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The Giant Turnip - A Kidztory Classic animated interactive storybook Review

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

The Giant Turnip is the most recent story brought to life by the developers at Stepworks. Part of a larger series of classic storybook apps, the tale of The Giant Turnip has its roots in Russian folklore, as does the first app from library - The Little Red Hen.

Here, The Giant Turnip tells the story of a father and mother who together plant a turnip that grows and grows until it is so large that it is impossible for any one person to pull it out of the ground by themselves. Coming to his aid, mother holds onto father, and together they pull but still need more help. One by one, their farm animals hug each other as well, and together they pull and pull until they are successful, demonstrating how “we can do anything when we all work together,” ending this story with a turnip feast, complete with some cute food-related interruptions my son especially enjoyed.

I really like how in this adaptation, the townspeople who try to help dislodge the turnip are now friendly animals, and it is charming how they all hug each other to get the job done.

As always, the look of this app is delightful, with wonderful colors and textures and fun use of music incorporated into a style utterly recognizable as a Kidztory storybook. I appreciate the warm browns and green shades seen in the land where the turnip is planted, along with the noticeable brush strokes for a lovely effect. Possibly more so than other apps from this series, nothing is flat-looking within this app as every animal or other detail has its own imperfect texture that layered together on the page really brings a richness to this story that adults may enjoy even more than their children.

As one can imagine, this story by its nature is repetitious, so it pleases me that what would be considered different camera angles and other editing techniques are used to tell this story, keeping it visually interesting for its readers.

It would have been an obvious choice to simply add each character to the long line of helpers trying to pull up this turnip, demonstrating this from the same vantage point, but instead, this app crosses the director's line a few times as well, showing the line of helpers from behind or facing the opposite direction for a nice effect, also including an interesting use of close-up shots to create a subtle yet cinematic experience that adults will appreciate even if these choices don’t register with children.

As with the other classic storybook apps, one can choose to read this story to oneself or listen to charming narration. Fun interactive hotspots are included as well; do look for them.

It is without reservation that I can recommend this as well as any of the other apps within this series. They are universally wonderful storybook applications that children and their adults will love. Their first app, Red Little Hen, was the first app I bought for my son before he was two years old so these stories have a special place in my heart. Even after all these months, my son still goes back to old favorites, and I love how each of these stories contains a moral that children can learn from.

Little Red Riding Hood - A Kidztory Classic animated interactive storybook Review

Posted by Amy Solomon on July 19th, 2011
+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad

Little Red Riding Hood - A Kidztory Classic animated interactive storybook is yet another great classic story brought to life by the developers at Stepworks, here as a universal app. Like their other storybooks, this app has lovely narration included or one can choose to read this book to oneself. Do tap on the characters to hear them make noises and express emotion, as well as look for other interactive hotspots.

I have been fortunate enough to review the classic story of Little Red Riding Hood turned into many a storybook application. This app, about a girl who meets a stranger in the woods looking to do her harm, has a nice modern feel as Little Red is sent by her mother to grandma's house with a basket of oranges to make juice for her ailing grandma.

As with Kidztory’s other apps, the illustrations used are wonderful, colorful, full of interesting textures and a style all their own that is easily recognized. Their classic tales made into storybook apps tend to be faithful to the original tale, but with changes made sometimes to lessen any violence found in the original and making them more child-friendly, as is the case here, since the original Brothers Grimm version the ending of Little Red Riding Hood is a rather dark one. Here, instead of harm coming to any of the characters, the Wolf hides Grandma in a wardrobe. Later, a farmer saves Little Red and Grandma and chase the wolf away.

I would like to acknowledge Stepworks, developers based in Hong Kong, for their decision to make Little Red and her family people of color, something not often seen in applications found in the U.S. iTunes store. Notwithstanding apps made in the Asian market and a few other notable exceptions, it is my experience that most of the characters found in applications today have Caucasian characters used throughout.

There are some apps where one can personalize a character to look like a specific child, some including a nice selection of skin-tone choices, but I am especially fond of seeing Little Red Riding Hood as a person of color, something I find very refreshing as I can not recall another app using a non-Caucasian in this story, or in any classic stories that come to mind. I also like that although subtle, the hair textures used here also ring true, as well as matching the style Kidztory apps are known for.

