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The Lost Song - Living Stories Review

iPad App - Designed for iPad
By Amy Solomon on August 29th, 2013
Our rating: starstarstarstarblankstar :: MUSICAL STORYTELLING
The Lost Song - Living Stories is a unique musical storybook with interactions and wonderful narration.
Read The Full Review »

Bramble Berry Tales - The Story of Kalkalih Review

+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad
By Amy Solomon on August 19th, 2013
Our rating: starstarstarstarhalfstar :: STORYTELLING
This story within a story includes a traditional Squamish tale. A truly memorable experience.
Read The Full Review »

Bartholomew and the Oobleck Review

Posted by Amy Solomon on July 16th, 2013
+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad

I have been looking forward to the adaptation of the Dr. Seuss storybook Bartholomew and the Oobleck, a sequel of sorts to another Dr. Seuss tale developed by Oceanhouse Media - The 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins - an app I have also enjoyed.

Bartholomew and the Oobleck, a Caldecott honor recipient, stars the re-occurring characters Bartholomew Cubbins and King Derwin or Digg in this story of complete power corrupting as well as the need to be careful with what one wishes for as here, the king desires weather to be more interesting than the typical rain, snow or sleet that falls from the sky.

Going against friend and confidant Bartholomew's better judgment, the king has his wish granted by magicians that also have their concerns, and things take a turn for the worse as the Oobleck falling from the sky is a sticky mess that traps all that it touches, becoming dangerous gunk. Luckily, after being persuaded by Cubbins, the king speaks two magic words, namely, “I’m Sorry” which inexplicably stops the Oobleck.

This is a story written in prose instead of the fanciful rhyming style Dr. Seuss may be best known for. I must admit that I personally prefer these titles that are in-depth short stories without the characteristic rhymes - Seussian elements that I always found got in the way of my enjoyment of his tales, although this may put me in the minority of his fan base.

Also of interest is how this book contains only black, white and shades of gray along with a pop of green used to illustrate the Oobleck - much like the earlier book, The 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins, that uses the same stark palette except with the use of red instead of green as the single color used within.

These illustrations, zoomed and panned to show detail and guide readers' attention, also include light animated moments of Oobleck falling from the sky as well as the word object picture associations Oceanhouse Media is known for, which can also be turned off if readers choose to do so.

I admire the professional narration that does a good job of keeping the tone of this story light enough as I could imagine the details of the Oobleck sticking to everything to be horror-like if different choices had been made during the reading of this story.

Users are also able to record their own narration if they choose as well as share their own narration with others who also have downloaded this app.

As with other OceanHouse Media apps, Auto Play is available, allowing one to not turn the pages of these books but instead to watch these stories more like a video, allowing one also to simply listen to these tales play as I do, enjoying wonderful stories as I close my eyes and rest.

I am very happy that the Dr. Seuss library of books is being developed into applications. I look forward to reading other Seuss stories I am less familiar with in the future as well.

On another note, children may be interested in creating their own Oobleck by mixing cornstarch, water and food coloring to create a true semi-sold said to resemble the Oobleck from the book.

The Terrifying Building in Eyeville

Posted by Amy Solomon on July 2nd, 2013
+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad

The Terrifying Building in Eyeville is a thoughtfully written and wonderfully illustrated children’s storybook app.

This is a very personal storybook developed by Joel Grondrup as his daughter was diagnosed with retinoblastoma, a rare cancer of the retina.

The Terrifying Building in Eyeville is an allegory for this cancer as a small man named Kanser arrives in Eyetown after falling off the back of a truck during a rain storm. He knocks on the door of Mr. Nice and asks if he can start building onto Mr. Nice’s home as he is a traveling builder who looks for houses to build onto.

Mr. Nice allows Kanser into his home where Kanser takes over building, spreading his strange project throughout the house, building upwards and outwards, affecting the entire community until Eyeville has to be removed to protect the entire country - a sad loss for all, but tolerable as another Eyeville, a town exactly like the first, can now be called home.

I can’t say enough about how impressive this story is. The illustrations are wonderful, quirky and stylized. The included narration is excellent, clear and easy to listen to, and the character of Mr. Nice is well developed.

The storyline of this tale is well thought out, with a beginning, middle and end which may seem obvious, yet my experience with other children’s stories is that not all writers have a handle on a dramatic structure, so when so very well done, it is worth pointing out.

I praise Grondrup’s ability to create the character of Kanser who is definitely ominous and foreboding - possibly more so for adults and older children who can see the ties to cancer, but without being overwhelming for young children.

The sadness of the devastation of cancer is also touched upon here with wonderful grace, again never maudlin or overly upsetting, yet quite moving in this town’s sad acceptance of their loss of Eyetown.

