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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.

unnamedThe 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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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.

Toca Nature App Review, by AnnMarie Hurtado

Recently in the car my daughter was playing with the iPad in the backseat.  She was playing Toca Nature, and its wistful, quirky music formed a soundtrack to my drive home. Suddenly she said:

“The bunny rabbit is playing follow the leader with me! I’m going to follow him and see where he goes.”

Screen Shot 2014-12-09 at 8.47.01 AMShe adores this app, asking me for it every day. I can see why. The app is an addictive, Sims-like world building game. You shape your world with mountains, lakes, or rivers and populate it with various trees and animals, each of whom thrive in a different habitat and hunger for a different kind of food. You then follow the animals around, observing their movements and feeding them, collecting berries or mushrooms wherever you find them so that you can satisfy the animals’ individual appetites. You can even take photos of the animals you are observing, and these are saved instantly to your Camera Roll.

When I downloaded the app, I played it myself first (as I always try to do) and found it difficult to put down! The graphics are excellent.  he gentle, hypnotic background music helps to immerse you in the world of the app. You can literally spend hours playing with it.

photo-3Like most Toca Boca apps, this is a wordless, completely open-ended app that can be enjoyed by the smallest kids. I liked that when my daughter played with it, she gave names to things and commented on things. At other times during our drive she said, “Oh, what a cute little birdie!” and  “Come here, bunny, have some food.” It showed me that she was getting something out of it beyond just scanning a scene and looking at things. She was imagining herself watching the animals like a birdwatcher or a naturalist. She was also imagining herself interacting with the animals, playing “follow the leader” with the rabbit that kept hopping away. I think that kind of delight and awe of the natural world is something you don’t see often in apps for kids, and I’m glad to have found it in Toca Nature.

 

AnnMarie Hurtado is a youth services librarian with Pasadena Public Library.
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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.

Review of Toca Town by Toca Boca, by AnnMarie Hurtado

We’ve known for a long time that Toca Boca apps are great for encouraging open-ended play for preschoolers.  With Toca Town, it’s as if the geniuses behind all those apps put their heads together and created an app where all those worlds meet.  The result: endless possibilities.

In Toca Town, preschool and kindergarten children who are starting to learn about community helpers can touch and interact with community helpers in a wide variety of settings.  They can choose and purchase groceries from the store, visit the police station and pose the inmate for silly mug shots, have a picnic in the park, stop by a restaurant for some spaghetti, or even help the chef to cook it.  Then they can stop by their house to watch TV or have dinner.  Leaving one place and entering another is very intuitive; inside every room there’s a door icon at the top that will let the child enter and the home screen shows all the places they can tap to explore, bouncing to the music.  Children can also fill each scene with as many characters as they like, by tapping the yellow sign at the bottom right that brings up all of the people.  Anything that is in a character’s hand when you leave them in one place, can be brought with them to another place this way.  So your character can pick up some money from home, go to the grocery store with the dollar bill in her hand, and buy something.

As with other Toca Boca apps, objects interact with other objects and other places.  A character who is tapped while sitting on the toilet will make funny toilet sounds.  An item placed on the gift wrapping shelf at the store will magically acquire pretty paper and a bow.  Put a guitar in a character’s hand, and he will start to play it.  Want that character to leave the restaurant and visit the park?  Just go to the park, and select that character—he’ll still have his guitar with him.

I like the wide range of possibilities with this app and the fact that it has a variety of settings that children love to play—police stations, grocery stores, restaurants, and homes.  The app allows for a lot of creativity, discussion, and imagination.

Toca Town by Toca Boca$2.99, iOS, Google Play and Amazon

 

AnnMarie Hurtado is a youth services librarian with Pasadena Public Library.
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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.

First Thoughts on ScratchJr, by AnnMarie Hurtado

When I was nine years old, I was playing around with a paint program on my family’s old Atari computer and figured out how to animate pictures by making a lot of images with very slight changes and then playing them together. As old-school as that early-90s Atari program was, it worked incredibly well and taught me how my favorite movies were made. Years later, when I found Scratch, I was thrilled to find a way to share that same exciting discovery of animation with kids—and I’ve been teaching it at my library and at a nearby private school for the past two years.

