Category Archives: Review

Kali’s Song: Blio

I’m putting together a handout for my digital storytelling program which includes booklists for parents. I’m including apps and iBooks based on books that the library owns, and eBooks that are available through the library’s website.  As I was hunting through Blio I saw  that Kali’s Song was available as an eBook.  After I did a little happy dance about the fact that the file was actually available for me to check out, I downloaded the Blio app onto my Nexus S and signed into my account.

I really, really want to like Blio; to be impressed by how much better it is than OverDrive for children’s books. Today I just did not have that experience. It takes a very long time for the book to load at all, and the text and illustrations are formatted to be held portrait style. If you hold your device landscape it takes forever to load again, and the text gets mangled and separated from the illustrations.  I will try on the iPad as well, but I suspect it is a function of Blio, not the device.

This book itself is just lovely; I read it first as a tree book.  It’s about a caveboy whose parents are teaching him how to hunt mammoths with a bow and arrow.  Kali uses the bow to make beautiful music instead.


App Review: Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore

The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore
Moonbot Studios

All in all, it was an agreeable jumble.

The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore is…. fantastic. It’s based on a book by William Joyce, and it was made into an animated short that won the Oscar for best animated short in 2011.

Moonbot’s website describes the story as follows:

Inspired in equal measures, by Hurricane Katrina, Buster Keaton, The Wizard of Oz, and a love for books, “Morris Lessmore” is a story of people who devote their lives to books and books who return the favor.

This app would be appreciated by kids older than our usual Little eLit offerings, but my almost 3-year old still enjoyed talking about the flying books and the librarian in the story. This would only work as a one-on-one app, too, not for a group.  The animation and narration are movie-quality, though some of the interactivity seems a little hokey (drawing in a book, old school Paint style, tap the books and they flutter while everything else on the screen is motionless, play “pop goes the weasel” on the piano etc) and sometimes it’s a little unclear what you’re supposed to do.  Nevertheless, the story is well written and the illustrations are gorgeous. You can even spell things in a bowl of Alpha-Bits cereal and take a photo of it!


App Review: Monster at the End of this Book

Monster at the End of this Book
Sesame Workshop Apps
Available from the iTunes store
for iPhone or iPad

I fell in love with this book when I was um . . . little. There was nothing quite like lovable, furry old Grover telling you to STOP TURNING PAGES and gleefully turning the pages anyway. So when I saw the free app card at Starbucks about a year ago I picked up two of them and trotted back to the library. I handed one to a friend who has a granddaughter the perfect age for this app and kept the second for myself. My kids are older (7,9 & 12 at the time) so the app was really for me and not them. I downloaded it right away  . . .  then decided not to look. I didn’t delete it but I didn’t want a fun childhood memory to be messed up (you know, like when the book gets screwed up by being made into a movie). I promptly forgot that it was there.

A couple months later my daughter dug up the book and read it to me. We had fun pretending the brick wall page was sooo heavy and laughed when we got to the end. After she was done I pulled out my phone. . .

You do not need me to tell you that this is a wonderfulaward winning app filled with wonderful eLit goodness. I was surprised at how my eyes were drawn to the words. Even though there were knots to touch and bricks to knock down the ebook held some of the same kind of magic. It made reading fun and interactive.

And you were so scared. I told you and told you there was nothing to be afraid of.

BookFlix Review

Image Bear Snores On by Karma Wilson
A Bear Cub Grows Up by Pam Zollman
Free on BookFlix

BookFlix is an online eBook service provided by Scholastic, and is available through your public library’s website.  We really enjoy the tree versions of Wilson’s Bear books: Bear’s Loose Tooth, Bear Wants More, Bear’s New Friend etc.  These well-rhymed books tell stories about a brown bear and his woodland companions; in this one, bear sleeps through howling wind, the crackling of a fire, the popping of popcorn and the sounds of merrymaking.  Bear only awakens when a flake of pepper flies up his nose and he sneezes himself to consciousness, at which point he laments that his friends have been enjoying themselves without him. There is no interactivity, but light animation like snow falling and dancing creatures add interest to an already adorable book.

There is a menu on the left hand side with links for reading the picture book, the non-fiction book, puzzles based on the books, information about the author, and websites for further reading (includes a disclaimer about the content of the websites because they’re not affiliated with Scholastic.)

BookFlix pairs fiction books with non-fiction books on a similar topic.  The non-ficition pairing for this book is A Bear Cub Grows Up, which was more enjoyable to read than I expected.  I viewed both of these books on a laptop, which made the experience less let’s-cuddle-up-and-read and more let’s-learn-about-bears. The interface is a little clunky, and you have to use the mouse to navigate, which is harder for little hands to master than swiping on a tablet. That said, the text is clear, the pictures good and there are vocabulary words highlighted within the text that you can hover over, and the definition pops up, along with an ear icon that you can click on to hear the word pronounced.  The Read Along function can be turned On or Off at any time and the volume control is right below the text (the sounds quality differs from book to book).

