Version Reviewed: 1.0.2
App Reviewed on: iPad 3
Graphics / Sound Rating:
Re-use / Replay Value Rating:
Recently I had a chance to test a new interactive children’s app, Kalley’s Machine Plus Cats. Knowing that it was chosen as a Best New App by iTunes made me quite curious to do so. I was also interested in the nature of the development of this app - a family project based on a drawing by a four year old girl given to her father. Father and daughter narrated this story, and together the family wrote the tale, drew all the illustrations, and produced their own sound effects and music.
Reading this information, I was intrigued with how personal this project was but I was also a little concerned, given my experience with other apps. To start, most adults and especially children don’t have the diction to pull off recording anything more than an outgoing message for voicemail, let alone performing narration to be enjoyed by the general public. I have also seen other apps with drawings by children that were best left on the refrigerator - not at a level to be used as illustrations for a larger project. Then came the fact that the story rhymes. With few noted exceptions, in my mind, only Dr. Seuss, Margaret Wise Brown, or Clement Clarke Moore are talented enough to write in such a cadence.
With these concerns in the forefront of my mind, I downloaded the app, and I must say - from the bottom of my cynical heart - Kalley’s Machine Plus Cats is an app that impresses. The give-and-take of the father/daughter narration is conversational and pitch-perfect as well as technically very well recorded - issues I have come across in other applications. With text that is highlighted when spoken, one can also tap a single word to be heard - a nice touch for young readers where every word heard also sounds very good - difficult to pull off, to be sure. Also admirable is the ability to adjust the volumes separately for the narration, sound effects, and music, as well as including a menu of pages, but it may be nice to see a small thumbnail image for each page as well to help fans find their favorite moment of this book.
This app is about a girl explaining a drawing of a machine she made for her dad to solve a problem within their family. Although quite personal, it avoids the pitfalls of being overly cloying or sentimental. The illustrations are divine, with the use of traditional lined notebook paper and includes a modest yet effective use of crumpled paper texture and a subtle layered look with perfectly imperfect torn pages. The use of paper art here really makes me smile. Each page includes a fanciful Seussian machine with a plethora of working parts that children will enjoy working with that includes dials, buttons, levers, cranks, and sliders, plus cats that wander about that one can also interact with just for the fun and whimsy of it all.
Each page is dedicated to another part of this vast machine, full of the wonder and moving parts that only the mind of a bright child could have created. I do so appreciate creations of a young engineer in the making, and although it is thoughtfully not touched upon here, I also love the fact that Kalley is a girl - possibly encouraging other young girls to create their own machines and becoming interested in science as well. The level of interaction within these pages creates a wonderful open-ended busy box sensation that may overshadow the plot of this simple story. I can also say that the rhyming here works for me, be it with another nod to Dr. Seuss, giving this app a point-of-view that I admire.
I do think the ending of this story, where one finds out that the machine was made to create food for their family, is a little anti-climatic, yet still in a way most charming. The richness of the illustrations, moving parts, and audio effects supersedes this mild note. Although this book will be hugely entertaining for little fingers, parents may also want to explain some of the many science-based elements that are included such as gear ratios, pressure, vacuums, color theory, and how overcooking can burn food to create a truly immersive experience that young scientists and other children will find mesmerizing.
Now that October is upon us, I wonder about the costumes the Alexander family will design for their children. Kalley’s Machine Plus Cats is so very well realized and includes so much polish in every aspect of production that I can only imagine the costumes this most creative family is capable of while I may as well cut holes in a sheet to make my son into a ghost. I am so very impressed with the wonderful and witty machines found in Kalley’s Machine Plus Cats as well as the overall quality of this app. This app gives me a renewed interest in testing children's applications and is a very easy application to recommend. I do hope to see more from the developers at RocketWagon, a team that has really gotten my attention. I can't wait to see what they come up with next.