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Hildegard Sings Review

Posted by Amy Solomon on July 20th, 2011
iPad App - Designed for iPad

Hildegard Sings is a really fun interactive storybook app from the developers at One Hundred Robots that includes a great story, some nice interactions and interesting extras. Options include narration or reading this book on one’s own, and it is nice that the sound effects and music used can still be enjoyed even with one reading this like a classic book, as well being able to turn on or off these sounds independently as well. Versions of this application are available for both iPad as well as iPhone.

I really enjoy this story about Hildegard Rhineheffer, a hippo who works at a restaurant by day, but whose great passion is the opera, singing in the chorus. Finally, after preparing herself for this very moment, she has gotten the break she has hoped for a very long time - to star in the opera, in a performance in front of the queen, no less! Unfortunately, stage
fright sets in, and Hildegard loses her voice. Many pages of this interesting story include what Hildegard does to try and reclaim her lost voice as she is helped by her opera friends, equally concerned by her predicament. She tries to relax in a bubble bath, eating and drinking comfort foods, getting a new hat, and even going to a fortune teller, but nothing helps. Without giving anything away, the ending of this tale is really fun, especially the great reveal to the secret antidote given to Hildegard, already on stage, by the opera’s tenor.

This story will be loved by kids, but adults will equally appreciate Hildegard's situation. My favorite term for her stress level getting the better of her is “The Yips,” commonly used as a golf or other sports term as a player suddenly loses their abilities. This can sometimes be attributed to physical reasons; other times the problem is similar to that of a baseball
player turned choke hitter, psyching himself out at the plate. I have used this term outside of sports for when a person lets nervousness, fear, or self-doubt get in the way of doing something he was once good at or enjoyed. It is uncomfortable to admit that upon occasion, one may fall into this self-sabotages, and I appreciate this being dealt with in such a light and fun book. I see this type of behavior as my son’s friends refuse to join the group in an activity inexplicably, and as in the story of Dumbo and the use of the "magic” feather, these kids are already know how to "fly," and I love the ending of this book as a way I can touch upon this when I see my son acting like he has “The Yips” in social situations where his nerves can feel like stage fright.

This book is not only a very funny story, but interactions are also included which are nice as well, and I like that there is a subtle use of hints, pointing the reader in the direction of what is interactive, very well-done.

My favorite interactive moment in this application is when a stagehand is trying to lure Hildegard out of her dressing room. Each tap is answered by a line spoken by this stagehand. They are very witty and numerous, sounding like a never-ending supply of one-liners to get Hildegard to open the door, and I can honestly feel her discomfort. This scene, along with her expression and tears, really conveys her feelings, including how the one-liners are funny but the situation is also kind of sad. Other nice moments include popping balloons in Hildegard’s bath as well as the tossing of tomatoes at the stage as she worries about what will happen when she is performs.

Parents will greatly enjoy that this opera is none other than Wagner's Ride of the Valkyries, made famous in the Bugs Bunny cartoon, What's Opera, Doc? commonly referred to as “kill the rabbit.” The costume of breastplate, blond braids and horned helmet that Hildegard wears is unmistakable, as is the music which adds a nice sense of drama even for children who are not familiar with the cartoon.

This application can and will be enjoyed by the entire family. One does not need to use this story as a platform to talk about stage fright or "The Yips" as I would call it, but it is nice that one can reference this tale in this way if the situation arises.

Readers will also enjoy the extras included: a memory game where one turns cards over to make pairs, a wonderful series of opera posters staring Hildegard with sly humor parents will appreciate, as well as a nicely written epilogue, something I wish I saw more often in storybooks. A glossary of opera terms will also be added, something I am excited about.

I am happy that Hildegard Sings, a story based on a book now out of print, is available to iPhone and iPad users. I really enjoy this app. I have been a big fan of each of One Hundred Robot's applications, I am excited to see what they come up with in the future.

Zachy the Robot - Episode 1: The Leaning Tower of Robocity Review

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

Zachy the Robot - Episode 1: The Leaning Tower of Robocity is an excellent universal interactive educational app that combines very well-done cartoon sections with interactive areas that nicely explain basic engineering concepts to children 3-7 years.

