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Category: Spelling »

Gappy’s First Words Review

Posted by Amy Solomon on April 25th, 2013
+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad

Gappy’s First Words is a new interactive universal app that re-enforces early spelling and reading comprehension from the developers at Spinlight Studio, a favorite developer of mine these apps are consistently rich with details and nuances at a level of quality making these application stands out from others.

Meet Gappy, an interesting bunny-like character with large ears and big teeth, and help Gappy hop her way home, filling in the gaps of word puzzles along the way - stylized as a bridge of sorts where pieces of this crossing are missing and need to be completed with correct letter tiles. Success will earn users new details that can be added to Gappy’s house such as new windows, fence or chimney.

Four sections are included for Gappy to explore on her way home, each containing a varied degree of difficulty as well as an interesting landscape that Gappy needs to work her way through, such as a forest, mountain or even space section as each landscape is lovingly stylized with music and muted colors - interesting choices for this early childhood literacy game.

I like that the difficulty of these games starts out simple as children are asked to drag and drop a specific letter from a selection of letter tiles as asked by included narration to fill the gap of a given three-letter word. Later, children are asked to identify the correct letter that begins a three-letter word, there is also a section completing words with two and ultimately three missing letters as children will spell three-letter words by choosing from each letter correctly, as friendly and clear narration prompts children.

Also included is an alphabet section where one can tap to hear either the letter or phonic names of each letter, but I do wish that the letter blocks one can choose from during these levels were also tappable, allowing children new to these sounds to try to work out these words for themselves. Without being able to tap each letter to hear the phonics sounds during these games, these sections may be difficult for children who may understand the concept of phonics, yet who have not committed each sound to memory.

Adults will appreciate being able to choose the lists of words being practiced from both beginner or advanced and even sight words - all good choices for new readers who will find the chance to add new objects to Gappy’s house engaging and fun as there is a vastness of house combinations - over 720 in all to choose from.

Children and adults alike will enjoy this simple and intuitive children’s app with a nice reward of building Gappy a fun house in which to live - a lovely metaphor in terms of building a child’s foundation for reading. I do hope in the future that the letter choices can be tapped to be heard, allowing children to work out these problems before they may have committed phonics to memory - just a thought.

Futaba Classroom Games For Kids Review

Posted by Amy Solomon on February 25th, 2013
iPad App - Designed for iPad

Futaba Classroom Games For Kids is a unique game app for children, educational as well as fun.

This app, a digital quiz game for both multi - as well as single players, really stands out because an adult can program the questions children answer to a wide age range of abilities from preschool age through the 10th grade as well as easy, medium or hard questions for these grades.

Up to four players can gather around the iPad which shows a question center screen, slowly revolving so all players have a chance to see and then answer the question with a tap from one of three possible choices at the bottom of their place at the screen.

A practice mode is also available that allows one player to use this app by himself.

The look of this app is quite nice, clean and sophisticated with a natural wood look to the background of this application as well as very nice music included to listen to - both relaxing as well as adding a bit of suspense to these games.

Also nicely styled are the questions which are included within a circle. With each correct answer, an area of this circle is highlighted until ten questions are answered correctly and a “Futaba” is earned - a citrus fruit that is a consistent theme in this educational app.

From animal recognition to the Table of Elements, different shapes to counting money and even learning about languages different from English, this app covers a vast array of questions that can be included.

It took me some time to understand how to create my own games using the filters provided, and I personally think it is easier to choose from all the subjects available instead of trying to filter these choices by grade or difficulty, as after going down the extensive list, I can simply check off the questions I would like included - down to the specific questions, and not just what themes to focus on.

I admire how multiple games can be created to allow children of different abilities to play this app at different times, making it a great choice for school settings as well as use in the home, especially for families with children of different ages and subjects to focus on.

Be it alone or with others, I can see children of all ages as well as adults enjoying these quizzes a great deal. I also appreciate how the plethora of questions for children from preschool into high school allows this app to grow with children, as well as to be a great teaching tool for the classroom as well.

Word Grab Phonetics Review

Posted by Amy Solomon on February 15th, 2013
+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad

Word Grab Phonetics is a delightful early phonics app for toddlers and preschool-aged children from the developers at Bellamon, known for their wonderfully stylized educational apps.