The layers of metaphor are very well incorporated without being over the top, such as the hero of this story being President Sharp, who organizes the removal of Eyeville for the good of the country when Kanser tried to build down the road, representing to me the spread of cancer to the ocular nerve, and surgical cure - that being the removal of the eyeball.

I have great ambivalence in critiquing this personal and in most regards is perfectly realized storybook, especially as this tale is not explicitly to be looked at as the perfect allegory for this disease. It gives me pause, However that Mr. Nice allows Kanser into his home, wanting in some way to help Kanser, as this allows the building to begin - even though express permission is never granted.

I actually find it quite captivating and a little sad how things became out of control after Mr. Nice takes a blind eye to Kanser’s antics - an excellent metaphor for finding a concerning lump or unusual bruising and making the assumption that it will just stop on its own, as failing to act on signs of possible cancer is not desirable.

I do wonder, however, if there are unintended messages about “nice” people or kids getting cancer because Mr. Nice does not stop Kanser, as he hated to say “No” and make people feel sad.

In some ways, I appreciate this moment as parents need to be advocates for their families even if this makes them not “nice” to some doctors when asking for a second opinion or when asking for their concerns to be heard when they have a feeling that their child is sicker than doctors have been able to determine.

Having said this, I do hope children will not internalize the moment Kanser is allowed in - a moment that is nicely touched upon when Mr. Nice, feeling guilty for allowing Kanser into his home, is calmed by President Sharp, who explains that Kanser will build wherever he goes and can’t be stopped. For many, this will negate my concern, possibly making this app a great tool for discussing the complex emotions that Mr. Nice feels that others may face during diagnosis and treatment as well.

I do, however, wonder about how Kanser moves into this town, as he travels to Eyeville on the back of a truck during a rainy night. This truck is “barreling” down the dark, slippery road and hits an old oak branch that had fallen into the street, swerving and dropping Kanser from a biohazard-marked box on the back of the truck.

I can’t help but wonder if Kanser would have bypassed this town if the truck had not been traveling at a more reasonable speed in bad weather, and if this detail to a link of cancer being triggered by a faulty gene or environmental cause - or possibly just a clever, cinematic way to introduce Kanser into this story.

I enjoy the fact that there is so much to think about in this multi-layered story and recommend this app for any family whether or not their family has been touched by cancer.

The message that stands out to me is that decisive action is necessary in the face of cancer, wonderfully expressed in this app. There are many ways to interpret this story, and I am sure different readers will enjoy it on many levels.

This app allows one to read, listen or follow along with text while also listening to included stellar narration. The pages of this book, when not in reading mode, turn themselves as if on Auto Play, which works well. I would also have liked a way to pause the page turns if needed as well as a menu of pages, especially as this story has a nice length to it, and it would be helpful to pick up from where one stops if necessary.

Even with these notes, The Terrifying Building in Eyeville is a memorable, beautifully crafted application that adults will enjoy, possibly on a different level from their children.

Helping My Dad and Just Grandpa and Me apps by Oceanhouse Media Review

Posted by Amy Solomon on June 14th, 2013
+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad

Helping My Dad - Little Critter and Just Grandpa and Me - Little Critter are charming apps adapted from the storybooks of the same name, now developed by Oceanhouse Media - great choices for Father's Day.

In these tales, Little Critter tries hard to be helpful to his loved ones although he is unaware of the mess he makes in the wake of his helpfulness.

In Helping My Dad, Little Critter tries his best to take care of his father, creating more work for him along the way as kids are known to do, such as waking him up early on dad’s day off or making breakfast, causing terrible disarray in the kitchen.

Little Critter tries to cut the grass but the lawn mower gets away from him, destroying planted flowers, washes the family car with the windows open, tries to spray paint the house a random color and attempts to remove a bees' nest by swinging at it with a baseball bat. Little Critter even helps “test” a new hammer at a hardware store, each time being unaware of the problems for others he is causing.

Parents as well as children can certainly relate to Little Critter trying his best to be helpful before he is really capable, and I love the tender way his dad deals with all these situations with good nature and kindness.

This title is a more modern Little Critter formatted like a “My First I Can Read” book, with the text found to the side of the page away from the illustrations in order to make these words stand out without distraction as well as to focus on creating easy-to-read sentences with carefully chosen words. Parents may also notice fewer details within the illustrations - not something that will be a concern to children.

Just Grandpa and Me is a classic Mercer Mayer story as Little Critter takes a trip into the city to a large department store to buy a suit - a slightly dated premise that will come across as lovingly sentimental for some parents who remember these types of trips that they may have experienced in their own childhood.

Nevertheless, children of all ages will be able to relate to Little Critter as he sings loudly on the train, makes the most of the store's revolving door, momentarily losing Grandpa and making a mess of the suit choices that Little Critter browses through, all to the annoyance of those around Little Critter, who is oblivious to others.