So you can imagine my disappointment that the new long-awaited iPad app, ScratchJr, doesn’t have the capability to animate your sprites. You can do this on the regular Scratch website by creating multiple “costumes” for a sprite and telling the sprite to switch costumes in a certain sequence. But ScratchJr has nothing like that. For me, this makes all of the projects just fall flat. They don’t look much different than the characters moving around or growing bigger or smaller that you see when you record a show in PuppetPals. I was hoping ScratchJr would be able to do much more.

A lot of the reviews of ScratchJr have echoed my disappointment. Perhaps this is because Scratch is such an amazing system with endless possibilities, and it’s natural to want to see some of that broad horizon replicated in its Junior version. So far a user can program sprites to move around or say something. They can also program a scene to change. They can enter sounds and text. And they can program cause-and-effect, like making a sound when a sprite is tapped. The left-to-right sequence is a win for ScratchJr because it’s very intuitive for little kids. The lack of coding language, replaced by obvious symbols, is another win that shows this app was made for younger kids than the users of the main Scratch website.

Adults will need to play around with it a lot before showing their kids how to do it. I wish it had been clearer what the symbols in the ScratchJr interface stood for—I had to learn some things just by trial-and-error. I do feel really excited to show my 4-year-old some of the easy things you can do with Scratch, and hope that she catches on. Understanding that things happen in a sequence and understanding cause and effect are just a few of the important literacy skills that this program can teach primary-grade children.

But this version is just a first step. Looking forward to an update!

AnnMarie Hurtado is a youth services librarian with Pasadena Public Library.
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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.

Thinking About iPads from a Parent’s Perspective, by AnnMarie Hurtado

Much has been said already about the impact that iPads are going to have on the way twenty-first-century children will approach education. Tablets aren’t just going to change the materials children use to learn, but also the ways in which children approach learning. Studies are already surfacing that suggest ebooks may have a detrimental impact on children’s reading comprehension skills. This is worrisome enough, but up until recently I hadn’t seen a lot of discussion about the potential impacts on a child’s development of creativity and imagination.

Then via the LittleeLit Think Tank, I came across an article written by Olof Schybergson entitled “The Generation Raised on Touchscreens Will Forever Alter Tech Design.” The article itself doesn’t offer much food for thought, unless your business is in tech or product marketing. But if you’re interested in the potential impacts of iPads on children’s cognitive and creative development, read the comments.

There was a particularly intelligent comment signed by a psychologist/teacher named “Teacher Tyler”—I urge you to read the entire comment here:

“[W]hat I’ve seen is that there is a MAJOR difference in children who have been put in front of a screen at early ages… [K]ids are being entertained by their ipads/tablets/screens verses creating the environment using their imagination around them… thus leading to an era where kids want the environment to stimulate them, instead of the child making their environment stimulating. This is huge. I’ve seen…countless children go from sociable to sitting in chairs looking for things in their environment to entertain them. I’ve yet to completely understand how this cohort develops into emerging-adulthood, give me 9 more years, but I feel that its going to be limited because of a lack of imagination due to a screen environment.”

When I read Tyler’s comment—especially the part about children being limited by a lack of imagination because of their screen media usage—I felt frightened, and a little conflicted.  I am a librarian starting monthly appvisory programs at my library, and I am also a parent of a four-year-old who has been using iPads since the age of two. I have always read books to her and have always done a lot of play, singing and interaction with her. When she uses the iPad, I frequently use it with her. We love apps like “Presto” and “Puppet Pals,” and we make up funny stories and watch the apps transform our voices or our pictures into hilarious sounds and images.

Although I believe I’m using the tablet in the best possible way with my daughter, I have to confess I sometimes have misgivings about even letting her play with iPads.