I really enjoy seeing old faces used throughout these stories. Grandma was first introduced in The Gingerbread Man, and it makes me smile to see a plate of these cookies being served at the end of this story. Later, Grandma and Grandpa, not seen in this book, are featured in The Ugly Duckling as the concerned farmer and wife who take the duckling in and love him for who he is until he is well enough to go back into the wild. I was impressed with the use of these characters previously, and I am further impressed with the choice to make this Little Red a part of the family.

The only missed opportunity here was somehow not including the grandpa, who I know is never part of this story, yet I do so enjoy the tender moment in the Ugly Duckling when Grandpa first finds the duckling half frozen in snow, I wish to somehow see him again in this story, even if it is only to include him in a photo along with the other family photos seen in the background - a nice touch that I enjoy.

Race is never mentioned among these pages, nor should it be. It is simply nice to see some diversity in iTunes, the way I am always on the lookout for dolls of different races or ethnicities for my son, to at least in a small way, have my boy be used to the many possible differences that he will come across in others as he grows older.

I am very excited to see the selection of Kidztory apps by Stepworks grow and grow. I get very excited when I hear of a new one being released, as does my son. I am looking forward to see what other thoughtfully-created storybook apps they come up with next.

The Emperor’s New Clothes - A Kidztory Classic animated interactive storybook Review

Posted by Amy Solomon on July 7th, 2011
+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad

The Emperor’s New Clothes is the eleventh title in the impressive library of classic Kidztory applications from the developers at Stepworks. I am huge fan of these wonderful interactive storybooks from their very first release, The Little Red Hen, as it was the first story app I bought for my son. This latest addition, like the others, has options which include listening to
included narration or reading this book to oneself. Do tap on the characters to hear noises as well as to search the screen for interactive hotspots.

I have always been a fan of Hans Christian Andersen from a very young age, and I am glad that Kidztory has begun to adapt these classic stories for their creative and fun interactive storybooks.

The Emperor's New Clothes is a favorite story of mine, here, about con men who pretend to sew the finest clothing, also to be used as a gage for cleverness, as the clothing will look as ornate as the gazer is clever. Not wanting to be thought of as dim, the king, all his servants and even the community at large all keep quiet about not seeing any fabric or clothes until a child who is not concerned about what people think, announces that there is no clothing at all. I love the way the child at the end of this tale tells the group of people looking at the king's “new clothes” exactly the way he sees it. I always get a kick out of this ending as I was the type of precocious kid who would have told the truth just like this little boy.

Often in many classic Kidztory tales the characters are used throughout many books, and although I love seeing familiar faces from other stories, I was also excited to see all new faces in this tale, with the possible exception of the boy at the end who may have starred in The Boy Who Cried Wolf. The illustrations, sometimes with animated effects, are marvelous - exactly what I would expect from the developers at Stepworks.

These classic stories are narrated by a young girl, and it has been a pleasure to see her storytelling skills increase as she gets older. Her re-telling of this classic tale is very good here, and you can hear in her voice her enjoyment of the story as she tells the story. I have also enjoyed tapping to hear the characters “talk,” and although they do not speak specific words, the noises they do make speak volumes in terms of expressions - something I have really enjoyed from this series.

I am always curious to see how the illustrations are going to work with the idea of a naked king parading around with no clothing. I love the choice here for his fittings to be in long underwear, covered in the cute icon for another Stepworks app, Kidzongs. For the parade, the king is naked as the grifter "tailors" made fake undergarments for him as well. I really enjoy how they hide the king's private area in the front, strategically positioning other objects in the foreground. To me, it is super-cute that the king’s bare bottom is shown from behind. I make note of this as I think this is really clever and fun, but I can imagine other parents thinking that this is too much information for their child. It is also of note that the grifters are knows as the "skinny" one and the "tubby" one, something I did not take offense to but could conceivably bother people who don't like making attention of people's weight.

All the Kidztory classics end with a gentle moral that children can learn from. Here, the message is about materialism. Parents will also be able to talk about being true to oneself, honesty, and confidence - which is the way I am using this story with my son. I look forward to future Kidztory apps. They are all extremely well done.