This wonderful app takes place in Robocity where boy robot, Zachy, his sister Nikki, and their friends have the task of fixing things that break in the city around them. The app expertly infuses S.T.E.M concepts (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) into this interactive cartoon, here specifically engineering - fixing things as they break, such as a lamppost
that is tipping to one side or a building that is also leaning, giving the player choices on what supports are needed to steady these structures.

I really appreciate how varied the support choices are, such as a triangle or circular support, as well as other choices that are too small or just right. The best part about these interactive sections is that the wrong choices are able to be played out and to see how these choices would effect the structure using the appropriate gravity and physics. The wrong answers
are explained very thoughtfully in a way that kids will comprehend - a very important feature as many times a person learns more from his mistakes than from correct answers, which are also nicely explained. I am very impressed by the ability of this app to explain these engineering concepts in such an articulate fashion.

It is also good how the tasks at hand are also varied in term of problems to solve. Later, after the small job of fixing a lamp pole is complete, the gang must tackle a larger problem of a building on the verge of collapse, and photos of real landmarks like the pyramids or the Eiffel Tower are used to learn some other basic engineering concepts about building structures, like how the bottom of the structure is wider at the base than at the top. There is also a great lesson to be learned when a robot stretches himself high in order to support the building in question and he himself needs some supports as stretching makes him prone to toppling over as well.

Not only is this app educational, but the cartoon section is excellent as well, reminding me of the best programming PBS has to offer - high praise to be sure. The animation is excellent and colors used are very bright and engaging, as are the narration and music that are used. Of note is the use of five fingers per hand on these robots - something not commonly seen in animation, a detail that stands out, adding to the richness that make these robots seem utterly human and relatable.

I really like how the interactive sections and the photos used of real structures have a subtle windowpane pattern, reminiscent of grid paper used in drafting which can be faintly seen, all the better to see which end of a building is wider, or the tipping of a structure - a very nice touch.

If you ask an engineer what toys they had growing up that had encouraged an interest in science later in life, a typical answer may be erector set or a working gears toy. I think this application can be added to the list of activities that can create an invaluable appreciation in science and engineering. I am very excited to share this app with my son, and I can’t want for the other chapters of Zachy the Robot to come out as well, focusing on other S.T.E.M subjects.

HowDo Games Review

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

HowDo Games is a very nice educational universal app that uses wonderful high definition photos and sound effects to explain the sequencing of various events, allowing adults to teach in further detail such things as the planting of tomatoes or how honey is made.

I can remember asking my dad, an engineer, science questions such where rainbow come from. His response typically was to pause and ask me if I wanted the short or the long answer. This app does a very nice job of explaining the short answer to many of these types of questions.

There are six sections including nature, man-made products, animals, journeys, fixes, and development, whether it be of baby steps or learning to play the piano.

The interface is very simple; there is a row of six icons at the bottom of the screen that one can tap on to be brought to the various themes. Each theme has a page of nine individual stories that can be chosen with a tap, and tapping will forward the player to the next image through the four to nine pictures used per story.

I really like how interesting and a little different these selections are, such as the nature section including where rice comes from - something many adults may not fully understand.

The man-made section stories are nice and unique as well, with choices ranging from molding chocolate to jewelry design and painting a picture. The animal section is especially well-done as the life cycles of a bird, turtle and butterfly are included, as well as many cute mammals - really showing how many different animals come to exist, my son really enjoying the frog metamorphosis.

I enjoy this app a great deal. The photos are excellent, as are the sounds used for each picture. One of the first apps we bought was a “white noise” application that was very relaxing and included some great images and sound effects that my son really enjoyed listening to and looking at. He was less than two years and could name “Amazon rainforest” or “rain on car roof” just by hearing the sounds - a game that he really enjoyed. This app reminds me of this early activity I played with my son. The sound effects used here are equally impressive, with the added educational benefit of these complete stories that do a lot to help explain some very interesting things as well as to foster a greater understanding of complex storytelling and the concept of beginning, middle, and end.

