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This Week at 148Apps: April 23-27

Posted by Chris Kirby on April 28th, 2012
+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad

This week at 148Apps.com iPad cases were on our collective minds. First, site editor Rob LeFebvre reviewed the new Hammerhead Capo Case, stating, "The Hammerhead Capo case is a solid, good looking basic case for $40. It comes in black, blue, white, red or orange leather-grained polyurethane. It covers the whole iPad, with molded open areas for the dock port, headphone jack, rear camera, and volume buttons."

Read Rob's full review of the Hammerhead Capo Case on 148Apps.

Meanwhile, Lisa Caplan also took a closer look at Brydge, a new Kickstarter project. Lisa writes, "There is a new Kickstarter project, Brydge, by Brad Leong that will come close to converting an iPad into a notebook with a hinged aluminum case and Bluetooth keyboard that looks a lot like a Macbook."

Read Lisa's full commentary on 148Apps.

We also had many, many new kid-friendly app reviews on GiggleApps, including Amy Solomon's review of the latest Toca game, Toca Kitchen Monsters. Solomon says, "I have a real treat for readers today as I would like to announce that recently, Toca Boca released a free version of their popular digital toy app, Toca Kitchen. Titled Toca Kitchen Monsters, this new app includes two monster characters whom players can cook for and feed, complete with monster-like table manners and house-keeping skills."

Read the full review on GiggleApps.

Children's apps were the focus on 148Apps.biz as well, as Kevin Stout reported on a new study released by Ruckus Media Group. Stout writes, "Parents are tough customers to please. While it’s obvious that children’s apps and games need to be appealing to kids, it’s the parents that those apps are really targeting. Ruckus Media Group just announced the results of its national study about children’s educational apps and parental preferences. The research, done with research group, PlayScience, looked to investigate what app experiences parents provide for their children, what parents prioritize in children’s apps, parents’ involvement in their childrens’ reading, and parental guilt with digital devices. We spoke to CEO of Ruckus Media Group, Rick Richter, and obtained some additional information about the study."

Read more about the new study from Ruckus Media Group on 148Apps.biz.

Thew news, reviews and contests keep on coming across all of the 148Apps network of sites. Keep up to date with the latest by following us on Twitter and Liking us on Facebook. You won't regret it. Until next week...bye ya'll!

Paul Bunyan, told by Jonathan Winters Review

Posted by Amy Solomon on November 28th, 2011

Paul Bunyan, told by Jonathan Winters, is a fun new Read-Play-and-Record Along Rabbit Ears interactive storybook that delightfully re-tells the great American folklore of Paul Bunyan with wonderful narration and fun illustrations. Like the other apps from this series, this app is universal and can be watched like a video or read like a book, and one can make one’s own recording as well.

For those who do not know, Paul Bunyan is one of the most famous characters from North American folklore. Bunyan was said to be larger than life both in stature as well as in his logging abilities as a lumberjack. Here, with the aid of his animal companion, Babe, the blue ox, Bunyan tackles President Teddy Roosevelt's request to clear the trees of the Dakotas for settlers to make new homes.

It is a wonderful choice to have Jonathan Winters narrate this tall tale, doing a terrific job, especially as this story is played for the most part, for laughs and includes some fun moments of action and adventure, more so than many of the other applications from this series that may have a melancholy tone. The music accompanying these apps have always been uniformly perfect, as is the case here with the music from acoustic guitarist, Leo Kottke.

True to the style of these Rabbit Ears interactive storybooks, the illustrations found within the storybook section are used throughout the video, as this artwork is panned and zoomed in to show details and other effects. Images from the storybook also fade into each other, creating a montage effect, moving along the video in what would be from one page to the next. Different from the other apps in this library that very literally use the same images found within the storybook section, many of the images here are more adaptations as they may vary from what is found within the storybook.

The illustrations found in the book section have a fun and charming look to them that is in contrast with the earnestly beautiful watercolors found other Rabbit Ears titles - here, oftentimes cartoony implied movement are included as some slapstick humor is incorporated nicely to complement the over-the-top antics which Paul Bunyan and the other loggers demonstrate.