Parents may enjoy these tales even more than their children as parents can relate to children as they come across as self-absorbed during these early years.

The illustrations in this story are wonderful, full of details that will delight as Little Critter is on his big city adventure. Parents can also use the included sideway glances Little Critter receives while causing a mess or being a distraction to explain to children social mores and how to behave when in public.

I can remember as a child at the local amusement park, there was a sign which read “missing parents” as from the lost child’s view they are not lost; it is their parents who are. This is the kind of delightful point-of-view found within the Little Critter titles - always relatable, humorous and fun on a variety of levels.

Also note the hidden creatures within these apps be it spider, mouse or grasshopper, details found in these titles that translates well to a simple seek and find game.

Each of these titles includes the chance to listen to excellent child-read narration in these first-person storybooks, to read this book to oneself, or to view this book in Auto Play where the pages turn by themselves. A menu of pages is also included, and it is especially nice that one can make one's own recordings as well as share them with others who also have access to the same applications.

As many may know, word and picture associations are a big part of Oceanhouse Media‘s applications, allowing children to tap on an object or character to see the corresponding word printed on the screen as well as to hear it spoken by narration - an option that can now be turned off as can the sound effects.

Little Critter apps are uniformly marvelous first readers as they contain short easy-to-read sentences that are well-written and never come across as childish or condescending - an issue I have had with other early readers. Also nice is the ability either to follow along with highlighted text or to read if a word or paragraph is tapped.

These titles would make wonderful apps to enjoy for Father's Day, as they focus on these familial relationships with great humor and tenderness.

The King's Stilts - Dr. Seuss Review

Posted by Amy Solomon on June 11th, 2013
+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad

The King's Stilts - Dr. Seuss, as the name may imply is a Dr. Seuss app adapted by Oceanhouse Media, is an interesting story that may be less well known than other works by Dr. Seuss.

I really enjoy this title, written in prose rather than the rhyming style of writing that Dr. Seuss is known for.

This is the story of a king who balances his responsibilities with play, a lover of stilt-walking who enjoys this pastime a great deal. One of his most important duties is to protect his kingdom from flooding as they are protected from water on three sides by thick Dike Trees that are used to keep the water from rising into the community. Yet these trees are threatened by Nizzard birds who devour these levies made out of trees. To prevent this, guard cats are used to discourage the birds, and this system works well when the king is feeling in balance between work and play, taking time to stilt-walk as his reward for all his hard work.

Enter the foil of this story, a terrible man who convinces a child to steal and hide the king's stilts, with a disastrous effect. The king becomes so depressed without his stilts that he is not an effective leader, and the guard cats become lazy and are no protection against the Nizzard Birds which in turn leads to flooding until the child takes a stand and returns the king's stilts back to their rightful owner.

I really appreciate the expository sections of this story, going into great details of the king's day-to-day tasks keeping the guard cats healthy and happy, and in turn protecting the kingdom from the Nizzards and their destruction. Great detail is also given about the geography of this low-lying kingdom surrounded by water from three sides as well as a fully developed character of the king, a relatable character for adults as well as children, who works hard and really enjoys his favorite pastime.

The look of this storybook is also quite interesting, with the heavy use of black, white and shades of grey and red as a single colorful shade that pops for a nice effect.

The look as well as the fable-like storytelling of the King's Stilts is reminiscent of Dr. Seuss’s The 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins, a book published a year earlier that includes this same palette that may seem stark in comparison to other, possibly better known Seuss titles.

I honestly prefer the short stories by Dr. Seuss that are narrative in nature without being focused on rhyming language that can seem overly stylized for my taste. Because of this, I am grateful that The King's Stilts was developed into an application to be re-discovered by those who may not have known about this story until now.

I am also happy to hear this lengthy story read by my favorite narrator, John Bell, who does an excellent job reading this detailed and complex story - a great choice for older children who will marvel at the chain of events that puts the kingdom in jeopardy.

Like other Oceanhouse Media apps, one can read this app to oneself, listen to stellar narration, or use Auto Play to turn the page automatically as if watching a video. The words are highlighted when spoken - always a nice touch, as is the ability to tap a word or even a paragraph to hear it read out loud as well as to tap on an image to see and hear it labeled appropriately.

New to these titles is the ability to silence the narration or ambient sound effects individually.

One can also now turn off the interactive "Picture / Word associations" if one wishes to do so as well as make one’s own recording and even share the voiceover with others who have access to this same application.

The zooming and panning of the book's illustrations is always pleasing, allowing readers to view these drawings close-up as well as drawing the reader's eye to areas of the page for a nice effect.

I look forward to more of these Dr. Seuss titles to be adapted, especially stories that I am not as familiar with.

The Poppin Princess Review

Posted by Amy Solomon on June 6th, 2013
iPad App - Designed for iPad

With great enthusiasm, I would like to introduce readers to the new interactive book, The Poppin Princess.

