or vehicle sound before moving to the next word. The voice of the male reader is clear and pleasant.

There are some settings you can adjust to make it a little easier or harder depending on your child’s age and familiarity with the app. I love that there are visual cues for beginners who don’t know their alphabet yet. They can randomly move tiles around, but when they get close to the matching tile, it lights up.

My son adores these apps and was very quickly able to use them without help from Mom. He learned his alphabet by playing these games, picked up some vocabulary and now he gets that letters combine to make words. It’s really fun to see him take skills he’s picked up using the iPhone and apply them to reading print books. He loves to spell out titles and words in his books, and it’s very natural to him to move between print and electronic media.

FirstWords apps are currently available for iPhone and iPad, and I thought they were worth every penny. New animals and vehicles have been added at no extra charge with periodic updates of the app, which helps to keep the game interesting. For less than the price of a mocha at Starbucks my son has had hours of entertainment and education, and it’s so nice when my husband and I can actually sit and enjoy a cup of coffee at the end of a meal instead of taking turns chasing our energetic boy around a restaurant. Also great for car trips, plane rides, doctor’s waiting rooms, or anytime the parent in charge needs a little break.

Learning Touch also makes a First Letters and Phonics app. My son loves it, but to me the voice of the reader/singer for the app is only slightly less grating than nails on a chalkboard. Caveat emptor!

My heart’s an iPod

We listen to a LOT of music in our house.  Little J is very fond of the Decemberists, Charlotte Diamond, Europe, Laurie Berkner, Tom Waits, and Gym Class Heroes.  He will ask to listen to them.

“We can have my heart a stereo?”
“Sure baby! How do you want to listen to my heart’s a stereo?”
“On iPod! No, on pomputer.  Yes! pomputer!”

So we fire up the pomputer and find some quality YouTubeage for him to dance around the living room to.  At times he will ask to have music on the “eBook” (that’s what he calls the Galaxy Tab), so we use the YouTube App to find music there.  My digital native knows there are different ways to access the same digital content, and depending on his mood, he can choose just audio or audio and video.  This too, ladies and gentlemen, is media literacy in action.