Blog Archives

Beginning Apps for Modeling Joint Media Engagement: Recommendations by Emily Lloyd

In a conversation on the LittleeLit Google Group about apps to use to show parents how to use apps with their kids, the inspiring Emily Lloyd suggested the following apps. What other apps might work well in storytime? Join the discussion!

  1. Finger Paint with Sounds (free–also for storytime)
  2. Lazoo: Squiggles! (free)
  3. OnceAppon (free–could also use in storytime–could all make avatar together)
  4. Endless Alphabet (expensive but worth it–also for storytime)
  5. My A-Z (find under iPhone apps–free–I also use this in storytime)
  6. Toca Kitchen Monsters (free)
  7. Toca Tailor Fairy Tales (free)
  8. Toca Town OR My PlayHome Stores
  9. Hideout: Early Reading (free)
  10. Sock Puppets (free, a little challenging at first, but then a lot of fun–can also use in storytime)
  11. Sago Mini Doodlecast 

Edit: Emily says that Sago Mini Doodlecast should be on the list, too, so it’s #11 on this top ten list 🙂

And, if you like felt/flannel boards: Felt Board: Mother Goose on the Loose (free, storytime)


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.

oappjpgThe details:

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.

oa2jpgAfter 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.

oa3jpgI’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.
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.

The ACPL Family App: A Review, by Emily Lloyd

acpl2Within minutes of downloading and opening Allen County Public Library’s new free app, ACPL Family (iOS only at the moment), I’d seen three new things I want to try in storytime. Designed for families and caregivers, those who serve them also stand to benefit from exploring this excellent app.

Released in April, ACPL Family is described in the App Store as “intended to be used by adults and children together, promoting age-appropriate learning and literacy development.” The app contains five main sections: booklists (with direct links to the ACPL catalog), “READY on the GO” (video segments with staff modeling the five ECRR2 practices); “Tips and Facts” (early literacy tips for babies, toddlers, and preschoolers and “fun facts” for grades K-2 and 3-5); a reading timer, and an event calendar. As is the case with Grow a Reader–Calgary Public Library’s early literacy app, launched in early 2013–most of the content will be immensely useful to families anywhere, not just to the public library’s patrons.

Thoughtful touches abound. The reading timer, for example, has a basic stopwatch function but also allows individual readers to enter their names and log their time; tapping on “view times” yields the number of minutes read by each reader in the last week, last 30 days, and last year. The timer, along with the booklists, may be the most useful sections of the app for older children. Billed in the App Store as “for parents and caregivers of children of all ages, from birth through elementary school,” the app’s heavy focus is on early literacy and the birth to six set.

The tips under “Tips & Facts” are friendly and reassuring. Examples from the “Babies” category:

  • “Follow your baby’s lead when you read. It’s okay to stay on the same page the whole time or read upside down!”
  • “Sing with your baby every day! Can’t sing on key? No worries! Your baby wants to hear YOUR voice, the most important person in his life.”
  • “Bath-time and splash-time is also science learning time for your baby. A plastic cup is all that’s needed to learn empty/full.”

Clicking “refresh” yields a new tip, and users can, from within the app, sign up to receive additional weekly tips sent to their device.

The booklists include several awards lists, African-American History, Counting, Genealogy for Kids, “Dyslexic-Friendly Early Readers,” Fears, Feelings, Illnesses, Potty Training, Early Childhood Curriculum Resources, lists by age (Great Books for Babies, Great Books for Toddlers, Great Books for Preschoolers), and a few more. All of the suggested titles come with a short summary, and some even come with tips for sharing, as with Llama Llama Hoppity-Hop (“Many books for babies allow you to play along. As your baby gets older, help him or her ‘hop’ along to stories like this one. Reading time should also be fun time!”) ACPL patrons can check availability or place holds on the titles from within the app.

