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The Mud Monster Review

+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad
By Amy Solomon on October 7th, 2013
Our rating: starstarstarstarhalfstar :: EXQUISITE ILLUSTRATIONS
A picture book for art lovers old and young, The Mud Monster is a lovingly illustrated application.
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No Dogs Allowed Review

Posted by Amy Solomon on March 16th, 2012
+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad

No Dogs Allowed is a charming storybook about a mystical creature, the No-Dog, seen only by children much like Sesame Street's Mr. Snuffleupagus before he was revealed to adults. Children get to learn a lot about these creatures, creating a nice, memorable fable that kids will enjoy, especially as it re-enforces imaginary friendships children are known for.

No Dogs Allowed is written in rhyme and beautifully illustrated with a lovely use of lush, bright colors and an almost child-like yet elegant use of style.

Although mild interactions are present, No Dogs Allowed is primarily a storybook that children and their adults will enjoy. Part cautionary tale, it is interesting how this No-Dog is children’s best friend, yet not completely unconditional, as the No-Dog's smell is good when children are being good yet smells like dead fish if children are naughty. As with other moments, the relationship No-Dog has with children is dependent on the children’s behavior.

From the first time reading this cute story, it will be fun to point to “No Dogs Allowed” signs in public to children familiar with this book, taking on a new meaning involving these fantastical creatures.

Two coloring pages are available, as is the ability to add one’s own photo to this application, interweaving it into a few places within this app, creating a nice effect.

Do experiment with the narrator choices, as both American as well as British accents are represented, as is Dutch.

It is also nice that one can choose to highlight words when spoken as well as raise or lower the volume of music found throughout this application, but I wish the same were true for the sound effects as well, as the buzzing of flies - even the giggling of the No-Dog himself - can be distracting in the relaxing, peaceful story.

All in all, this is a charming story that creates mythology children and adults will appreciate, with a lovely visual style.

Holiday Advent Calendar 2011 Review

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

Holiday Advent Calendar 2011 is a simple and sweet universal Advent calendar application which counts down the days to Christmas starting December 1st.

I was excited to hear that Tizio Publishing - the developers behind apps such as Fierce Grey Mouse and Finn’s Paper Hat - has teamed up with writer and illustrator Jon Higham from the wonderful Elly Series of storybook apps. Together they make up a super cute Christmas-themed app that my son really enjoys.

For those who do not know, Advent calendars have been traditionally used to count the days starting from December 1st to Christmas and include windows that can be opened to reveal items such as a poem, passage from a story, small toy or piece of chocolate. Some modern calendars, as well as this app count to New years as well.

Given that classically, the Advent calendar is opened daily for a moment to see what is inside each window, I could imagine how this could be adapted to an application, but my concern was if a child's attention would be held more than a short time each day.

These fears have been put to rest as here, one has the choice of opening one gift per day or all at once, making this app super-cute and surprisingly engrossing for my almost four year old son.

This app opens up with a lovely Christmas tree and in one gift per day mode, a few gifts that equal the days leading up to Christmas starting from December 1. For example, two presents will be offered on December 2nd and ten presents will be displayed on December 10th.

These gifts are found off to the side, individually tap to move a gift under the tree and tap again to open the box to see what is inside, allowing one to decorate the tree and this Christmas scene in general with their new present. When all the gifts are offered at once, they are all found under the tree ready to be opened.

It is cute that both classic Christmas things are included which one can decorate - the Christmas tree with stars, decorative balls, angels or snowmen, as well as modern presents such as a digital camera or an iPad. My son, a great fan of Elly, very much enjoyed Elly herself popping up as a gift and then moving her all around the screen and sharing his holiday loot with his favorite reindeer, talking to her the entire time.

Shake the device to see the snow flurries stop, and do tap individual snowflakes falling from the sky which shrink in size and fade away - a nice effect.

A radio right of the screen is also available to hear a selection of three instrumental Christmas carols with a nice selection of energy, from the upbeat Jingle Bells, Twelve Days of Christmas and the slower, calming Silent Night - my favorite song selection here.

Santa and his reindeer can be seen flying through the night in the distance, and it is also fun and interesting to see how one can open these presents at night or during the day as one can position the sun high in the sky or drag with a finger below the horizon or anywhere in between, with the amount of sunlight or lack thereof nicely corresponding and even opening up to show day or night time, depending on the time of day one is exploring this application.

Also note that the New Year's calendar countdown top right of the page can be tapped to see a firecracker shoot into the sky and explode, and tapping the Christmas countdown calendar page triggers some fun caroling by children.

My boy has really enjoyed opening all the packages at once, using what is inside to decorate his Christmas tree as well as the page in general, and it is nice that he is able to spend a good amount of time carefully unwrapping and placing these holiday items just where he wants them.

One can move around all the decorations, even placing them back into a box for re-wrapping - fun for those who really enjoy opening presents. It would have been nice, however, to tap a candle to light it - an idea maybe for a possible update.

I am surprised how complete the attention my boy gives to this app, not wanting to be bothered as he quietly works on his decorations with the plan of re-setting these gifts the next night to open these gifts again. My son calls this his “Christmas tree game,” and this is an app he has shown off to others - high praise from my four year old, to be sure.

