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Llama Llama Red Pajama Review

Posted by Amy Solomon on November 15th, 2011
+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad

Llama Llama Red Pajama is a lovely universal storybook application which brings the popular picture book of the same name to life. Enjoy this book with narration or without, and parents who read this story to their children have the option for their storytelling to be accompanied by soothing music and fun effects - or not, and a Spanish translation is also included.

For those who do not know, this is a story is written in rhyme about a young llama and his separation anxiety from his momma after she gently puts him to bed and goes downstairs to do some chores.

This is a favorite book in our family, and for us both a perfect book to read at bedtime as well as a beloved book in my son's preschool. I love how this story is told from the point-of-view of both the llama and his mama as the llama child attempts to fall asleep as the mama tends to a sink full of dishes and other adult tasks. The llama child then misses his mama and becomes overly dramatic in a way that is very cute and very relatable to my 3.5 year old son.

I really enjoy this app and so does my son. The illustrations also found within the printed version of this storybook are marvelous, as these tender emotions of love, fear and finally contentment are lovingly portrayed in the facial expressions of both mama and child.

Here, simple interactive animations are included as the mama and child move their heads and limbs, bobble-head style, as well as other hotspots that relate to this story, such as popping the bubbles found as mama washes dishes or ringing the telephone. A few times the young llama also speaks, as he whimpers first quietly and then louder for his mama and makes other related sounds which really tug at my heartstrings each time we explore this app.

I do that find these interactions add to the richness of this story without being distracting, and it is nice that all the included music and sounds can be muted while a parent reads this story, if one wishes.

Although extremely popular, this book has also been criticized for being scary for suggestive children, as Llama Llama Red Pajama gets very upset, shown in some very vivid illustrations that we love, but may overwhelm some children.

The mama here has also been accused of acting uncaring to her child as he asks for a drink, and it takes mamma a while to fulfill this request. For me, I appreciate how the story shows this issue from both sides. From the mama's point-of-view, she is really in the throes of housework and is doing the best job she can juggling her responsibilities, but from the llama child's perspective, the seconds or minutes he waits for his mama to return are too much for him to bear. It is important to note here that the time frame in which the mama tells the child to wait is open for interpretation and is a nice starting point to talk to one's child about empathizing about what each of the different characters here is feeling and why.

For us, this book is wonderful as it de-mystifies the activities that parents may engage in when their children go to sleep, as I think my son has put off going to bed for fear of missing something he would like to be part of.

I do tend to wait until my son is asleep to leave the room, but as he sleeps 12 hours a night it is unrealistic for me to stay with him all this time, so after he is out for the night I do leave to take care of other business much like the llama mamma in this story. My son sometimes may wake up after being put down and for him, my not being there has in the past been a trigger for tears.

I really think this book has helped my son with his fears of my not being by his side instantly, as our favorite line of this book is "Mamma Llama's always near, even if she is not right here" - a very important message for my son to learn, lucky for us, this line became a light bulb moment for him, taking this story in and he has now had fewer issues with separation anxiety himself, knowing that I too am always near even if I am not right there with him at every moment and it may take a minute for me to sometimes get back to him. I have also used the term "no llama drama" to put my son back to bed without effort, something that surprised me as having worked the first time I tried this technique.

Some may want to compare this and other rhyming books like it to Dr. Seuss, the best lyrical wordsmith of children's literature. As tempting as this is, I avoid this comparison as Dr. Seuss's sentence structures are often long, fantastical, and for me, sometimes cumbersome to read out loud. Here, Llama Llama Red Pajama is wonderfully simple and easy to read, both out loud to children as well as an easy reader for older kids, making this book a nice beginner book to also read to a younger sibling as the sentences repeat common words to this story, and the sentences are short and easy to speak and read.

I also love the Spanish translation of this book, as this simple style can be enjoyed by new learners of the Spanish language as well as children who don't speak English as a primary language and who may enjoy the English section as a primer to this language as well.

I do not see this app as taking the place of the beloved printed storybook in our family, but it is nice that with narration, my son can listen to this book when we are out and about, and for this reason, I especially like that this is a universal application.

I do recommend this app as we have enjoyed it very much, as we do the book in traditional form. It is worth noting that I have had no issues with the use of this app as many others have reported, these issues stemming possibly from not updating one's device to iOS 5 before down loading this story, good to know.

Smart Tot Rattle Review

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

Smart Tot Rattle is an interesting app for the youngest members of the family, as this app consists of the high-contrast colors of red, black, white, along with the use of geometric shapes all said to be visually stimulating to babies.

Four themes are included and each contains its own highly contrasting background of circles, checkerboard, stars or stripes, presented in black and white and corresponding to the included themes of balls, kites, stars, and flowers. It is nice that these items in the foreground also contain vivid colors such as blue, green, or yellow, making these items really pop.

A physics engine is used here, making the objects included bounce around the screen with the drag of a finger or by moving the iPhone. Pleasant chime sounds are also incorporated and can be heard with the tap of a finger or when these items bump into each other on the screen, and one can feel vibrations when the device is shaken.

Parents have a few selections to choose from, specifically if they want to include the use of sound effects, and how often (if at all) the motifs will change, ranging anywhere from 10 to 30 seconds, and one can leave the app set to one desired background as well.

The look of this application is indeed engaging: I can see how a baby would be interested in looking at this app. It would make an ultimate distraction for doctors' offices when vaccinations and the like are given, and I appreciate the developer's idea from the iTunes description of using this app for tummy-time, especially for babies who are reluctant to spend time in this position - very helpful when traveling as this app packs easier than the activity pads and toys that baby may be used to.