acpl5The exceptional centerpiece of the app–what blew me away within minutes of opening it–is the “READY on the GO” section. I can’t say enough about the ACPL staff–four women and two men–who appear in the video segments. They’re fantastic, as comfortable and effective on camera as professional actors filming Sesame Street. If, like me, you’ve ever worried about sounding stilted when you share early literacy tips in storytime, you’ll want to study these segments. From making lists with young children, to having an early literacy-rich conversation as you take a walk, to giving a shaker a shake for each syllable as you recite familiar names, they model tips and make clear their benefits in concrete, immediately applicable ways.

acpl6The videos, three to four for each ECRR2 practice, are scripted such that the staff are “talking to” the child viewing them, and clearly modeling for the adult viewing them. They include high-quality animated elements–words written large to build print awareness, a cartoon bee buzzing around a staff member as she “takes a walk,” and more. They take a nice broad approach to each practice: “Write” videos include singing “Draw a Circle in the Air,” making a list of animals one hopes to see at the zoo, and the action song “Five Little Speckled Frogs” (“When we sing songs and use our fingers for fingerplays, we help our children’s fingers get ready to hold crayons and pencils”); “Read” videos include a look at nonfiction, how to make an English muffin pizza (reading a recipe), and a rendition of “Five Little Monkeys Jumping on the Bed” (with a recommendation to find more rhyming books). An added bonus of the videos is that they really display library staff’s early literacy expertise in a way that’s often only seen by storytime attendees, positioning staff as a friendly, knowledgeable resource for parent and caregiver questions.

A very few of the app’s choices gave me pause enough that I feel I should mention them. One is the choice of “Ten Little Indians” for the “Sing” segment. It’s a song I sang as a child but think of as much less widely sung today (I’ve heard “Ten Little Bubbles” to the same tune a lot more) and potentially offensive to some. Also in the “Sing” segment, the font used during the singing of “The Alphabet Song” is more stylized and less clear than one I’d be likely to use with young children, and “Five Little Ducks” includes an alternate last verse in which the little ducks, having not come back when the mother duck quacked, immediately come back when a father duck with a mustache quacks (I know many, maybe most, will find this last one harmless, but I’m not a fan). Finally, in the Tips & Facts section, a very useful tip, “Encourage all the adults in your baby’s life to talk to her!” is followed up with “Fathers use different words and concepts than mothers do.” I serve so many nontraditional families that I’d prefer “Some use different words and concepts than others do.”

If you haven’t yet, I highly recommend downloading and exploring ACPL Family. Both it and Grow A Reader are stellar examples of libraries working to meet and support parents and caregivers where many of them are (on the go), not just in our buildings and storytimes.

Emily Lloyd is a public librarian and lives in Minneapolis.

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.

Sock Puppets: A Review and a Few Ways to Use it in Storytime, by Emily Lloyd

Confession: my driving motive in using apps in storytime is parent and caregiver education around choosing and using apps with kids. If I can highlight a strong content creation app, I’ve found a small way to promote the use of apps as fun tools to explore with children, and in the case of Sock Puppets, one more way parents and caregivers can work the early literacy practices of playing together and talking together into their day.

Sock Puppets is a free iOs app that allows you to choose from six puppets and several sets and act out and record a 30-second scene. Scenes can be saved for later playback and shared to Facebook or YouTube. After recording a voice sample, you can set the pitch of each puppet’s voice, so that when you record your scene, playback transforms your own voice into the differently-pitched voices of the puppets. Here, to me, lies the magic of the app when it comes to use by children: from echoes to simple amplification to voice changers, kids love to hear their own speech repeated back to them, transformed. A child who does not already gravitate towards or feel comfortable acting out scenes with physical puppets or dolls might feel inspired and liberated by this feature and find a way “in” to dramatic play.

For storytime, I like the 30-second limit built into the free version of Sock Puppets–that’s the longest I’d want to play a pre-recorded stretch of video in storytime, anyway–but extended recording time is available as an upgrade for 99 cents. You can also purchase a wider array of puppets and backgrounds. The only upgrade I’ve purchased, also for 99 cents, is the ability to import my own photos as backdrops, so I can use photos of my library.

