Auryn - Van Gogh and the Sunflowers is a wonderful storybook based on the children’s storybook of the same name and also includes fascinating interactive puzzle elements and an interesting use of Van Gogh’s artwork seen throughout this application.
Based on actual events, Van Gogh and the Sunflowers tells the story behind the series of paintings by Van Gogh known as The Roulin Family which Van Gogh painted when he moved to Arles in southern France and was befriended by a local postman and his family who generously sat for Van Gogh, allowing their portraits to be painted.
This story is thoughtfully told from the point of view of the middle Roulin child, Camille, and touches upon how Van Gough was misunderstood as an artist and not liked by townspeople, ultimately being asked to leave the community. This historically true story is a nice tale which introduces the concepts of tolerance for others.
Parents will have to decide what further information on the subject of Van Gogh's life they want to explain to their children, as this app does not mention Van Gogh’s apparent suicide and only touches upon the ear incident with a modest bandage covering his right ear that kids may miss altogether if this detail is not specifically pointed out.
The look of this app is terrific, with illustrations evoking the style that Van Gogh is known for, complete with bold color choices and noticeable use of brush strokes, but maintains a childlike quality that fits well within this storybook. The jazzy music used is also wonderful, relaxing as well as engaging and very enjoyable to listen to even for long periods of time. The narration used here is also quite good. Parents will also like that each spoken word is highlighted red to aid the young children new to the world of reading.
The original paintings can be seen within as well, a very nice touch, and do tap on these portraits to be transported to a Van Gogh exhibit within this app, allowing one to explore all four walls of an art gallery, including close-up views of Van Gogh’s work as well to learn more of the facts about these paintings that one would expect to learn during a guided tour, making this gallery section a valuable learning tool about Van Gogh and a primer of art history in general.
By far, the elements that stand out within these pages are the interactive puzzles included.
Some of the portrait details often have a layered, dimensional quality that really pops off the page as these elements move, typical of the movements found in vintage popup books, articulated banks and other period toys with moving parts.
Do tap these illustrations as they in turn are transformed into black and white x ray images. Then the player is then brought to an additional area of this app where one can paint these elements with a variety of colors and paint brush sizes, with the choice of adding these new color choices to be included in this storybook itself.
One can also be taken to an area where one can see the inner workings of these illustrated elements, now looking more closely relative to the armature of a sculpture rather than a simple illustration, as the included framework is constructed from what looks like wood pieces. Here, the focus is on the gears, levers and other hardware used to pivot and move about, animating these sophisticated pop-up elements.
A further tap will transform these moving sculptures into a puzzle, complete with the use of blueprint paper as a backdrop as well as the satisfying collapsing sound of the moving hardware parts as they fall from the sculpture and onto the bottom of the page. Watch as these mechanical parts bounce around the page as they bang into each other with nice use of a physics engine.
This puzzle section contains three parts. At first, players can choose any part to put back where it belongs, with the correct location of these pieces becoming nicely highlighted, showing players where to place their parts. The second mode selects the pieces to be included by the application, allowing only specific pieces to be put pack at any one time. Here, the player must be able to understand what piece is being highlighted within the image to find the corresponding item, placing it back correctly. The last section asks the player to put back the pieces of these moving elements without looking at the moving framework, but the full color animated character is found within the application, now using one’s memory and understanding of the mechanics of movements to fully place these pieces. Each of these sections is timed, and failure to complete these puzzles within this time frame will result in the repeat collapse of these armatures.
I am incredibly impressed with these novel interactive puzzles and love the “grab” included, making the placement of these pieces somewhat forgiving, but I do have moments of trying to pick up and move unresponsive puzzle pieces. This, combined with the fact that these modes are timed, has led to some frustrating moments. It would be nice if one had a choice of completing these puzzles without being timed, especially the most difficult last section that I often could not complete in the allotted time frame.
Auryn - Van Gogh and the Sunflowers combines these various elements to create an application unlike anything I have seen to date. I see this app being a favorite with a wide range of ages, making this app a great buy, especially for families.
It might be nice to have a “read only” section with simple interactive movements, like touching these dimensional elements such as sunflowers swaying in the wind or moving them a bit instead of being brought to another section of the app and away from the story, especially for the youngest users who may need to be more focused on the story at hand for best comprehension.
I have truly enjoyed this app. I would love to see the other books in this series, Anholt's Artists Books for Children, as other artists such as Degas, Monet and Matisse are also covered, and I would love to see applications based on their art as well. I look forward to see what the developers at Auryn come up with next as they are quite a prolific group. Do check out their other applications in iTunes.