Kids will really enjoy tapping each image to see the sequencing of these events and I think that kids by themselves would enjoy the sights and sounds that this app has to offer, but will get the most benefit working with an adult who can really explain what they are looking at, since things likes raindrop prisms or how bees store nectar to later create honey are not specifically mentioned. These explanations are left to the adult who will enjoy this app very much as well.

Undoda - Children's Storybook and Multimind Games Review

Posted by Amy Solomon on June 24th, 2011

Undoda - Children's Storybook and Multimind Games is an interesting universal application containing a story as well as three educational mini-games.

The story about Undoda is a complex one. Undoda is a chinchilla who is thought of as an outcast by the other children for his ability to see the world in reverse, setting himself off from others. Undoda is also very creative, and with the help of his professor father, tries to make himself airborne, giving chinchillas the gift of flight and creating an adventure for himself away from the island he knows as home, the only place he has ever been. On a failed test flight, Undoda is fortunate to meet a new bird friend, Amira, and learns about another land where ‘land-locked” animals need to be protected by birds. Amira and her friends are part of a rebellion to stop the evil “Bird Clan” birds from hurting the flightless animals, as doing so gives all that fly a bad name.

The next part of this story is very confusing to me as many of the plot points are connected together. From what I understand, Undoda, being held hostage by the Bird Clan, is forced to make a device that will ultimately lead to the destruction of his home island. This is not necessary as Undoda discovers their sacred book of Saw, much like the Book of Was from his island, that when put together, they create the key the Bird Clan is looking for without the need to destroy Undoda’s home. Things get way worse, and an even more dangerous and evil bird villain is unleashed, having been kept from endangering anyone for a very long time. In the end, the rebellion and Undoda go through a portal to another world, a land before their own, highlighted by the Golden Gate Bridge in a memorable Planet of the Apes-esque moment, also bringing back a character who died via their version of what I assume is a space/time continuum.

I enjoyed much of this storybook. The illustrations are simply top-notch, rivaling those one may see coming from the biggest Hollywood studios for animated films. I like the idea of Undoda leaving the island and needing to learn about his new surroundings, such as the new animals he encounters along the way. I am also intrigued by the storyline about the bird rebellion, as this reminded me of historical moments one could chose to talk about with your child if he is old enough to understand. I also liked very much the few moments that combine modern cityscapes with the untouched land of Udoda and company, even if I was not quite sure what it was all about. I did not like the end, however, as it weaves many plot points and abstract thoughts in the space of a few pages that I did not fully understand. This last section of the story, to me, read like a novelization of the second half of a full length feature, condensed and difficult to follow. I also did not fully understand what is actually the “gift of being able to see the future in reverse,” how this works, or what it means as it is a major theme of this book.

Recently, I came across an article online about this app, explaining that this reverse view of the world is a metaphor for dyslexia. I am glad to have come across this article, as I appreciate this app tackling this issue. Undoda may not be fully understood by his peers, but his his different learning style is also wonderful gift, helping him, for one, reverse-engineer flying devices and other projects for the good of his friends. It also explains why this app opens up with a bully taunting Undoda about being always backwards and late, something that bothered me, but I now see why this was included. There is simply a lot going on towards the end for my personal taste in a short amount of time, plot-wise.

Older grade school kids with dyslexia may enjoy this story a lot as it includes a protagonist they can relate to, and they will not feel condescended to as this story can obviously be enjoyed by their age range, and will be effective for any child who is made to feel like an outsider, with or without any learning issues.

This app also includes three mini-games which have spelling-related concepts. There is a maze section where a player tips his device to pick up letters as he proceeds. An arcade- style flying game is also included, as is a memory-style section, different than most as the cards flipped over may have some degree of rotation to them that the player makes equal between both halves of the letter or number in question.

Originally, I was confused by the various game play, as even on the first of three difficulty levels, these games seem more advanced that the level of words offered, as one must do a great deal to collect a few letter that make up a word, but these factors may marry well for grade schoolers with dyslexia. My first thought about the memory game is that it would be difficult for a dyslexic player, before knowing this app's connection to learning issues. Maybe this challenging memory game is in fact educational, even helpful for some, but I would recommend a mode where one just has to remember the positioning of pairs as I can see the mirrored or rotated images one must match up and rotate to create to be simply too hard or frustrating.

