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Into the Snow: A Stella and Sam Adventure Review

Posted by Amy Solomon on February 23rd, 2012
+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad

Into the Snow: A Stella and Sam Adventure is a lovely interactive storybook for iPad, part of a series of apps developed by zinc Roe. Both English as well as French languages are included.

This is a simple and sweet story about a relatable sibling pair, Stella and Sam, as they venture out into the snow to go onto a toboggan ride. Based on the popular series of books and later a television show, this app consists of short video scenes as well as interactive sections that allow children to become part of this story.

The video clips included have a great look and sense of style, bright and colorful with charming watercolor details, and it is nice how the interactive scenes fit seamlessly together within this story.

The first interactive activity includes children using sticks, acorns and other found materials to create shapes and pictures, such as a sailboat or butterflies.

To complete each puzzle, drag the objects to their correct locations, seen as a subtle gray outline of the item one is creating. Distance ambient sounds like the wind blowing or birds chirping as well as the sound of a chime being played each time an object is moved can be heard, adding richness to the experience.

Not only are these puzzles fun and interactive, but I appreciate how Stella creates a motif around each puzzle once created, also showing as a faint gray drawing in the snow, demonstrating what one can do with one's imagination, as the stick man turns into a soccer player or as the additional details are added to the sailboat which are also made from sticks. They then include an ocean full of waves and a “show shark” that moves with the tap of a finger as well as birds seen in the distance. I really enjoy the basic style of art used in these snow drawings, childlike and reminiscent of the illustrations found in Harold and the Purple Crayon.

Another interactive section includes the building of a snowman. To choose a detail or accessory like a hat, nose, or arm, tap on one of the two choices found left or right of the snowman. Doing so will have these chosen items added directly to the snowman - a nice activity for toddlers.

The other interactive section deals with objects hidden under the snow. Players use a finger to brush the snow away to uncover the hidden treasures once lost.

Each of these sections can be replayed with a different puzzle, snowman or hidden object activity as well - an especially nice touch, as is the menu that aids players in finding a favorite moment or interactive page of this storybook.

I enjoy how within these sections, cute commentary can be heard by these children, such as Sam exclaiming that he likes sailboats or wondering what could be under the snow about to be brushed off, such as possibly an elephant or polar bear. Do tap around the pages as well. Doing so will trigger some cute interactions in each of these interactive sections.

This is an app that my son and I really enjoy, as we do the entire series. This application is especially nice on days too cold to go outside ourselves. I recommend Into the Snow as I do the other Stella and Sam Adventure apps, as these storybooks always include Stella and Sam venturing out into nature, exploring their world and partaking of activities that require no plugging in of any kind, as well demonstrating a love between brother and sister that parents will smile at.

I am also happy to report that although I did not know a lot about Stella and Sam, we now take out these books by Marie-Louise Gay from the library often, enjoying them very much, and I appreciate how these characters translate so well to these videos and interactive scenes.

There are four apps within this series, but also please know that one can purchase this series together as one app, Stella and Sam Story Pack, for a great price.

Doodlecast Pro Review

By Lisa Caplan on February 10th, 2012
A simple recording tool with endless possibilities.
Read The Full Review »

Doodlecast for Kids Review

Posted by Amy Solomon on December 5th, 2011
+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad
Our rating: starstarstarstarblankstar :: CREATIVE KEEPSAKES :: Read Review »

Doodlecast for Kids is an interesting and highly creative new universal app from zinc Roe allowing one to draw pictures while simultaneously making sound recordings to create digital keepsakes that kids and adults will greatly appreciate.

Two main sections exist within this app, as one can either be given a simple theme and a related template to draw from including a blank page with no given title, as well as a series of words within blank pages which one can use as a springboard to create wonderful drawings or stream-of-consciousness observations as topics include questions such as what moves really fast, what feels hairy, or what makes the user feel happy or sad.

To use, tap a box of interest, and listen to the pleasant narration that asks a lovely leading question, such as “What is happening in the sky?”, “Whose mouth is this?”, or “What is your favorite food?" After this creative prompt is heard, one can trace the simple related drawing, continuing more details and images as young artists and storytellers see fit. Press Done when the drawing is complete. Kids can play back their video here, but the real magic exists with the camera roll of the device as here, the original narration is included as a title for the video that one has created, and the template that one may have worked on has been removed. Downloading directly to Youtube is now also possible.