The Ugly Duckling - Kidztory animated storybook Review

Posted by Amy Solomon on May 17th, 2011
+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad

The Ugly Duckling is the most recent classic Kidztory application from the developers at Stepworks, lovingly adapting the Hans Christian Anderson tale of the same name. As with all Kidztory classic stories, one has the choice of listening to narration or reading this tale to oneself. Do tap the characters and other objects in this book looking for both sound and animated hotspots. Being a universal app, this application works with both iPhone and iPad.

It is no secret that I am one of Kidztory’s biggest fans. I love their colorful, stylized illustrations for which they are known as well as the stories they choose, the lessons they deliver with a gentle touch and the moral that ends each of their tales. This app carries on this tradition of these beautiful stories, here about an ugly duckling who is made to feel like an outcast until he grows into his body, forever being humbled by his experiences of being an outsider even when his fortune takes a turn for the better.

I am very happy with the adaptation of this classic Hans Christian Andersen story, first published in 1843. I appreciate that this story, although abridged, maintains the same themes and tone as the original, here simplifying the story in terms of length and scope. Andersen stories can be dark and this tale has moments that although written for children, venture into territory that many parents might feel crosses the line for a modern kids story. I am happy to say that this app avoids the darkest points of this tale while maintaining the important message this story delivers.

Still, the dialogue can be rough as one might expect from this story and the poor ugly duckling does get a fair share of grief from the other ducks. My son, who is empathetic to a fault, does seem to get upset for the ugly duckling when he is hurt by others' words, but he enjoys this story a great deal, and I feel that exposing him to this tale does something good for him as it not only introduces him to a classic, but teaches him about friendship and the way people should treat each other. We talk about how he would treat the ugly duckling if he were a duck in this story and how he would react if others were being mean to his friend. The fun interactions keep this app light and fun; my son loves to crack open the duck eggs with a tap, as well as the other interactive hotspots.

Although these characters do not speak, when tapped they emotionally respond with sounds that speak as loud as actual words would, something I have come to appreciate among all the Kidztory classic story applications. I also appreciate how Kidztory apps incorporate characters from other stories, and I enjoy how the farmer and wife are the characters used in the “Gingerbread Man." It is of note that the farmer and his wife are people of color, as many faces in apps today are Caucasian. No reference to race is used here, but I find this choice refreshing.

The moral of this story book is that the ugly duckling, now a beautiful swan, will never forget how it felt to be treated like an ugly duckling. My son starts preschool this fall and I am not concerned with him being mean to other children, or that he will be singled out by other kids for any specific reason. I do hope, however, that he will have a voice if he witnesses other children being cruel to each other. Having the confidence of a swan, I hope he will remember how it may feel to be the odd duck out and stand up for children in need of a friend.

When You Grow Up – a you're-in-the-story book! Review

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

When You Grow Up – a you're-in-the-story book! Kidztory app from Stepworks is a creative and engaging universal application which allows the reader to become a part of the story by including their picture in the story as the main character who experiments with many different occupations, thinking about what they will become later on in life. Both listening to a narrator as well as reading by oneself are options, and it is especially nice how the text chances from "you could be an artist too" to "I could be an artist too" depending on if one is listening to the narrater or reading by oneself, making the experience that much more personal. Also be sure to tap around the pages to find various interactions that are sure to delight readers of all ages.

I am a huge fan of all the Kidztory apps, and I am happy that these developers are such a prolific bunch as they have released may classic tales, as well as some modern stories, and I have been impressed with each and every one of their releases. Here, they incorporate a very interesting use of the iPhone's camera or saved photos, letting the reader choose a good picture of themselves to incorporate into this story. They make this process very easy and after finding a nice face shot, one can size it with the pinching and zooming of two fingers, filling an empty template shaped like a head. I greatly appreciate the chance to match the skin tone that will be used to make up the rest of the characters’s body attached to the photo being used, and one can also choose a t-shirt color for the character as well. A “toonface” can be chosen instead if the child is feeling camera-shy or there are no other photos to choose from.

I really enjoy this story and so does my son. It is all about the different occupations that kids can aspire to, and I really like that they run the gambit from waste disposal to artist, florist, or architect and many other jobs as well in this content-rich story. Be sure to tap the page, looking for hidden sounds and interactions that bring even more whimsy to this already delightful story book. As with the classic tales they may be best known for, this app also ends with a lovely message for kids, here about being anything they want to be when they grow up.