This is a marvelously crafted tale, unique in how this storyline is played out, yet also grounded with classic fairytale elements from stories such as Cinderella or The Princess and the Pea to create a perfect new story that children and adults will adore.

The look of this app is lovingly stylized, with bold colors and perfectly realized illustrations to create the world of this kingdom, said to be “elegant, refined and sophisticated” - words I would use to describe the look of this storybook as a whole, yet also including a modern, almost indie quality as well.

The included music is of an equally high quality, and I am happy to report that the interactions also hit all the right notes, adding to the humor and richness of this story with nothing loud or distracting.

This is the classic story of a prince in need of a mate and of how his parents, the queen and king, test lady suitors to see who is appropriate to become royalty.

I appreciate how I was drawn into this tale, as I became smitten by the cheeky details surrounding Lou, Princess of the Wind, as in time, readers will understand that flatulence has a large part to play in this story, as gassy foods are fed to ladies who are looking to become princess to see how they handle such situations.

Yes, this story includes fart jokes and may not be suitable for all families because of this, but it is impressive how even these moments are handled with grace, making this a lovely story for all but the very most squeamish of families.

I do also enjoy how Lou is in some ways an everywoman, winning the prince's heart while being both quirky as well as regal in her own special way, reminding me how Helena Bonham Carter might be illustrated for a children’s storybook.

Other details I am impressed by is the inter-racial relationship between the blond-haired, blue-eyed queen and the darker skinned non-Caucasian king, with race never made mention of but definitely an item that children will notice.

It is worth noting that this is a French app that includes both French and English versions. There is an option of hearing an excellent narrator who, although having an accent to American ears, does a wonderful job reading this story. Children also have the chance to read along, as the text can be seen if one taps a piece of paper with a wax seal to see this paper unfold, displaying the text of this story, adding to the royal tone as well.

A menu of pages is also available if one pulls down the tea bag at the top right of the screen, indicative of how well every detail has been crafted.

There is an obvious amount of love that has gone into the Poppin Princess, placing it on the short list of favorite storybooks of mine to date - high praise to be sure.

I do hope my mention of the fart jokes has not turned off readers, as this is presented with more sophistication that I have probably expressed. It is delightful in every way - hard to explain really, but I want readers to experience this story for themselves as I did the first time.

I have noticed through iTunes that this story has not yet received any reviews or an average rating, making me wonder if not many families are currently aware of this title. It would be a shame if this beautiful tale fell through the cracks and did not get the recognition it so greatly deserves. For this reason, I highly recommend that families check out The Poppin Princess.

The Trip Little Critter Reading Adventure Review

Posted by Amy Solomon on May 21st, 2013
+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad

The Trip Little Critter Reading Adventure is a fun, interactive storybook app based on Mercer Mayer’s Little Critter’s The Trip, with versions for both iPad as well as iPhone available through iTunes.

This new application, developed by Silver Dolphin, differs greatly from - and should not be confused with - the straightforward adaptation of Little Critter stories developed by another company.

It is worth explaining to readers that the original Mercer Mayer title focuses on a car trip to a camp site as told in pictures. Yet the text, although also telling the tale of this long family outing, included a heavy use of alphabet letters, from A to Z, such as B for Bags and C for Car, as well as words adults can relate to, possibly even more than their children can, such as E for the car’s engine overheating, letter M for the mess the Critter kids made in the back of the car, or T for the flat tire they get along the way, creating a witty alphabet book enjoyable for all - children and parents alike.

Here, The Trip Little Critter Reading Adventure includes two sections - the Reading Adventure where children can follow along with highlighted narration and simply reading this app like a book.

In the Reading Adventure, Little Critter himself narrates this tale of a family trip to the lake. Those familiar with the published title will note the many original illustrations included within as well as the lack of the alphabet elements seen in the direct telling of this story. Instead, one will notice the abundance of items one can tap on within each page, each marked with color-coded dots, denoting the type of interaction available.

Blue dots include added animated moments and added lines of dialogue spoken directly by the characters that nicely propel the story along as well as other details, whereas orange hotspots are alphabet flash cards, bringing the alphabet element back into this story. Green dots are objects one can collect in Little Critter’s back pack - important details that one needs to collect as they will be used later in the story to continue on, but the included map will let readers know what page to check out if a needed object was not collected the first time around.

I really enjoy the animated moments which work seamlessly within Mayer’s colorful, classic illustrations. Another interesting inclusion is a choice of driving through the country or city, allowing children to make this choice with the aid of the map that one can tap on to choose which route to take - first during the outing - as well as using this map as a page selector - always a nice choice.

Other interactive elements are included within these different destinations, such as offering an apple from a nearby tree to encourage a horse to leave the road after placing the apple in and then retrieving it from the backpack.

