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Make Me Music Review

Posted by Amy Solomon on September 26th, 2012
+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad

Make Me Music is a bright and colorful application for babies and toddlers to explore music and sounds.

This is a very easy application for young children to explore as the main page is filled with a bright, artful selection of instruments - some traditional, other common noise-makers found around one’s house, as well as a few inventive choices children will love exploring, including a drum or didgeridoo to sound, pots to clang, or a spider’s web to strum like a harp.

Each of these interments sound with a tap, making this a wonderful cause-and-effect app for the youngest app players who will certainly giggle at the fun sounds such as flowers who laugh like children, a singing bread box and a mooing cow, which is also lovingly included within this app.

Do note that this page scrolls to the right and back including more fun items that would simply not fit on a single screen.

Children can explore these sounds singularly or as they listen to three background choices: a rock music selection, jazz choice and an easy-to-listen-to mode with simple country elements. I like that one can choose to listen to the melody of these songs alone or alongside the rhythm elements, each included on different flower buttons, allowing one to isolate individual sounds separately, play each together, or any variation thereof, along with the tappable instruments included to create fun sounds that one can record and play back.

I do enjoy all that this app has to offer, but it would be nice, however, to give parents the option of turning off the fart noises that are sometimes triggered.

I am a fan of fart noises in some settings, but these cheeky sounds don’t fit in an application so cute and baby-friendly. I also am not fond of the randomness of these sounds, making it difficult to simply avoid their hotspots.

Having said this, Make Me Music is a delight both in the art that has been used as well as the splendid sounds included within. Babies and toddlers will especially enjoy all that there is to explore, as well as their older siblings and even their adults who will enjoy time spent with Make Me Music as well.

Fantasy Music Box Review

Posted by Amy Solomon on August 1st, 2012
+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad

Fantasy Music Box is an interesting universal music app that brings to children the relaxing sounds of classical music with a wonderful sense of style.

I love the look of this app, incorporating wonderful Victorian music box elements which include the wonderfully choppy articulation that one would expect from a wind-up music box of this time, also including the clicking and whirring sounds which really bring these scenes to life with a nice level of realism to this application.

I especially enjoy the main screen used to select individual scenes, complete with dramatic shadows of gears seen off screen, as well as other characters silhouetted, moving along on a conveyer belt which conjures up moody images of the Industrial Revolution as well as including nice steam punk elements. The scene selection consists of wonderfully detailed gears and levers which create new characters from undecorated models that are sprayed and dressed in a way that I find quite captivating - more so even than the main musical areas of this application.

Five scenes are included with their own distinct look while maintaining a period theme, each lovely with a nice focus on details from a ballroom scene, beautiful fairies charmingly help up by wires as if in flight, or a winter scene consisting of dancing soldiers protecting a distant castle.

Interactive hotspots are included throughout these music scenes, but they are minor elements which do not truly interact with the movements of the articulated characters - a detail that I have mixed feelings about as this does bring an added sense of realism as these music boxes were solely intended for looking at, but I think children would appreciate a little more interaction if this is their expectation.

It is, however, very nice that one can go from day to night or back again with the tap of the sun or moon seen on the top of the screen, changing the music that is being played to one of two selection per vignette. The included music also sound very good on our devices, reminiscent of the metallic sounds heard from a traditional period music box.

It is a shame that although iTunes does list the famous composers whose music can be found within this app, such as Mozart, Tchaikovsky or Strauss, the individual information about each song giving proper credit is not included - unfortunate as parents who may be familiar with these pieces of music such as moments from The Nutcracker may not know for sure the name of a specific piece of music or the composer a child is asking about, and there is no reason why this information can’t be readily available.

Having said this, I do find this app both visually as well as sound-wise quite impressive. I have really enjoyed the idea of the elaborate period pop-up books translated to devices, and I am now enjoying these ornate music box scenes as well.

These selections and the included animated illustrations are indeed peaceful and relaxing, making this a very nice bedtime app. I do hope proper credit for these musical scenes can be included as well in a future update.

A Jazzy Day - Music Education Book for Kids Review

Posted by Amy Solomon on May 17th, 2012
+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad

A Jazzy Day is a lovely universal interactive educational storybook that teaches children about the instruments used to play jazz music. Narration is included as well as the ability to read this book by oneself.

Children will enjoy how this app opens up one morning as a daddy cat wakes up his two kitten children early to spend the day learning about jazz, taking a trip to hear Big Band music, meeting musicians and learning about their instruments. The illustrations are cute and include watercolor details that are always appealing. Mild interactive hotspots are also included that will trigger banter and subtle movements from these characters with the tap of a finger.

Soon, the jazz instruments are introduced. I really like the different sections and instruments found here such as the Rhythm or the Bass Section which are articulated with both words, illustrations and animated moments when instruments are tapped, allowing children to see and hear these instruments being played.

I enjoy how animals are used as the musicians such as trumpet-playing dogs, trombone-playing mice or saxophone-playing goats. Really cute details are also included, such as head-nodding or toe-tapping and tail-wagging as the animals perform, really getting into the playing of their music, as well as individual fingers strumming the bass, pressing the keys of a flute or trombone with the chest moving in and out the way one would expect, as well as other charmingly accurate details within these illustrations.

There is a nice interactivity found within this section as children can trigger these animal musicians to play their instruments, but I especially like being able to tap to play the vibraphone - a favorite instrument of mine.

I enjoy how these animals are styled to be very cool as the cat dad wears his red beret to the jazz hall. The other animals wear hip hats or sunglasses or the like, making them look jazzy themselves.