This app is also interesting because the method of page-turning here is a bit of a game of hide-and-seek in and of itself, as one taps a chameleon who changes colors and blends into the different backgrounds among these pages. These lizards can be sometimes hard to find and they are something I have enjoyed seeking out, but I can imagine a toddler having a hard time finding all of them or tapping one by accident, looking for interactions and advancing a page without meaning to. Swiping will work to turn pages as well, but maybe in a future update, classic arrow page turns found in the bottom corners of the screen can be an option for the very young, although I do think preschoolers and beyond will enjoy the challenge of looking for this page turning reptile.

If you find this app interesting, please note that one can also include a personal photo to create a character in Face Time With Mage Nuttimugs - Your child Is the hero of this Story! as well, another creative and engaging MyBook Kidztory app by Stepworks. You simply can’t go wrong with a Kidztory application, and I hope they continue to develop more apps for a very long time to come.

Goldilocks and the Three Bears - Kidztory animated storybook Review

Posted by Amy Solomon on January 24th, 2011
+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad

Goldilocks and the Three Bears is another lovely Kidztory interactive storybook by Stepworks designed for both iPhone as well as iPad. As with all of the Kidztory classics, choices include reading or listening to this story; be sure to tap around to look for the hidden interactive hotspots, my favorite being tapping to break the littlest chair as Goldilocks sits on it.

This classic story is one that is commonly turned into a storybook application, and my son and I have experienced many versions of this story, both in ebooks, as well as in classic book form. Although it is a favorite among children, some adults don't appreciate that Goldilocks learns nothing from her bad behavior of breaking and entering, theft of food, destruction of property, and general chaos that this girl causes an innocent family of bears. I am a huge fan of the whole library of classic Kidztory apps, and I appreciate the way the developers at Kidztory took on this tale, keeping in mind the children who will read this book and teaching them something along the way.

As with all Kidztory classics, this story is bright and fun in the style one would expect from this series. Here, it is explained that Goldilocks came across the bear house, was curious as to who lived here, and opened the door to see if anyone was home. I love the perspective of how the three bowls of porridge are large in the foreground with Goldilocks in the background. Touch the bowls and listen to them make beautiful chiming sounds. The art direction here does a great job of showing how these bowls call to Goldilocks who, being young, lacks impulse control. I prefer this version of Goldilocks as opposed to others where she seems vapid, bratty, or just plain mean.

I also really like the bears here, especially baby bear. Of all the versions we have experienced, I think my son empathized the most with this sweet little bear as he cries over his family's predicament, at one point whimpering "mama" when tapped, a moment that really resonated with my son. Above all else, I really enjoy that like all of their classic books, this tale ends with the lesson, here specifically about always asking before using other people’s things. I think my son has taken this to heart, seeing how upset baby bear was and I think this is a great lesson for my three year old to learn. Another great classic story from Kidztory, I hope they continue to create more stories with great messages.

The Gingerbread Man - Kidztory interactive storybook Review

Posted by Amy Solomon on December 27th, 2010
iPhone App - Designed for iPhone, compatible with iPad

The Gingerbread Man is yet another great Kidztory interactive storybook by Stepworks, which my son and I love to experience together. As part of their library of classic tales turned into apps, this application brings the wonderful story of the Gingerbread Man to life, this time very literally! Be a part of the Gingerbread Man’s escape from Grandma’s kitchen, and watch as he runs from animals interested in taking a bite out of his sweet, cookie body. Soon, the Gingerbread Man meets a cunning fox who acts friendly and offers to help save the Gingerbread Man, but can he really trust a fox? Like with all Kidztory apps, children have the choice of reading this story by themselves, or have it read to them.

As with every Kidztory, the Gingerbread Man is very interactive, being able to tap every character to make them speak and move, as well as other things that lend themselves well to sounds or illustrations. My play kitchen-obsessed son loves to touch the things around the kitchen such as the baking sheet or the stove, each with great clangy metallic sounds.

I think it is wonderful that you tap to help Grandma decorate the Gingerbread Man until he comes alive and jumps off the baking sheet and runs off the screen! This is tremendously effective in telling this story, and it took both my son and me by surprise the first time this happened. The look on my boy’s face, confused and amazed, was wonderful to see as a parent. Another element that is especially done well here is the look and sounds of the river that the Gingerbread Man needs to cross to avoid being eaten by Grandma and the animals. The shades of blue and white are marbled together, giving the water dimension and beauty, and I really enjoy tapping here to listen to the water run.