Some of these choices are freehand, without the template available to work from as less tangible words are the focus, allowing children to work out what these questions about specific words mean to them, such as What tastes yucky or What makes you happy.

Nine colors are offered within this app, and I appreciate white being one of them, as this color can be used as an eraser, but I find it odd that basic black is not offered as a choice. Also, it would be nice to have a variety of point sizes to draw with.

At first, when looking at this app, although a wonderfully creative idea, I felt that those who can’t draw well may be left feeling that this app is not for them. After thinking about this application, however, I no longer feel this way.

I have always been self-conscious of my lack of drawing ability, something I am happy my son has not hinted at feeling as well, because at his age he can scribble and draw unencumbered by the lack of an ability to draw or paint representational art. Any tidbit of my son narrating a drawing of any sort, such as simply demonstrating his favorite colors, at this age would be meaningful to me as a moment captured in time.

This app is a great choice for a wide age range, as toddlers who like to babble and swipe the screens of devices can create art that parents are sure to cherish, as well as any age through and including adults.

Although drawing talent is not needed to enjoy this app, I can’t help but imagine the wonderful stories very much akin to Harold and the Purple Crayon, making up grand stories as one continues to draw new details.

What this app has to offer is limited only by one’s creativity - not drawing talent, something I need to keep in mind for myself as well when I sometimes feel hindered by lack of drawing ability.

It is also worth noting that I think this app would be great to help teach letters and the basic spelling of words such as children’s names and other meaningful words, as this app not only allows the simple drawing of images as well as the printing of letters or numbers, but the playing back and reviewing of these lessons. Hearing their own voices as well as those of the adults in their lives would greatly support the learning of this information in a new and creative way not commonly seen, a new way I have come to really enjoy this application.

Backyard at Twilight: A Stella and Sam Adventure Review

Posted by Amy Solomon on June 6th, 2011
+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad

Backyard at Twilight: A Stella and Sam Adventure is a lovely storybook app from the developers at Zinc Roe which also includes three mini-games that work perfectly to let children interact directly within this wonderful story. Based on the Stella and Sam series of books and television show, this interactive app is watched much like a video, also giving the user a chance to be engaged with these activities. A pulldown menu includes the breakdown of this story into both chapters and games, allow for quick access to a specific point in this app, a nice touch.

This is the second Stella and Sam app I have had the pleasure of reviewing, and I must say that my son has become a huge Stella and Sam fan very quickly. This application, like the others in this series of apps, focuses on the relationship of sister and brother duo, Stella and Sam and their adventures engaging in classic activities and exploring the great outdoors.

Here, Stella and Sam are camping out in their backyard. I love Stella’s take on the world around her, as she tells her little brother that “The Night Giant” is coming, this app taking place during dusk as the sun is rapidly going down and the moon is becoming more visible. Her answers to Sam’s myriad of questions is equally charming, explaining such things as how fireflies are not on fire but carry very tiny night lights. I have come to really appreciate banter between these two children - so very imaginative - not just the questions that younger Sam is always asking, but in the answers older sister Stella comes up with.

The children who lend their voices for these characters do great jobs, with the voices bringing a richness to this story that I really enjoy. I find the social aspect of how Stella takes care of Sam quite charming, loving the stylized choice of excluding adults within these stories.

The visual look of this app is as delightful as the story itself, containing wonderful, colorful illustrations and watercolor skies which I love to look at. I appreciate the choice to set this story at twilight, allowing the sky in one of the mini-games involving the tapping of fireflies to make shapes, to be a sunset with an effect both subtle and grand at the same time. It is also very nice that as one taps these fireflies, they make lovely chime sounds - very relaxing to listen to. I also like that it is mildly challenging to tap these moving fireflies, perfect for preschoolers, as are the geometric shapes they create when all creatures have been tapped.

Other mini-games include helping the kids look for bugs caught in their tent with a flashlight, a favorite activity of my son. One is also able to tap stars, which will then connect to each other creating constellations, which also includes soothing chimes as each star is tapped. It is very nice that each activity can be played over again if one chooses, with each new game different from the last. Parents can also use this app as a platform to discuss constellations further if they so choose, as well as additional info about fireflies and the other bugs found in the earlier game, adding to the educational value of this app. This being a new favorite app of my son, my boy has now become very interested in bugs, looking for these imaginary insects all over our house and asking for a flashlight to aid in his searches.