The included instrument sounds are great as well and have been recorded by professional musicians - a nice touch.

Some other sections are included, allowing players to tap to hear the sounds of the instruments as well as to move them around the page and stretch them with their fingers to enlarge them to see details.

I also enjoy the two games: “Find the instruments” where one is asked to find the instrument in question from a page of instruments as well as “Which instrument sounds like this?” where an instrument sound is played that one needs to match to the correct picture. I found these sections nicely done, but I wish it were easier to choose either game because as of now, a tap will bring players to either game rather randomly.

There is also a section that reinforces the names of letters found in these instruments, such as “p” for “piano or “c” for clarinet.

I really appreciate that this app has chosen to focus on jazz music as the other music apps I have seen through iTunes tend to be focused on classical music appreciation instead. For this reason and more, I can easily recommend Jazzy Day for toddlers and the preschool set.

The Noisy Book GAMES Review

Posted by Amy Solomon on March 27th, 2012
+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad

The Noisy Book GAMES is a creative and fun application that allows children to discover the sounds found among objects in their world - some common, some interesting choices for an application such as this. It is also good to know that French as well as English languages are provided, a thoughtful inclusion especially for French speaking, bilingual and other families looking to expose children to languages other than their own.

Parents who have perused iTunes will be aware of the abundance of apps such as this geared toward teaching new sounds, be it animal, vehicle or the like. What makes The Noisy Book GAMES stand out in a crowd is that the included noises are all created with the use of a human voice, not samples from nature or devised electronically, creating whimsical sounds adults will enjoy as much as their children will.

The main section of this app is the book itself, consisting of multiple pages one can scroll through, each containing six illustrations one can tap on to hear narration read in order to explain the object or concept being explored. Listen to these sound effects and enjoy the animated illustration as well, such as “The bee goes ZZZZZZZ...” or “The watch goes tick tock...” but for me, the most interesting selections are those more obtuse, such as the choices of “Pain” or the electrical socket going “no.”

The cute animation included further brings these words to life with nice effect, and I enjoy that these images have the same hand-crafted quality that these voiced sound effects do, keeping this app lovingly low-tech.

One also has the option of reading this book to oneself, recreating the sounds found throughout or coming up with one’s own unique noises.

I appreciate how the different sounds found within are randomly displayed among these pages and that one can flip though pages of this book looking for a specific sound, but I don’t like how after a sound is explored, it is grayed-out and can no longer be selected - an issue for children who may want to come back to a favorite sound over and over again.

After one has enjoyed the sounds found throughout this app, do test one’s memory of these noises as a game. “One, Two, Three sounds” is also included.

The look of this game is similar to a page from the book, consisting of six images. A sound is then heard, challenging players to select the corresponding sound.

This game has a nice level of difficulty, as one needs to remember a lot of sounds, and these answers are not always obvious. I do not like, however, that one mistake ends the game, never allowing children to know what the correct sound was that they were hearing. I would much rather see this as an activity which allows children to simply try again, showing children the correct answer after a few wrong choices, as well as letting players move on to the next question.

A memory game is also included where players turn cards over in order to make pairs - nice touches include choosing between easy and hard difficulty, as well as these cards turning over as quickly as the players can flip them - good to know as the slowness of having to wait for the cards within memory style games is a common complaint.

The last section this app offers is called Noisy Rap, a sound board based on the same layout found in the book and quiz sections. Here one can tap on an image to hear the sound it makes, together with background music also playing. These new songs can be recorded, and it is nice that a demo song is included to hear what can be created with a little practice. This section, as the name of this app implies, is rather noisy and will be a hit or miss depending on what the player finds appealing to listen to, but as a single section, I don’t see this as a major flaw within this app as the book and quiz modes are quirky and fun.

I have enjoyed the various sounds the human voice can make within this app, but I do think the price set for this app is expensive compared to their other apps at this price point, something to think about.

Gus’ Little Coin Review

Posted by Amy Solomon on March 15th, 2012
+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad

Gus’ Little Coin is a very nice storybook that children will enjoy. Taking place in Paris, this tale revolves around the adventures of an anthropomorphic gold coin, named La Petite Pièce, part of the collection of coins a young boy, Gus, has obtained over time. One day, Gus decides to buy a donut with his favorite gold coin because he did not have any other money on him. The rest of this charming tale revolves around the adventures of La Petite Pièce as she travels to New York City and Brazil, having been given to a globe-trotting businessman as change made from the bakery that sold the donut to Gus.

I enjoy how involved this tale is, bringing this gold coin to interesting locations around the world, meeting other anthropomorphic coins with distinct personalities along the way until, and as luck would have it, this coin makes its way back to the pocket of the same businessman during his various travels, becoming once again change that he spends at the original bakery, allowing Gus to reclaim La Petite Pièce, adding her once again to his collection.

Children will enjoy the cyclical nature of this story. I do admit that as this tale began, I was not keen on Gus spending his favorite coin on a donut although doing so does create a nice set-up for this coin to go on an adventure. I am happy how this story redeems itself at the end, as Gus feels remorse for spending his coin on a donut, admitting that it did not even taste too good, presumably from the guilt he felt over his lack of impulse control, allowing parents to have open-ended conversations on why it was a poor choice to spend his coin, deep with sentimental value, on something as inconsequential as a donut.

The look of this app is colorful, and the included narration is enjoyable. It is also nice that both English and French versions are included within this application.

