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Who’s in the Loo? Review

Posted by Amy Solomon on August 2nd, 2012
+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad

Who’s in the Loo? is a charming universal interactive app full of whimsical potty humor, focusing on the fantastical toileting of anthropomorphic animals.

I hope that his unusual description has perked the interest of some readers, and for those who enjoy this kind of humor, this is a wonderfully silly and engaging story of two young children who are waiting on line to use a public bathroom at a zoo, fantasizing about who could possibly be taking so long in the toilet.

Their imagination runs wild with illustrations that include animals large and small doing their business, complete with creative childlike words to describe their behavior.

Even the included interactive hotspots are potty focused, as a tap may start the urine stream of silly animals or help a large creature pass gas while sitting on the toilet.

By now, some parents are smiling at my reporting of these details, and others know that this is not an application they are likely to purchase.

Personally, my son and I have nothing but thoroughly enjoyed this comedic tale, including rhyming text that is just as quirky in terms of the toilet humor, while this app as a whole is wonderfully appropriate for all ages of children - assuming that this kind of humor is acceptable in one’s family as it is in ours.

The illustrations are lovely, bright and colorful; the interactions add mild animated elements and sound effects that do not overwhelm and hit all the right notes as does the excellent narration.

My son and I really had fun guessing who or what was behind the door. Without giving anything away, the conclusion is charming as well - a gentle reminder for my son and other children about how their trips to the toilet need to conclude.

Two added activities are included, specifically a missing word section that re-plays this book with the rhyming words left out, asking children to choose from a selection of three words that can fit into the sentence, thoughtfully including the correct word, a word that fits the context but does not rhyme, and another unrelated choice. This is a nice section that tests children’s ability to rhyme as well as their reading comprehension. I did have to explain what “loo” and “queue” mean to my son, which he caught on to instantly and just as quickly fell in love with this cheeky story.

Another area of this storybook is coloring book pages. My son does have a few favorite finger-painting apps that he enjoys, but often the coloring pages that may be included with storybook are an afterthought for him as these pages may not be as polished as the content of an app dedicated to artwork.

Because of this, it was funny to see his reaction as we checked these coloring pages which contain outlines of the animals found within these pages in performing their various potty antics that one needs to color in with a selection of colored markers. There is no selection of different sized pen points to choose from, and devoid of the paint bucket mode that my son and I love to use, but the chance to color in a large, gassy animal sitting on the toilet may just be the funniest thing my son has ever seen in a coloring app, making him laugh out loud and shouting out color choices left best to one’s imagination.

Who’s in the Loo is an application that is adapted from a previously published award-winning book of the same name - a book that in not readily available in our area.

Without this app, I am sure that this wonderful children’s book would have never been on our radar. Because of this, I am thrilled that more and more published books are being turned into applications, possibly reaching wider audiences that the published book may be able to.

I do want to reiterate that Who’s in the Loo is delightful and totally family-friendly for those who enjoy gas jokes and potty humor. I have enjoyed the included sound effects a great deal as these sounds are numerous as well as decidedly silly instead of being gross and over the top - an important distinction for which this app does a great job.

My Amazing Helpful Robots Review

Posted by Amy Solomon on June 13th, 2012
+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad

My Amazing Helpful Robots is a charming interactive storybook for toddlers and preschool-aged children which focuses on a young boy’s fantasy of building robots to help his family out with their daily chores so he can spend more fun time together.

An assortment of robots is covered, such as a machine to fix the family car, pick up after the home, or do the cooking, each with its own unique interaction which nicely imagines these tasks accomplished by a robot through the mind of a child.

This app is very bright, colorful and nicely stylized, as well as including some rather engaging, if not stimulating interactions on each page. I often recommend apps which I find relaxing and calming, and although these are not words that I would use to describe this simple story, this is an application that I have really enjoyed as the high action interactions, kinetic energy and loud effects really work within this tale to provide simulation some children may really enjoy - especially children reluctant to spend their app time with a storybook instead of a game.

Although I am not always a fan of the use of a sensitive physics engine allowing objects to bounce around the page, I enjoy how the robot parts crash together as the boy is trying to build, creating a dynamic effect that I really enjoy as I do this aspect within other pages of this application.

I also enjoy how varied the interactions are within each page, from the included puzzle found within the car building section to the fun cooking page where a robot mans the family’s grill to cook hotdogs and popcorn, or the musical elements uncovered as a robot helps out by cutting the family's grass.

I especially love the tender motivation here as this boy would love to spend more time with his family playing in the park, fishing or painting together. This app also ends on a lovely that until robots can do all the household work, this boy must help help out around the house himself.

Although this app would not be my first choice for a story before bed, during quiet time or in public out and about, the zaniness and whimsy included among these pages will be great fun for children who enjoy stories with a lot of action and sound effects. Adults will appreciate the sentiment of the fun storybook as well as the highlighted text that children can follow as this book is read by included narration.

Dot Collector Review

Posted by Amy Solomon on June 1st, 2012
+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad

Dot Collector is a very nice universal app for the youngest children with simple game play, wonderfully bright colors and soothing sounds that babies will enjoy.

