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A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving - Nostalgic as Well as Family Friendly

Posted by Amy Solomon on November 25th, 2013
+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad
Our rating: starstarstarstarblankstar :: DELIGHTFUL STORYTELLING :: Read Review »

It's that time of year again, and our family has taken some time to formalize Thanksgiving plans. My son has expressed interest in watching the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, specifically the floats seen at the tail-end of the event. Because we will be traveling early on Thursday my husband offered to record the event, which made me smile because when I was my son’s age, taping TV shows was not yet an option. Technology truly has come a long way, allowing children creature comforts such as being able to watch shows anytime - possibilities that I am sure most children my son’s age take for granted. I mention this as Loud Crow Interactive has adapted the classic Charlie Brown holiday specials into apps, making it possible to enjoy these TV shows - now interactive digital books - any time we desire instead of the once a year the way I remember.

Having had the chance to review both A Charlie Brown Christmas and It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown previously, and experiencing them from an adult point of view, I am actually a little uncomfortable with how terribly the other neighborhood kids treat Charlie Brown, leaving me feeling melancholy. Likewise, my son asked to watch the Christmas special once only to be left feeling sad and has not had much interest in these shows since. I have mixed feelings about that, as I fondly remember these shows from my own childhood. In comparison, I find A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving and the related Loud Crow to be the most child-friendly as here Peppermint Patty invites herself along with a few other friends over to Charlie Brown's house for Thanksgiving dinner, making Chuck not such a lonely and bullied character as he is in the other holiday specials.

Sure Peppermint Patty has some unkind words for Charlie Brown as the last-minute Thanksgiving spread is without a turkey or other traditional fixings, but Marcie talks sense into her and apologies are made, and it ends on a happy note with the gang being invited to Chuck's Grandmothers' for a proper Thanksgiving Dinner - making this story an easier one to share with my sensitive son. Also nice is the speech Linus makes to remind children of the true spirit of this holiday. There are still a few moments within A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving that are self-deprecating, as Charlie Brown announces that holidays make him feel depressed. Also included is the iconic image of Lucy holding the football for Charlie Brown to kick - now as an animated interactive moment for children to participate in. The presence of outrageous “mean girl” behavior seen in It's a Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown is absent - for which I am thankful. The fact that A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving is a kinder, gentler story matters to me as children have the opportunity to view these tales daily or even more often, giving them the ability to internalize the behavior they may see. Because bullying has become such a hotbed topic in recent years, I am ambivalent about recommending titles in which Lucy's and other characters' behavior towards Charlie Brown could be described as harassment - behavior that hopefully would not be tolerated by my son or his other friends.

I have enjoyed A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving, and I appreciate how one can listen to the actor who plays Linus, now an adult, narrate this app - also allowing one to read this book to oneself as well as featuring Auto Play that will aid the youngest children in enjoying this storybook. Pop-up book aspects are incorporated for a nice effect. Do look for ways to interact with the characters and objects seen on the pages - a nice touch, which in some ways modernizes the experience while simultaneously adding to the vintage charm of a period pop-up book, adding some interactive moments to the process of preparing the table and foods for the holiday meal with the help from Snoopy, which was always my favorite moment of this holiday Special. The original voices are included, which I really appreciate, bringing this app to life in a way that parents will really appreciate and making this app worth downloading.

A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving Review

+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad
By Jennifer Allen on November 19th, 2013
Our rating: starstarstarstarblankstar :: DELIGHTFUL STORYTELLING
The classic TV special comes to the iPad in storybook form, and it's lovely.
Read The Full Review »

Bramble Berry Tales - The Story of Kalkalih Review

+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad
By Amy Solomon on August 19th, 2013
Our rating: starstarstarstarhalfstar :: STORYTELLING
This story within a story includes a traditional Squamish tale. A truly memorable experience.
Read The Full Review »

A Charlie Brown Christmas Review

Posted by Amy Solomon on December 8th, 2011
+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad

A Charlie Brown Christmas is a lovely and well-crafted universal storybook application that brings the beloved 1965 television special to devices.

Few people - in the United States at least - need an explanation of this well-known Christmas story about Charlie Brown, who after feeling depressed about Christmas, is given the advice to get involved and becomes the director of the gang’s play, The Nativity.

This application is a very good adaptation of the special shown every year around Christmas. I do have a few memories of some scenes not part of this basic application that are now available as part of the "director's cut" available as a free in-app purchase, but what has been included in the basic download creates a strong narrative, translating this tale well to an application.

True to the style of other Loud Crow Interactive applications, this app opens up to a turntable playing a 45 rpm record of “Christmas Time is Here,” used as the background music for this app, and a red book with the title, A Charlie Brown Christmas, embossed on the cover.

I appreciate the crackling one can hear from the record playing on the turntable - sounds many children may have never heard as LP’s have become less and less popular, creating a lovely nostalgic feel for the adults who may love this app as much if not more than their children.