The narration for these Kidztory Classics is done by a young girl who always does a really good job at telling these stories. She is especially good here, getting into the wolf’s cunning character, adding suspense to the story as she speaks. My son gets especially quiet when this happens, paying special attention to the story as the narration becomes very effective.

I sincerely hope Kidztory continue to develop more and more of these apps, as my day is made when I hear about a new one.

Chicken Little Review

Posted by Amy Solomon on October 14th, 2010
iPhone App - Designed for iPhone, compatible with iPad

Chicken Little is the wonderful new Kidztory interactive storybook by Stepworks, adding to their already impressive catalog of classic children's tales. I must admit that I am a huge fan of Kidztory's stories. The quality they bring to their apps is top-notch, beautifully illustrated, and my son and I love to tap on the characters to hear them talk. Their series of classic stories always instills positive messages without being preachy or heavy-handed. Chicken Little is no exception here, and is a rich and fun re-telling of the classic tale about a tightly-wound chicken who believes that the sky is falling...or is it? Nevertheless, all of chicken’s friends get involved, as well as a not-so-friendly character. Choose either to read along with narration or to read this storybook by yourself.

We have a lot of fun with interactivity of Chicken Little and the Kidztory storybooks apps in general. I love that you can tap every character in this book to hear them make their animal noises. What I especially enjoy is the different ranges of emotions these animal display from these animal noises alone. Although they may not speak actual words when tapped, their feelings in the moment are loud and clear and very cleverly done.

I appreciate that old friends from the other stories are woven into this tale, becoming very important characters in the story. This story definitely stands alone and can be enjoyed as a first Kidztory app, but my experience was greatly enriched with my knowledge of previous characters and stories.

I recommend Chicken Little to anyone who enjoys a good story, any age children or adults. I look forward to the release of Kidztory storybook apps the way others looked forward to the iPad launching, and I hope they continue to make more and more of these storybooks.

Captain Duck Review

Posted by Amy Solomon on August 3rd, 2010
iPhone App - Designed for iPhone, compatible with iPad

The duck is back! “Captain Duck” is a story book app based on the popular children’s book written and illustrated by Jez Alborough from HarperCollins Publishers.  “Captain Duck” is a continuation of  Alborough’s  book and iPhone app “Duck in the Truck.” This story begins where “Duck in the Truck” left off, with the duck out of the muck, but now his truck needs gas. He stops by his friend Goat’s house to borrow some, and along the way invites himself on a boating trip with his old friends from the first story. All I can say is that antics ensue, and it is great fun watching it all unfold.

My son may enjoy “Captain Duck” even more because there is some real slapstick humor happening and even some drama and suspense. Without giving anything away, there is a point in the story where the tone changes, my son’s eyes grow wide and he gets very quiet, extremely engrossed in the story. Beautifully illustrated and with a lot to tap on, the animals “speak” as they move across the screen, and there are many other ingenious sound effects as well. The  narration is superb, but you have the option of reading it yourself as well. If one is looking for an entertaining story book for an iPhone, I recommend “Captain Duck."

Face Time With Mage Nuttimugs Review

Posted by Jeff Scott on June 7th, 2010
+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad

My son and I eagerly await each new Kidztory animated storybook application by Stepworks and we have them all. We’ve been hooked ever since we discovered their first ebook release which is an adaptation of the story of the “Little Red Hen”. Most of the Stepworks stories have followed a similar formula – the same style of illustration, narration, animated features, and soundtrack.

We’ve been happy with all releases but we were delighted to discover that their latest publication “Face Time with Mage Nuttimugs” offers something new. It has a fresh story full of rhythm and rhyme, new animated features, funky music and sound effects, and you can personalize the story with a photo of your choice. Once you select a photo and scale it, it’s inserted throughout the story and appears warped differently each time. It’s a jolly-good time, and the goofy photos are complemented by the offbeat sounds and music.

My son likes to imitate the sounds when he touches the animated characters and he’s intrigued by many of the new words he hears; I can see the wheels turning in his head as he engages the book. He also thinks it’s the silliest book of all and he can’t stop giggling as we scroll through the pages.

Many thanks, Stepworks. I’m happy to say… you’ve nailed it…. again.

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