I can also see this app being overly stimulating for some, and I wish the vibrations could be turned off within this app without having to alter the settings of the iPhone itself to do so. This added stimulus seems a bit much, as there is already a lot going on here to look at and listen to.

Personally, I would also recommend the use of “Airplane mode” as a caution when a baby at such a young age may be using one’s iPhone, as well as avoiding a very jarring experience of the phone ringing in the middle of playing with this application.

Whether this app is a good choice for one’s family is a personal decision, but this app is nicely done and worth looking into, especially for those who are intrigued by the use of high-contrast colors for their baby to look at and explore.

Lumi’s Book of Eyes Review

Posted by Amy Solomon on October 3rd, 2011
iPhone App - Designed for iPhone, compatible with iPad

Lumi’s Book of Eyes is a charming and educational interactive universal storybook app focused on the different eyes found in animals across the world, as well as those of humans.

I really enjoy this book, told from the point of view of Lumi, a Turkish boy who is the narrator and guide of this story. Here, Lumi offers interesting facts about the eyes of a nice selection of animals, such as the use of crocodile tears to help lubricate eyes when this animal spends time on dry land, or the near sidedness of frogs, allowing them to see unclose, great for catching bugs.

The look of this book is also super-cute and a little special, as the simple, hand drawings of Lumi are juxtaposed with some very vivid animal photos. Tapping these animals will cause them to blink, and do tap Lumi as well, and some simple but lovely animations are included of Lumi reacting to the various facts presented.

This app also touches on the health of human eyes, the need for kids to have their eyes checked before the 1st grade and a positive message about kids wearing glasses. This is a cute and fun app for children in general but will be of a special interest for those who wear glasses themselves or are going soon for their first eye exam, something important for all school-age children. Very nice narration and music are included which I have really enjoyed. The narration can be easily tuned off as well if one chooses.

An eye-spy game of sorts is also included here as well, as the player is given a close-up photo of an object in the shape of a circle, and one must decide if the image in question is an eye or not. This is a really fun game that kids and adults will really enjoy, as different eyes are included here, as well as other objects such as the spots from a butterfly back or even Earth as seen from space.

Given family history, I won’t be surprised if at some point our son needs glasses as his entire family wear them. He may be in his 30’s before he needs them like my husband and me, or still in grade school like another close family member, but either way, this is a thoughtful educational app originally written by an ophthalmologist and is aimed at an international audience. Lumi’s Book of Eyes will also be a hit with animal lovers as the information is interesting, and the photographs are of a really great quality, making this storybook one that is very easy to recommend.

Bobo Explores Light Review

Posted by Amy Solomon on September 29th, 2011
iPad App - Designed for iPad

Bobo Explores Light is a wonderful, content-rich interactive book for iPad that will educate and entertain children and adults of all ages as they learn about various light-related topics, such as the sun, lightning, or photosynthesis.

This app contains such a plethora of information that I honestly find writing this review a little daunting as there is so much worth covering.

This app starts by introducing itself with a thoughtful, extremely well-done tutorial introducing the reader's very own robot, Bobo, and explaining how this app works - an important feature as this app has numerous topics to share as well as many added features that one can explore as well. A great table of contents is also offered here, stylized with a great use of working gears, and each page is represented by a frame of a film strip, adding to the style as well as content of this app.

With over 100 pages and 21 topics of interest, a well-crafted tutorial is imperative to fully explain all that an app such as this has to offer to insure that readers get the most from this experience, and this tutorial dos the job well, explaining about the various pull-downs one will find on many of these pages - excellent resources that may include videos and other important extras.

Bobo is as adorable as a robot can be, stylized with the body of an old incandescent bulb and a wind-up key in his back, magnet hands, and the continuous tracks reminiscent of a tank. He is friendly and loyal like a puppy as well, following your finger as you tap side to side. Details such as Bobo humming to himself songs such as “Lollipop” make me smile, and I
love the fact that on some of these pages, one can tap Bobo’s antenna to turn on Bobo's hologram projector. These holograms are the best that I have seen, not specifically in their three-dimensionness, although to some degree offered here, but as they contain the flicker and glow that I would expect from a projected hologram that I especially appreciate. Do move the iPad around to see other angles of these images as well.

Although very thorough in the educational aspect, this app does not shy away from the details and whimsy that are added to keep this app fun and engaging, which is very important for an app with such a large amount of content to keep kids interested until the end. I love how one enters Bobo’s spaceship, and although a completely different shape, the stylized colors used here in green, red, and orange are reminiscent of “Marvin the Martian”- a palette that makes me smile.

Once the reader launches this ship into space, there is a lovely moment of space travel as one speeds to the sun, including the view of the planets - a very nice touch. I love the nuances of a noisy, turbulent journey as I am sure riding in such a ship is. Very soothing music is also included here, all combined to create a memorable experience.

After the ship has reached its destination, children will be introduced to the 21 subjects of this app, with the option of flipping through each page for a more simplistic over-view of each theme or tapping the pull-down tabs, typically found three per page on the top of the screen. These taps contain fun facts, amazing videos, and can go into great depth while keeping the
main pages more basic, great for the youngest children, making this app fit the needs of many ages. I truly appreciate how much science is really being taught here, such as the concept of shadows being places where photons can't get to as they are unable to bend around objects like sound waves. The whimsy is not lost in this section either, as the main page is home to a very amusing caveman who dines on toasted marshmallows with Bobo, and don’t forget to tap on Bobo’s hologram projector as well for a fun surprise.