In the video, mild but effective animations are simply used to make these movements more realized and less implied, and other simple animated moments are included as well, such as snow or rain falling, or Babe’s eyes opening as Bunyan warms this poor frozen creature back to life. Images found in the video do not always correspond to the illustrations found page by page within the book, making both watching the video and reading the storybook different experiences.

It is worth noting that here, a more modern ending has been included that some may call politically correct, giving Bunyan remorse for clearing all the forests of their trees in an ending that makes me think of Dr. Seuss's The Lorax.

Although the text remains the same, the imagery used to tell the ending of this story in the video and storybook sections are different, as in the storybook, these lines of text displayed are on pages full of empty, blighted land with a peek of forests, either snow caped or only as tree tops used as end pages for this book.

On the other hand, the video has these last moments taking place in a lush, thick forest now inhabited by Bunyan as he has since quit logging and is now planting trees. Here, this moment also includes a nice visual effect in which this forest has a surprising three-dimensional look that I found very effective, also found in the beginning of this video, further creating two different experiences within this one app.

Although I understand that this ending is not a part of the mythology of Paul Bunyan, I appreciate this resolution as it changes the tone in an interesting way - from light-hearted and fun to somber and thoughtful.

However, I can also imagine parents uncomfortable with this ending if one is simply looking for a fun, feel-good story about Paul Bunyan. I can also imagine this ending may even be off-putting to some who believe the ecology theme included in some ways minimizes the hard work put forth by loggers of days past.

Some parents may also give pause at the idea of this classic character being simply changed, as fans of this application will be familiar with a Paul Bunyan different that the classic folklore, while others may appreciate this new environmentally friendly ending.

My son and I have enjoyed this tall tale turned application. I truly hope to see more Rabbit Ears interactive storybooks in the future. Although I am grateful that one’s page is held because these books tend to be lengthy, it would be nice to add a menu of pages as well to aid parents in finding specific moments that kids may especially enjoy - just a thought.

Please also note that today is the last day of the sale price of $1.99 for all Ruckus Media Group apps, and more importantly, that all the proceeds of the sales of these apps will be donated to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. If you have not already done so, you may want to check out what apps Ruckus Media Group has in iTunes to purchase for this worthy cause.

Thumbelina, told by Kelly McGillis Review

Posted by Amy Solomon on November 23rd, 2011

Thumbelina, told by Kelly McGillis, is a wonderful adaptation of this classic Hans Christian Andersen tale, developed by Ruckus Mobile Media. This version of this classic story is also part of the library of tales created by Rabbit Ears Entertainment, known for incorporating award-winning stories, amazing celebrity narrations and phenomenal music and art. These applications are universal apps and can be watched like a video or read like a book, and one can make one’s own recording as well.

Thumbelina is a tale about a girl born to a childless couple with the aid of magic who grows only to be the size of one’s thumb and the adventures she experiences as she is unwillingly taken from her home to be married off to various creatures who find that her size and beauty make her good marriage material.

This classic tale, written by Hans Christian Andersen in 1835, is a true favorite story of mine as I love the imagery of a young woman so small that she can sleep in a walnut shell as well as the interesting anthropomorphic animals she meets along the way that are so very human, although oftentimes in ways most unflattering.

Being a lengthy children’s tale, many characters are introduced within this story, and I have noticed that other apps as well as children’s books and other media based on the original tend to touch upon the plot points found within but can remain rather disjointed as a complete narrative. I am happy to say that the thorough re-telling of this classic will satisfy children of all ages as well as adult Andersen fans, although I do wish that a new name were given to Thumbelina when she becomes queen of the fairy people as is traditionally found within this story, as the name Thumbelina is in fact a slightly pejorative reference to her height in comparison to a human thumb, an issue no longer relevant once married to the fairy king, and the re-naming of Thumbelina to Maia symbolizes a new beginning.