I am glad that there are three sections included: one where you can focus on the story straight away, play the games by themselves, or play a game in between each chapter of this book, an experience I found less seamless going from story to game than other interactive story and game apps, something that took me away from the story, but others many not have this problem.

I hope to not to come across as highly negative about this application. I am greatly impressed with the artwork used here, and I think that kids who learn differently need role models they can look towards, Undoda is a great choice for this. I am not a fan such plot heaviness, however - a personal choice. Having said this, if one is looking for a story that has a lot going on well beyond a simplistic storybook, complete with educational mini-games, this is a good app to look at. Personally, I would add a bit more about the connection to dyslexia both in the itunes description, as well as an info section for adults, as this information helped me appreciate this app for what it is. One can search the word “dyslexia” in iTunes. I hope this app can be added to this list as it would be a good choice for anyone doing such a search. This is not to say other typical kids won’t enjoy this story, but kids with dyslexia and their parents may especially respond to this character and enjoy this story even more.

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.

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.

Moo, Baa, La, La, La Book Review

Posted by Nick Papageorge on June 9th, 2011
+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad

I'm going to come right out and say this. I love Sandra Boynton. To me, she is the most prolific children's story writers to come out in this generation, specifically for younger children. I put her alongside Dr. Seuss and Robert Munsch, and that's high praise.

"Moo, Baa, La, La, La" is produced by Loud Crow, the makers of the PopOut! book series (Peter Rabbit, Night Before Christmas, etc). Their books have been showcased by Apple for a reason, they are top notch in quality and production values. Designed to simulate a real "pop-up" type book, they include characters that spring when you touch them, tabs that move various parts of the book, and windows, doors and such that open and close. It really does give the books a tactile feel, and I honestly believe these books have more interactive elements than most on the app store.

It's clear that "Moo, Baa" is a silly book. It starts out normal, with a cow saying "Moo", a sheep saying "Baa", but the next page you lift up a curtain and it's 3 singing pigs saying "La, La, La!".

Like with most books in the app store, you can choose to read it yourself or have "The Big Guy Read it" for you. This book has an especially special narrator, Sandra Boynton's son, Keith (trivia fact, Sandra's middle name is Keith).

Inside, interaction ranges from touching Rinos to hear them Snort and Snuff, pulling back dogs like a slingshot to send them running at 2 cats saying "Meow". As the dogs leap after them, they leave their collars behind to hang in mid-air, a very cute touch.

Like most "board books", it's short, coming it at about 12 pages, but it's no slouch. Each page offers so much to the touch, almost everything you see does something, even if it's as little as a sound. My daughters spent probably twice as long enjoying the pages, the interaction, the art and the humorous sounds as they did of just the story. Hearing them laugh while touching each of the singing pigs at the start never gets old.

Now, the story itself is probably targeted to younger children around the age of 1 - 4, because of its simple language. The sentences are simple and they mostly consist of animal sounds except for the last of the book. It's a magical ending and one that will yield different results for everyone who reads it.

I would like to make it clear that even though the book is designed for younger children, you don't have to be young to enjoy it. My daughters are 6 and it is still one of their favorites. Because they're now fairly advanced readers, they're able to read the entire story easily and without having to struggle. In the path to learn how to read, I find this is far more important than pushing kids to read longer words before they're ready. I figure they'll probably be done with the book in a year, but between the physical book and this, I've gotten an easy 5 years out of it, not a lot of books that have that kind of staying power.

So, is "Moo, Baa, La, La, La" worth your $3? Yes, yes and yes. It's a simple story that's an amazing read for children, especially ones who are very young. It scales to older children who are learning how to read, and allows for easy comprehension. The app design is great, and the interaction is one of the best on the app store. You owe it to yourself, and your kids, to check it out.