This app is utterly intuitive to use as players need to simply drag moving dots into a black dot, clearing the board. A new dot is added to each additional level, adding to the game play.

Adults will find the style of this application lovely to look at as well, as the use of color here is excellent with bright colors used throughout - both as background colors as well as the dots to be collected.

Dot Collector is part of a series of Ellie’s Games that focuses on simple game play for babies and toddlers, with a great use of color being a focal point of this series.

I appreciate that this app, while similar to their other app, Color Dots, increases the interactivity from tapping these dots to dragging - a more advanced skill for babies and toddlers to learn. These apps are also highly praised within the special needs community as apps that also appeal to children within this community for their ease of game play, engaging colors and lack of over-stimulation.

It would be nice if in the future, the personalization found within Color Dots could also be found within Dot Collector, such as the ability to change dot size and speed, giving adults the chance to increase the difficulty of this app.

Having said this, Dot Collector is an app worth looking at while app shopping for babies and toddlers as well as those with special needs. The especially bright colors and lovely musical tones heard when a dot is collected makes this app stand out among other apps developed for this age range.

Boats - Byron Barton Review

Posted by Amy Solomon on May 24th, 2012
+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad

Boats - Byron Barton is the second in a series of apps that is based on printed books by Byron Barton that my son and I really enjoy.

Boats is a simple and sweet book that does a very nice job of teaching children about different boats - here with included sound effects and interactive elements.

As is the case for many of the book apps developed by Oceanhouse Media, Boats - Byron Barton does a great job of adapting the printed version into an application with the use of original illustrations and text.

Narration is included with sounds great, friendly and enthusiastic. Auto play is included, turning the pages of this book automatically, which is perfect for toddlers and babies. One can also read this book out loud as well, making this a lovely book to read to a child or a great first reader as well. It is always nice that within Oceanhouse Media books, the text is highlighted when read and readers are able to tap words or sentences.

I really enjoy the look of Boats as well as the other app in this series, Airplanes. The bright, colorful, and stylized images create a vintage feel that I really appreciate.

It is especially nice that the boats found within can be dragged around the screen, changing the direction the boats are facing as well for a very nice effect. When a boat is tapped to move, its particular sound can be momentarily heard, but I think it would be nice for an option to hear the sounds of these vehicles as long as the boats are dragged around the screen.

Boats - Byron Barton has quickly become a favorite app of my son’s, even before bedtime. For him, the best part of this app may be the ambient sound effects found among these pages, from the ocean waves, sea gulls and ferryboat horns to the sounds heard as a fireboat tries to extinguish a burning structure.

The app has a lot going on in terms of the audio - much to my son’s delight - as a fire alarm can be heard as well as the firemen barking orders at each other as a fire boat puts out a fire. There is also a nice moment with workers loading up a cruise ship with supplies that add a few trucks to the image as well that are also fun to tap and drag, and we enjoy a moment with people boarding the cruise ship as well as celebrating their bon voyage with confetti and streamers. The selection of boats is quite nice and educational, especially the small tug boat that pushes and pulls the larger cruise ship to the dock, creating a nice conversation starter about how this all works.

I believe that the added sound effects and voices heard get my son’s imagination going as he fills in the blanks of what must be going in within these scene, especially as he drifts off to bed.

I hope more of Byron Barton books will be adapted into apps as well as Oceanhouse Media always does a great job translating printed books into interactive storybooks.

Mirta - The Super Fly Review

Posted by Amy Solomon on May 23rd, 2012

Mirta - The super fly is a creative story with an interesting message for children as well as a great sense of visual style.

This is the story of Mirta, a fly who would like to see the world, but she needs to leave the house she is currently occupying to do so. I really enjoy how prepared Mirta is with her maps of the world and the intense training she goes through including dangerous missions to avoid fly swatters and the like.

Finally, Mirta attempts to fly out a window, trying and trying but to no avail as Mirta does not realize the window is closed and she is repeatedly flying into the glass, time and time again, being unaware of the other various exits, such as an open door, window, skylight and vent - all within her reach if she had been more aware of her surroundings.

I really enjoy this story a great deal as a moral is included unlike any moral I have come across in any other application - here about “flexible thinking” defined as “the capacity to generate alternatives” which teaches children the importance of not being rigid in their thinking about the benefits of thinking outside the box. I love this message as I have often said that I hope my son grows up to be resourceful as this strength would open up any and all doors to his future.

This storybook includes excellent narration as well as a chance to read this book out loud as well. No animated interactions are offered although sound effects are included and a hidden sound can be found on each page. What this app does possess is wonderful illustrations and an impressive use of tonal colors, each page including a unique color theme, such as a page of pink, blue or green, including various shades of this color as well as white. This creates a dynamic look I really appreciate, especially when this color style is broken and multiple colors are found on a page, creating a moment that is striking and really pops off the page. I also am very fond of the imperfect textures and color-saturated areas also found within, creating a distressed vague vintage quality I also enjoy.