eBook Review: The Lorax

 The Lorax
Oceanhouse Media
$4.99 on iTunes, $4.99 Google Play,$3.99  Amazon

My son has been asking to read the original tree-book version of this over and over (a budding environmentalist?) so we read it in app form as well.  The narrator is great, the words are highlighted as they’re spoken in the Read-to-Me and Autoplay settings, and Seuss’ drawing are well showcased.  Page turning and pop-out words are smooth and consistent with Oceanhouse’s other products. The only problem I have with this eBook relates to vocabulary.  There are 2  words in the original text that we change (censor?) when reading out loud with my 2.5 year old: “stupid” and “shut up” (we use “silly” and “be quiet” instead). We avoid the Read-to-Me and Auto Play options and read the text to our little barbaloot ourselves.    The Lorax has recently been made into a movie  which has not been terribly well received by Seuss fans and non-Seuss fans alike, so if you look for this app, make sure you are getting the Oceanhouse Media version, and not one of the many movie apps.  Here’s the Horn Book’s take on the Lorax movie.

eBook Review: Twinkle Twinkle Little Star: The Experience

Twinkle Twinkle Little Star : The Experience
Flying Word Inc
$3.99 from Android Market, iTunes.

Fairies, dragons and cherubs! Oh My!

I purchased this app for the Kindle Fire mostly because I was bummed I couldn’t review Nursery Rhymes with Storytime for the iPad. It has similar wood-cut style illustrations and whimsy by the boatload.  Twinkle Twinkle is based on a tree book with illustrations by the fantastical Michael Hague and the full words to Jane Taylor’s poem  “The Star,” which was first published in 1860 in a book of children’s poetry entitled Rhymes for the Nursery.

This app has the same dream-land kind of feeling as heaven as depicted in the movie What Dreams May Come (don’t knock it til you try it, folks!)

The narrator’s voice is divine and the multi-lingual renditions of Twinkle Twinkle set to Mozart’s “Ah vous dirai-je, Maman” are a really nice addition.  The background music and sound effects is ethereal, and every now and then there’s a pleasantly eerie child’s voice singing the English version of Twinkle Twinkle.  Interactive elements often have a halo around them, and on all pages you can zoom in and out of the illustration, and even tilt it side to side- it’s surprisingly 3D.  Pages have to be turned with translucent arrows on the far right and left of the screen, not by swipes, which is hard for little fingers, and when you get to the end of the book, there’s still a visible arrow, but it doesn’t do anything when you click it.

I have been thinking about using this app as inspiration for Summer Reading Club programs, given that the California theme this year is Night Time. I’ll work on this idea more and report back later.

See the Kirkus review

eBook Review: Tacky the Penguin

Tacky the Penguin
Oceanhouse Media
$2.99 on iTunes, Amazon
$3.99 on B&N

Oceanhouse Media chooses good books to bring to life in eBook format.  Tacky has held a special place in my heart for a few years now, and it’s fun to see him dive, sing, dance and take on a group of rough and tough hunters.  The interactivity is minimal, which is standard fare for Oceanhouse, but the narration is decent and the sound effects cute.  Snow falls on every page, the pages are easily swiped by little fingers and objects are labeled in print and out loud when touched. Check out the reviews from Common Sense Media and Kirkus.

eBook Review: The Going to Bed Book

The Going to Bed Book
Loud Crow Interactive
$1.99 on iTunes
$3.99 on Amazon, B&N

Sandra Boynton vs eBooks: Sandra Boynton wins!!!!! (That’s a Dinosaur vs Bedtime allusion for any of you out there who didn’t catch it…..)

We have the board book version of this, and we loved it the way it was, but Loud Crow has added about 9 different flavours of awesome to make this eBook a truly fun experience. The animals all wiggle and make cute noises, the background music is soothing and the narrator sounds like a bespectacled, good natured grandpa with a cup of tea steaming on the side table. Taps turn on and off, creating pop-able bubbles or condensation that you can rub off. You can fling an entire drawer full of jammies across the room, pop buttons off the rhino’s shirt, open and close windows, toss towels around,  catapult the animals up the stairs, and make fish jump out of the sea. As exciting as all of this sounds, it’s actually quite a soothing experience.

Check out the YouTube trailer and Touch & Go Review

eBook Review: Harold and the Purple Crayon

Harold and the Purple Crayon
Trilogy Studios
$6.99 at Amazon App Store and iTunes

We initially downloaded the lite version of Harold and the Purple Crayon for our Kindle Fire, mostly because we thought it was crazy that anyone would charge $6.99 for an eBook. Lo and behold, this app was a HUGE hit with the whole family!  The original tree-based Harold was published in 1955 by Crockett Johnson and has since been made into short animated films, an Emmy-award winning TV series and apparently a movie is in production for 2013.

Each page shows Harold drawing a new adventure in grey, and it is the reader’s task to purpleize his lines.  The narration is pleasing, the animation adorable and the interactivity engaging at many levels.

See the Common Sense Media review here.

App Review: Wheels on the Bus

$0.99 on iTunes andAmazon

Very cute interactive musical book!  This app is a 2010 Parents’ Choice Gold Award winner.  Duck Duck Moose makes many educational apps for toddlers and babies.  Even though the suggested age for this app is 4+ on iTunes, the designer says 18 months and up, and my 5 month old enjoyed it too.  Of course, it is more fun when kids can use the interactive elements themselves.  Every page has different elements: the doors on the bus open and close when you touch them, the driver winks and moves her arm, and a dog barks, among many others.  You can change the language of the book to French, Spanish, Italian, or German, change the instruments in the music, or even record yourself singing the song.  This is definitely worth the price.

Review by Leslie McNabb