Word Wagon Review

Posted by Amy Solomon on June 9th, 2011
iPhone App - Designed for iPhone, compatible with iPad

Word Wagon is a wonderful application from the developers at Duck Duck Moose that teaches letters, phonics and two levels of spelling in this very well done educational app. Recently an iPad version of this app has been released, which includes seven letter words as well.

I enjoy this application very much, as does my son, now three. We are not new to the world of letters and phonics apps, and I believe they have helped my son know all his letters by two. My son has also learned all of his phonics sounds from various applications.

It is not uncommon for these letters apps to work in a similar way to Word Wagon, as one must match the letters of a specific word, dragging corresponding letters to the letter boxes that make up the word in question. This is an effective way to teach letters, phonic sounds, and object names and is surely more engaging than learning a rote spelling lesson, but they often lack the fun factor of many other apps.

Word Wagon stands out among this style of apps as it possesses a quirkiness and charm that these apps, excluding some notable exceptions, don’t typically have. Here, you get to meet Mozerella the mouse and his little bird friend Coco. The introduction of this app is simply darling, and I love that this app takes place near the Eiffel Tower.

The word puzzles are as described above, in the letters and phonics section, one matches the letters of a word, dragging these letters into the letter boxes that make up the word in question. Later, in the spelling modes, these letter boxes are empty and need to be filled; copying the letters is not an option. When the word is finished, the phonic sounds which make up this word are also spoken and each letter or letter combination is highlighted.

I also like that in the letter section, the letter names are the focus without the phonic sounds, being a nice primer for those who are new to basic letters, as this app grows nicely with the child’s ability. I like that both upper as well as lower case letters can be chosen, a nice touch and a thoughtful inclusion missed in many letters games. In the future, it may be interesting to add a mode where letters in harder sections need to be put into their boxes from left to right the way words are spelled in English.

It is very charming how Moz the mouse jumps over these objects as they move past him on a conveyer belt, giving the player a choice of what word to tap and learn about, an element my son really enjoys. The object can be tapped to hear the name being narrated and the letters can be tapped for their names as well. There are six sections such as colors and numbers, animals, or transportation. My favorite mode is “Moz and Coco,” which is a more personal section regarding these two characters. This section can have more of a puzzle element as sometimes arrows will point to Moz’s ears or tail to explain “ears” or “tail” as key words, with other varied words included such as “love.”

No matter what section or level one chooses to play, the best aspect of this app may be being able to tap Moz or Coco to hear their delightful banter full of whimsy, keeping this game light and fun. Moz may dress up like a ghost, they may play a simple game of “hide and seek,” or it may even rain pickles. This lets the player take a break when desired, keeping this app light and fun, encouraging continued game play.

It is nice that one can re-visit the words already mastered, and that one earns stars along the way for finished word puzzles, as these stars can create constellations in the night sky in the shape of animals as a reward for a job well done, this area of the app is both very lovely to look at and fun to play with.

What impresses me the most about this app is that these developers have included words past the simple “Cat” and “Dog” words found in most phonics games in later sections of this app. Words are included with group letters and sounds together, such as “st,” “ch” and also mixing vowel sounds as well, such as “ea” in “ears” as well as silent letters, such as “e” at the end of a word, like “love,” and it is great that this silent letter is highlighted like the rest of the letters but left silent when the phonic narration begins, really explaining how the "e" in this word is special. I have never seen these more advanced phonic sounds tackled in an app before and it is impressive.

My son has known for quite some time all the sounds the letters make and has been able to sound out the simplest of words by himself, but until now I was at a loss as to how to teach him these more advanced phonics that will make the difference between truly reading and merely being able to pick a few easy words from a page.

This app allows a child the chance to learn how to decode words for himself, and I think this will go a very long way to actual understanding of language. Although my boy is not ready to play the new spelling level recently added to the HD version of Word Wagon on his own, I like to play this section with him, as I think it is great just for him to see what different letter combinations look like and sound like together with words such as "cheese." involving "ch" sound, the double vowel combination and silent letter at the end.