Mirta - The super fly is of the highest quality and lacks nothing from excluding more interactive moments. Both English and Spanish recordings are included with the use of native speakers - always a nice touch, Although I cannot judge the Spanish narration, I can say the English narration is excellent, clear and rich-sounding. Because of these wonderful elements, I am impressed that this app is free to introduce families to the “Brainy Tales” series of applications that also include thoughtful, if not cerebral, morals that children can learn a lot from.

Mirta - The Super Fly has absolutely piqued my interest in this series of applications by the developers at Next Stage. I am very interested to see what applications they come up with in the future.

A Jazzy Day - Music Education Book for Kids Review

Posted by Amy Solomon on May 17th, 2012
+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad

A Jazzy Day is a lovely universal interactive educational storybook that teaches children about the instruments used to play jazz music. Narration is included as well as the ability to read this book by oneself.

Children will enjoy how this app opens up one morning as a daddy cat wakes up his two kitten children early to spend the day learning about jazz, taking a trip to hear Big Band music, meeting musicians and learning about their instruments. The illustrations are cute and include watercolor details that are always appealing. Mild interactive hotspots are also included that will trigger banter and subtle movements from these characters with the tap of a finger.

Soon, the jazz instruments are introduced. I really like the different sections and instruments found here such as the Rhythm or the Bass Section which are articulated with both words, illustrations and animated moments when instruments are tapped, allowing children to see and hear these instruments being played.

I enjoy how animals are used as the musicians such as trumpet-playing dogs, trombone-playing mice or saxophone-playing goats. Really cute details are also included, such as head-nodding or toe-tapping and tail-wagging as the animals perform, really getting into the playing of their music, as well as individual fingers strumming the bass, pressing the keys of a flute or trombone with the chest moving in and out the way one would expect, as well as other charmingly accurate details within these illustrations.

There is a nice interactivity found within this section as children can trigger these animal musicians to play their instruments, but I especially like being able to tap to play the vibraphone - a favorite instrument of mine.

I enjoy how these animals are styled to be very cool as the cat dad wears his red beret to the jazz hall. The other animals wear hip hats or sunglasses or the like, making them look jazzy themselves.

The included instrument sounds are great as well and have been recorded by professional musicians - a nice touch.

Some other sections are included, allowing players to tap to hear the sounds of the instruments as well as to move them around the page and stretch them with their fingers to enlarge them to see details.

I also enjoy the two games: “Find the instruments” where one is asked to find the instrument in question from a page of instruments as well as “Which instrument sounds like this?” where an instrument sound is played that one needs to match to the correct picture. I found these sections nicely done, but I wish it were easier to choose either game because as of now, a tap will bring players to either game rather randomly.

There is also a section that reinforces the names of letters found in these instruments, such as “p” for “piano or “c” for clarinet.

I really appreciate that this app has chosen to focus on jazz music as the other music apps I have seen through iTunes tend to be focused on classical music appreciation instead. For this reason and more, I can easily recommend Jazzy Day for toddlers and the preschool set.

Planes - Bryon Barton Review

Posted by Amy Solomon on May 3rd, 2012
+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad

Planes - Bryon Barton is a new interactive storybook developed by Oceanhouse Media and will be of special interest to parents of young children.

Planes is a delightfully simple storybook introducing different kinds of airplanes with a lovely sense of style. Few words per page make this a lovely first book for babies to listen to, later being able to use this book as an early reader as well.

With the first glimpse of this app, Barton’s books seem utterly familiar from my own childhood, even if in reality I was a teen when this book was first published. As an adult I love the vintage quality captured within this app which parents will enjoy possibly more than children will - vaguely reminding me of puffy rainbows and Mrs. Grossman’s stickers - both popular in the 1980’s with the same bright use of color.

I really like the excellent proportions used within these drawings that show relative size of objects found in the cityscape and other areas of this book, as well as a nice perspective seen as the jet plane filled with passengers fills the screen, allowing children to see the people seated inside.

Many planes are explored here, including a crop duster, sea plane, helicopter and a plane in the process of sky writing. It is also nice that a few pages toward the end are focused on the goings-on at an airport - moments my son especially enjoys. Sound effects are also incorporated for a very nice effect.

I am very pleased with how this book translates to an application, as the included narration is spoken with enthusiasm, each page from this book nicely filling the screen as the previously implied actions of the various planes now really come to life as they fly across these pages in ways slow and most delightful but never in a distracting fashion.

Children will enjoy moving these planes with the drag of a finger as well as tapping other objects found to have their names demonstrated with text and narration - always a nice touch.

Easy to read to oneself, this is a great book to read out loud with a nice function of tapping words to hear them spoken even if not using narrator mode, especially nice in aiding new readers who may need a little help, as is the text highlighting when the narration is spoken.

The only thing I would love to see added is the airplane sounds when children drag the planes around the screen with their fingers.