Without interactions, or even the need to turn pages (this happens automatically as the story is read by the narrator), this is a lovely story to sit back and simply enjoy. An index of pages is also included, always helpful especially in a longer story - this one lasting 16 minutes.

Mild animated elements are included that add to the richness of this tale, and four original songs included as well that are equally fun and engaging, introducing children to musicals in general - a nice touch that is not commonly seen in applications.

Gus’ Little Coin is good choice of storybook if one is looking for a tale for pre-school age or older children who have the attention span to follow La Petite Pièce on her travels - good to know as this fun story is a little more involved than other storybooks available.

The Blues Review

Posted by Amy Solomon on February 21st, 2012
+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad
Our rating: starstarstarblankstarblankstar :: INTERESTING :: Read Review »

The Blues is an interesting educational comic book app, the first of its kind to teach about the Blues style of music to school children.

This comic book does a very nice job teaching about the history of Blues music and the influence the Blues has had on other musical genres. Topics such as Geography and African-American history are also presented in a thoughtful way, and I appreciate how this information is made personal with the use of main character Otis's first-person accounts.

This comic book is set in present times, with Otis looking back on his life to tell the story of the Blues, and the first time he heard this style of music. Flashbacks are incorporated to show how after running out of his house one night to chase away an intruder, he instead makes his way to a Juke Joint for the first time, adding a nice coming of age element as well.

I appreciate how history is taught in a conversational style, a terrific way for school aged children to absorb this information about the history of African Americans, including slavery, sharecropping and the invention of a mechanical cotton picking machine that lead to the great migration up north.

It is also great to learn how people made their own musical instruments, as well as background information on spirituals, “call and response’ songs, famous blues artists such as Muddy Waters and the transition to Rock ‘N’ Roll music including Bo Diddley and Chuck Berry, as well as Elvis, the Rolling Stones, plus many other musicians to numerous to list.

The illustrations look great, as is the music that accompanies this app, introducing the different styles of music one reads about. It is also a nice touch that one can double tap the page to enlarge this comic book app to see details and have an easier time reading the text.

Students will find this app engaging, especially as Otis seems as though he is looking and talking directly to the readers throughout as he explains how one can write their own blues song, including a template of sorts to help first time song writers.

It would be nice, however if students had the option to type their new song lyrics directly onto the iPad, as well as tapping the elements of their new blues name from a provided list, adding an some interactivity to this app as well.

It may be worth noting that this app is without narration, and Otis’s dialect is written into the narration, really giving Otis a voice and authentic manner of speaking, but this imperfect writing style may be difficult for some new readers to understand on their own. This would be a great app to share with children however, in both a home as well as a school setting.

Adults will especially enjoy the famous Blues artists touched upon here, and an impressive list of links one can use to gain more information about the Blues. It would be nice, however if the music used throughout this app was properly credited allowing children to learn more about specific musicians they have felt especially engaged by, information that could possibly be added in a future update.

Please note that this app will also be on sale for the month of February, Black History month.

12 Days of Christmas - Polk Street Press Singalong Review

Posted by Amy Solomon on December 21st, 2011
+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad

12 Days of Christmas - Polk Street Press Singalong is a charming iPad application which truly brings the traditional song of the same name to life, as well as re-enforcing number sequencing along the way.

I do so very much love the look of this app, as each of the verses of this song is illustrated by wonderful illustrated scenes demonstrating each of these twelve days, such as Three French Hens or Five Golden Rings, complete with cute animated elements, lovely details and patterns adding to the richness and whimsy of lovingly crafted application.

I find the color palette used here quite pleasing, with warm muted colors alongside brighter color choices of many shades of green, turquoise and orange that I very fond of. The subtle shading and brush strokes used here add to this app's beauty and hand-painted quality that adults and children will enjoy, and I would feel privileged to be able to hang images from this app on the walls of my home.

The animals as well as the people incorporated within are simply adorable. I also greatly appreciate that the people found in such scenes such as the pipers piping, lords-a-leaping or drummers drumming include a variety of skin tones and hair textures which create a nice visual effect as well as a multi-cultural experience, something I would love to see more of in the U.S. iTunes store in general.

Two general sections are included, specifically Playalong and Singalong and I enjoy how this app opens up to 12 images, found in 6 squares - top and bottom - that represent each of the days included in this song - an important element in the Playalong section.

Here, children have an opportunity to learn about number sequencing as this app plays each verse and then pauses, allowing children to tap the number in descending sequence, starting with days 1 and 2, then asking the player to tap the number 1, as it is the start of the long trail of presents received on each day that build as the days go by, ultimately allowing young children to test their number recognition and sequencing skills counting back from day 12.

This app also allows children to record their own version of this song, including simply audio or video as well for iPad 2 users. Options include being accompanied by singing along words with the original recording or singing to an instrumental version by oneself.

The words in this section are not highlighted karaoke-style but are delivered line-by-line as one watches this song’s animation on the top half of the screen. I don’t think the lack of highlighting will make keeping in time with this song difficult since it is so well-known, and I like that one can sing along while being somewhat prompted by the singer to keep in time, or sing by oneself as the instrumental version is being played. Sharing one’s recordings via email or Facebook is made easy, and I also enjoy the fact that one can also watch this lovely illustrated song without making a recording.

12 Days of Christmas - Polk Street Press Singalong is a great app for iPad for any family who enjoys singing or listening to traditional festive Christmas songs. The illustrations used are perfectly realized for this application, and I hope to see more from artist Lesley Breen Withrow in the future.