English is a difficult language to learn and I am very happy to have this app, which I think will make things a little easier for my son. Best of all, this app will not feel like work, something very important as some do not want to turn a child off from reading by taxing him with activities that are boring or simply not a lot of fun. I think this would also be an excellent app for English-as-a-second-language students, young and old alike, as well as special needs students who may not only benefit from the language aspect of this app, but from Moz and Coco’s social interaction as well as well as the exposure to the nuances of the English language.

Although this app will entertain and teach kids on their own, I do think children will get the most out of this app if played with an adult who can further explain what they are learning, especially regarding the more advanced phonic sounds.

The Going to Bed Book Review

Posted by Nick Papageorge on June 7th, 2011
+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad

"The Going to Bed Book" is one of two Sandra Boynton books available on the app store (the other is "Moo, Baa, La, La, La") and like "Moo, Baa" it is a fantastic book with top notch production value that takes a great story and adds some unique and wonderful interactive elements, making it a joy to read both as a parent and for our children.

"The Going to Bed Book" is produced by Loud Crow Interactive, the makers of the PopOut! series (Peter Rabbit, Night Before Christmas, etc). Loud Crow has been featured in the app of the week as well as New And Noteworthy because they're fantastic. They are designed to simulate a real "pop-up" type book, with characters that spring from the page, tabs to move back and forth, windows/doors to open. It really does give the books a tactile feel, and I honestly believe there is more interactivity in their books than almost any on the app store to date.

As with most of Sandra Boynton's books, they are very silly, and "Going to Bed" is no different. It's a story about a boat full of about 10 animals getting ready to go to bed. You get to follow them through quite a few different activities to get them there, starting with scrubbing them clean in the bath to scrubbing their teeth in the sink.

This interaction in the book is similar, in a very good way, to the PopOut! book series. There's not a single page that's left out from interaction. You can tilt your iPad and it'll swing a chain that's hanging, you can touch on an animal and they'll bounce like they're on a spring. Another you touch will squeak, moo or make some other sound. I hate to spoil this, but it's too good not to talk about... At one point in the bathroom, you get to turn on the hot water tap and very slowly and subtly, it starts to fog up the entire iPad screen. It's terrifically realistic and once it's done, you... I mean, your kids, get to use their fingers as a squeegee to clean off the screen. Yes, it's silly, but it's a really nice touch.

The story is about 13 pages long and allows you to either read it yourself or "Have the Big Guy Read It". The narrator is perfect as his voice is deep, warm and inviting, like the perfect grandpa. With the narration off, you can touch on each of the words to hear them spoken aloud, something I find important in the path to learning how to read.

On that note, the language in the book is very simple. There is more of a complete story here than you'll find in "Moo, Baa", but the language is still very easy to understand and comprehend. I'd still say the age range for the direct target would be 1 - 4, but I can confidently say that this would be a hit for children as young as 6 months to as old as 6 or 7 years old. My daughters still absolutely love it and I believe they will at 7, a testament to the quality of the story and humor.

It is clear by now that I'm smitten with these books. But it's not that I'm blinded by the author, if the books weren't good I'd be the first to say it. But they are good. No, they're great. They're experiences that shaped my daughter's early years of reading, and I hope that you'll find they do the same for yours, too.

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.

The Ugly Duckling - Kidztory animated storybook Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Toca Tea Party Review

Posted by Amy Solomon on May 4th, 2011
iPad App - Designed for iPad

Toca Tea Party is a wonderfully creative app from one of my new favorite developers, Toca Boca. This app creates a lovely interactive tea party environment which has become a huge hit with our entire family.

This is a wonderful iPad app which simulates a tea party for three, be it a child and two adults, a child and two dolls or stuffed animals, or three toys with the help of little hands. This app has been enjoyed in our house in every conceivable way and I can say that my husband, son, and I all love this application.

Being very intuitive, my son needed very little help from me to be able to play tea party by himself and his animal friends. One is given a choice of three tablecloths and different colorful plates that one can mix or match at will as well as a choice of wonderful treats to serve, as well as what I assume are coffee, tea and pink lemonade.