I really enjoy the atmospheric sounds of airplanes, helicopter over a city, cargo plane loading trucks and even the sounds of distant birds or crowd noises from people leaving a jet or workers cleaning and checking planes. These sounds are wonderfully layered with almost as much to listen to as there is to see. I could see, however, some families wishing they could lower or mute these sound effects if their babies find them too loud or stimulating, especially at quiet time. Because of this, it would be nice to control the sound effects volume of this app without effecting the included narration as well allowing my son to listen to this voiceover without the other loud noises when we are out and about.

Planes - Bryon Parton will make a lovely first app for babies, but I will expect toddlers and preschoolers to enjoy this book as well, as my son is four and asks for this application by name. I enjoy spending time with this application as well. The colors and wonderful, the drawings are interesting to look at as they are relatively simplistic, making them uncomplicated for the youngest of children, yet these pages are rich with details and a very nice amount of action taking place as well. For these reasons and more, I find it very easy to recommend Planes - Bryon Parton.

Awesome Shape Puzzles 123 Review

Posted by Amy Solomon on April 26th, 2012
+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad

Awesome Shape Puzzles 123 is a lovely universal puzzle app by the developers at GiggleUp, a company that has produced a library of apps of very high quality.

In the past, I have quite enjoyed their other puzzle apps consisting of different themes, such as the farm or transportation. Here, instead of different scenes each revolving around a specific subject, 12 puzzles are included that each focuses on subjects children will enjoy, such as dinosaurs, musical instruments, a collection of toys, ocean and farm situations, as well as covering fruits and vegetables, numbers and letters.

Tap one of these puzzles found within the main menu and the next page will transform the puzzle in question to that of a traditional chunky puzzle layout with empty spaces where the objects in question will fit into these areas. A tap on one of these empty puzzle spaces will bring players to a new close-up page of this missing piece where one then drags and drops the pieces into their correct places.

Easy and difficult levels are available which change the number of pieces these objects have been broken up into - a great feature giving toddlers as well as older children a chance to enjoy this app at their own pace. Single pieces are also available, allowing the youngest app users to drag and drop chunky single pieces directly into these main puzzle sections.

I really enjoy the inclusion of “grab” within these puzzles, giving pieces just enough pull into the correct spots as well as a”clicking” sound when the correct pieces fall into place to create a very satisfying, almost tactile experience.

Another very nice inclusion is a Demo Button one can tap to fill in these individual puzzles piece by piece - a nice aid for children using the more difficult section, as well as just some simple fun for babies, this button showing cause and effect.

When these individual puzzles are complete, a flag being dragged by a chipmunk driving a variety of vehicles will reveal the name of the puzzle piece in question, also with included narration. I think this chipmunk is cute, but he lacks the detail found among the nicely illustrated puzzle landscapes found within, and although I like the idea of added narration, I did not care for the chipmunk presumably being the narrator because movements of his mouth are in no way synchronized to the voiceover, creating odd-looking moments that to me were distracting although maybe not for children, who may not notice. An easy fix is to have this animal simply be the driver pulling the word flag - animation that already exists as one can turn off the narration in general if one chooses to do so.

It is nice that sounds effects are included as well, allowing children to hear with a tap the noises these objects make when applicable, with simple sound effects also included when necessary for elements such as the letter, number or shape puzzle pieces. I was not a huge fan, however, of the bouncing and quivering these pieces display with each tap - simply a little distracting and unnecessary for an app that is otherwise very relaxing and nice for unwinding in general.

For this reason, it would be nice if the sound effects could be turned off, as can the easy-to-listen-to music, transforming this app into a perfect quiet activity.

This app makes a lovely first puzzle app for toddlers who will grow into the different levels of difficulty, learning lots of new words along the way, as well as for families with older children who can enjoy the more difficult puzzle mode, also appreciating the 150 separate puzzles included among the 12 topics.

I appreciate how intuitive these puzzles are for children, but it is also worth noting that this app is equally intuitive for adults, as the setting page is easy to find and navigate, with a nice choice of options such as many language choices, both European and Asian, whether to include the music or narration, use of the Demo Button, and upper case or lower case usage for some of the included languages. Changing the difficulty is also possible from within the app during play - a nice choice children can experiment with themselves.

GiggleUp is a developer that parents should become acquainted with as I have enjoyed their other puzzle apps as well as their Interactive Telling Time app, available on iTunes. If interested, please search for my other GiggleUp reviews here on GiggleApps.

Kids Fun for iPad Review

Posted by Amy Solomon on April 18th, 2012
iPad App - Designed for iPad

Kids Fun for iPad is a charming interactive app that boasts over 70 short activities for children. I am excited by this app as it is not only content-rich, but the mini-games and activities are of a very high quality that really impresses me. An iPhone version of this app is also available.

This app is nicely intuitive as one begins on a main page that contains ten sections that one can chose from. Simply tap to choose. From here, one can choose from another menu of related choices, nicely organizing the abundant selections to choose from.

Children will appreciate how these sections are animal-centric and include an area dedicated to matching, such as an animal to its food, babies and their adults, animals with their homes and an interesting way to teach shapes - both geometric as well as animal silhouettes.

Users can play peek-a-boo with various animals while viewing different habitats such as those found in the ocean, Arctic, jungle, countryside or forest.