My First Classical Music App Review

Posted by Amy Solomon on December 1st, 2011
iPad App - Designed for iPad

My First Classical Music App is a wonderfully well-written, engaging and educational app for iPad based on the book of the same name that introduces classical music to children in a way that is most thoughtful and memorable.

This terrific app is broken down into three sections. The first section - specifically “When? Where?” - is comprised of an overview of situations that kids have already been introduced to in music, such as in television or cinema, as well as areas dedicated to dancing, concert halls, weddings and the theatre.

The people section introduces young readers to notable composers from Handel to Stravinsky, and it is nice that modern American composer John Adams is also included.

The instrument section is terrific as it introduces many instruments to children, both with a written and narrated explanation, as well as allowing one to hear each selection played, really bringing these instruments to life.

The App opens to a table of contents that nicely introduces all that this app has to offer, making the selection of any of these topics quite easy.

This book is a great read, complete with excellent narration that is triggered by the tap of each paragraph. Multiple interactive elements exist per page that children and adults will delight in, such as areas that trigger musical samples that further demonstrate the section one is learning about. I really enjoy how Jon Williams, the composer for Harry Potter, is touched upon here - an excellent choice of composers that most kids are somewhat exposed to.

Within these pages, one has a chance to play musical samples and also to listen for a variety of things, such as the use of percussion instruments that add excitement to the musical piece being played, or within the music from the play Peer Gynt, as one is asked to focus on the instruments used to represent the quiet footsteps of the main character as he enters the castle, really asking children to listen intently and with purpose to important elements of the music being heard. I really enjoy watching my son’s face as he listened to these musical selections, as I can tell he is focused on what is being asked of him in terms of music appreciation.

I am impressed with the section that introduces famous composers and their music. This section delivers very interesting facts not only about the music these composers wrote, but about the composers themselves, such as Bach’s 20 children or Brahms's love of collecting toy soldiers. The moods of these composers are also touched upon, such as Beethoven being “grumpy” or the emotions of Tchaikovsky being more sad than happy, and it is fun that composers can be tapped to hear them speak, sometimes giving some insight into their personalities as well, such as a cheeky-sounding Mozart or a melancholy Tchaikovsky.

I also enjoy the section dedicated to instruments, broken up into a nice overview of instruments in general as well as the traditional groupings of the string, woodwind, brass, percussion and keyboard families, with each of these instruments going into further detail as well as into the specific characteristics of each instrument as they pertain to classical music. How the cello is used in the musical piece The Swan as the sound of the cello invokes the sound of the swan gliding across water or how the double bass can be used to produce sounds reminiscent of an elephant swinging its trunk as is found in the musical piece The Elephant are nicely demonstrated.

I especially appreciate how the woodwind, brass and percussion families of instruments are grouped together on the same page as one can play each instrument, really listening for the differences and similarities, as even as an adult, I enjoyed hearing what makes the clarinet and oboe different as well as the sounds of the various kinds of drums, teaching kids the different sounds of the snare drum vs. bongs or tom tom, as well as the wood sound of the xylophone compared to the metallic sounds of the glockenspiel.

The orchestra as a whole is also introduced, as well as the voice as an instrument - a fun and interesting inclusion.

My son and I really enjoy this application. The narration is excellent, and I could tell that my son was really listening to the information provided as he sat up in bed slightly as each classical music piece played, sometimes commenting on what he previously heard. This app, although recommended for children five and up, could easily be enjoyed by those younger as well. The pages included here are full of interesting tidbits, interactive questions about what is being heard, and other areas to tap. Children will delight in the various animals that are found demonstrating these included instruments as well as dancing and singing within this application.

Because each paragraph needs to be tapped individually, parents can choose how much per page to enjoy in any one sitting so that the youngest readers are not overwhelmed with information, making this a nice first app for toddlers.

It is worth noting that this app does a good job of adding a page of full details to the music tracks found within the app, something I wish other applications that use classic pieces of music would also commit to doing. The music and instrument effects incorporated throughout these pages sound excellent, and adults will enjoy having their children exposed to famous classical music pieces that kids will be captivated by, such as Mozart’s Magic Flute or Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf - selections that make classical music fun and accessible to young ears in a way that could benefit them for years to come.

Although I have laid out the contents of this app, I have no doubt that I have not fully done this app justice, as its greatness lies in the quality of the written text as much as in the music this app delivers. The writing here is thoughtful, full of whimsy and geared towards the minds of children, such as pointing out that Handel is a German composer, not related to a door handle, or the observation that Johannes Brahms looks like Santa but without the red coat or the ho-ho-hoing.

The details that are found on each page that made me smile are too numerous to count, and I have no doubt that children of all ages as well as adults will gain knowledge from the app as well as walking away appreciating classical music a little more than they did before exploring this application.

I did notice, however, that this app begins with the when and where of music, but not an explanation of what music is itself. This app is also missing an explanation of what the term “classical“ music really means, as opposed to the other styles of music could also be found within the places touched upon in this section, such as on TV. or in the movies.

Having said this, the info that is included is wonderfully and impressively written in a clear and clever way that will teach and affect children for a long time to come.

Practice Book Review

Posted by Amy Solomon on August 30th, 2011
iPad App - Designed for iPad

Practice Book is an interesting interactive app for iPad designed to give children the opportunity to trace letters or words dot-to-dot style, enjoying sights and sounds along the way.

Being very simple to use, parents can create templates, connect-the-dot style, involving letters, words or even phrases for children to practice with. It is also nice that one can add their child's name and photo to personalize their experience.