The look of the included video is simply captivating, hand-drawn and lovingly painted in water color. Some close-ups show the texture of the paper as well, adding to the richness of this lushly illustrated story. Narrator Kelly McGillis does a wonderful job of narrating this story, with a soothing, almost sleepy tone, skillfully re-told as this video is both relaxing as it is captivating. The music of Mark Isham is also perfectly realized, working wonderfully alongside the other elements to fully create a world in which this story takes place.

I appreciate greatly how pretty both the world around her and Thumbelina herself are with these simple, tender illustrations, with a great contrast to the gruesome creatures also introduced such as frogs, june bugs, and a most unpleasant mole, with great voices created to further develop these antagonistic characters.

I also enjoy how the artwork used within the storybook sections of this app are also transformed into moving images for the video with the use of the “Ken Burns Effect” as these water color paintings found within this app have been panned and zoomed into, directing the reader where to look and creating a sense of drama within this story. Although the video section is watched like a movie, the effect here is unlike something commonly seen on television and will impress even those who are not keen on kids spending time with kids videos as this is in fact an alternative way of exploring artwork.

These illustrations are also found within the storybook sections as well, but they are slightly concealed in some areas of the screen by a window that is includes text within a white background all its own, semi obscuring the painting beneath. This does make the text easy to read, especially helpful when recording a personal narrated tract, but I can’t help wonder if a simple band on the bottom of the screen would have distracted less from the very special artwork.

I have used this video section to calm my son mid melt-down with great success because from the first few moments of listening to this opening score, earnest and beautiful, combined with the impressive water colors. This is a very engaging, yet relaxing experience for my son, who quickly settles down to listen to this story, forgetting what was causing him concern.

This app is an impressive length of almost half and hour and 73 pages found in the storybook, making this a lovely choice of application to share with children of all ages on long trips, keeping kids occupied with a great experience in both art and literature that parents can feel good about. Sometimes I enjoy simply listening to these Ruckus storybook apps as this alone is a lovely experience, making the video mode something everyone on a long car ride can enjoy, even if not directly looking at the images.

Please also be aware that through Black Friday and Cyber Monday, all the proceeds of the sales from Ruckus Media Groups Read-Play-and-Record Along Rabbit Ears interactive storybooks, along with their other apps, will be donated to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. I feel privileged to have been able to review the majority of Ruckus Media Group apps, so I know from personal experience how terrific they all are. This, combined with the wonderful charity they are now connected with, and the fact that during this time each are on sale for $1.99 makes these apps wonderful digital stocking stuffers and Chanukah gifts, with different apps available for every age range, including adults.

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.

Spot the Dot Review

Posted by Amy Solomon on July 26th, 2011
iPad App - Designed for iPad

Spot the Dot is a wonderful interactive book for iPad from Ruckus Media based on the pop-up books by David A. Carter.

I have always been a huge fan of pop-up books as a child. As an adult I may love them even more as artwork that I admire greatly but am personally not skilled at. I was very excited to hear that David A. Carter, author of many famed pop-up books geared for adults and slightly older children, was working together with Ruckus Media Group to create an app based on his books such as One Red Dot, a book that I have been eyeing for my boy, but must wait until he is older as he would surely mishandle such a fragile piece of art.

My son simply adores this app, which consists of ten pages, each with a different colored dot that is hidden, sometimes in plain sight, blending into brightly colored geometric shapes that fill up the pages and or hide behind other shapes that need to be turned over, as well as other creative ways of searching for these hidden dots.

This app has excellent spoken prompts that explain to the player exactly what he is looking for and how these specific mini-games are played, and I appreciate how each page has a new way of looking for these dots. The graphics, consisting of bold and bright geometric shapes, re-enforce nicely the knowledge of colors and shapes, great for pre-schoolers, but which will be enjoyed by older kids and adults as well.

I am proud of my son for falling so heavily in love with this app, as this application was not easy for him to master at first and he had to work his way up to thoroughly enjoy this interactive book. In the beginning he had trouble finding these dots past the first pages, as the level of difficulty progresses. He would repeat, “Why is this so hard for me?” as he has had most things come easy until now, picking up all his milestones early and with little effort. My son is not used to being truly challenged.