A sticker section is also included, allowing children to decorate different habitat landscapes with the animals found in these areas, sometimes including animal sounds or movements - nice touches that I wish were incorporated in all sticker choices.

A well-done spot-the-differences mini-game is included, allowing children to find the missing or different objects between two similar images. I like how this app keeps count of the five differences one is looking for as well as how one can tap either image to mark the differences found within - a helpful element to be sure.

Ten coloring pages are included as well. Here, one fills in the spaces of these cute animal drawings with the paint-bucket method of coloring and includes a good selection of color choices with the mailing of completed work made possible - also a nice choice.

A fun slider activity is included as children can tap their way through different animal heads, torsos and leg choices, creating both unique as well as complete animals. Animal sounds are also incorporated within.

Children will also enjoy the five animal puzzles found within this app. These puzzles include nine pieces each with a faint view of a reference picture showing one where the pieces belong as well as the use of a magnetic-like pull of the pieces guiding them into their correct spaces. This creates a satisfying experience as well as a nice level of hint without making these puzzles too easy.

Animal sounds are taught, nicely grouping creatures in their like habitats such as jungle, ocean, or forest.

I have also enjoyed the connect-the-dots section of this app as here one just needs to tap the number in sequence - easier for toddlers and young preschoolers who are still working on their fine motor skills.

Traditional “memory” games are also represented as one needs to turn tiles over in order to make pairs.

The look of these activities is uniformly wonderful, with bright stylized illustrations as well as the use of the circle found in the layouts throughout this app. As the menu pages, areas to color, puzzles spot-the differences sections and others are all found within circles for a vaguely vintage feel possibly reminiscent of decorative plates or needlepoint seen through an embroidery hoop, elements that I appreciate.

Children will also be smitten by the animals popping up or scurrying across the page that they may be working on as well as the lovely use of chime sounds when page selections are made as well as the random animal complete with included sounds found on the main menu page, and thoughtful use of ambient animal noises.

This is a really nice choice of application for young children as hours of game play are included. Being educational as well as charming and a lot of fun, parents will feel good about their kids spending time with this application.

I am impressed with the simple, sweet and stylized look this app has, making me interested in seeing what other apps the developers at toomanyscreens may come up with in the future.

The Noisy Book GAMES Review

Posted by Amy Solomon on March 27th, 2012
+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad

The Noisy Book GAMES is a creative and fun application that allows children to discover the sounds found among objects in their world - some common, some interesting choices for an application such as this. It is also good to know that French as well as English languages are provided, a thoughtful inclusion especially for French speaking, bilingual and other families looking to expose children to languages other than their own.

Parents who have perused iTunes will be aware of the abundance of apps such as this geared toward teaching new sounds, be it animal, vehicle or the like. What makes The Noisy Book GAMES stand out in a crowd is that the included noises are all created with the use of a human voice, not samples from nature or devised electronically, creating whimsical sounds adults will enjoy as much as their children will.

The main section of this app is the book itself, consisting of multiple pages one can scroll through, each containing six illustrations one can tap on to hear narration read in order to explain the object or concept being explored. Listen to these sound effects and enjoy the animated illustration as well, such as “The bee goes ZZZZZZZ...” or “The watch goes tick tock...” but for me, the most interesting selections are those more obtuse, such as the choices of “Pain” or the electrical socket going “no.”

The cute animation included further brings these words to life with nice effect, and I enjoy that these images have the same hand-crafted quality that these voiced sound effects do, keeping this app lovingly low-tech.

One also has the option of reading this book to oneself, recreating the sounds found throughout or coming up with one’s own unique noises.

I appreciate how the different sounds found within are randomly displayed among these pages and that one can flip though pages of this book looking for a specific sound, but I don’t like how after a sound is explored, it is grayed-out and can no longer be selected - an issue for children who may want to come back to a favorite sound over and over again.

After one has enjoyed the sounds found throughout this app, do test one’s memory of these noises as a game. “One, Two, Three sounds” is also included.

The look of this game is similar to a page from the book, consisting of six images. A sound is then heard, challenging players to select the corresponding sound.

This game has a nice level of difficulty, as one needs to remember a lot of sounds, and these answers are not always obvious. I do not like, however, that one mistake ends the game, never allowing children to know what the correct sound was that they were hearing. I would much rather see this as an activity which allows children to simply try again, showing children the correct answer after a few wrong choices, as well as letting players move on to the next question.

A memory game is also included where players turn cards over in order to make pairs - nice touches include choosing between easy and hard difficulty, as well as these cards turning over as quickly as the players can flip them - good to know as the slowness of having to wait for the cards within memory style games is a common complaint.

The last section this app offers is called Noisy Rap, a sound board based on the same layout found in the book and quiz sections. Here one can tap on an image to hear the sound it makes, together with background music also playing. These new songs can be recorded, and it is nice that a demo song is included to hear what can be created with a little practice. This section, as the name of this app implies, is rather noisy and will be a hit or miss depending on what the player finds appealing to listen to, but as a single section, I don’t see this as a major flaw within this app as the book and quiz modes are quirky and fun.