From here, one can adjust the volume of the music used in the background of this storybook, and one can choose to read this book to oneself or listen to the included narration, wonderfully voiced by Peter Robbins - the original voice of Charlie Brown.

It is also a real treat that the original dialogue from the characters found in the TV. Special are incorporated within as well throughout this application.

As is the style of other adapted storybook apps by Loud Crow Interactive, the characters found within this familiar story can be tapped for various interactions that correspond nicely to the page at hand, such as the gang ice skating at the lake, or Charlie Brown looking inside his mailbox.

Other interactions are included as well such as touching a falling snowflake in order to enlarge and to show great detail, as well as many other creative surprises.

It is worth noting that one should invest in the time to tap these hotspots more than once, as oftentimes, before the narration has been spoken, tapping the characters leads to effective but minimal interactions and verbal sound effects.

However, when voiceover is complete, do tap these characters again to have these narrated lines of text spoken found in speech bubbles alongside these characters, reminiscent of the traditional comic-style that Peanuts and other comics are known for. This is an especially nice effect when the narration is off, allowing readers to still hear the original cast - a very nice touch.

I also like the use of textured paper within the pages of this app, as well as simple paper-cut art used to create the characters and objects found, creating a layered dimensional look.

It is also a lot of fun to see Snoopy decorate his doghouse, with these actions playing over a series of taps after the voiceover has had a chance to finish, as readers scroll through the included tabs that make up the mini-pages of included text found within each page.

This way of breaking down the lines works well in minimizing both the space these words take on the page, as well as in not overwhelming readers, but it would be nice for an “Autoplay” to be included as I could see young children having some issues with the turning of these tabs before swiping to the next page.

I am happy to see that my favorite scene is included, where the kids all dance to the Charlie Brown theme om stage as they practice their play.

Once one is then prompted through the playing of the song “Linus and Lucy” on an included piano, the page becomes lively with each of the kids dancing his own way to Linus’s piano playing just the way parents will remember, and I am happy to say that this moment is also a favorite of my son’s.

It is lovely that children can decorate their own tree with included ornaments and other decorations, as well as a few that must be earned by finding all the hidden items as accomplishments. This area is found on the first title page of the book and can easily be overlooked as one starts to read. Please look for it.

I am also smitten with the last page of this app where the characters are all shown with image and name, and a tap letting readers hear the line they are most noted for in this story, a great section for me to go over with my son as he is new to these characters.

I, like most adults my age, have very fond memories of watching A Charlie Brown Christmas as a child, but more so, I remember my dad reading this book to me when I was young.

Quick Amazon and Google searches did not uncover the specific book I remember, possibly a novelization of this holiday special sold at our local grocery store. For me, this application brings back the memory of being read to as a child, possibly a more profound memory than that of watching the T.V. special.

This is the first year we have let my son watch television beyond a few select PBS shows and the like, but as my son has grown, I want him to be familiar with the pop culture references he will find out in the world, so we have included the holiday specials most kids are watching.

First, my boy saw It’s A Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown for Halloween, and my son’s first comment was “Who is Charlie Brown and why is everyone so mean to him,” and honestly I felt awful. My sensitive son enjoyed the special but did ask me to find him a Charlie Brown show that did not have everyone calling each other “stupid.”

I am glad to say that this ugly word in not a part of this application, and Lucy is not holding her iconic football for Charlie Brown to kick, but I am at a loss for what to say to my son about issues such as Charlie Brown’s obvious depression, and Pigpen’s hygiene issues that possibly stem from neglect - something that concerned me as a child.

This story, as classic as it is, did seem to put my son in a melancholy mood - something to think about as a parent.

For most, these concerns will be outweighed by how wonderfully charming this application and the holiday show itself are, having stood the test of time for all these years, and it makes me sad to think that my son, like other children, won’t have the experience of reading the comic on a daily basis as a family, we now read the majority of our news on-line.

The theme of the holidays becoming over-commercialized is still fitting today, but parents make note that the secularization of Christmas is also a topic handled here, and this app, like the TV show, has a nice moment of Linus reciting the Nativity story, from The Gospel According to Luke - something that will please many families.

Others who do not remember this religious moment from the TV show may be surprised if one is looking for something secular and not religious in the way that the Frosty or Rudolph holiday shows are.

If this application were to be updated in the future, the inclusion of autoplay would be wonderful. I also have to admit I have had problems finding the items one looks for in the “Lights and Display Contest,” this app’s version of achievements that players need to complete in order to unlock all the decorations they can add onto their personal Christmas tree.

This kind of thing is a pet peeve of mine if hints of some sort are not also included. I also found the tabs to the achievements page, credits, and other Loud Crow Interactive apps difficult to open when viewing this app on the iPhone.