Here are a few ways I’ve found to use Sock Puppets in storytime to date:

1. I regularly introduce the letter of the day by having a physical puppet pull a foam letter from a bucket, asking the kids to call out the name of the letter as soon as they can see enough of its shape to identify it. Then I ask the kids what the letter sounds like at the beginning of a word. After this, I’ll quickly mention the Sock Puppets app to parents and caregivers, and play a short prepared scene reinforcing the letter of the day and its sound, and demonstrating our “Letter of the Day Song,” which we’ll sing together after watching the puppets sing it. If you’re satisfied with your first take, a video like this takes about 1 minute to create:

2. I’ll also occasionally use Sock Puppets to briefly introduce an important part of the library in a fun way (Where’s the nonfiction section and what does it include? What’s the Information Desk look like and what can I do there?), using a photo of a place in my library as a backdrop:

3. This is a bit goofier, but a quick way to reinsert our now-familiar Sock Puppets friends at the end of storytime to get kids jazzed about checking books out before leaving the library for the day:

Once you take a few minutes to get the hang of it, Sock Puppets is exceptionally simple to use–in theory, a preschooler could use it him or herself to record a surprise scene for or message to a parent, after first having played with it with an adult. I highly recommend this app both to parents and caregivers, and to storytime providers looking for a way to introduce app advisory in storytime.

Emily Lloyd is a public librarian and lives in Minneapolis.

Apps & Babies: Keeping Our Heads, by Emily Lloyd

I’ve been wanting to address the media coverage and reaction to the news this week that the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood has urged the Federal Exchange Commission to look into the marketing practices of two makers of apps targeted to babies, Fisher-Price and Open Solutions. In particular, I feel the need to respond to Rachel G. Payne’s August 9th post on the School Library Journal website, “Are Learning Apps Good For Babies?” Since the form my blogging most commonly takes these days is a slide deck, I offer the below:

Emily Lloyd is a public librarian and lives in Minneapolis.

iPad Apps & Your Pre-reader: an app advisory session by Emily Lloyd

My library recently received an iPad for staff use. In addition to introducing it to storytime, I’m working on an app advisory session to present to parents and caregivers at libraries and preschools this fall, and Cen invited me to share the work-in-progress here. If you’ve done something similar, I’d be thrilled to hear how it went, and I’d also love feedback on what I’ve got here so far.

The program, “iPad Apps and Your Pre-reader,” will tie a selection of free apps directly to ECRR2’s five early literacy practices. I plan to make the most of the hour to not just offer tips on choosing strong apps and exploring them with pre-readers, but to talk about the five practices in a much more extended way than I usually get to in storytime (the session will be adults-only). At its core, it’s a session on the five practices that simply acknowledges that exploring apps together is one more way we can write, read, play, sing, and talk together. Parents and caregivers will also leave with an introduction to and list of exceptional free iPad apps to explore with their pre-readers.

I’m sticking to free apps for a few reasons. One: they’re what I feel most comfortable recommending in a library context. Two: I’ve been able to download and evaluate as many as I wish as I attempt to curate the strongest. Three: the App Store isn’t much fun to navigate, and countless free apps are cluttered with intrusive ads; I consider introducing parents and caregivers to some of the best worth downloading a valuable and time-saving service (“Save the time of the caregiver!”). And four: there really ARE a bunch of great free apps out there. I’m including only ones I can highly recommend, with zero-to-minimal ads, and none with ads that are insidious or difficult to ignore. This does mean that I’ll need to re-review the apps closely before each presentation, as free apps have a way of becoming paid ones or disappearing from the app store altogether.

My slides-to-date are below. Again, feedback and tales of similar programs are highly appreciated–as well as suggestions for fantastic free apps that I missed and should include. Thanks!

Emily Lloyd is a librarian, educator, and writer living in Minneapolis. You can find her online at and on Twitter at @PoesyGalore