A few fun educational mini-games are also included such as matching colored cars to their matching color words or a food-themed sequencing game that adds even more content to this engaging children’s application.

Children will love the abundance of items to tap on and to collect for later. I am happy to say that the style Mayer delivered in the published title is alive and well in this new app as well as a new scene of the family visiting the beach.

It is also worth noting that a related app, The Trip Little Critter GamePak, is also available for purchase for both iPad as well as iPhone and includes a series of story-themed actives - also an app worth checking out.

Just Me and My Mom - Little Critter Review

Posted by Amy Solomon on May 10th, 2013
+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad

I have not come across many apps for Mother’s Day, but I did want to let readers know about Just Me and My Mom - Little Critter, based on the title of the same, now a lovely adaptation by Oceanhouse Media based on the book of the same name.

This is a delightful story of Little Critter, a small anthropomorphized boy-like creature who goes on a trip to the city with his mom.

Both parents as well as children can relate to this charming story, as Mom and Little Critter take a train and visit a museum in a big city.

Adults will appreciate how this story, as well as the other Little Critter titles, each written from Little Critter’s point of view and now include excellent optional child-read narration.

Here, it is obvious that there is more to the story being told by this lovable character who causes lots of trouble along the way on his big city adventure, such as Little Critter loses the train tickets, touches a dinosaur egg much to the displeasure of the guard at the museum, and is not thrilled with clothing shopping - all moments in the life of Little Critter that all moms can relate to.

Do note the expressive facial expressions seen on the various adults in this wonderfully illustrated story as Little Critter causes a commotion in many different scenarios, each of which I would not put past my own son, especially when he was a younger boy.

I also appreciate being able to see the drawings by author Mercer Mayer up close as these illustrations are panned and zoomed in on to draw the eye - a nice touch as there is a lot to see in these fun and busy city scenes.

Little Critter apps are great for new readers, and the stories tend to be short, with a few words on a page that go far in terms of storytelling.

Even when reading this book to oneself, one can tap on a word or even paragraph to hear it read out loud - a nice aid for children who may still need help with certain words.

This book can be listened to with or without Auto Play and also read by oneself. One can also choose to record one’s own narration as well as share this recording with others who also have this same app.

Very nice sound effects can be heard such as train sounds and ambient city sounds. Also note the ability to tap objects and characters around the page to see and hear these items labeled with text as well as spoken narration - elements that can now be turned off if one wishes.

It is also nice that Oceanhouse Media has now included a menu of pages to use as a reference as well - always a nice touch.

Mothers will certainly relate to the antics that ensue in this Little Critter title. This is a story that is easy to love on many levels, making it a nice choice to share for Mother’s Day.

This app is currently free, thanks to Oceanhouse Media - a gift to mothers and children alike. Do check it out.

Little Red Riding Hood by Nosy Crow Review

Posted by Amy Solomon on May 9th, 2013
+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad

Little Red Riding Hood by Nosy Crow is a universal app that I have eagerly been anticipating for quite some time, and I can say with much excitement that this app is worth the wait.

This is a re-telling of the classic story with a few great twists along the way. A special app, Nosy Crow has added some wonderful new elements to a classic story, specifically allowing children to choose one of many paths they would rather take as Little Red travels through a forest on her way to Grandma’s, collecting numerous objects along the way as well as meeting new characters.

From the moment this app opens, the beautiful, bright and bold animation that Nosy Crow fans expect can be seen. The look of this app, as is the case with the other Nosy Crow storybook apps, is simply stellar in every way dealing with animation.

Also of note is the layered 3D effect one can see as the moving of one’s device will change the perspective one can see at any given angle - a nice touch but a little sensitive for my taste as the effect can look jumpy if the device is held with a shaky hand.

There are two ways of enjoying this book. “Read and Play” allows children to follow along with highlighted narration as seen as the main text and narration of this story, as well as read along with spoken extra lines of dialogue heard when a character is tapped.

“Read by Myself” allows children to read on their own the text and speak bubbles without the aid of narration and gives children the choice of the speed in which the lines of text are seen on the page, allowing those new to reading to slow down these words for an easier time reading - a very helpful inclusion.

There are a lot of interactions to partake in, such as gathering up fun and inviting foods like as cake, cheese, sandwiches and produce to share with Grandmother as well as fun moments of Little Red and her mom gently telling readers what to leave at home when users try to add non-food items to the basket as well as other items that will not travel well. It is also nice to be able to drag these characters around the page, making them look as if they are walking, even running around the page for a very nice effect.

After making up a basket, Little Red is off to Grandmother’s, walking through the forest. As one may expect, Little Red meets the Big Bad Wolf on her journey, wonderfully stylized with a cap and plaid pants as a nod to vintage styling that makes me smile.