I have enjoyed the various sounds the human voice can make within this app, but I do think the price set for this app is expensive compared to their other apps at this price point, something to think about.

Peekaboo Barn for iPad Review

Posted by Amy Solomon on March 23rd, 2012

Now that the new iPad has been released, there may be readers new to downloading apps for their young children.

The app store can be an intimidating place, and the last thing any parent wants to avoid is spending money on an application that will not be enjoyed by their children. I remember when I got my first iPhone and began downloading apps, my son was 22 months old and I asked other mothers I knew to recommend applications that their toddlers loved.

The title that came up in conversation over and over again was Peekaboo Barn, a wonderful first app for children and an application that parents are still drawn to today as they look through my phone, abundant with educational apps a perennial favorite of my son who still enjoys this app from time to time. Versions for both iPhone as well as iPad are available.

This lovely, simple application opens up to a barn that bounces as one can hear something - presumably an animal - knocking from the inside. Babies and toddlers as well as older children delight in tapping the barn, opening it up to meet this creature. Once the barn is open, this animal makes its sound and its name is displayed using narration as well as text. The barn then closes, more knocking is heard and this game repeats itself.

Thirteen animals are included, and when one has met every animal, the last barn to be opened contains all these animals with their various sounds heard at once and the narrator proclaims “It's everyone.” It is quite charming how the next screen includes nightfall and now the barn is filled with sleeping animals with narration proclaiming with a whisper, “shhh, they're sleeping,” making this app a great title for bedtime, as seeing these animals asleep really relaxed my boy, helping him fall asleep himself.

Please note that both “Normal" as well as “Looped” modes are included. Make sure to use “Normal” mode to reach the restful ending to this app, as the “Looped” mode includes an un-ending supply of animals within barns to interact with.

The look of this app is great, with a sense of style adults will appreciate as well as their children, and it is especially nice that these animal noises sound very good, teaching about these creatures as one plays.

An American English-speaking child, adult English and Spanish-speaking narrations are included. Other language translations can be purchased separately as an add-on purchase, focusing on Asian or European languages. Recording one’s own voiceover is also an option.

There is not a lot I would change about this enjoyable app, but it would be nice if a basic home button were included as there is no mechanism to change narration or modes mid-game - just something to think about for the future.

If interested, do check out the other peekaboo apps within this series by Night & Day Studio such as Peekaboo Safari and Peekaboo Forest. We greatly enjoy these other, similar applications as well.

Santa’s Big Helper: 9 Christmas Apps in 1 Review

Posted by Amy Solomon on December 22nd, 2011
+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad

Santa’s Big Helper: 9 Christmas Apps in 1 is a really fun app for Christmas that integrates technology nicely into this Christmas app that will be appealing to children, especially precocious ones who may begin to doubt the existence of Santa.

A fun Christmas sound board is included, allowing kids to hear festive sounds with the tap of a finger. A magical compass is also offered, pointing its way to the North Pole and includes some fun sound effects as well. A Naughty or Nice list is also included that kids can check to see their status, and a Christmas countdown is featured, letting kids know how many sleeps it is until the big day, down to the hour, minute and second of Santa’s impending arrival.

Writing a letter to Santa is made easy as well here, and thanks to email, one can be sure he receives a note in a timely fashion.

For me, by far the best functions of this app are the "Elf Updates" and F.A.Q.’s also answered by this informative elf, “Dozey Toes" in the "Ask an Elf" section of this app.

These updates are brilliant, as topics such as “No Chimney, No problem” or “Dasher the reindeer needs glasses” are taken very seriously, with some quite witty, laugh out-loud moments that I really appreciate. Questions for Santa include such topics as “Is Santa real," “How does Santa visit everyone in one night” or “Why is Rudolf's nose red". Each answer is quit funny and for children, thought-provoking, I am sure.

I really enjoy these elf videos, but it may be worth noting that the style chosen for this elf may be an acquired taste, as he is a rather large man in an, I assume, a purposefully ill-fitting and inexpensive or amateurishly made elf costume - details that I find quite endearing although it did take some getting use to.

These daily elf updates and the questions answered are well-written and delivered, and yield a lot of laughs and some valuable Santa information that can be found nowhere else, making this app a good choice and worth the $0.99 price.

Another very interesting feature here is the “World Famous Patent-Pending Elf Cam” which allows one to see Santa entering one’s home on surveillance camera to prove to children of his existence after the fact, a well-done element that will impress children.

A parent’s section is included, nicely-password protected, to let adults add their children to the naughty or nice list, as well as configure the video of Santa entering the house via chimney or simple magic - a thoughtful addition for those who do not have a chimney. The videos created here are really cute and fun, something kids will really enjoy and parents will have fun with as well.

Christmas is not a holiday that we as a family in a religious sense celebrate, but as my son is in preschool and exposed to the secular concept of Santa, my husband and I enjoy the idea of Santa coming for a visit to drop off a small, token gift for our son to honor the fact that he has had a good year in preschool so far.