After playing with this app for a while, he has been able to master all these search puzzles on his own, with the exception of the last two where he still needs help: a black page full of dots to uncover, one of which is the dot in question, and the last page, where one small white dot is hiding among a page of geographic shapes, very well camouflaged on a page so large that it needs to be scrolled in every direction to be fully searched - somewhat of a task to look for, even for an adult.

My boy, feeling accomplished with his ability to find dots, now wants to show this app to everyone who enters our house - something he has done with few other applications.

The music included in this app is also quite nice, as is the melodic musical sounds used for each dot found on the page of hidden rows of dots, one of the harder mini-games to solve.

I especially like the narrator a great deal as he has a very sincere, warm, and enthusiastic- sounding voice that I enjoy listening to, and I am sure that his encouragement and congratulations at spotting these dots is a large part of why my son enjoys this app as much as he does.

I like that on the top of the screen is a row of dots that one will progress through to the end, but one can tap on a favorite color which will lead to a specific page and mini-game. Each time the application is re-opened, the dots are randomly hidden, but it would be nice if this was the case each time a color was chosen. At my son’s age, 3.5 years, he does not remember where the dots are found, just how best to play these games so this is not much of an issue for him.

I do wish, however, that the pages with hidden areas were fully uncovered when the dot is found. My son loves to turn over the object he needs to look under, even after discovering the dot, but sometimes the app progresses to the next page before he is done, I wish more time was allotted for kids to continue playing this way. Another favorite moment is where one must move a telescope-type circle around a blank page, looking through this circle for the orange dot. When found, the entire background is shown for such a short moment that it seems more like a glitch than an intentional action, but I think it really adds to the fun to see the very colorful background as a whole as well. I really like that the page of hidden dots is fully shown when complete, something that I think could be taken advantage of more as the revealing of the entire pages is great fun to look at and gives a certain closure, especially for children who may have struggled with this app.

We love Spot the Dot in our house. I think it is a great application for kids of pre-school age, as well as an app for special needs kids of any age who would benefit from such clearly spoken tasks that one must accomplish - great for cognitive skills, I would think.

I am happy that this app has challenged my son, and that he took this challenge head-on, mastering what he can and asking for help when he needs it instead of having a meltdown over areas that can frustrate him. I am thrilled to see him work to achieve the goals he sets for himself, and for these reasons, I consider this app a great learning tool.

Chuck and Friends: Friends for the Long Haul

Posted by Amy Solomon on July 5th, 2011
+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad

Chuck and Friends: Friends for the Long Haul is a new universal storybook app that includes games developed in a partnership between Ruckus Media Group and Hasbro, bringing the popular series of Tonka Chunk and Friends toys to life in a children’s application.

Options include listening to narration or reading this book to oneself, as well as making one's own recording, and it is nice that when listening to included narration the words are highlighted when read in order to aid reading skills. Interactive word games are included as well, adding a nice educational touch. There is also a section that nicely introduces the characters found in this story.

Chuck and Friends: Friends for the Long Haul is a story about cute vehicles and a day-in-the-life adventures as they make mischief and break something of value owned by Chuck’s mom, as well as making a new friend and having an adventure showcasing their different abilities as vehicles.

Throughout these pages, word games are included where the player uses a finger to wipe clean the device of a mud or water spot, looking for letters that make up the word in question. Sometimes a simple memory-style game is used, as making pairs uncovers the letters used in the hidden word. These word puzzles are fun, and older children will enjoy trying to come up with the word that they are looking for crossword-style, using their reading comprehension skills to come up with a word that fits the context and the number of letters available, as well as the letter hints they get as these mini-games are played out.

At the end of this story, one can fill in the blanks of a synopsis of this tale with the words they have earned through these activities in a rebus story that uses images instead of certain words, here the words earned though these mini-games, or choose to use these earned words in question without images, creating a fill-in-the-words story instead. I appreciate how one can read this story again for different words that still fit into the same context of the story as well as use different words in the rebus story to create something entirely new - a nice touch that adds to the re-readability of this app.