Little Red is able to pass the Wolf and later comes to a fork in the path where she needs to make a decision on which way to continue. Both paths are marked with signs that demonstrate the item one may need to collect such as flowers, feathers, acorns, or even a spider.

Children will enjoy each of the activities that will allow Little Red to collect the items of interest, such as catching feathers from a bird flying overhead, pulling thistles from a moose’s fur, gathering flowers, acorns or a bucket of water, as well as helping a bear pour honey to collect a jar of one’s own. A maze involving a spider’s web is included as is a “Whack-a-Mole” styled game where one grabs dandelions from a mole. There is also a delightful “Simon” styled music game where Little Red needs to repeat the musical sounds made by a monkey willing to give away his whistle for five correct answers.

After completing three of these sections, Little Red will arrive at Grandmother’s house to find the Wolf in Grandmother’s bed, who threatens to eat Little Red.

I adore Little Red’s defensive posturing when being threatened by the Wolf as well as the very cinematic close-up shots of Little Red and the Wolf, reminiscent of “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly” that will make adults smile. Here Little Red strikes with the objects she collected along her way, such as tickling the Wolf with feathers, making him sneeze from flowers or momentarily shocking him with a splash of water to the face. This fight comes to a conclusion in three different ways, from a police officer taking away the Wolf after hearing Little Red blow the whistle, scaring the Wolf away with the large spider who came along for the ride in the basket, or covering the Wolf in honey and who then gets chased away by bees, never to bother Little Red again.

After unlocking the wardrobe where Grandmother was trapped, they sit down to eat what was packed in the basket, helping Little Red unpack the foods and feeding the characters, helping them to eat and ending this exceptional interactive application.

Although this app has been compared to the classic “Choose Your Own Adventure” series of books, I am pleased to see that although decision-making is part of this story, these choices are age-appropriate for young children of all ages and do not truly change the outcome of this story.

I mention this as I have begun to read my son “Choose Your Own Adventure” titles and I feel that negative conclusions to the choices my boy has made can stress him, and for now he does not enjoy these titles as much as I had hoped.

Here, Little Red’s choices of paths will allow her to play different mini-games with fanciful characters she meets along the way, but there are no pitfalls in the choices one can make within this story, and all roads lead to Grandmothers house, so the comparison to a true “Choose Your Own Adventure” or “Which Way” book is not spot-on in my opinion, which I feel children actually benefit from.

I am also quite pleased to see what a strong female character Little Red is in this re-telling, as I am with the illustration of Little Red’s mother who has her own womanly curves, a nice detail that although does not attract attention to itself, is a nice element for children to seen in the world around them.

There are many more points I could make about the high quality of Little Red Riding Hood by Nosy Crow, but I think it may be best just to tell readers that this is an app worthy of purchase that a wide range of children and their adults will adore.

Zoe’s Green Planet Review

Posted by Amy Solomon on May 7th, 2013
+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad

Zoe’s Green Planet is an interesting universal application about diversity. This is the story of Zoe, an inhabitant of a green planet with a demographic of entirely green people, seen vividly with the use of illustrations with heavy paper mache elements creating a subtle 3D effect, as well as a tactile, slightly distressed feel that I find appealing, as I do the numerous shades of green that make up the palette of this app.

One day, a red space ship lands on the green planet. Inside is a red family who would like to visit other planets and makes a home on the green planet. They have a daughter who is Zoe’s age, and they go to school together and become friends.

The girls have fun together but also face a difficult time dealing with another child who teases the new girl for being different. The parents from the red family become homesick and they fly their spaceship home.

The concept of diversity is nicely introduced here for children, and the red colors seen in this new family really pop off the screen, adding an engaging visual style.

This app is narrated with a choice of both English as well as French languages. A few mini-games are also included, such as sorting by type as well as color, two arcade-styled games and a memory game with musical elements, each which can be found within the story as well as found within the menu page of this app. Do search these pages as well for hidden hotspots.

The look of this app is colorful and unique and quite well-meaning indeed, but I am on the fence about the stylings of the red Takino family. Styled with Asian - presumably Japanese - details such as kimono-esque garb and a planet with Japanese temple-type buildings, I must admit I was uncomfortable with what could also be seen as Asian stereotypes including a slitted Asian eye, and even worse, the buck teeth seen on Mr. Takino, reminiscent of an ugly stereotype from many years ago that took me by stunned surprise that this detail is included.

It is also worth noting that the current price of $2.99 seems expensive in comparison to other apps at this price point.

This is the first in a series of apps based on colors, presumably including the very nice paper mache illustrations seen in Zoe’s Green Planet. I have appreciated the look of this app enough to be curious to see the others in the series as well.

Little Dead Riding Hood Review

Posted by Amy Solomon on May 2nd, 2013
iPad App - Designed for iPad

When I first read about the app Little Dead Riding Hood, I assumed that it was a novelty platformer with zombie elements, as these types of apps can easily be found in iTunes, typically devoid of any educational value.