In reality there is not enough time or space to enumerate all the amazing details, both fun interactions to tap on and well as those with great educational value. There is a great moment spent with Thomas Edison, with an excellent use of Bobo’s holograms showing Edison’s various inventions as one listens to period music. A fun demonstration about the difference between a toy laser and the real thing, a terrific use of mirrors, and a fish bowl to demonstrate reflections and refraction, demonstrating the principles of geometry will be much appreciated by older children as well. A great laser light show is also included where one can move the sources from which these lights are bouncing, keeping this app very light and fun, as well as highly interactive, engaging, and highly educational.

I would also like to mention that the included video of the auroras are something I have never seen before quite like this, and the use music here truly creates a moving experience.

It is worth noting that although this app is rich with narrated video clips, sound effects and some lovely musical moments, the majority of the text with this app is not narrated - something that did take me by surprise as I expected to have the excellent narration from the tutorial be found within the body of this app as well. Because of this, this app will need to be read to children who cannot read for themselves. Good to know, but do understand that this app is a must-have science app for children of all ages in grade school, with much of the information being of interest to older student and parents as well. I see this app being a huge family favorite and a great app for older siblings to share with younger children as even high schoolers and beyond will learn a lot from this app - as will adults.

The one area of this app that I think kids may find confusing is how the RGB system of colors is touched upon, which may seem odd to children who have focused their attention on the primary colors of red, yellow and blue - not red, green and blue discussed within this app. I would love to see some mention of the differences of RGB vs. the primary colors as I am sure questions will be asked about this discrepancy.

It has been hard to write a review of this amazing app that is not simply a laundry list of favorite moments. I could not feel stronger about the educational value of this app, the quality that each page offers or the whimsy, humor and interactions that will keep kids involved until the end. With so much that this app has to offer, the replay value of this app is quite high and a must-purchase for anyone with school age children.

This app also tackles questions such as where rainbows come from or why the sky is blue in a way that is clear, thorough, and very understandable to satisfy the most curious of children in way that impressed me greatly. This app recreates the experience one may expect to find at a children's museum of science and is well worth the money one may spend to purchase this app.

Nothing would make me happier than to see more of these apps be created by the developers at Game Collage, and do take a few minutes to read the credits included at the end, as everyone involved with this app has done a great job.

Food Heroes Review

Posted by Amy Solomon on September 21st, 2011
iPad App - Designed for iPad

Food Heroes is an application for iPad consisting of activities focused on teaching nutritious food choices with the nice use of colorful and fun illustrations.

A simple matching game is included where the player turns over cards looking for pairs - here with a healthy food theme.

A coloring page is also offered where children can fill in these drawings as well as food themes, with the tap of a color and the drag of a finger. An eraser is offered here. Players also have the ability to control the size of the line used when filling in these pages, and one can save his work as well - always nice options to have.

For me, the best section of this app is the included word puzzle. A list of eight words is included to the right of the screen, and the player must find these words within the grid of letters center screen. This is such a classic kids activity that I am surprised that I do not come across more of these types of word games in applications. The best feature of all is that as one finds these hidden words, very nice children’s narration offers fun facts about each food word discovered, making this nicely educational.

This app is a nice choice for early grade schoolers once they are able to manage the word puzzles. I really enjoy the fun facts used here, as the information offered here is interesting to adults and children alike, and it is great that different words are used each time this word puzzle is played - excellent for re-play value - but I have found a few glitches where words do not offer the fun sentence I have learned to expect here, something I hope that can be worked out in a future update.

Parents will also appreciate the fact that each activity includes music with its own fun and upbeat sound, be it a mild country theme, jazzy, or with a slight Hawaiian flair.

All-in-all, a nice experience, with the word puzzles and info offered, making this app a nice educational experience.

KidsMag Issue 01 Review

Posted by Amy Solomon on June 17th, 2011
iPad App - Designed for iPad

KidsMag Issue 01 is a very nice iPad application for preschool-aged kids, structured much like a magazine would be for their age group. This app revolves around Teo and Bianca, a brother and sister team who teach a lot about some of children’s favorite things, such as a farm or fire station, leading children through more than 50 activities just right for this age range. An index is included, making it easier for parents to select specific games they especially enjoy.

I really like the content of this app. With an impressive amount to look at and interact with, this app really does remind me of a kids' magazine such as “Highlights” and I found the segment on fire stations to be very informative and well written, as one taps on interactive hotspots and listens to narration about the firehouse. It is nice that these hotspots are highlighted with a hand symbol, showing the player where to tap, making this app extra intuitive for kids who may or may not be seasoned app users. There is also a nice section about Bianca and her trip to the store, again well written as one taps on storyboard-type squares which emphasize the sequencing of her busy day. The text can also be followed at the bottom of the screen, nice for early readers to follow along with. Each of these sections have many related activities to interact with, and I found them each to be thoughtfully executed.

There are many puzzles to complete, characters to dress up, differences to spot and objects to find in this highly entertaining kids' app. One thing the application does nicely is that these games each have multiple scenes per activity, something not found in traditional magazines, giving the players the chance to shake the iPad to go on to the next scene or wait until they are finished with what they are working on to continue. I like that little or no reading is necessary to enjoy these activities, and a question mark icon can be tapped in case one needs help with the interactions. It would be nice if a button could be tapped to give true clues to some of these activities for when a young player gets stuck, especially while finding the differences between two similar pictures or to spot the hidden pictures section of this app.