All in all, I am impressed with the adaptation of this holiday show, as this application is certainly worth checking out on its own merits, as well as a lovely adaptation of a classic holiday show. Thoughtfully abridged for time, this version still maintaining the integrity of the original quite nicely.

People today are bombarded with synced images and sounds from TV, film and now applications. I find it interesting that simply listening to the sound track from this show while appreciating the included interactive illustrations at times has created more of a moment for me than watching the original, as I sometimes look for the alternatives to the basic moving pictures I am so used to seeing.

As mentioned before, a "Director's Cut" of this app adding back the four missing scenes not found in the application is available, free from this app's in-app purchase store, worth the download as many will remember these scenes fondly from the original special, as do I.

Extra decorations can be bought for one's Christmas tree here as well. Starting on December 13th, one can also participate in an in the app scavenger hunt during these 12 days to Christmas, check Loud Crow Interactive's website for more information.

Barnyard Dance - Boynton Review

Posted by Amy Solomon on November 25th, 2011
+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad

Barnyard Dance is a charming and lovely interactive storybook app based on the board book of the same name by author and illustrator Sandra Boynton, one of series of apps by Loud Crow Interactive that have brought these most popular Boyton books to life.

Barnyard Dance is a really fun tale about animals that square dance, written in a fun, simple rhyme reminiscent of square dancing calls. As is the style of Boynton, these pages are filled with wonderfully whimsical anthropomorphic animals with a drawing style that is all utterly her own, and short bursts of text that are easy to read and appreciate both by adults as well as children.

It is marvelous how spot-on the apps within this series look when compared to the board books they are trying to re-create here. I love how faithful to Boynton’s work this app is while still adding wonderful elements not found in printed media, such as these animals moving off the pages altogether and other creative ways both to stay true to and also to make these stories new experiences at the same time

Do tap about each of these creatures to see them bounce or move like one would expect from a classic pop-up book, and I appreciate the physics engine in use here, allowing animals to be spring-loaded, reacting the way one would expect with the tap or flick of a finger and it is lovely how these animals don’t just bounce about but how their facial expressions change as if bowing - an important part of square dancing.

I too am a fan of Boynton and own a copy of this board book myself. I enjoy reading this book out loud, but my narration is not even close to that of the “big guy” chosen to narrate this story, as musician John Stey takes full advantage of the rhyming cadence found both in this book and in traditional square dancing without being over the top. It is also delightful how bluegrass music has been incorporated into this story for added richness that could not be achieved by simply reading this book out loud.

It is very nice that not only does one have the ability to read this app on one’s own or with the aid of narration, but it is also a treat for new readers that each word when tapped is read individually. I also like how one can customize the music volume as well, but it would be nice that when the music is turned all the way down, the music is off - not simply hushed, as one may want the opportunity to read this book without music as well.

I highly recommend this app not just for Boynton fans but for anyone who is looking for a very cute, interactive app with a simple, delightful story. The pithy use of text would also make this a nice beginner reader that kids would be engaged by, re-reading again and again.

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.

PopOut! The Tale of Peter Rabbit Review

Posted by Amy Solomon on December 17th, 2010
+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad

PopOut! The Tale of Peter Rabbit is an extremely well-done interactive storybook app which has not only brought the classic tale of Peter Rabbit to IPhone and iPad, but has translated the qualities of a most impressive pop-up book as well, with great results. You have the choice of being read to, or reading this book yourself. When narration is present, the text is highlighted when read out loud. Pausing and resuming is possible here, and there is an index of pages as well.

My son and I have read this Beatrix Potter story, both in its original book form as well as from other sources, and this by far has been our favorite experience. Narration has been included which is very well-done, as is the piece of classical piano music which plays in the background. By far, the best aspect of this app is that each page is crafted as if it were a very sophisticated pop-up book. Touch to wiggle the characters as if they were slightly suspended on wires. Noises are also made when things are touched, adding to the story without becoming distracting. Tabs are included to move sliding pieces of the book as well as levers to move back and forth, and dials to turn in order to create certain movements. Moving the device will also work to get many of these pieces to move and sway. I especially appreciate that combined with these beautifully low-tech looking pop-up elements, animations are included, using the devices of technology as well to further the richness of the story. Many pages have extremely realistic-looking leaves or blackberries falling from the sky: tap them and they become large and begin to fill the pages. Move them with a finger or tilt the device to have them move around the screen.

This story is long, and has a nice, soothing effect on my sometimes bouncy son. He enjoys the story and interacting with every detail very much, but it is I who marvel at the way all these pieces work. I admire the sophisticated look of the title page, that of a wood desk, antique-looking letters, an old photograph of Peter himself, as well as a quill pen and a fountain of ink. One opens a first edition copy of the book to start reading - beautiful touches which make this a great choice not only for children, but for adults as well. I do wish the musical piece was given credit somewhere on the title page, but except for this minor note, a fantastic experience.