I am so very happy that I gave this app a closer look because my assumptions were totally wrong, as Little Dead Riding Hood is an interactive storybook app with both English and Spanish translations included as well as the highest of production values - a refreshing tale on this classic story of Little Red Riding Hood. Although I highly recommend this app, this recommendation is a qualified one, and here is why.

There is a lot of the macabre in Little Dead Riding Hood, and as I was enjoying this app, I did say to myself a few times with a smile, “Well, they went for it” in ways that will please or displease families depending on their sensibilities.

This is the re-telling of Little Red Riding Hood, who has died many years ago, along with her parents, who from the grave want to kill Grandma and steal her inheritance. To do so, they come up with a plan to poison Grandma by sending the corpse of Little Red to Grandma complete with utterly poisoned food and drink. Grandma does get poisoned, dying a gruesome death, after first having defended herself from Little Red, living up to her old nick-name “Ramba” using any and all fire weapons in a scene that is glorious with presumed cartoon violence that also made me smile.

Styled with equal parts Tim Burton, Eddie the Mummy and Seth McFarlane, this app, with wonderful, top-notch black and white illustrations and bold pops of color, is an acquired taste that will offend some families a great deal. Others will really appreciate the humor and biting wit that this irreverent app offers.

The included narration is perfection, as is the included music and I appreciate how the book of this app is lengthy, with a page of text found on pages complete with beautifully hand-crafted and sepia-toned drawings, lovingly distressed in keeping with the style of this app. Do also tap these characters to read speech bubbles that add to the richness and fun of this rather odd application.

This is a highly cinematic app, so it is a real treat that this app also includes the original sketches and productions while still showing the making of this app - quite interesting indeed. Also appreciated is the menu of pages, always helpful to readers.

Make no mistake, this app included a rather dead and decaying Little Red, the graphically poisoning of a family member, guns and other military-inspired weapons which get pointed and shot at Little Red, a vividly farting wolf who later gets attacked by snakes, maimed in a metal animal trap and stepping on a bomb which explodes and launches the animal into the air, plus other details I am sure I have overlooked - all at the height of storytelling.

This is an app that I have chosen not to show to my five year old son, as he is a sensitive soul who would not enjoy this adaptation at this time, and I can understand parents of toddlers and the preschool set not having much interest in downloading this app as well, but for grade school and older children through adulthood who have acquired a taste for gruesome humor and parody, this is a perfectly realized application in every way possible.

Even though this app is one that many families will disregard as maybe they should, I would like to recommend this app for older grade school if not middle and high school students, especially those in media study, as great thought was put into the developing of this app as is seen in the included sketches, and adults can talk a lot about the choices made in this app, from modernizing a classic story to the satire as well as the dramatic structure - well-crafted in every way.

This app demonstrates to older children that the envelope can be pushed while maintaining a level of quality that cannot be denied, even if certain subject matter may not be for everyone.

Families will need to make up their own minds about whether or not this app is for their family, but I can say that I personally enjoyed Little Dead Riding Hood immensely, and I welcome other tales like this from an incredibly talented group of developers.

PICME Moviebook - You are the Star! Review

Posted by Amy Solomon on April 11th, 2013
iPad App - Designed for iPad

PICME Moviebook - You are the Star is a very nicely conceived storybook that includes a personal photograph used to create a main character in this children’s app.

I have enjoyed this storybook, which includes a photo of my son, a fun detail I have really enjoyed.

I have seen books such as this in the past. Here, however, the child who is created with the included image becomes more alive and is really more a part of the story than in other apps such as this.

In PICME, my son’s likeness is used to create a boy character who delivers a piano to a friendly lion named Juno, who claims to be able to play, yet in reality needs to practice a great deal to be able to make true music with this instrument.

There is much that I really appreciate in this interactive storybook. First, two distinct versions of this tale are included - a movie as well as a storybook, and although the plot of this story remains the same, I especially appreciate how the video is not just a straight animated version of the book. It is also a different yet related experience which adds more characters and nuances that work perfectly in this movie. The book, however, is a little more simplistic, making a nice, tight narrative that I equally appreciate.

I am smitten by how my son’s character moves around the page, moving the piano, clapping politely as well as other pantomimes. I am not sure if it is the super-cute expression in the photo that I have used, but this character almost seems to wink at me, truly coming to life as his body moves with grace. Although this boy does not speak in the story, I feel as though he makes a great mime, including hand gestures and other ways he shows communication - wonderful details often not found in apps where a photo is used to create a character.

Other interactive hotspots are also included, sometimes propelling the story, as well as other areas to tap that include brief movements that tend not to take away from this charming application that includes a piano section as the new created character knows how to play, helping Juno learn. There is also a brief primer on other musical instruments as well as an interactive counting section.