These stories are nice-looking with bright colors and with enthusiastic narration that kids will enjoy. I like how storybook pages flow into animated sections of these stories, especially in the second half which includes a lot of action and some interesting perspectives as Chuck and his friends create and play on a large tower and ramp to show off their skills - my son’s favorite part of this story. These tales include some nice morals about owning up to one’s mistakes and cleaning up messes, as well as appreciating the differences in others and good sportsmanship.

This app will be liked by kids who have fun playing with trucks, especially those who are fond of the Chuck and Friends series of toys, as they will enjoy this story even more. My son asks for this app by name, and I think others will like it too. Hasbro has so many great toys, I am curious to see what the partnership between Hasbro and Ruckus Media Group comes up with next.

Rainforest Survival Challenge Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Three Little Pigs, told by Holly Hunter Review

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

This version of the Three Little Pigs by Ruckus Media group is a lovely adaptation of this traditional story narrated by Holly Hunter, with details that children today may find interesting and possibly different than other versions of this story that they have experienced. As with all classic stories turned into apps by Ruckus Media Group, choices include watching the video or reading the story in book form by oneself.

I am always impressed with the quality of these applications. The illustrations and music that accompany these apps are uniformly wonderful, this app being no exception. What I found most interesting here is that this version of the story has elements that many times are lost in more modern versions of this tale.

It is my understanding that the first published version of this story dates back to the 1840’s by James Orchard Halliwell-Phillipps and included some notable differences compared to the story that is typically told today, at least in the versions we have been reading. Here the pigs are sent off to “find their fortune,” with the common moral of “always do the best that you can do” not really being a part of this story. The first two pigs get eaten quickly by the wolf, but the third pig defeats this beast in the end after the wolf tries many times to lure the smartest pig away from the brick house. This app follows suit with these differences and I especially enjoyed the section of this story where the third pig outsmarts the wolf every time he tries to trick the pig out into the open, bringing the story to other locations including a nice moment at a country fair that I enjoy.

Another interesting detail in this app is that the three pigs are sisters, not brother pigs - a detail that I have never heard before. These female pigs are super cute-looking, each dresses in lovely outfits. Because they so adorable, it struck me as a little rough when I realized that the first two pigs were going to be eaten instead of taking up refuge in the house made of bricks. I do think, however, that I enjoyed the second half of this story even more, knowing that this pig is a female pig and that we get to know her much better in this version. I enjoy the idea that it is a lady outwitting and ultimately cooking and eating the wolf - yet another way this story is different from what we ordinarily read.

The music included here is excellent, as various styles are used to further illustrate the differences among the three pigs, it also being used to make the wolf seem even more menacing that he commonly comes across in most versions of this story. We enjoyed this app a great deal, but parents please take note that this very traditional adaptation of The Three Little Pigs may not be for the most sensitive of children. All in all, another great app from Ruckus Media Group.

Andrew Answers Review

Posted by Amy Solomon on January 10th, 2011
+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad

Andrew Answers is a universal storybook app, both creative and fun, from Ruckus Media Group about a boy with an inventive sense of humor which is not appreciated by his teachers and most of the other adults that he encounters. Ranging in scope from the principal's office to the oval office, this app comes together and ends in a way that I really enjoy. Interactive elements are also present to explore, but this is primarily a story.

I really like this app and can relate to Andrew as he gets into trouble, being misunderstood by adult authority figures as he answers word problems directed towards him - correctly, from his point of view. Both my husband and I remember periods in our childhood of feeling not understood by teachers as well as other adults, and I think that it is a revelation to touch upon these issues in such a charming and comedic way. I admire the creative use of language here, and showing the great flexibility of words as Andrew answers the questions asked of him with great whit. The use of the alphabet here is a great teaching tool as well.

These days, many special education teachers use apps in their classrooms, and although this app is not specifically for, and certainly not limited to kids with special needs or on the autism spectrum, I think that Andrew is very relatable to kids who may think or interact with the world or their classroom in a way that may seem different or disruptive, or to students who have been labeled as “bright underachievers” when in fact many of these kids are just simply bored. I admire how Andrew becomes redeemed in the end, a great moment that any kid thought of as “different” can cheer for and may gain a sense of personal satisfaction from, as did I.