This app contains two section, ABC Words and Rhyme Time, each revolving around a friendly white abominable snowman-like monster who lives at the bottom of the screen.

In ABC Words, the monster holds an image of an object in question, such as a picture of a train, ice or van. Then look center screen to choose the letter that corresponds to the picture word, and then the picture word is used in a sentence.

Rhyme Time is similar, but instead of the use of single letters, one is looking to find the first letter of a short word, as the last letters are offered, along with a shaded hint of the letter one is looking for.

I find it charming that there are so many different ways of delivering the letter choices found center screen, such as floating through space, found on a moving train, being held up by prairie dogs, or found in birds' nests as letter eggs, which are now being warmed by a variety of birds.

It is also cute and fun how after three words are complete, players are given the treat of interacting with a fun, animated scene involving the monster and a treat that he pulls out of his hat as well as seeing how this monster feeds himself the correct letter choices.

I do love all of the artful touches found in Bellamon apps, as here textures are used throughout along with paper art-inspired objects or animals that here move around the screen to add richness to this colorful phonics application. Also included is appealing music that parents will not mind listening to as they explore letters with their children.

Word Grab Phonics contains a nice selection of options one will find in the setting section of their device including whether or not to include things like letter case choices, word order, or word difficulty such as simple words, blending constants or the use of a silent E, as well as all the different letter variations available - great for families or teachers who want to just focus on a few letters at a time.

I am happy to have found an app that can be made more advanced for children truly on the verge of reading, as the most basic phonics sounds have already been mastered by my five year old, yet it is mainly the beginner sounds that are the focus of most apps like this.

It would be nice, however, to include an image of the word one is trying to complete in the Rhyme Time section as well as to be able to tap the last letters of the word one is trying to finish to hear these sounds if needed as well. Without access to these types of hints is too easy to just copy the shaded letter hint that one is looking for instead of focusing on the word one is trying to complete.

It also would be appreciated if I could turn off the celebratory cheering of children after every word game is complete as this sound becomes grating very quickly. It is possible to fully turn off the sound effects to this app, but I adore the monster noises and other sounds found in the app and don’t want to mute them, so it would be great if there were a separate option to silence the cheering which I can personally do without.

Even with these notes, I am happy point out how quickly my son took to Word Grab Phonics, making this a great application for toddlers through preschool-aged children.

Broadway Barks Review

Posted by Amy Solomon on September 12th, 2012
iPad App - Designed for iPad

Broadway Barks is a lovely interactive story, written, narrated and sung by Tony-winning actress Bernadette Peters, based on the previously published children’s book with CD of the same name. Versions for both iPhone as well as iPad are available.

This is a cute and charming story of a dog who no longer has a home and is all alone in the park until he is discovered and given a chance to be seen at Broadway Barks - a charity event in New York City to promote the adoption of animal, ultimately finding a new home.

As one may expect, Peters does a terrific job giving this dog, formerly known as Douglass, a voice both very human but also dog-like in a way that makes me smile, making him an utterly sympathetic character that children and their adults will root for. The illustrations are also quite nice, colorful and quite pleasing to the eye, as are the animated moments and interactive elements marked with glowing orbs show where to tap.

Before reading this book, I did not know of Broadway Barks, the real life event this book is based on, bringing this event as well as the plight of animals waiting to be adopted to the minds of readers in a way that is thoughtful and warm. I also appreciate the level of suspense from this dog’s point of view, becoming nervous when about to go on stage, as well as the moments right after when he believes he will remain unloved and unwanted.

Fortunately, this story ends on a wonderful and warm note, but the early self-deprecating dialogue may be hard for some sensitive children to hear - like my son who would not respond well to the sad plight of dogs, even though ending on a happy note.

Having said this, this would be a great book for all but the most sensitive of children.

This application also includes a very nice song sung by Peters based on this story and includes a montage of images from this tale stylized to look like a movie with the hint of distressed film, also including a backdrop reminiscent of a drive-in movie to create a serene video of sorts that children will find very relaxing.