It’s true she becomes less social after she’s spent some time playing alone with one. (No, I am not always interacting with her every single time. Sometimes she does use the iPad alone, because I am human and I still need to wash dishes or cook dinner every now and then.) Occasionally, she has sudden outbursts of hyperactivity or tantrums after having spent time with the iPad. She even went through an aggravating phase of thinking books were “boring” because there were no exciting sounds or video clips embedded in them. Sometimes, as punishment for bad behavior, I take the iPad away for a few days. I’m usually glad for that break, because her behavior is noticeably better and she’s more social and engaged.

In general, I think my daughter is turning out to be a smart and imaginative kid. But I’m still worried that screen media might stunt her creative growth. That’s scary for a parent. Everybody wants their children to have the best possible foundation for life, and hearing that screen media may limit their children’s development (even if it’s still by no means proven) is more than enough to give a parent pause.

If I didn’t have enough Mommy guilt to deal with, there’s my professional involvement in this trend of iPad use in libraries. Sometimes I worry about my role in promoting that among kids, and wonder if I’m on the “right side of history.” But then I remind myself that there’s no going back. Doing appvisory in the library is becoming as necessary as any other kind of media curation or reader’s advisory service.  Tablets and smartphones are here to stay.

However, I feel a strong pull to tell parents, “Before you download another app, make sure your kids are also running around your backyard, reading books, and drawing pictures with pen and paper. Make sure they’re interacting with the REAL WORLD and bringing stories to life with their own minds.”

For now, I will continue to play with my daughter and give her experiences that will develop her imagination. And I’ll look out for Teacher Tyler’s master’s thesis. As both a parent and a librarian, I’m anxious to see what his research will uncover.

AnnMarie Hurtado is a youth services librarian with Pasadena Public Library.
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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.

Two Perspectives on the Little Critter ABC App

Oceanhouse Media recently released a bunch of new apps, and a few Little eLit librarians volunteered to test out the new Little Critter ABCs app and report back. Here’s two librarians’ perspectives on this new app:

photoFrom AnnMarie Hurtado, Pasadena Public Library:

I used the app together with my four-year-old daughter, who is very well-versed in the alphabet and loves to name what words begin with each letter. She had the most fun recording herself saying “E is for Easter egg” and “O is for owl” and then playing back the recording to hear what she said. She also took a few seconds on each page to touch the screen everywhere and hear and see the names of every item she touched. You even get the names of pictures whose names change. For example, you can touch the egg and hear “egg,” but once it hatches and a baby chick emerges you get a new word–“chick.” Pretty clever!

photoFrom Lisa Mulvenna, Clinton-Macomb Public Library:

If you haven’t used an app from Oceanhouse Media before and you work with young children, you will definitely want to start. Their apps are great early literacy tools. In addition to reading the story, users are able to touch various parts of the illustrations and both see and hear the word for that item. For example, if you touched grass, you would hear the narrator say “grass” and would see “grass” written out on the screen. This is great for showing that letters have meaning!

Oceanhouse Media’s newest offering is Little Critter ABCs. This title is based on the board book by Mercer Mayer, but the book is hard to find in both libraries and bookstores. By turning a board book edition into an app, the title becomes more accessible to everyone and I can use in on my large screen. What I really like about this alphabet app is its simplicity. On each page the narrator (or you) says the letter and the word beginning with that letter. For example, you might hear “D, dog”. If I am using this app in its entirety, it works really well for the 2-3 year old age group. Because it is an alphabet app, it also would work well if you were introducing a letter of the day. You could use just one specific page to highlight your letter.

We run an iPad-based storytime at our library called Tablet Tales. I will be adding this to our June lineup which will cover ABC apps. It pairs really well with Wee Sing & Learn ABC, My A-Z, and Jamaroos Musical ABCs. If you are looking for “playing” apps to go with this one, check out Alphabeasties, Alphabet Aquarium School, and Endless Alphabet.

Little Critter ABCs is only available through iTunes at this time. It has a special introductory price of $.99.

 

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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.