Some interactions are included with this app. There are two mazes to navigate, and I like that one can choose “easy” or “hard” as well as skipping them. However, I wish these options were offered on the maze page itself - not before, so if a player feels stuck and wants to just continue with the story, they can do so. The other interactions are simple and nice, although minimal, and I do think parents who expect a highly interactive app may be disappointed by their expectations. Having said this, I think this is a very worthwhile and educational app, with an ending that I especially appreciated.

A Present for Milo: A Touch-and-Surprise Storybook Review

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

A Present for Milo is a lovely and fun interactive app for iPad from the developers at Ruckus Media Group. This book was designed especially for the iPad by graphic artist Mike Austin and lends itself very well to a multitude of places to tap, discover, and interact with. This story about a game of chase between cat and mouse friends is written with short, pithy phrasing and is perfect for young readers, but will surely entertain children and adults of all ages.

I am very impressed with the look of this app. The love that graphic illustrator Mike Austin used in crafting these pages is apparent. The colors are bight and vivid, and I enjoy the use of details and textures within these drawings, as well as the placements of objects in the various rooms that these crazy animals run through, adding to the feel of action and chaos they are creating while playing their game of chase. The interactions included are just as grand, and I like the fact that many times something different happens whenever you tap to interact with specific elements, and that the interactions can be performed an infinite number of times before swiping to the next page.

Just as impressive is the use of music and percussive sounds to further this story’s action. Interactions include tapping a piano to make sounds just as the mouse and cat did while running over the piano moments before, tapping sheet music to hear music samples, and tapping to hear the sounds of a metronome or musical key sounds when tapped as well. I find these noises, especially some of the drumming used to illustrate the running that these animals do in circles “around and around and around” especially well done, as are the choices made to illustrate this activity.

Without giving anything away, I enjoy the ending, which may come as a surprise to children, and I like the gentle message sent about friendship and that some of the best gifts one can give are not store-bought.

While searching for hidden hot spots, my son did have some issues with accidentally flipping pages back and forth without meaning to, and it would be nice if some visual clues was added, like triangles to show where to tap or avoid in terms of page turning.

This issue aside, this is a sweet and entertaining interactive storybook for new readers and adults alike.

Johnny Appleseed Review

Posted by Amy Solomon on November 23rd, 2010
+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad

Johnny Appleseed is a storybook app from the developers at Ruckus Mobile Media. Although these developers are new to creating applications, Ruckus Mobile Media brings with them the books from the famed Rabbit Ears Library, known for incorporating award-winning stories, amazing celebrity narrations, and phenomenal music and art. These apps can be watched like a video or be read like a book, and one can make one's own recording as well, and are universal apps. This specific app, Johnny Appleseed tells the story of this folk hero's life vividly and beautifully, with the narration by Garrison Keillor being perfectly realized, as are all the other elements of this app.

I was so very impressed the first time I opened this app, struck by the water color illustrations and the music which accompanies the story as well as Garrison Keillor’s simply perfect narration. You learn not just about Johnny Appleseed's planting apple trees across America, but about his deep love of animals and nature in general. The story can be beautifully slow and meandering, the prose being lush with description and emotion, really taking its time so one really gets to know Johnny Appleseed in a way I have never before experienced. The tone can be quite melancholy, and there are moments which are sad. Parents may want to keep this in mind if their young children are sensitive, but I think that this is an amazing app for all ages, from kindergarten all the way to adulthood. I don’t think anyone outgrows a good story, and it would be a shame if parents of older children assumed this app was just for kids still reading picture books.

This app looks equally good on my iPhone as it does on an iPad, and I really like how easy it is to read this book out loud with just a sentence or two per page. I do have one request, however, I really wish that if you needed to pause this video or close the book before finishing your place could be saved. The video is roughly 24 minutes long and the book has 73 pages. I was not able to finish either one without being called away. I do wish my place was saved when I left off, especially for the video. Having said this, I am truly grateful to have been introduced to these stories; their quality is as high as it gets for storybook apps.