Showtime is also a section where one can dress the dog, now known by his adopted name, Kramer and animate him with a dance with the drag of a finger.

Auto play is an option. Here instead of turning pages automatically, it makes the pages of this book flow seamlessly like a video of sorts but without the interactions found in the “Read to Me” section.

I also like how this book offers more information about Broadway Barks, Bernadette Peters herself and illustrator Liz Murphy.

Broadway Barks is an easy application to recommend with all the elements of this story working well together to create a musical tale animal lovers of all ages will be smitten by.

Wood Puzzler Review

Posted by Amy Solomon on June 6th, 2012
+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad

Wood Puzzler is a charming universal application which nicely re-creates the look and feel of playing with a traditional wood alphabet puzzle as well as including letter based jigsaw puzzles and an open-ended letter board.

There is a lot that I enjoy about this app. I love the wood grain and natural wood colors used along the backgrounds of these puzzles as well as the wooden hole these puzzle pieces need to fill, complete with a nice use of effective shading to create depth within these empty puzzle areas. I also appreciate the wonderful wood sound of these pieces when first being tossed from their rightful places as well as the easy-to-listen-to background music.

Three sections are included within this app, specifically an Alphabet Puzzle section that thoughtfully includes both upper and lower case letters that need to be placed into their correct spaces much like a chunky puzzle.

A series of 26 jigsaw-styled puzzles are also included - one per letter. Intuitive to use, simply tap on an picture icon that will take players to the next page where this icon becomes a wood jigsaw puzzle that one must put back together as well as filling in the letters of the word in question - also part of this puzzle. A very nice inclusion is the letter’s phonic sound delivered by narration as well as the reinforcement of letter awareness as the word is spelled out for children at the completion of the puzzle.

I really enjoy how these pieces can be moved around the puzzle as one looks for the correct space without too much help from this application, yet still including a nice sense of “grab,” drawing these pieces within when players drag a puzzle piece close to the correct space of these puzzles - all adding up for a satisfying experience.

Other small details exist that add to this experience, such as the piece one is currently dragging being high-lighted purple, or how a subtle yet effective use of yellow stars is used to demonstrate when players drop a puzzle piece in its correct space, as well as other fun details like the vintage rotary telephone used for letter “T” ringing when the puzzle is complete, the Robot from “R” adding some cute commentary and sound effects, or letter recognition during the completion of a colorful umbrella for “U”.

A nice level of difficulty within these picture puzzles will keep preschoolers entertained without frustration or boredom, and a puzzle for each of the 26 letters makes this puzzle app a content-rich experience. Children can either go through these letter puzzles in sequence or choose specific letters from the main page.

Another nice section included is the Spelling Board area where children and adults can spell their own words by dragging and dropping letters into this open-ended section, complete with shapes one can also add - much like stickers of the Picture Puzzles children will already be familiar with.

I think children and adults will really enjoy this bright and colorful wood puzzle app. This app reminds me of the wood sound puzzle my son really enjoyed when he was learning his letters - without the worry of missing puzzle pieces.

I don’t expect this app to take the place of a classic wood letters puzzle, but this app can be used within one’s bed with ease - a place I was never fond of bringing puzzles, especially before sleeping or when traveling near or far, as the car is another place we do not bring puzzles for fear of losing pieces.

Because of these reasons, parents who are puzzle fans, especially those who have young children, should check out Wood Puzzler.

Bean Bag Kids present Pinocchio Review

Posted by Amy Solomon on May 2nd, 2012
+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad

Bean Bag Kids present Pinocchio is a very nice interactive universal storybook application that children will enjoy. This app, as the name implies, is a retelling of the classic story of Pinochio, about a puppet carved from wood by a lonely wood carver who wishes that one day this puppet could become a real boy. Here each actor is played by a bean bag dressed in costume as this application is styled as a live performance that one is watching, complete with red velvet curtain and other theatre details.

The adaptation of this story is very nicely done, including the use of excellent narration, as is the choice to underline the text as the words are being spoken - a very nice touch that will aid young readers in following along as these words are being read.