Piano notes can be heard as these letters are drawn and colorful shapes such as treble clefs, musical notes, geometric shapes or letters flow onto the page as the child traces. This interactivity is delightful and I appreciate how scales are used as one moves up and down letters, using the same notes for horizontal lines found in letters like “A” or “L,” adding to the educational value of this app as the player can also hear the differences these letters make as they practice their vertical, horizontal and circular strokes found in the letters of the alphabet.

I am very excited to be reviewing this app as my son is at the perfect age for this application. At 3.5 years, my boy has known all his letters and phonics sounds for a long time, thanks to other educational applications. He has also begun to sound out words and is very aware of words that one may see on random signs found in our daily lives, and has become obsessed with knowing what every written word he sees out-and-about says. My boy also likes to practice writing my husband’s and my names on the walls of our house, luckily with just a finger, but he has not yet shown a lot of interest in writing letters with a crayon or marker on paper.

There is time enough for all of these milestones, but with all of the interest in reading he is showing, I thought he would be enjoy this application, and I was right. My son loves spending time with this app, connecting the dots to both basic letters and to the words “mom” and “dad,” as well as to our first names, his own name and the names of his favorite toys and animals. Parents and children will bring as much or as little to this app as their imagination will muster, and I am as proud of my son’s new-found ability in his fine motor stills as I am with his impressive list of words that he is eager to write and talk about.

Because my son is new to creating letters, this is an app we work on together. I may demonstrate the correct way to connect the dots in terms of the up or down motions commonly used to make letters or give him simple instructions that he can follow by himself. Sometimes I hold his hand and together we trace over template in the hope that his muscle memory for writing these letters will develop. We often use a stylus as well to get used to holding a pencil to write.

I appreciate that numbers can be incorporated here as well, but not lower case letters or most of the grammar icons one would find on the keyboard, something that would have been interesting since there is room to work with complete sentences and it would be nice to introduce my son to the use of periods, question marks and exclamation points.

It would also be a wonderful addition if arrows and numbers were added to show what strokes are commonly made first and in which direction they are intended, in order to make the most out of this app when kids use this by themselves. I think it is also important that musical notes and decorations would still play if one needs to trace back over a space already filled in, as in the letters “B” or “G,” to encourage the printing of these letters in the correct fashion that is taught in school and which makes the most common sense. As for now, my son sometimes enjoys connecting these dots not always in order and I wish that this app and others like it could out-smart this behavior by not reacting to tracing connections made out of sequence in this dot-to-dot activity.

I do like the aspect of creating a practice book that kids can go back to and work on alone and it is nice that one can create titles for each page and outlining their content, as these pages can fit a lot of characters if one so chooses, but when I tap on a previous page found in the table of contents this app believes that I am trying to email this page to friends instead of working off this specific section - something I hope can be worked out in a update soon.

My son and I spend a lot of time working with this app, more than I would think an attention span of a boy his age would allow, but my son is smitten by the use of music and visual effects used when connecting the dots as these elements keeping him engaged for a very long time. I really like that these effects can be stimulated by just the tapping of these dots, giving me the ability to tap around in the correct direction and giving him the chance to follow my lead and allowing him to fill in these lines for himself. I have seen other apps like this, but these audio and visual effects make for a most enjoyable experience, and it is great fun creating new and personal words to practice.

Often times I comment how my son does not know that he is learning when in reality he is, but here, he is well aware of what he is absorbing while working on this application and gains a great sense of accomplishment from the time he spends with this app. I am impressed with my boy’s ability to understand that he is learning and his eagerness to do so. I am very happy to have the chance to review this application.

Loopy Tunes Review

Posted by Amy Solomon on August 4th, 2011
+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad

Loopy Tunes is a very interesting universal musical application, allowing players to layer different instrumental sounds and the like together to create unique musical pieces.

It is nice how both individual sounds that play once when tapped are included, as well as many looping sounds and bits of music that play continuously until silenced with a touch.

This app opens to the lovely view of what is reminiscent of a vintage radio or television face, which includes a top and bottom row of sections that one can tap. The top row involves eight areas that play individual sounds with the touch of a finger. Note the left bottom of the screen where five small yellow knob-like button selections are offered. As one explores here, the top row of individual sounds will change from a series of milk jugs, piano notes, and different instrument options as well as a group of abstract sounds, all of which make a single sound when tapped.

The bottom row consists of five areas to choose from each with sounds that are looped and will play until silenced, with the lower right knob-like red buttons controlling these selections. Sections that include a very pretty series of sounds illustrated with dancing girls, a ballerina, flower, butterfly, and ladybugs, A really fun space motif with aliens, spaceships, planet choice, and an astronaut is included in another section, as is a series of dancing ballerinas, farm, and dinosaur themes. Experiment with each of these areas, turning on and off any or all of these looping sounds to create musical pieces of varied complexity.

Adults will enjoy this app as much as kids will, experimenting with the looping sections that sometimes include simple samples of musical instruments like bass, piano, or percussion found in some creative motifs, as well as other sounds that together create very interesting music. Layer as many or as few of these sounds together, adding or reducing these choice at will, noting how these layers change the music made. With a tap, comb the individual sound choices from the top row as well.

I especially like that some of the looping selections are not music, but singing voice samples that, mixed together, create beautiful music as well.

Not only does this app offer many sounds to choose from, it is lovely to watch all of these selections, as each one is animated with simple, beautifully hand-drawn moving illustrations that are all elegant in their simplicity, including many dancing characters from these series, all of which start or stop their animations when their corresponding sounds are tapped on or off.