I do not like, however, that there are two full page app advertisements included among the pages of this magazine application. I am familiar with both of the apps advertised, also from the same developers of KidsMag. I have no doubt that kids would enjoy these advertised apps, but I have an issue with ads in apps in general, especially here where one can easily mistake the ad as another puzzle to solve and tap on the iTunes link by accident. As an adult, I was confused the first few times I hit these pages, not realizing that I was looking at an ad rather than an activity and I am sure this would confuse a child even more as to what is going on, not the way I want my child to feel, even though most of the time my son uses my iPad without an internet connection and without risk of buying apps unassisted.

In recent weeks iTunes has made it more difficult for accidental in-app purchases to take place, but with stand-alone apps, these accidents can still happen and these kinds of ads make me as a parent unhappy. I really don’t want my son being influenced by ads of any kind, such as TV commercials that make him want toys he does not need or for kids' apps that we are not looking to spend money on.

I know that when I am impressed with an application, the first thing I do is check to see if the developer in question has any more apps I would be interested in and I certainly do not need to come across these full page apps to get my attention. In truth, these ads leave a bad taste in my mouth, which is unfortunate as this app is all around is wonderful, except these distracting and unwanted advertisements.

I would be bothered a whole lot less if the developer simply had a separate section to see other apps of theirs linked from the info page. I hope in the future these ads can be removed from the body of this application. This is the first issue of this magazine app that is going to be published, and I despite these adds, I really look forward to seeing what the coming issues of KidsMag have to offer. I hope the ads can be at least moved to a more appropriate place as I do not think I am not alone in my dislike of advertisements, especially in paid applications.

Speech with Milo: Sequencing Review

Posted by Amy Solomon on June 13th, 2011
+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad

Speech with Milo: Sequencing is a nice, universal interactive educational app with both special needs and typically developed children in mind as it teaches the basic sequences of events, helping kids develop the sense of "Beginning" Middle" and "End" - important language skills that help develop complex sentences and storytelling abilities. The illustrations and animations used are very cute, and it is also nice that many options are included to personalize this app to the needs of the player, such as whether or not to use background music or sound effects, as these can be either encouraging or distracting, depending on the child.

I have used sequencing cards with my son and we both enjoy this activity, but it should be noted that I need to clear our kitchen table, cluttered with arts and crafts, completely as these sequencing cards take up a lot of room when spread out. I do like how obviously compact it is to use as an application.

There are a lot of themes to choose from here, and it is nice that an adult can select all or any of these themes to be focused on. The player simply arranges three boxes which contain cute mouse Milo and sometimes friend raccoon Melvin doing such activities as baking a cake, driving a car, or planting a flower in three distinct parts, moving these parts in their correct order into corresponding empty boxes below. When the sequence is complete, one can tap a “play” button to see animation of this sequence in action.

Most of these sequences are good choices as there are very clear answers as to which of these choices comes first, second, or third, but some were not so cut and dry, such as when “getting dressed,” one obviously needs to put on shoes after the pants, but here the shirt goes first, yet there is no wrong answer to shirt vs. pants first being correct. Also, when “making tea,” the correct answer is to get the cups, boil the water, and then pour the tea. One needs cups to pour into, but surely one can boil the water before gathering the mugs to drink from. It is easy to de-select these themes if one chooses to, making this issue a minor one,

A narrator introduces the title of each sequence, and a button can be tapped to hear the name again, but it would be nice if the text under each picture box explaining what is happening in each box could be tapped to hear narration as well. Especially on the iPhone, the boxes are a bit small to be able to see the important details sometimes needed to sequence correctly, so the text becomes very important. I am sure that this app is intended to be shared between adult and child, especially in a special need setting, but if the text could be tapped and heard, this could also be enjoyed when a child is by himself.

I like the use of the animations showing these sequences in action, but it may be more effective to have the narration break down the action back into the three parts, describing exactly what is going on in each animation. I would also like an option to see the letters “A,” “B," and “C.” which are labeled on each of these picture boxes removed as a player can simply arrange these letters in order to correctly put these picture boxes back into correct sequence.

All in all, this is a very nice app that would suit the needs of special needs as well as typical children quite nicely, as this app is fun, engaging as well as educational.

Rainforest Survival Challenge Review

Posted by Amy Solomon on May 31st, 2011
iPad App - Designed for iPad

Rainforest Survival Challenge is a very interesting and educational iPad game from Ruckus Media Group, geared toward kids ages 8 - 12 and teaches about different the species of plants and animals that live in the Amazon Rainforest. A complex game is included as is an information section about the Rainforest which is well written and very informative, including a map of this area and a larger world map showing the rainforest in proper perspective, a nice touch.

The main section of this app is a game where one plays against the computer, seeing who's animals or plants cards become either predator or prey as they go head-to-head against each other in a game of natural selection, with a tie also being an option.

Both the player and the computer get dealt five cards which are displayed across the screen. The player can see all of his personal cards but only the first three cards of the computer. Now the player lines up his cards so that the animals and plants, sometimes even fungus, have the capacity to eat or not be eaten by the corresponding card of the computer. Sometimes the animal on the card is already "dead," an interesting inclusion. This game has a few nuances of “rock paper scissors” as many of these species have the chance to be both the victor or victim in this game, depending on which animal or plant they are up against. If the player loses a round they lose a life, and after three lost lives, the player or computer who ends up with the most surviving animals wins the game and one can win a bronze, silver, gold or platinum paw as winning species are collected through various games played.