Although I am not always a huge fan of highly computerized 3D animation, the look of this app grew on me as I read this app over a few times, the same experience I had with The Bean Bag Kids first app, Little Red Riding Hood. I now do see the charm within these images, finding them cute and appealing. I enjoy how this story is presented in play form, using dressed up bean bags as actors and includes details such as a red velvet curtain and other theatre effects.

I also enjoy the included interactions as tapping these bean bag characters will have them react to the story being told, including some nice pantomiming moments that made me smile. Tap these characters multiple times as this may be needed to fully play out these scenes - nice touches to be sure. Another aspect to this app that children will enjoy is the ability to dress Pinocchio in different costumes that he will then wear throughout this story.

Do look for the hidden stars as well - three to a page - that are included as doing so will unlock the backstage section where one gets to meet the bean bag characters who work back stage such as the stage manager, makeup artist, set designer or the like - a section I appreciate as I have held a few of these jobs myself, and I feel that it is important that children learn about the essential work being done behind the scenes in the theatre, TV and the movies. Be sure to tilt one’s device because these stars may be hidden among the three-dimensional layers that make up this app and doing so will show off more of the landscape than can be seen at any one angle.

It does disappoint me that there are no donkeys in this version of this story, however, as having Pinocchio begin to grow ears and a tail after his bad behavior on the Island of Toys (which Disney called Please Island) is for me a favorite part of this story. There may be a few reasons why this was not included, one reason being that this app does do a good job of creating a cohesive story that children will follow - already a little on the lengthy side already - so editing may have seemed like it was in order, also maintaining a small cast of characters, common among these Bean Bag Kids performances. They do keep some nice moments with the evil puppeteer who wants to make money from Pinocchio as well as the scene where Geppetto gets swallowed by the whale, which are also favorite moments of this story.

Other extras include one puzzle and a scene from this book being turned into a nightlight - here an image of Pinocchio sleeping comfortably under the warm glow of a soft, faint light. This image is relaxing, but I think parents would appreciate the other two nightlight scenes included for the price of the app. This is also true for the other 11 puzzles that one can pay extra for, especially as the other app in this series consists of 12 puzzles with the price of the app itself, no in-app purchases needed.

Between the two nightlight scenes and puzzles purchases, the price to unlock this app fully is of a higher price point than many parents would be comfortable spending on any one application. Because of this, I would love to see all these extras come free within this app instead. I am not a huge fan of in-app purchases in general as even if children are prevented from buying these extras mistakenly, they can still see this advertising - something as a parent I am looking to minimize as much as possible. Just something to think about for the future.

Other than these notes, this is a fun and cute retelling of the traditional story that children will enjoy.

My Little Pony: Twilight Sparkle, Teacher for a Day Review

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

My Little Pony: Twilight Sparkle, Teacher for a Day is a universal app in which Hasbro, the classic toy company has teamed up with Ruckus Media Group to bring their hit TV. and toy franchise My Little Pony to iPad and iPhone. Like other Ruckus apps, this application allows one to listen to this story with narration or without as well as recording this book oneself. Interactive mini-games are also offered throughout the pages of this ebook and the words are highlighted when read - nice for new readers to follow along with.

I must admit that I am a little old to have been a member of the target demographic for My Little Pony when first launched in 1983, so I have approached this story from the viewpoint of a true outsider who knows little-to-nothing about My Little Pony before this app.

From what I understand, this app is also based on the more recent show My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, as this TV show, as well as this app, are focused on Twilight Sparkle, a learned pony who here becomes teacher for a day in the land of Equestria, where she expresses the need for friendship - a popular theme among this series. Adults and children may find the backstory used within this app explaining the history of My Little Pony to be fun and interesting, possibly bringing back fond childhood memories as well.

The look of this app is enjoyable with a palette of pink and purple plus other bold colors that one may look forward to if a fan of My Little Pony, as does my son who until now did not know of this franchise, but now asks for this application by name.

Interactive Mini-games are also offered here, including a maze of sorts that one must tilt one's device for in order to steer main character Twilight Sparkle where she needs to go. I had difficulty with this style mini-game personally, as the controls felt counter intuitive to me, but I would not be surprised if those younger than me and in peak condition for the testing one’s fine motor skills have an easier time of this type game, and I was glad to see that I was able to bypass these sections if needed, as my son 3.5+ year old son has similar problems within these mazes, but he is also really new to this type of game.