The top, single selections often offer instruments choices such as xylophone, castanets or hands clapping, each looking wonderful as they play, creating some very nice moments introducing kids to many instruments that come to life with a tap. Also included as well are some abstract images to go with other interesting sounds, such as images of sunbursts or shooting stars to illustrate beautiful sounds that are difficult to describe with words.

Bottom-looped sounds are equally represented with animations, including spinning ballerinas and many other creatures that dance such as aliens, farm animals, and dinosaurs as well as other interesting animated choices.

Kids of all ages will enjoy exploring this app with all it has to offer. I have struggled somewhat to explain this app in word, and I hope that this review does the app justice as it is very creative and fun to get lost in. I do wish one could record her tracks, however - just a thought for a future update. It is also worth noting that this app was designed for and looks best on the iPad, as the details of this app look a little small on the iPhone but are still enjoyable, and I am glad that the developers chose to make this universal, especially for owners of both devices.

Do also check out this developer - Trustee for the Tokeru Trust’s other apps, especially “A Fine Musician,” an interactive storybook for both iPad and iPhone that I have enjoyed very much, also reviewed here at Giggle Apps.

Apolline & Leon Review

Posted by Amy Solomon on August 3rd, 2011
+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad

Apolline & Leon is a lovely and fun interactive universal storybook app that kids and adults will enjoy. This app includes an impressive nine languages, English, French, German, Spanish, Italian, Russian, Portuguese, Chinese and Japanese, making this an excellent app for bilingual families or for those who may want to expose their children to the sounds of a different language. One can listen to narration or choose not to, and I like that a summary of pages is also included - always a nice addition.

This first episode, The Witch Of Tuileries, is about two children with vivid imaginations who believe that an old woman they see at the park is really a witch, following her home to investigate further. My son and I really enjoy this story, a mystery of sorts, a genre that is new to my son. It was interesting to me to see my son’s reaction to this story as he listened to the excellent narration intently. The room got very quiet as he witnessed a boy leaving with this old lady, having crossed the street to her house. As a parent, I am glad that this rang an alarm bell in his head as something that may be potentially dangerous. Luckily this story ends well, and I could see relief come to my son's face as the ending unfolded.

I like the use of interactions here as there is a nice moment when the old woman forgets a box, and the children have fantasies about what could be inside, complete with some fun things to touch and investigate. Once the box is opened and music sheets are found inside, the reader has an opportunity to touch the notes found on these sheets, hearing a new instrument per page turned for a very nice effect. Other, varied interactions are offered here as well, do search for them. I like how when the old woman is escorting a child to her home, one must tap the cross-walk button, an interaction that one may need to be pointed out to children. We had a lot of fun looking through the woman's key hole of her apartment as well, among other interactions.

The illustrations are very nice here, as are the interactions and music used throughout. The narration is of a very high quality, and although I am not one to judge the narration of the other languages, these developers take pride in using professional actors for the narration - something I find worthwhile, to say the least.

Adults will enjoy the imaginations of these children, looking at the world from their point of view. There are a few potential teachable moments here as well, as these kids unkindly assume the worst from this woman because she is old. Also, there are issues about their own personal safety and boundaries because following a stranger home is not really a good idea and could have ended very differently. For now, my son and I have just enjoyed this book for fun. I look forward to the next episode of Apolline and Leon in the future.

Baby’s Musical Hands Review

Posted by Amy Solomon on July 18th, 2011
+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad

Baby’s Musical Hands is a very nice and colorful interactive app for the youngest family members. The iPad screen is filled with 15 brightly colorful squares which nicely take up the entire screen.

An individual row of red, yellow, and blue pieces are included, each containing five sections to tap on per row, nicely arranged from palest to most vivid. Touch red areas to hear drum sounds, whereas yellow pieces play piano and blue squares play guitar notes. Although the red percussion sections sound more random, it is a simple 5 piece scale that can be played in the piano and guitar sections.

It is nice that colorful stars explode from where this app is being tapped, creating even more excitement, as well as cause and effects for the players to explore. Being a soon- to-be pre-schooler, my son is older than the target audience but still really enjoys tapping about on the iPad’s large screen, listening to sounds and seeing the stars move and colorful sections light up and brighten further when tapped, even enjoying this app with his toes under very strict supervision.

My son has had his fair share of toys that lit up and played music or sounds when specific buttons were touched. Many of these toys, as I remember, were cumbersome in size and we were happy for my son to outgrow these play pianos and such due to the space they took up. Parents will enjoy keeping the app on their iPad instead, not to fully replace activity centers with lots to press, but certainly worth having as the ultimate distraction for babies, especially when traveling or where space is an issue. I would never like to see an app like this used instead of exploring a actual toy up close, but this is a great supplemental choice kids will really enjoy.

It is easy to look at this app as a simple baby and toddler app and nothing more, but there is a level of quality that makes this app stand out from the sea of other apps that perform the same way.

I admire the fact that one can run their finger anywhere over the screen to activate sections with a drag much like one may do over piano keys and that multiple sections pieces can be touched at once, making this a great activity for many fingers or toes to play with, even that of multiple children. These may be subtle issues to some, but greatly increase the play value of an app such as this.

My son and I were impressed when we realized that all of our hands and fingers can work together, a very nice touch not seen in many apps that only respond to a single tap at a time. This app looks and sounds better than many of its counterparts, and something that I appreciate.

Baby’s Musical Hands is a great choice to increase the understanding of cause and effect in the youngest app users, and older family members will have a lot of fun tapping along their side. Nicely conceived and executed, this is an app worth having and would make an excellent baby's first app.