To be successful at this game, do double-click both the player’s and the computer’s cards to read up on these creatures, learning what you need to know to make the best choices possible. The information provided includes What I Eat, Threats to My Survival, and Cool Facts About Me, giving the player a lot of important info necessary to win these rounds. The photos used for these cards all look beautiful and are vivid with detail and I also enjoy the rainforest sounds used throughout this app. The green leafy background used during this card game is nice looking as well.

I enjoy this game a lot, but it did take some work to get me to a place where I find this game really fun and addicting. I find the wording of the instructions somewhat cumbersome as it is described that five “species cards” are dealt, and one must make matches that “create the best chance of surviving.” My mental block about this game early-on was that I thought these species cards represented the animals' species as a whole, not a term simply used to group animals and plants together. I also did not understand what these species were surviving, especially if we are talking about the entire group. The answer to this is each other, and each card represents a plant or animal as an individual, not their specific species as in a group of these same animals.

It is nice that one can see where mistakes are made, being able to read card info after the fact, but I have also lost the game a few times and I don’t know why, such as when my brown-throated sloth lost a round to an anteater, not specifically a predator.

This game can be a bit glitchy at times, as sometimes a card freezes when I am moving it around the screen and the game quit on me a few times as well. Also, when one must line up the cards under the computer’s, one must do so in the center of a very specific box, and it can be hard to get it just right so the game allows you to continue on, issues I hope than can be worked out in a future update.

It is nice that when a card is matched correctly, it turns orange, but It would also be nice if there were an option to let the player see all the cards that the computer has as I would rather spend my time plotting about matches keeping in mind the info I have learned rather than deal with the randomness that the two cards face down deliver in an educational game, although not knowing the last two cards of the computer does add to the strategies one needs to come up with in order to win. I think that players should have a choice of using the face down cards or not for their game play.

With these issues aside, once I was comfortable with game play I am impressed with the amount of info one can read up on to make the best choices for my species cards. Mid-grade school kids will be very drawn into this game, as will their parents and older siblings. This is definitely a game enjoyed alone as well as with a parent as there is a lot to talk about and strategize as players arrange their cards, playing against the computer. I hope in a future update more animals, plants and other choices are included, maybe even “man” being a species as it seems “man” is the biggest threat to many of these animals, but would not do well if already "dead" and played against a vulture or fungus. Although this may work as an idea, I can also see these developers shy away from using “man” as a choice, as it may bring too much morbidity to the game - just something to think about for a future update.

The Strange and Wonderful World of Ants Review

Posted by Amy Solomon on May 19th, 2011
iPad App - Designed for iPad

The Strange and Wonderful World of Ants is a marvelous app for iPad that brings a lot information about ants in a way that is beautifully crafted.

My son and I enjoy this science app very much, as it is loaded with very interesting ant information that I was very impressed with, as I have never spent much time thinking abut ants except for how to avoid any possible infestation. This app taught us about many different types of ants and how they serve the larger goals of the group, be it feeding, protection, or sleeping. I can say that although I would still not a fan of ants if I ever found them in my house, I have a new-found respect for them as a hard working group of creatures that work for the common good. I am very happy for my son to learn this information as it is both fascinating and educational. Non-fiction science apps are not commonplace in the iTunes store; this is a lovely change of pace from our usual storybook apps.

I am impressed with the inclusion of 3 reading levels that will be appropriate for a large range of age groups, as the vocabulary and number of words increase in these sections, making this appropriate for preschool and up to adulthood. The intermediate and advanced sections go into more specifics, which is something older kids and adults will enjoy, but I also admire the quality of writing in the beginner section for its simple prose and almost poetic style of writing.

Narration is included in the beginner section, which is excellent. I really enjoy the narrator's voice which has a sincere quality and is very well recorded. Music plays throughout this app, which is equally well-done, relaxing and transcends simple background music to something I truly enjoy listening to.

It is nice that one can change the reading level during the use of this app without having to start over from the beginning, an interesting touch that is fun to experiment with while reading this book. The lack of narration in the two more detailed sections encourages older children to read more difficult sections by themselves, but I think narration would be a nice option as well, especially since children may benefit from hearing the more advanced vocabulary like “bivouac” spoken.

What I appreciate the most about this app for my son is how it explains in great detail how wonderfully ants get along and work with each other, a great example in cooperation and socialization that my son, a soon-to-be preschooler can learn from.

The illustrations of this app are simply wonderful, black and white drawings that lush with tremendous detail. I really like how these pages are also filled with a lovely palette of colors like mustard yellows and earthy greens that create large graphic shapes that move and envelope these pages when the pages turn, adding to the beauty of this app.

An interactive feature is also added where one can tap an extremely realistic black ant as he crawls across each page. Here, one gets to read first-person commentary from this ant named E.O. hearing his point of view on what is being covered in each page. I like how even E.O.’s comments are specific to the reading level, I am very happy to read the speech bubbles of E.O. for my son, as I think my reading these short sentences nicely complemented the narration in the beginner section. It would be nice however, if EO’s words were also narrated, they would be understood by pre-readers when they listen to this section alone.

The one thing I don’t understand is why this book states early on that “Ants aren't very strong. Ant's are not very very smart” when they, as it is my understanding, are very strong for their size, routinely being able to pick up or move objects that are larger and heaver than their own bodies. To call ants "not very smart" may send the wrong message as this app goes into detail about how sophisticated they are in many ways. In further pages, E.O. also says that ants are smart, leading to more confusion for myself, but not my child who is unfazed by these issues.