I did enjoy, however, the “find the difference” activities, as this was the first time my boy was engaged enough to attempt this kid of puzzle on his own, with some success, even on the smaller screen of my iPhone. I also like how the instructions of these games give spoken directions for those who are not reading yet and are simply listening to this tale. When these activities are completed, words are collected that can also be added to fill in a lengthy custom story that may appeal to slightly older kids, making this app a nice storybook to share with both preschool-aged kids as well as older siblings as this app teaches both the social importance of friendship, early reading skills and vocabulary, as well as practicing fine motor skills and possibly even encouraging kids to going into education as a career.

I also appreciated the “Meet the Ponies” section that gives fun biographies on each of the ponies one meets within this story, a section parents may choose for their kids to view first if they are not familiar with these pony characters.

My favorite part of this app was the memorable animated clip of the Wonderbolts pony air show, part of an important traditional celebration in the land of Equestria. This moment, although short, reminds me of a favorite moment from the The Powerpuff Girls, interesting as the most modern My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic was developed by Lauren Faust who also has great association with this cartoon. I do wish this style of animation was more prevalent in this app past this clip, as this style is more to my taste, but I know my son really enjoys this storybook a great deal just the way it is.

I think this will be a hit with those who are fans of this very popular children’s series and toys. It is surely impressive that Hasbro has sold over 100 million ponies since their launch in 1983, and fans of these ponies will enjoy having a ponycentric app to download onto their devices. It is also nice to know that my son new nothing of My Little Pony before this app, but has enjoyed this storybook again and again, making this app a nice choice for children who are not already fans of these ponies.

Mom's Garden: A Handmade Story Review

Posted by Sharon Cohen on July 7th, 2011
iPhone App - Designed for iPhone, compatible with iPad

For many reasons, storytelling is important for children of all ages—and, even adults. Long before writing and way before the invention of the printing press, people would pass their history and culture from one generation to the next with storytelling. Consider the many different skills involved for the participants. The storytellers needed a rich vocabulary, excellent memory of facts and information, imagination, acting ability and body language. The viewers required many of the same skills: vocabulary, memory and imagination. They were learning the stories in order to pass them on to others.

Children hear many stories today. In fact, they are bombarded with stories from everything they watch, read and play. I truly am a fan of today’s technology and all that it offers children for education and entertainment. Yet, as with any new technology, there are always pros and cons. In many cases, the TV shows, videos, and computer games stifle creativity and imagination. It is not necessary to imagine a character’s appearance or what it is like to fly on a dragon. The players can actually see that character or get on the dragon and fly to different locations. The videos spoon feed stories, plots and endings.

This whole introduction brings me to the app Mom’s Garden: A Handmade Story. I greatly appreciate this app for several reasons. First, it encourages parents and children to spend time together. Especially for younger children, this is not an app that can be enjoyed alone. Most important, it requires making up a story. Your children can choose a character(s) and background and move the character around anywhere in that background. They can also change the expression on this character. Then you need to create a story about this character by actually typing in the words. The sentences can be placed anywhere in the background, as well.

Here’s a very simple story I made up. I chose the castle as the background. I then added a boy and girl as characters and placed them smiling side-by-side in front of the castle. I saved that page and went to page two. I showed only the boy and typed in, “Do you want to play with me?” On the third page, I showed only the girl and typed in “Ok.” Finally, on the fourth page, I showed both the boy and girl together again. Yes, a very simple story, but a story none the less. The child needs to decide where the story occurs, who will be in the story and what takes place. The parent can ask the child to relate what is happening to the characters and type in very simple words and sentences. Older children will be able to read these words and even help their parents spell or type them on the page.

I would like to see additional backgrounds in a future app version. The background buttons are difficult to see, because they are very light. The boy and girl characters need to be more ethnically diverse. The author definitely needs someone to proof the copy and correct the spelling errors. However, I love the idea of this app and would very much like to see more like it.