Once all the selections have been made, it is time to gather up the guests and enjoy the party. Tap the desserts to take bites, tap the cups to take a drink. Serve treats when plates are empty, and do top off the cups with whatever you fancy. It was a wonderful surprise the first time a cup was spilled and needed to be cleaned up, and I simply love the way the color of the drink is shown being absorbed into the napkin. Lit candles create a fancy mood which I would never allow in real life, but here it is safe and lovely. Tap to light or put it out, another nice touch from a recent update. Be sure to change the music on the radio as one can listen to an upbeat jazzy selection or a more relaxing and subdued country tune, an element my husband thinks makes this app.

It is fun that when a guest has finished a plate or drink, this app asks for sometime specific for each guest. Feel free to meet this request, or give something of your own choosing. When the plates are empty and the last treat has been served, it is time to do dishes! Drag the empty plates and cups into the dish pan or hold the iPad up for all the dishes to slide into the soapy water. One can also move the dishes around the page before cleaning up as well. The sound effects used for the eating, sipping, even knocking over a cup are cute and fun, adding to the life of this animated app, especially for the toy guests.

This is a true hit with our son, who is obsessed with play food, play kitchens, and play dish sets. He is quite the tea party thrower and often drags little plastic pieces all through the house, changing his party's location, much to our dislike of this. I do not expect this app to take the place of tea parties with real plastic ware, but it is nice that he can play this app on our sofa without losing any pieces as our sofa likes to eat small toys. It is also fun and relaxing to play tea party in bed at night without a huge cleanup.

A born caregiver, my boy really enjoys cleaning spilled cups as this is something he can utterly succeed at, as well as giving a hand to one of his stuffed friends. My son, however, does not have much of a sweet tooth and at first he really wanted to feed bananas to his animals. It would be nice to see some vegetable or fruit choices for those who want something lighter. It would also be fun for milk and sugar to be options in this app as the details of the sugar slowly disappearing and the milk lightening up the coffee or tea, adding even more to look at and play with.

I like that this this app is very open-ended, but there are some basic rules as well, such as serving each plate before one can start eating, or how you must clean up a spill before pouring more to drink. It is also nice how after finishing the desserts, one goes to the dish-washing stage, but it would be good if one could finish their drink first before everything is taken away.

Some kids may also want an endless game where they can select more food after the first round is finished. My son plays this game multiple times in one sitting and enjoys the fact that the tablecloth and plate choices change from party to party, but I do think some kids may want to just select more desserts and keep the game going without any distractions.

This app will be loved by a wide range of children, and I also recommend this application for children with special needs as it is a wonderful way to practice social interactions with other adults, children, or alone by themselves.

Every adult interested in children's app should become familiar with Toca Boca. They know what kids like and they certainly deliver. I hope they come up with many new exciting apps to come.

Bob Books #1 - Reading Magic Review

Posted by Amy Solomon on April 27th, 2011
iPhone App - Designed for iPhone, compatible with iPad

Bob Books #1 - Reading Magic brings the Bob Books series to life as a fun, engaging and very educational interactive application that helps pre-readers become early readers as they practice letter recognition, phonic sounds and beginner spelling. As with other Learning Touch apps, do check out the options as many thoughtful choices are included, personalizing the experience. Versions for both iPhone and iPad are available.

I really enjoy using this application with my three year old son. In a creative and fun way, this app uses short and simple words as well as sight words that make up easy sentences which become animated scenes acting out what is being described, such as “Mat sat” or “Sam has a cat.”

The various objects or persons used in these sentences also become the focus of a very nice word game where one matches up the letters that make up the spelling of the word in question, dragging and dropping these letters to their rightful places in letter boxes that together make up this specific word.

I think it is especially nice how the illustrations used in these word games are black and white but turn to color when the word puzzle is solved, and I appreciate how an animated scene which follows the puzzle completion also turns from black and white to color, as this scene nicely follows through on what has been learned.

This delivery would make this app not only a nice learning letters-and-phonics exercise, but also an exercise for learning basic vocabulary, object as well as verb comprehension, and as a useful as a tool for kids learning English as a second language, as well as for kids with special needs as it teaches not only the principles of reading and spelling, but also the basics of how to communicate with words.