Except for the line of the book which gives me momentary pause, I think this is a very special science app. The narration, drawings, and other elements are top-notch in terms of quality. I really appreciate the added glossary and thoughtful questions that parents or teachers can use to lead discussions about lessons learned from this application. Other resources about ants are also included, something very nice for both home and classroom settings. I would love to see more apps from this developer as I would love to hear more about science from their point-of-view.

Toca Doctor Review

Posted by Amy Solomon on May 18th, 2011
iPhone App - Designed for iPhone, compatible with iPad

Toca Doctor is another wonderful app from the developers at Toca Boca, who also developed personal favorite apps, Helicopter Taxi and Toca Tea Party. Here, 18 fun and age-appropriate mini-games with medical themes are included which will entertain everybody in the family from pre-school on up. Versions of this app are available for both iPhone as well as iPad

I have come to really appreciate the quirky apps that Toca Boca has developed. This app is also great, here bringing medical themes to mini-games. Utterly intuitive, this app opens with a young patient at the doctor's office. Tap a glowing light on the odd little doctor flying in some sort of diagnostic machine, hovering over the patient and adding bulls eyes to body parts that need further examination. Click on these bulls eyes and get taken to various puzzle mazes and other mini-games with a delightful medical theme, such as tapping nits in hair or bacteria found under a microscope or inside the mouth to rid the patient of these maladies. One also has a chance to pull splinters from fingers in the correct direction, clean and bandage a wounded knee and placing important bones or internal organs in their rightful places. Mazes also exist involving the brain, digestive tract and vascular systems. Personally, I really enjoy placing the cochlea and other bones of the ear back where they belong and going from hearing nothing to the sound of fuzzy music that becomes clear- sounding as the ear puzzle is completed.

The artwork is excellent, stylized, and very interesting to look at. I also love music used here, making this app cheerful even with the subject matter sometimes involving blood or ouchies. I also like the various sound effects, especially the room tone used with the beeps and other atmospheric sounds one would find in a hospital is used as the background noises heard between choosing mini-games. The faint sounds of a bike crashing can also be heard momentarily as one cleans up cuts on the patient, presumably obtained in a biking accident. Cute, extra moments are sometimes included after these games have been completed, such as a large pretty ring added onto the hand of a patient one removed splinters from, or a lovely hair bow added to a de-loused head, adding to the fun and richness of this app.

The age level needed to solve these activities is probably for around three and up, but I expect the entire family to get a kick out of this app, as does my family. I appreciate that although my husband and I cruise through these games quickly, there is no need to rush as no time or points are kept and one can take as long as needed to finish, especially helpful on the mazes where one can either navigate with the drag of a finger or the tilting of one's device. There is an impressive physics engine used here, with the majority of elements being affected the way one would expect by gravity and players may sometimes feel the need to stabilize objects with two fingers as they place these pieces where they belong. Staying easy for preschoolers, this app has a nice “grab” to it as this app helpfully pulls the pieces where they belong if the player comes close to the correct positioning, making accuracy less of an issue.

In terms of education, adults can take their time explaining these activities in a way that is age-appropriate for their child such in regards to how these thing relate to their lives. Personally, I have pointed out the nits in the hair as something we try to avoid by not sharing hats or combs, the names of internal organs or specific bones used during certain puzzles, even about how someone in the family needs eye drops occasionally as this is also a mini-game. The mazes and puzzles themselves are also very educational as one needs the small motor skills to drag puzzle pieces and small objects in the mazes where they need to go, one is also able to tilt the device in ways that help these maze pieces navigate, also taking patience and concentration. It also takes fine motor skills to pick up the pieces of these many puzzles, something that is harder here than in most basic puzzle apps, a level kids will find challenging but not to difficult to succeed at.

Being a huge fan of this developer, I have taken a look at the video made for this app found on youtube before this app was released. Here, an introduction involving a child falling from their bike and needing medical help. Just then the doctor shows up, and the scene changes to the patient in the doctor's office where the game begins. Although very short, the intro of the accident and the doctor appearing made for a nice introduction, and I was surprised not to see this intro as part of the app itself. I also would have also liked there to be some kind of conclusion after all 18 games are finished, tying up all that has been accomplished with the patent feeling well after their treatments. Even without an intro and conclusion, this app is undeniably fun for the entire family.

I am eagerly awaiting Toca Boca's next app as I can't wait to see what new ideas will be coming from such a creative group of people. I hope they will be making apps for a very long time to come.

i Learn With Poko: Seasons and Weather! HD Review

Posted by Amy Solomon on May 16th, 2011
+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad

i Learn With Poko: Seasons and Weather! HD is another creative and fun educational app from Tribal Nova for iPad. Three sections are included that help pre-school and kindergarten kids learn the differences between each season as well as various types of weather. iPhone users keep an eye out for an iPhone version to be released in the future.

My son and I really enjoy this app, and I am happy to see a science app about the seasons and weather geared towards my boy who is only three+, something lacking currently in the iTunes store. Each section of this app has an interesting game where kids use clues they hear or see to complete these activities, helping two friendly and colorful children, Bebe and Poko, along the way.

The section Weather Conditions allows the players to help Bebe fill her photo album by choosing the correct pictures following clues given, narrowing down the choices until the correct picture is left. I like how this section uses the process of elimination to be left with the right answer, with hints such as “find three pictures where the sky is gray,” then “find two pictures where it is spring” and finally, being asked to find the picture where it has rained earlier that day. The magic behind this section is the logic and understanding used to follow through on these clues, as to find the spring photos, one must notice the flowers in bloom and the player becomes aware of which photo has puddles from previous rain as apposed to the photo where it is currently raining. I enjoy watching my son play this game, really focusing on the hint being narrated as he taps the correct photos in question.