Scott’s Submarine Review

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

Scott’s Submarine is a very good universal story book with a few interesting elements making it stand out among other ebooks. It is nice that one can choose between two reading levels, one for 2 - 3 year olds as well as 4 and up, which uses more advanced vocabulary, longer sentences and more text per page. This app also includes four languages - English, Spanish, French, and Japanese with narration by native speakers, something that I think is very important. Of course, one has the option of listening to the narration or simply reading this story to oneself.

Scott’s Submarine tells the story of Scott, who being bored one day, chooses to go on an adventure aboard his personal submarine with his friend Aiko. Although I am not always the biggest fan of 3D illustrations, I must say that this app looks quite impressive, full of wonderfully bright and vivid colors, especially in the ocean scenes.

This app includes a puzzle on some pages where you need to find certain objects or aquatic life to fill in empty puzzle spaces provided. I like the fact that one is aware when these puzzles are available by a magnifying glass icon that can be tapped on the right side of the screen, also giving the reader the option of bypassing these puzzles if they want to focus on the story. Do tap objects and sea creatures, looking for sound effects hidden throughout the pages of this app, especially the some of the ocean sounds which are especially well-done.

The best part of this app is the ability to take photos of anything one may see. It does take some getting used as to how to center your shot just the way you may want, but the effect is quite wonderful as you look through your photos saved in the app’s photo album.

It is nice that these photos are saved, but with limited space, one will ultimately need to delete images sooner or later. This is kind of a bummer, but at the same time adds to the replay value as one can take new images as well. I am impressed with this feature as no two photos are bound to be exactly the same, and there is always something new and interesting to look at and photograph, especially as one scrolls down to the ocean’s floor. I would love to see, if possible, a zoom feature added to the camera as well.

It is a real treat to look at the album and see that a photo from the ocean that has an eye icon under it. This means that a tap will take the reader to a photo and description of the actual sea creature. The photos used here are beautiful, and the descriptions are highly educational and very interesting, even for adults. Seventeen of the sea creatures found have this extra information, and it is the reader's task to find and photograph them, adding to the puzzle aspects of this app.

Many of the details of the story itself add to the educational aspect in a way that is quite effortless, such as Scott explaining that the “rainbow” they see is really a school of silver fish as their scales reflect light in a rainbow pattern and how true rainbows are only seen in the sky. Later on, Scott’s friend Aiko wants to take home a starfish, but Scott explains that the starfish must stay in the ocean or it will die, all good information for kids who enjoy exploring the sea.

I really enjoy the fantasy aspect of how Scott and his friend can board and submerge a submarine any time they like without any parental involvement, and this story gets really interesting as the kids take the sub to the bottom of the ocean and investigate a sunken ship. They find a treasure chest and try to open it with long robotic arm devices that are attached to the sub that Scott can control. Their plan is interrupted as a huge octopus grabs the sub, and they need to use their robotic arms to free themselves in a way that is very cute and quite memorable. I do wish, however, that the kids got into the treasure chest instead of leaving it unopened, simply saying that they will be back. I think kids deserve conclusions to the stories they read without cliffhangers because I can understand kids being frustrated by this non-ending of this important detail, especially since the experience is such an immersive one.

Having said this, I do think Scott’s Submarine has a lot to offer. I thoroughly enjoy taking my own pictures, looking for the animals with added information. I think this will be a hit with kids, especially those who are interested in the ocean, or for those who enjoy using their mom and dad's camera on the iPhone, as does my son.

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.

Word Ball App Preview

Posted by Sharon Cohen on June 22nd, 2011
+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad
Our rating: starstarstarstarblankstar :: WORD UP :: Read Review »

OK. I have to admit it. Where other people are addicted to physics games, such as Angry Bird, or target or math games, I’m addicted to word games. So, whether I play Word Ball with or without my kids, I will play language games like Word Ball. For kids, it’s a great way to learn new and find old words and expand those cognitive wheels inside their heads. It's also a great way to teach spelling. For adults, it’s a great way to remember old words and keep those cognitive wheels going inside their heads. In addition, you really need to be quick on the draw, since the more words you make the better will be your score.