Musical Me! HD - By Duck Duck Moose Review

Posted by Amy Solomon on July 14th, 2011
iPad App - Designed for iPad

Musical Me! is the new creative and fun educational app from the developers at Duck Duck Moose, aimed at stimulating the interest of music in young children. Both iPad as well as iPhone versions are available.

It is great fun how this app stars Mozzarella the Mouse, taking place around the Eiffel Tower, much like Duck Duck Moose's previous app Word Wagon.

Here, visit five activities, nicely varied and beautiful to look at, which include the fundamentals of music in such activities as a Memory section in which a Simon-styled mini-game helps train the memory as the player tries to play back notes heard. Rhythm is taught by tapping birds as they appear left of the screen, as these spacing of these birds teaching about long and short notes. Dance is introduced by the tapping of friendly monsters to make them dance to the beat of music being played, a favorite section of my son’s. My son also really enjoys the instruments section a great deal as he can make his own music nicely accompanied by a selection of upbeat kids songs, with instruments such as drum, cymbals, triangle, egg shaker, or a duck that squeaks just for fun - a nice touch. Another interesting section is included where the player can change the notes used in favorite traditional songs, creating one's own music on a staff. Do tap the other animals one may find amongst these sections to find many surprises that are all utterly Duck Duck Moose.

I enjoy how this app makes use of vertical space as Moz leads the player to different locations with the tap of a finger, from the base of the Eiffel Tower, up into the sky, with the Tower seen in the backdrop as one taps the birds flying by in the rhythm section and up higher into the upper atmosphere to play the memory game, with a nice use of planets that play notes one must memorize and play back. From the sky, Moz takes the players down into the ocean, teaching about notes on a staff underwater, complete with fun water sounds and fish to tap at for fun, and then back to land again to play various instruments.

The sense of space this creates is very good and quite unique. The details of Moz’s change of clothing for the different modes are really fun details as well, ranging from a space suit to wet suit as well as a tux for when he conducts during the instruments section.

The rhythm, memory, and notes section contains three levels of difficulty, and it is impressive that different instruments can be used during these activities such as piano, guitar, or violin, as well as the use of solfège syllable, sung do-re-mi-fa-sol. It is also impressive the amount of popular traditional songs used in this app, both as instrumental as well as sung, and I have greatly enjoyed hearing the verses of these popular songs that I am not familiar with from such tunes as Yankee Doodle Dandie, Pop Goes the Weasel, or The Farmer in the Dell, finding this experience educational in and of itself.

This app has a lot to offer kids of many ages and skill sets. The youngest kids will have fun tapping fun, colorful monsters, making them dance and making music or noise from the instruments offered. Older children will have fun tapping on the birds as they move across the screen. My son, now 3.5 years, also has a lot of fun with the memory mode of this app, watching intently as I play this mini-game for him as he is not yet able to remember the sequencing of these notes, something he will enjoy when he is older, I am sure.

Possibly the most impressive part of this app is the notes section where one can play instrumental versions of many popular kids songs, changing the notes at will with a vertical slide of a finger, watching as these notes' names, sound, and color transform, helping the child visualize the differences they experiences as these notes change. Everything is provided to allow a bright, musically inclined child to decode the basics in the complex task of reading music as they changes notes and listens to the music played back - be it a slightly altered rendition of an included song or a completely new piece of music, but I do wish the spacing of these notes could be moved horizontally on the staff as well to truly create something entirely different.

I have no musical training; keeping in mind parents such as myself, it would be a wonderful inclusion for a future update to include a parents section explaining how best to use this activity, as without prior music instruction themselves, adults may lack the vocabulary to fully articulate what is being explained in this section.

The sounds from each individual note played to the full songs used, both instrumental and sung, sound amazing and this app has a great deal to offer kids of many ages and abilities. You simply can’t go wrong with a Duck Duck Moose app, I look forward to their next app.

abcdefghijklmnopqrstuvwxyz Review

Posted by Nick Papageorge on June 22nd, 2011
+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad

Yes, the name of the app I'm reviewing today is the entire alphabet. From this point on, I'll refer to it as abcdefg for the sake of my fingers.

I stumbled across this app thanks to the title, it initially seemed like a unique way to learn the alphabet and practice word sounds, but I soon found it was that plus a lot more and it turned into a favorite of mine and my daughters very quickly.

Upon opening abcdefg and hitting play, you're presented with a simple and easy to access play field. The alphabet is split into 2 halves, one on each side, running lengthwise on your device. At the top 4 different words: "Gravity", "Crickets", "Vehicles" and "Birds". At the bottom are 5 buttons, "Recycle", "Arrow", "Bomb", "Camera" and "Info". Honestly, this is all that you need to know to get started.

Simply take a letter from either side and drag it into the middle of the screen. When you let go, the letter will go off on its merry way. When my daughters first grabbed it, they dragged a few letters and nothing happened. Once the letters hit the edge of the screen, everything changed.

With gravity (the option selected by default), the letters simply move with your device. Each time the letters hit an edge, the "sound" of the letter is played.

Vehicles zip around the screen, making sounds as they move. Crickets skitter and make sounds when they group up together. Birds is the most diverse, with varied sound, tempo and pitch depending on where/how it's placed.

As each letter moves, it leaves a unique trail behind it, making a visual representation of the soundscape you, I mean your kids, are creating and it's easy to stop a single letter, group of letters, erase the whole picture or take a snapshot of the insanity using the buttons below.