In What To Wear, help Bebe and Poko take a photo, but be sure to correct any clothing errors or other mistakes they make in terms of seasonal appropriateness. You may find a winter hat or gloves being worn in the summer, shorts worn on a snowy winter day or objects that are out of season, such as a snowman in the summertime. Sometimes these mistakes are obvious, like wearing winter layers on a hot sunny day, but sometimes this section can be a little tricky, even for me as an adult. The first time I played this section with my son, I thought the rain boots the kids were wearing looked pretty good until I realized there was a better choice offered of winter boots with snow on them.

After playing this section once, it became clear to me what choices exist, but it may be a nice addiction to add seasonal or weather-appropriate closets one could look at to see what choices are available. I like that the camera which will take the photo when these mistakes are found has buttons that will light up when the errors are solved, showing how many problem areas are left to discover.

Another section, Fill Poko’s Calendar does a nice job of teaching about weather conditions and corresponding activities kids may do during these conditions. Fill in calendar days by tapping and dragging activities that match what the weather is like on a specific day, such as kite flying on a windy day or playing inside the house on a day that was stormy. I also like how the seasons are further demonstrated as each of these weeks takes place in a specific season, with weather that may occur during these times of the year and that each week has a corresponding month as part of the calendar as well. This also being a nice introduction to days of the week, months of the year, and calendars in general.

What impresses me about this app is how much listening and focusing on the task at hand is needed to solve these puzzles. My son really listens to the various clues and is able to make good choices on his own with some explanation of what he was looking at from me. I really like how this app prompted me as a parent to teach about weather, such as how one can tell by looking at a picture if it is windy, or what to look for to see if it had just rained or why is it incorrect for flowers to be blooming in the fall.

As with Tribal Nova’s earlier app, this application can be enjoyed by a child alone, but it is best used with an adult who can go into greater detail about all that can be learned here. I also appreciate how this app re-enforces my rules of needing a hat in the summer, something my son sometimes protests. I think it would even be nice if the characters were also wearing obvious white sunblock on their faces for the summer, something that may however be lost to children as many sunscreens these days go on clear. This would be a nice app for any child in the target age of 3-7, but also kids with special needs who may need help in remembering to dress appropriately for the weather, or who may benefit from exercising their listening skills.

In each of these sections, one can tap Murphy the monkey if in need of a hint, but it would a nice addition if Murphy’s hints were more teachable moments, giving specific hints about puddles after a rain storm, or leaves being picked up by the wind rather than more generic hints on game play. This one note aside, this is a lovely and fun learning app that teaches a lot about weather and seasons, something kids experience every day. I really like the clues given to these various sections, teaching kids not only about science, but in helping to strengthen listening comprehension skills in general.

Loris and the Runaway Ball Review

Posted by Amy Solomon on April 28th, 2011
+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad

Loris and the Runaway Ball is a simple and lovely universal storybook app about the dangers of running into the street after a run-away ball.

As a parent, one of my biggest concerns is that my fearless child will run into the street to collect a stray ball or other toy and get hit by an oncoming car. As much as we talk about this in order to reinforce this important lesson, I worry that it is never enough for this utterly crucial message to sink in.

This is a sweet story, told from the point-of-view of a loving older brother Lincoln, about how one day he is playing with his little sister Loris and their ball rolls into the street, and now lincoln needs to save his sister from her horrible decision to go after the ball. Luckily the older brother does get to his sister just in time, something I have not yet had to do, and hope I never have to.

It is especially nice that there is a point in the book where the reader gets to choose a better way to collect one’s ball, specifically asking for help from the daddy, kind neighbor or older brother. I like that this book not only teaches what not to do, but gives the reader some good things to do instead. I appreciate that at the end of this book, one has a chance to make another choice without having to read the book from the beginning to do so. Subtle animations are also included such as the family looking both way as they cross the street to collect their ball that creates a nice effect, further demonstrating the safety lessons learning in this storybook.

The hand-drawn illustrations are colorful and appealing, as are the friendly animals within this story. I like that this storybook touches upon this tender brother-sister relationship as much as it talks about street safety. Without narration, this is a lovely book to read to a child; its prose is simple but well written, and would also make a good first reader as well.

My son enjoys this book a lot and asks for it, calling it "the story about the ball and the kids," and spends a lot of time choosing different ways of correctly getting the ball back. After reading this book the first time, I asked him what he learned and he said “a lot about language" which was not what I was expecting, but this is true as this book, being so simply written has moments where it is actually quite poetic, something my son, a seasoned story listener now recognizes.

The Adventures of Mac Slim Review

Posted by Amy Solomon on April 26th, 2011
+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad

The Adventures of Mac Slim is a very nice universal educational storybook app in a comic book style that teaches a valuable lesson about “character” and is also a good introduction to comic books.

I enjoy this comic app. Its story is fun and engaging, illustrations are colorful and stylized, teaching an important message about what it means to have character. This app is also a nice introduction to comic books, as the narration and character voices nicely demonstrate how comic book pages are read.

Here, main character Mac learns about “character” in school but is at a loss for what this really means. After researching “character” online, he falls asleep and gets sucked into his computer to play a game about “character.” Inside the computer, he meets Worm, another player, who conducts himself in ways that are most unsporting, such as trying to convince Mac to go along with him in cutting the line of fellow players.