It’s a simple concept. Just think of balloons that are floating up and around the screen. The balloons, in this case, are balls with an individual letter. As the balls move slowly or more quickly (depending on which option chosen) across the screen, the player needs to tap on the ones that make a word and then enter that word for play. The longer the word found, the more points received. No words can be used twice. In this game, the players do not receive a list of words that they have to find. You have to draw upon the words in your head and find the letters that spell those words. Sometimes, you may start with a word in mind and then find it is necessary to spell a different word when the letter needed is not seen on the screen.

This is not a game that should be played when you or your children are tired, frustrated or angry. It only leads to more of the same. Nor, is it a game for younger children, unless the parents play along and ask questions along the way, “What goes, Meow? That’s right, ‘Cat.’ How do you spell cat? Let’s find the letters ‘C,’ ‘A’ and ‘T’. Can you help me?” Younger children will only be able to think of three- or four-letter words, so will keep on repeating the same ones.

As you go from one level to another, the letters move faster, shrink in size and disappear when not used. Of course, this makes it all the harder to form the words in your head. With fewer and fewer letters available, it becomes quite difficult to think of any new words.

Players can compete against themselves and try to continually improve their own skills or choose Game Center integration that allows comparing scores with the rest of the world’s players and to win trophies. However, beware. There are players, younger and older, who know how to spell longer and winning words such as exaggeration and onomatopoeia! After each game, players see a display of statistics, which includes a comprehensive list of every single word they made.

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.

Shake-A-Phrase Review

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

Shake-A-Phrase is a nice universal educational game app, much like Mad Libs, that teaches new vocabulary words as well as the different parts of speech as this app generates random, silly phrases.

Shake-A-Phrase includes three sections of game play. "Shake It" creates silly sentences, whereas "Story Starter" creates intriguing questions or scenarios to get the player's imagination going, possibly to be used as a starter of a story or conversation. There is also a quiz included where the player reads a phrase and then selects specific verbs, adjectives, or nouns with the tap of a finger.

It is nice that the words used in the app can be tapped if one would like to read the definition of a specific word, as well as see the part of speech the word in question is. With 1,700 + words available, it is nice that these phrases will always be new and different. One can save favorites as well as email them if desired.

Four themes are included - specifically a starter section as well as animals, fairytales, and monsters. Kids will enjoy shaking their device to generate new random phrases; a button can also be pressed to do the same. Each theme has its own specific color and background image that corresponds to the topic, as well as a specific sound effect when the phrases are shaken - a nice touch.

I think this is a great way to learn the different parts of language as well as new word definitions. I remember learning what noun, verb, and adjectives are by using Mad Libs with a friend, and I think we would have enjoyed playing with this app as well if it had been available to us.

I think this is a good app to get even reluctant readers involved because the phrases are short and are therefore changed often. Without narration, adult involvement may be needed to help read some of the phrases with more extensive vocabulary, which is ok as parents will enjoy this app as well. It would be nice if in the future, other parts of speech such as adverbs could be added to this application in a future update.

AnimalBlocks Review

Posted by Amy Solomon on June 16th, 2011
iPad App - Designed for iPad

AnimalBlocks is a very nice letters and spelling app for iPad in which kids copy and drag letters into empty stencil boxes that show the correct letters in question, making up various words. This is a fairly common application design for this type of spelling game, but this app adds a unique physics aspect to the gameplay, making it stand out in the sea of “fill in-the-box” letters, phonics, and spelling applications.

I really like the look of this app, as the player can choose from many backgrounds that range from a blue sky with clouds or a sunset, to many wonderful illustrated choices with whimsical animals illustrated with bold colors and a lovely style all their own. The blocks themselves are either wood tone to better see the letters or animal blocks, which are also illustrated each with a cute and cleverly stylized animal.

It is nice how the player has many options to individualize the game play, as one can start directly dragging and dropping the blocks into the correct boxes or begin the game by selecting blocks from the row of letters choices, increasing the level of letter recognition to this app. There are buttons to scatter the blocks across the screen complete with a very satisfying sound, as well as to remove the blocks altogether, giving the player a chance to collect boxes needed from the row of letters again. Be sure to check your iPad’s settings for further options, including word lengths and US English vs. UK English and the use of magnetic blocks which cling together as if they were drawn to each other. Players also have control over the amount of "table friction" is used here, interesting because too little or too much can make for more challenging gameplay, creating a real workout for fine motor skills. I have not found what the function “Auto create blocks for new words” is, and I hope information about this choice is added soon to the info section of this application.