I am happy that one gets to choose either letters or phonics to be used during these word games, as either the letter names or phonic sounds are spoken when a letter is tapped during these exercises and again when the game is complete to emphasize what has been learned. These options make this app appropriate for kids new to letter recognition as well as for early readers familiar with phonics, and it is great that this app will grow with a child taking them through many levels of literacy development. This app is content-rich, with 12 scenes and 32 words - just the right length for my son who showed signs of not being 100 percent focused only as the last scene was finishing up. Until then, he was very engaged and eager to play this game.

This app includes four levels of difficulty, ranging from being able to copy the letters as one drags and drops letters to their rightful places, as one it able to match the spelling seen in the letter boxes. Later, one can still copy the spelling, but the words must be completed from left to right in correct spelling order. The difficulty progresses to where one cannot copy the spelling, and finally, one must choose the correct letters as well as extra letters that are mixed in, adding difficulty to these puzzles. I also really like that these last two levels use other words from these sentences as puzzle words as well, including the use of sight words. These levels can change automatically, or one can choose a specific level for all 12 scenes, adding many options for game play and much newness each time this app is used.

It is also very nice to see that even when this app was closed, it re-opened to the scene last played, and one can also scroll through a section of this app to choose a specific scene to start from as well.

I am very impressed with this creative learning app, and I am very impressed with Bob Books in general after playing with this application. I will be on the lookout for a set of Bob Books for my son, as I want him to experience these types of educational activities as apps, but in their classic form as well. For more information, please look at bobbooks.com, and iTunes for more info about this app, as well as the other very good learning apps from Learning Touch.

iLearn With The Mighty Jungle: Animals! Review

Posted by Amy Solomon on April 12th, 2011
+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad

iLearn With The Mighty Jungle: Animals! is a lovely and highly educational app for iPad that teaches about animals, their appearances, habitat and living habits.

Allow Babu, a friendly meerkat, to guide you through this app as you help Babu find a missing animal friend in each level. These games begin with a map that one uses to help track Babu’s buddy. Correct answers will fill in the map with animals that the player follows as one looks for Babu's friend.

I really like how this app teaches interesting animal facts. In the first level involving animal appearances, one question must be answered such as “which animal has fur,” to move forward on the map, but the number of questions one needs to answer in order to move forward goes up in levels two and three. I find it interesting how these questions start out general and become more specific until the correct animal is uncovered, allowing the player not just to learn facts, but to have a chance to compare and contrast the info learned about various animals.

Although it may seem simple to create a talking animal that will educate by asking questions to the players at hand, I see a great deal of sophistication in this meerkat's effortless way of explaining the rules of this game, as well as his delivery of this infomation in a way that is direct, engaging, and encouraging. It is nice that one can answer keep answering until the correct answer is found, as many times as it may take, as one may learn more from mistakes made than just knowing the correct answer. I think this app would be an excellent choice not just for those in pre-school and kindergarten, but for children who are learning English as a second language and those with special needs, as this animal's communication skills are educational in and of itself.

I especially appreciate that all of this game’s instructions are explained verbally by Babu, making this a great game for pre-readers. It is nice that one can tap a question mark to hear the question again or tap Babu himself for a hint.

The information used in this app, designed by educators, meets the National Standards for Life Science teaching in pre-K and kindergarten. I found it to be very educational and surely thought-provoking for this age group and beyond, as I learned some new things as well, and I like how this app made me think about which fish has smooth skin - a shark or a piranha - something I never thought about before.

Although this app would be wonderful for children to play by themselves, this is an app so rich with information that kids will get the most out of it by playing with an adult who can go into further details about this interesting animal information, creating some excellent open-ended conversations as well.

Another interesting aspect of this app is that the questions within each level are tailored to the needs of each player, and I did notice that the questions zeroed in on the few questions I answered wrong. This is something that kids will benefit from, also adding greatly to the replay value of this app. This app is colorful, nice looking and simply a lot of fun. Kids will learn a lot from this app, as did I, and I am looking forward to see what new learning apps come from the developers at Tribal Nova, who also created PBS Kids Play! and CBC Wonderworld online learning programs.