I find this app perfect before bedtime, and I love how the sky in this app gets subtly darker as the story progresses and how the story ends with Stella and Sam heading off to sleep. These stories are so engaging, bringing the viewer into this world, that when Stella tells Sam they are off to bed now, my son follows along and does not fight me when I announce that he too is going to sleep.

My son and I have enjoyed the two Stella and Sam apps, Into the Snow, and Rainy Says very much as well, and I recommend each of them for being of very high quality in every aspect. We are eagerly waiting for the fourth Stella and Sam app, my son asking me often when this is due to be released.

Rainy Days: A Stella and Sam Adventure Review

Posted by Amy Solomon on June 1st, 2011
+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad

Rainy Days: A Stella and Sam Adventure is an iPad app, part of the Stella and Sam series of apps by the developers at zinc Roe, which is a charming and wonderful storybook app which also contains three mini-games, each working seamlessly within this delightful story. A pull-down menu is included allowing one to find specific chapters of this book or a specific mini-game if one chooses, a nice touch.

This app, which is viewed much like a video, is based on the Stella and Sam series of books by Canadian author Marie-Louise Gay. Here, sister and brother friends, Stella and Sam, spend a rainy afternoon together exploring the wonders of the outside. I love how these characters come across like real children, and I am smitten by how Stella answers Sam’s various inquisitive questions, as well as her take on rainy days in general as she speaks with authority, the way a nine year old who fancies herself older would as she takes care of her younger brother. We as adults can see that Stella really views the world the way only a child would, something I found super-cute and endearing.

The characters of Sam and Stella are utterly relatable to kids, with distinct personalities that nicely differ from each other, as Stella is happy it is raining - Sam not so much. I see a lot of my son in Sam as this app opens up with Sam lying on the floor of the living room, using paints and is unprepared for the mess their dog Fred makes as he walks through this art project. Sam, at a loss for how to deal with Fred's messy paws, asks Stella for help and she takes both Sam and Fred outside to clean Fred's paws and romp around a bit in the rain.

Their relationship is so very tender and sweet, and I appreciate how no adults take part in this story, reminding me of The Peanuts, but in many ways kinder and gentler as Stella is always nice to her younger brother, if not a wee bit bossy. It is also nice to see these kids use classic activities to entertain themselves, first with a set of paints and then by exploring things found in nature, like a pile of leaves and a pine cone floating in a puddle.

The mini-games included are based on these activities, including the ability to paint with both both dog footprints and kids' handprints in many colors across the screen as well as digging through a pile of leaves to see what treasures one may find, and helping the pine cone from the story navigate sticks and rocks as it moves across a small body of water. It is a lot of fun seeing these kids get their hands dirty, especially when it is not practical for my son to get down and dirty himself, whether it be on days where it is too cold to realistically go outside, right before bed or a few minutes before dinner time when I don’t want to deal with a large cleanup.

My boy simply loves searching the pile of leaves looking for a frog that jumps around when found. I appreciate how seamlessly these fit into the story with the same quality animation as is the rest of this app, also including cute voice-over prompts from these kids explaining what to do during these mini-games, really making my son feel as if he were taking part in what is going on. Stella and Sam are definitely kids that I would want my son to be friends with, and this app creates such an immersive experience that I am sure my son feels very much a part of this story as he watches it and plays these games.

There will always be critics of children’s use of iPads for stories, especially books that are turned into videos that one can watch like a TV show, but the quality of this app is so remarkable that it will win over the greatest skeptics. I love the voices used for the children, bringing more life to this story than I could if I were just reading this book to my son and the rainy sounds and other subtle sound effects bring a lot of life to this charming app. The illustrations are to be marveled at, with beautiful color choices and lovely details, especially the rainbow that these kids see at the end of this story. My son loves the mini-games a great deal, they engage him nicely and they are wonderful additions to this story.

These Stella and Sam apps are based not only on the series of books, but also on a cable TV show of the same name. We have not been able to see any of these shows yet, but I will keep my eyes open for them as I am happy for my son to watch small amounts of quality programming.