Narration is included, which I really enjoy, as I do the voices for Juno and the other animal friends, creating an app that is more sophisticated and appealing to adults than I expected.

The same can be said for the video section of this application. I enjoy how this area starts out with a scene taking place moments before the included storybook. The video is also a little witty and biting while being utterly child-appropriate, with a message about practicing and perseverance as this lion, at first not being able to play the piano well, works hard to achieve his goals.

To add a children’s photo, this app includes a camera and allows users access to the camera roll from the iPad to choose a picture from. Once an image is selected, adults are able to rotate and re-size the photo to fit an included template that can then be further adjusted to give users a better way of customizing the chosen mage, such as allowing my son’s crazy hair in the frame, originally cut off by the template yet restored by me as I make additional tweaks.

A choice of a pink as well as darker tan skin tone is included to match closer the skin tone of the photo with the body the photo becomes a part of, but I would love to see a few more skin tone choices such as a paler, more realistic yellow-tone as well as other colors to represent other ethnicities such as Spanish or Asian.

Even with this minor note, I am glad that the cropped photo is included in this app as a future choice, allowing one to bypass the photo trimming. Four separate photos can be saved at once, including these characters' names and personalizing this app as well as including the character’s gender in a way charming and seamless.

I had no expectations when first checking out this title, and I can say that I am pleasantly surprised with the quality of this delightful app.

I would love to see more of these interactive stories developed in the future. The use of an included photo is highly effective and sure to please the children who will feel as if they are truly starring in this movie and storybook app.

Happy Easter, Little Critter Review

Posted by Amy Solomon on March 29th, 2013
+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad

Happy Easter, Little Critter is a lovely interactive storybook - a nice title for Easter that includes optional child-read narration and the ability to tap to see and hear objects labeled accordingly.

This is a simple story starring Little Critter, his family and friends as they spend the day doing Easter activities. I always enjoy these Little Critter titles developed by OceanHouse Media as Little Critter is a relatable character for children, here waking up early to see if the Easter bunny has come to his house, starting Easter Sunday with all the festivities.

It makes me smile that Little Critter is not a fan of getting dressed up to go to church the way his sister is or how he finds it difficult to see over the large Easter hats that the ladies seated in front of him are wearing - real-world complaints of this generally good-natured child-like anthropomorphized animal.

I enjoy how this app also spends time exploring secular activities such as a picnic, Easter egg-dyeing and an egg hunt that can be enjoyed by children who don’t specifically celebrate the religious aspects of this holiday, but who may have a more general knowledge of Easter.

Because two of our local Easter activities were snowed out recently, it is nice to be able to search for the 100 Easter eggs hidden among these pages, especially during the scenes of this story relating to the egg hunt that Little Critter goes on - a nice touch - as is the ability to search for the friendly mouse hidden in each picture as well.

I also greatly appreciate the included details of this Easter egg hunt, such as too many children fighting over eggs, overlooking an egg until it is too late and found by another child, or helping a young child find eggs who found none on her own - issues that those may face during an egg hunt, making this a nice story to read - possibly before Easter so that boys and girls will know what to expect and how to act in these situations.

Jubitron the Girl Robot: The Lovely Little Picnic Review

Posted by Amy Solomon on March 28th, 2013
+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad

Jubitron the Girl Robot: The Lovely Little Picnic is a charming universal, interactive storybook.

As the name may imply, this is the story of Jubitron, a robot girl and her friends Little Birdy and Mr. Alligator as they go on a picnic that gets rained out and then fly high into the air on a space ship to see where the rain is coming from.

At first, before the gang in the story experience their rained-out picnic, I thought this story was cute, if not a little simple for my taste, but I really enjoy their time spent up in space discovering where all the rain came from, adding whimsy and a sense of style that also reminds me of Poyoco, a favorite TV show of ours.

This is high praise, to be sure, as this app ventures into the realm of quirky mythology that I really enjoy, as I do the included narration which also reminds me of the unseen narrator from Poyoco - an element which effectively works within this app as well.

This app is nicely illustrated and music is also included, upbeat and fun, as is the included music well as other musical elements found within the interactions that will entertain both young children as well as their adults.

I like that hints can be found if one opens the tap found at the bottom corner of the page. It would be nice if there were an option for this added information to be narrated as well.

I do think Jubitron the Girl Robot: The Lovely Little Picnic is best suited for babies, toddlers and young preschoolers, but also for their parents who will admire the sophistication this app has to offer as all of the elements - the plot, illustrations, narration and music as well as interactions - are of a very high caliber.

This is a creative tale that in turn may stimulate the imagination of the young children listening to this story. For this reason, it is easy to recommend Jubitron the Girl Robot: The Lovely Little Picnic.