I have really enjoyed the Elf updates and questions answered, as has my son, who has started asking similar questions about Santa, although the fantastical answers we have made up to answer these questions don’t match up always with the answers this app provides. These sections have been a source of humor that we all enjoy, and I appreciate the fact that my son can watch these short videos without the use of an internet connection.

Christmas is right around the corner and some families may not want to bother purchasing such a topical app that may not be enjoyed past the holiday, but this app is so much fun, it is worth a closer look in iTunes.

Thumbelina, told by Kelly McGillis Review

Posted by Amy Solomon on November 23rd, 2011

Thumbelina, told by Kelly McGillis, is a wonderful adaptation of this classic Hans Christian Andersen tale, developed by Ruckus Mobile Media. This version of this classic story is also part of the library of tales created by Rabbit Ears Entertainment, known for incorporating award-winning stories, amazing celebrity narrations and phenomenal music and art. These applications are universal apps and can be watched like a video or read like a book, and one can make one’s own recording as well.

Thumbelina is a tale about a girl born to a childless couple with the aid of magic who grows only to be the size of one’s thumb and the adventures she experiences as she is unwillingly taken from her home to be married off to various creatures who find that her size and beauty make her good marriage material.

This classic tale, written by Hans Christian Andersen in 1835, is a true favorite story of mine as I love the imagery of a young woman so small that she can sleep in a walnut shell as well as the interesting anthropomorphic animals she meets along the way that are so very human, although oftentimes in ways most unflattering.

Being a lengthy children’s tale, many characters are introduced within this story, and I have noticed that other apps as well as children’s books and other media based on the original tend to touch upon the plot points found within but can remain rather disjointed as a complete narrative. I am happy to say that the thorough re-telling of this classic will satisfy children of all ages as well as adult Andersen fans, although I do wish that a new name were given to Thumbelina when she becomes queen of the fairy people as is traditionally found within this story, as the name Thumbelina is in fact a slightly pejorative reference to her height in comparison to a human thumb, an issue no longer relevant once married to the fairy king, and the re-naming of Thumbelina to Maia symbolizes a new beginning.

The look of the included video is simply captivating, hand-drawn and lovingly painted in water color. Some close-ups show the texture of the paper as well, adding to the richness of this lushly illustrated story. Narrator Kelly McGillis does a wonderful job of narrating this story, with a soothing, almost sleepy tone, skillfully re-told as this video is both relaxing as it is captivating. The music of Mark Isham is also perfectly realized, working wonderfully alongside the other elements to fully create a world in which this story takes place.

I appreciate greatly how pretty both the world around her and Thumbelina herself are with these simple, tender illustrations, with a great contrast to the gruesome creatures also introduced such as frogs, june bugs, and a most unpleasant mole, with great voices created to further develop these antagonistic characters.

I also enjoy how the artwork used within the storybook sections of this app are also transformed into moving images for the video with the use of the “Ken Burns Effect” as these water color paintings found within this app have been panned and zoomed into, directing the reader where to look and creating a sense of drama within this story. Although the video section is watched like a movie, the effect here is unlike something commonly seen on television and will impress even those who are not keen on kids spending time with kids videos as this is in fact an alternative way of exploring artwork.

These illustrations are also found within the storybook sections as well, but they are slightly concealed in some areas of the screen by a window that is includes text within a white background all its own, semi obscuring the painting beneath. This does make the text easy to read, especially helpful when recording a personal narrated tract, but I can’t help wonder if a simple band on the bottom of the screen would have distracted less from the very special artwork.

I have used this video section to calm my son mid melt-down with great success because from the first few moments of listening to this opening score, earnest and beautiful, combined with the impressive water colors. This is a very engaging, yet relaxing experience for my son, who quickly settles down to listen to this story, forgetting what was causing him concern.

This app is an impressive length of almost half and hour and 73 pages found in the storybook, making this a lovely choice of application to share with children of all ages on long trips, keeping kids occupied with a great experience in both art and literature that parents can feel good about. Sometimes I enjoy simply listening to these Ruckus storybook apps as this alone is a lovely experience, making the video mode something everyone on a long car ride can enjoy, even if not directly looking at the images.

Please also be aware that through Black Friday and Cyber Monday, all the proceeds of the sales from Ruckus Media Groups Read-Play-and-Record Along Rabbit Ears interactive storybooks, along with their other apps, will be donated to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. I feel privileged to have been able to review the majority of Ruckus Media Group apps, so I know from personal experience how terrific they all are. This, combined with the wonderful charity they are now connected with, and the fact that during this time each are on sale for $1.99 makes these apps wonderful digital stocking stuffers and Chanukah gifts, with different apps available for every age range, including adults.

Piece me BIRDS! Review

Posted by Amy Solomon on November 1st, 2011
+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad

Piece me BIRDS! is a lovely puzzle app for iPad that introduces young players to birds, the sounds and movements that they make in this simple, beautifully created app that kids will enjoy and adults will appreciate, as there is a vintage appeal to the look of this application in general that I am quite fond of.

This is a special app that will be enjoyed by young puzzle lovers as well as those interested in learning more about animals - here specifically birds.