Finn’s Paper Hat HD Review

Posted by Amy Solomon on August 28th, 2011
iPad App - Designed for iPad

Finn’s Paper Hat HD is a magical and charming interactive app about a creative young boy who makes a hat out of newspaper and the imagination that is sparked as it begins to rain. Available in versions for both iPad and iPhone, this app includes an impressive selection of both Dutch as well as many English dialects and voices to choose from.

The use of fantasy found throughout this story remind me a great deal of the 1955 classic, Harold and the Purple Crayon, where a boy uses his crayon to draw objects that come to life making it possible for him to interact with them. Here, Finn folds himself a paper hat out of newspaper. First this hat is a pirate's hat but soon it rains and Finn turns his pirate's hat into a boat, sailing away on a simple yet epic adventure and meeting lovable creatures along the way as well, as finding other great uses for his paper hat.

I adore this ebook as I did the first title, Fierce Grey Mouse, from writer and illustrator Chantal Bourgonje. I was greatly impressed with the use of color used throughout Fierce Grey Mouse and I am equally impressed here with the interesting choice found within the pages of Finn’s Paper Hat to use muted tones of beige found among unadorned newspaper as well as mixing together samples of newsprint, creating a lovely collage feel as well.

The illustrations drawn with the use of black and white pop nicely from these desaturated backdrops in a way that I enjoy a great deal. One of my favorite moments here is when Finn finds himself in an ocean with his paper hat afloat among waves of different colors such the darker paper reminiscent of brown butcher paper as well as other lighter shades of paper at different levels of being off-white and weathered. This style is continued through the tale and I love the use of the main color, appropriate for the animals that Finns meets along the way. The pop of yellow also used for a simple sun in the sky made me smile as does the daydreams, found with a tap of Finn and his new best friend in one scene of this book which are the only elements in full color - a lovely touch.

I worry somewhat that my description of these color choices used may seem uninspiring, as this is far from the case. I greatly enjoy looking at this palette as well as the slight shadowing and distressing found within these pages and the text boxes found at the top left of each screen, adding texture and depth to these illustrations.

Interactions are included with this app adding to the richness of the experience, especially the use of creating snow when tapping the screen during the middle of this story as well, as the tapping of Finn and the other characters introduced in this story book.

Music is also included, which I have really enjoyed. It is sometimes upbeat but can be sleepy, if not a bit melancholy and I appreciate the use of composer Charles Gounod's "Funeral March of a Marionette,” more commonly known as the theme from “Alfred Hitchcock Presents” in scene of this book and a favorite moment of mine as Finn uses his hat in another creative fashion that takes good care of his new buddy. The ending of the story also ends with a poetic, musical note that I may enjoy even more than my boy does. I love the use of this music within this storybook, adding music appreciation to the list of what makes this story very special.

Like with The Fierce Grey Mouse, Finn’s Paper Hat includes some nice extras. This app includes two coloring pages from the story, these pages to be filled in with the “paint bucket” method of coloring where one can fill in sections at a time with the tap of a finger - my preferred method of coloring books. Also included are clear and concise instructions to fold one’s very own paper hat as well as a Sing Along - Karaoke styled paper-hat-themed song complete with bouncing ball over the text of the song to keep the singer in time with the music. My only note here is that the sounds used over the music to also keep the singer in time is louder than it needs to be and drowns out the music, possibly the singer as well. It would be nice to be able control the volume of the music and this added sound, ideally independently from each other.

As with most ebooks, one can listen to narration or turn this function off to read this book by oneself. This app is no exception, but it is quite original to be offered many English dialects and voice choices such as Irish, UK, US, Australian and New Zealand, also including a child's voice and Dutch as a language choice as well.

I have enjoyed tapping each of these choices to hear the narrator speak their names, listening to the different ways of speaking, but I do wish their voice levels on the options page could be longer moments to hear them clearly against the joyful background of the music used as some of their names being spoken sound a bit cut off.

It is really nice to share different voices of this same story each time we read this book, slightly developing the ear of my boy to the sounds of different styles of English because where we live, most people sound the same and to my son “without” any discernible accent. A menu of pages is also added to this book - always a nice reference to offer.

My son really enjoys this story for all the adventure and fantasies it offers him, and we love to read it as a bedtime story. I am very impressed with both of Chantal Bourgonje's apps and have quickly become a fan of her work. I hope more original stories of hers are developed into apps, I can't wait to see them.

Fierce Grey Mouse HD GiggleApps Review

Posted by Chris Kirby on August 9th, 2011

Fierce Grey Mouse HD is a delightful interactive story about a grey mouse who wants to be fierce like a wild animal. It is simply delightful to watch this mouse practice his fierceness – the roaring, and the pouncing, along with the exercising and healthy eating habits that it takes to grow big and strong. The only pitfall is that all grand, fierce gestures have scared his friends, and now there is nobody to play with. Rest assured; all ends well in this charming story that kids will enjoy, and maybe even relate to. Versions are available for both iPhone as well as iPad.

Read the full review at GiggleApps.