People might dismiss abcdefg, but if you look closer at what the app actually provides, I think you'll find that it's an invaluable tool for kids. In the app, you're a conductor of sound, and you learn concepts like pitch and tempo. You also get a quick into to physics, seeing how the different letters move and interact with each other, things you don't often see in "kid" apps these days.

While abcdefg is no replacement for music lessons, it allows children to draw outside the lines of music and just perform these strange experimental mini-concerts with letters. Some of the things I've heard my daughters create simply blow my mind. They have to experiment in combining sounds together, finding ones that match in tone, pitch, whatever to create an appealing and melodic sound. They also end up with these crazy pictures of letters strewn everywhere. They get to interact with art in a way that I've never really seen, at least not in this medium.

I can honestly say that I think any kid would benefit from putting their hands on abcdefg, even if it's just to increase familiarity with the alphabet and word sounds. Beyond that, it's an introduction to physics and a way for kids to create experimental soundscapes, by simply placing letters on a screen, turning that into honest to goodness music.

For the price and for the features offered, abcdefg is much more than a simple novelty. It's an app that I recommend for kids and adults of any age. It's never too early (or too late!) to make crazy music and pictures. I look back in regret, wishing that I'd have had something even close to this as a kid, it might have gotten me that much more interested in creating and experimenting with music and sound.

PBS KIDS Videos for iPad Review

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

PBS KIDS Videos for iPad is full of fun and a highly educational collection of segments from favorite PBS Kids television shows.

These video clips are all nicely arranged with a simple interface that I am sure kids will have no problems navigating. To the right of the screen is a vertical scroll bar containing many of kids' and parents' favorite PBS kids shows. Tap to select, and one can slide out a menu as well giving the child a choice of many video clips from this TV show. The bottom left hand corner contains parents' information about the specific show and clip being watched as well as other info. The rest of the center screen is where these videos will play; tapping will fill the iPad with a larger letter-boxed version of these clips, removing the other menus.

Kids have the option of selecting many varied choices in video clips, but it also nice that they can relax and watch all the selections from a specific show as they play in order from the menu; the choice is theirs.

I am very pleased with the wonderful shows offered in this app, including our family's favorite show, Sesame Street, as well as other shows my son is familiar with such as Martha Speaks and Super Why, plus many others new to us. I appreciate that there is something for every age of grade school child, including the health- based show Fizzy’s Lunch Lab whose target age range is 6-10, geared to children older than the preschool set whom I commonly think of when PBS kid shows come to mind, primarily, no doubt, because this is my son’s age. Having watched many of these clips, I am sure that older kids will enjoy this app as well, and it can certainly be shared between different-aged children.

There will always be people who think TV is bad for children, and I am sure that the idea of handing your child a portable television per the iPad seems like an even worse idea to some. As a parent, I find that these shows from PBS are undeniably educational, smart, age-appropriate and very socially aware, so I have no issues with my son watching small amounts of his favorite show Sesame Street, unlike unspecific cartoons from a random cable channel, something I would not allow.

This is a wonderful resource for parents, especially when traveling and wanting to keep their children distracted in places like an airport or the airplane itself is of the utmost importance. For at-home use, I do prefer my son to spend his screen time working on puzzles, playing games, creating artwork or listening to a story, much of this time being spend with a parent who is equally involved with the app at hand.

This time with our son is precious family time, but when traveling, I don’t really want to have to entertain my child with “together time” the entire length of the trip, and I think this app would honestly keep him quiet and distracted, keeping my boy happy and not bothering others with the banter that comes along with many of his favorite apps.

We have not traveled a lot as a family yet, one reason being not knowing how good a traveler my sometimes wild child would be, but I think this video player may just be the trick to keep my boy as well as the other passengers sane over a long flight or delay at the airport, as long as I don’t forget to purchase a set of kid-friendly headsets.

Having an older model iPad, I do not know how these videos play on 3G. For us, the use of this app is only in areas that offer WiFi, but I am happy to report that these video clips play effortlessly, which is nice because I do have problems loading clips from other apps that take the viewer directly to youtube.

In all honesty, this is an application that I have not asked my son to test for me, because if I did, I would never hear the end of his asking for this app and I really want his iPad experience to be as varied as possible. We went through this when we first go the “Netflix” app which I had to finally bury in a file, telling my son it stopped working. I know this app would be an even huger hit, which is wonderful in some ways and problematic in others.

I really appreciate the info provided in the parents' section. Here, the name of the show and specific clip are listed, as well as a basic premise of the show, its goals, and age range. If you like a specific clip, you can email yourself a link or post it to Facebook or Twitter. Options for buying the video associated with specific shows as well as info and links to their PBS Kids Apps are included. I am not a fan of in app purchases, but nicely tucked away in a parent's info section is acceptable to me, as well as something many parents may find helpful. You can “favorite’ a show, bringing them higher on the list of shows available, but it would be nice to have a section on the app of previously watched and chosen clips as well. I would also love to see all the names of celebrity guests from Sesame Street as part of the info given about these clips, as not all of them have this information. I know most of these faces but when I can’t place one, I would really like to be able to reference the clip’s info to see who it is. I also like that one can look up local listings for favorite shows as well, very helpful to those staying in hotels away from home.

In the end, it will be the parents' decision regarding when and how much access their children will have to this app. Having said this, this free app is a simply wonderful collection of very special video clips from children’s shows. I think that this would be my son’s new favorite app, something I will keep in mind when I am looking for the ultimate distraction.