This application opens up to a home page consisting of seven birds grouped together among branches of a tree. Here, one can tap on a bird to work on a specific puzzle. Once a selection is made, players are taken to a page where the child can faintly see the flying creature's outline within a white oval center screen. A tap here allows these puzzle pieces to enter this page with a random toss and a satisfying sound of wood pieces dropping onto a hard surface.

Now children will be able to place the correct pieces in their places, each with an equally satisfying “click” sound of a wood piece being placed correctly within. When completed, the bird will come to life, becoming animated with an appropriate movement and bird call specific to the type of bird in question. I love the look of these delightful creatures, their movements looking distinct for each bird, as do their calls that sound very realistic and well-recorded. Once complete, players can re-set these puzzles or go back to the home page and choose another puzzle to explore.

There is also a section giving the children a chance to meet the artist, Amy Ruppel, with a short biography of hers and a few pictures of Amy and her art. I really like looking at this section which allows children to get to know the people behind the apps that they love, and I enjoy Amy’s artwork very much here as well, as I especially appreciate how these puzzles become animated while maintaining the handmade quality that I really enjoy from this app. To find this section, tap Amy’s signature found on the title page of this app - a nice touch that made me smile.

I hope parents looking for a puzzle app for their child will consider Piece me Birds!. All the elements used here are well-done, and the level of difficulty among these puzzles is quite nice for toddlers, young preschoolers and possibly for older kids as well. Adults will enjoy this application as I now know the names and sounds of some familiar birds I did not know much about until now. The birds are wonderfully bright and colorful, the puzzles have a tactile feel that I love, making this a simple and sweet app worth looking into.

WeirdButTrue Review

Posted by Amy Solomon on October 6th, 2011
+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad

WeirdButTrue is a very fun and interesting National Geographic app that brings intriguing facts and an interactive design for both iPad and iPhone.

Very easy to use, the app is a random fact generator filled with interesting tidbits that kids and adults will enjoy. Each page has its own weird but true information, with bright colors and many vivid photos of related images used to illustrate what is being explained, and I also appreciate the creative use of fonts and design in general to fit the text onto the page in most interesting ways possible. These facts can be about animals, the human body, toys and other topics as the app has a plethora of information and it is great fun how varied sound effects are used per each page that in some way relate to the fact being presented.

Although this app is not narrated, I can’t imagine adults not enjoying these interesting facts on their own as they read these pages to their children. Nicely interactive, children will enjoy turning the page as a very satisfying flip sound is heard, as well have the ability for a variety of animals to singularly pop onto the screen saying “That’s Weird,” when a button is tapped from the menu bar to the right of the screen. One can also mark a fact as a favorite, and it is fun that the information is saved within this app with the tap of a heart icon, making the heart bounce around the screen like a ball in a pinball machine - a nice interactive touch. One can also email friends facts if one wishes, and there is a Weird-o-Meter included as well which allows readers to give feedback to National Geographic about how weird one thinks specific facts are. This information is then compiled in the “Top Weird-O-Meter Facts,” letting app users see what others think is the oddest information.

I really enjoy this app. I have always been a fan of this type of information, as I have very fond memories of shows like “In Search Of” and later “Ripley’s Believe it or Not” as a child, and I am happy that this app brings this strange but true information so conveniently to devices.

I also enjoy the facts that National Geographic has chosen to share here, as there is a very nice balance between weird and child-friendly. This app may be an acquired taste of sorts, but I have not found any facts that I think would be inappropriate or too scary for children, except for maybe the most timid of children who are obviously not a good fit for this application.

There are a lot of memorable facts used here, most of which adults will enjoy as much as children will, like how koalas and humans have similar fingerprints, how male ostriches can roar like lions, or that there are 29 different shades of red from Crayola. I enjoy how pithy the text is per page, allowing one to scroll a good number of these pages in a short amount of time - a great distraction for young and old alike. Younger kids will really enjoy having these fun facts read to them as well as interacting with this app.

I also think app would be especially nice for reluctant readers as well, because each of these sentences is short but packs a punch in terms of interest and oddness that will have kids turning each page eager to see what is next, as did I, feeling mildly addicted to this app and spending longer than necessary in reading these facts for review purposes.

It is also nice that one can easily Google for more information about any of these topics, oftentimes with the further details of these stories adding to the strangeness. An example is “Mike the Chicken,” who survived 18 months without a head, something I promptly googled to get the complete story. Used this way, this would be a great resource for teaching grade schoolers how to search online in order to research subjects of interest - a vital skill to learn for today's students.

It is nice that a “Fact Finder” is included within this app, being a glossary of sorts for organizing the information offered here from A to Z, but I think it would also be nice if in the future, one could search by subject as well. This may make this app less random in general, but this may be a good thing for my son who is sometimes animal-obsessed and other times more interested in fun food facts.

I do hope that in the future this app can be updated. Currently, there are over 300 facts included, making this content-rich and a lot of fun, but I can see heavy users of this app desiring more content in the future. All-in-all, a great choice of educational app for kids of varied ages as well as adults.