Although these letters do not fall to the bottom of the screen if one tips the iPad as if gravity were in control, have fun dragging or flicking these blocks into each other. If the magnetism is turned on, you may need two finger to separate blocks stuck together, a nice touch.

Nearly one thousand words are included, with subjects such as sight words, animals, or fruits. Parents will want to work with this app together with their children because these words are not narrated or demonstrated by pictures in any way, so unless the word is read out loud, pre-readers are simply copying letters aimlessly without any understanding of the words presented. This may still be helpful for letter recognition skills, but not at education as it could be if the player does not yet know how to read. It may be helpful if in the future, the letter names or even the phonic sounds could be added and announced when tapped, as well as the word name be narrated when tapped as well. It would also be helpful if there were an option to select a specific theme if one chooses. As of now, these words are random, but simple color words like "red" may be a better match over longer sight words such as “because” for the youngest players. It would also be nice to include a mode where the letter boxes need to be filled in first to last letter the way these words are commonly spelled.

Even with its limitations of no narration, the look of this app will certainly please adults a well as children, with its fun and quirky animal illustrations, as will the great use of physics and magnetic blocks, keeping this game very tactile and great for fine motor skills as well as for basic letter-matching and intro to spelling.

Alphabytes Review

Posted by Amy Solomon on May 13th, 2011
iPad App - Designed for iPad

Alphabytes is a fun and educational iPad app that teaches letters with a nice theme of alphabet cereal and milk. There are four sections included, such as an alphabet section where every letter is depicted with a word, illustration and an interactive aspect that kids will enjoy. One can also learn basic spelling of words as a player taps alphabet letters scattered across the screen, with the correct letters will popping into corresponding letter boxes that make up the word in question. Letters not part of this word will be gobbled up by the player when tapped. There is a matching game where one makes pairs of words and their letter partners, and a tracing game is also included.

My son enjoys this app and asks for it by name. He likes the spelling game very much, having fun tapping both the correct letters for these word puzzles as well as eating up random letters also on the screen which are not part of the word, but has had some difficulty finding specific letters in a sea of unneeded ones, something that he now rectifies by tapping and eating the ones that are in the way and not useful.

My boy also spends time going through each interaction in the alphabet section; they have a lot to offer, including some of his favorite things such as taking bites of a doughnut with the tap of a finger, hammering nails into wood or moving gears with the slide of a finger for the letter “G.” I also like the way the main page of this section looks, as one can choose any letter, represented by alphabet cereal letters floating in a bowl of milk.

The tracing section is nice as the letters are big and chunky, ideal for little fingers, and it is nice that one can choose upper or lower case letters. The strokes commonly used to make up these letters are numbered, and an arrow is included pointing in the direction one should be making these strokes, ultimately fully tracing the chosen letter. I like these extra hints which are helpful in explaining the correct way to print these letters, but like many tracing apps, one can “cheat” and just randomly drag a finger over this template until it is filled in enough that it registers as correct. I do wish this app was capable of recognizing correctly printed letters as well, not just congratulating the player for filling in the template any way they see fit.

The matching game is very good as it does something most matching games do not do: it gives one the option of needing to flip over cards in the interest of making pairs - here letter and word combinations, but you also have the option of playing this game face up as well, seeing what there is to be paired without memorizing anything. The best part about this section is that one can let the child see the answer side for a few seconds if you wish and then play the memory game face down, even flipping everything back over again for another when the child is feeling stuck. I really like how this is done here, as my son over the age of three still has a hard time with these memory games. We can play this game without the concentration aspect that he struggles with or play this game the traditional way, also looking at
hints from time to time, making this game much more enjoyable for us to play.

The interface to these games is easy and child-friendly as my son plays with this app both alone as well as with me, and we both think the cereal-in-milk theme is a lot of fun. In each of these games, the letters tapped are narrated by a child and although the voice is cute, I do think some kids may have a hard time understanding these letters being pronounced this way, but aside from that, this is a very nice letters app.