Mac does not follow along and does the right thing all along the way, including helping the others as the floor is sabotaged to give Worm an advantage and dropping from the race to help a woman in a car crash due to Worm's recklessness while driving in the interest of winning this game. At the end, although Worm does come in first, Mac is given the character award for always doing the right thing, even though he did not win the contest. It is a nice moment when Mac says that he still does not know what character is and then it is explained that he had it the whole time, as “Character is doing the right thing, no matter what!”

I really liked this story, as I found it exciting and I appreciate the nod to the movie Tron, as well as the use of effective music that at moments reminded me of the movie “Run Lola Run.” I especially like listening to this app, as the narrator and the character voices do very nice jobs here and sound effects are also included that bring even more life to this comic book. I also like that the game they play has different levels which take the reader to a forest scene and car race.

Although most kids won’t encounter such experiences as dramatic as the ones in this contest, it is nice that parents can have open-ended conversations about how they can show integrity in their daily lives.

It gives me pause, however, regarding the inclusion of Cheeto, the school bully who is introduced before Mac has his dream. This bully threatens Mac and his friends that he is going to “pummel” them before they run away and escape. This character may be fine for grade school kids who unfortunately may know a bully like Cheeto, but I am not looking to explain what “pummel” means to my three year old son who will soon be starting preschool and is unaware of the concept of bullies and physical threats of violence.

Maybe this app is simply not geared toward him, but I do think he would understand and learn from the dream sequence and the message about integrity, as well as enjoy a good story with a lot of action, plus an interesting comic full of storyboards - something my son has yet to be emerged in.

The antagonist Worm does enough wrong in contrast to the correct values of Mac in terms of fairness that my son would understand this message, a lesson he is not too young for, but the idea of Cheeto’s threat of violence is just too intense for him right now.

I really did enjoy most aspects of this comic book app, and parents will make the decision for themselves with regard to whether Cheeto’s character is appropriate for their child, possibly as an important starting point to talk about bullying in school.

This app was developed by Big Mouth Presentations, a non-profit group that has been speaking to schools since 2001 and nicely articulates the concept of character in a way kids will understand. I do recommend this app, not just for its message but as a neat comic book with some nice sci-fi elements.

Included are coloring pages one can print or email, and a personality quiz determining who the character in the story is most like, but this only opened to a blank page for me, something that I hope can be sorted out for a future update.

Grow With Me Review

Posted by Amy Solomon on January 28th, 2011
iPhone App - Designed for iPhone, compatible with iPad

Grow With Me is an interesting app which may be helpful to parents, especially those with a newborn as this app has been designed to log much of the information new parents feel compelled to keep such as data involving feedings and diapers, info given at well-baby visits as well as keeping a working schedule for vaccinations. Birth announcements can be created, and info can also be Facebooked and tweeted as well.

When our son was born, he had a hard time gaining his birth weight back within the first two weeks, so we needed to keep a detailed account of how much he nursed as well as how many diapers he used in a given day. The need to keep such detailed accounts, down to left breast and right breast, written by hand in a tiny flowchart provided by the pediatrician compounded the overwhelmingness we felt as new parents. I wish this app had been available to us; it would have saved us a lot of energy and stress. I really like that all you need to do is select "breast" and press a stopwatch of sorts when one starts and finishes, with the information now ready to be emailed in preparation for a printout to show the doctor. Options include bottle and solid feeding as well. The same goes for the ease in which you can document wet vs. soiled diapers as well as baby's sleep schedule.

I appreciate that this app is not just useful to new parents, but any family can use this app when a family member - child or not - needs to keep detailed information about symptoms of a sickness or medications needed, plus more. I find the calendar to remember appointments helpful, as is the record keeper for vaccines.

The most important thing that stuck me about this app is the ease of use, including sharing this information with one’s doctor. The one thing I find missing is a password option to keep the information safe, some of which may be of a personal nature, be it from a stolen iPhone, a nosy family member who may have access to the device but whom you don’t want sharing in this infomation, to older children, for whom it may be best not knowing the details of their illnesses. All in all, I think this app would be very helpful to parents of both infants as well as older children.

Look In My Eyes 3 Undersea Review

Posted by Amy Solomon on October 20th, 2010
iPhone App - Designed for iPhone, compatible with iPad

Look in my Eyes 3 Undersea is an interesting app designed to help teach children on the autism spectrum how to make eye contact, a social skill that does not come naturally for many children who have autism or Asperger’s Syndrome.

To play this game, the player focuses his attention directly into the center of the eyes of a child’s picture on the screen, waiting for a number to flash. Below this picture there are numbers to choose from. Tap the correct number seen while making eye contact. For each number answered correctly, you earn money that you can later spend purchasing sea creatures and sealife from the warehouse, then arranging them among different sea-themed backgrounds. The quality of these objects and backgrounds is tremendous, as is the vast selection to choose from, and I think they would be a great incentive to keep playing.

I showed this app to my son, 2.5 years, who is not on the spectrum. He really enjoyed playing this game, and I think the focus this app requires had a nice, calming affect on him. I am happy that this app can be enjoyed by many different children in a family, whether or not they may need help learning this social skill.

I am impressed with the concept of this app and I appreciate the thoughtfulness of the “For Parents” section which gives tips on helping kids transfer what they have learned in the app to their daily lives, also touching upon the fact that eye contact is not something all families are comfortable teaching.

Whether or not to try to teach eye contact to someone with autism or Asperger’s Syndrome is a personal decision that each family needs to make for itself, but if eye contact is something one interested is trying to teach, I think this app would be a great choice. Also note: this application is one of a series of apps from developers at FizzBrain which are designed for kids on the spectrum.