John Henry Review

Posted by Chris Kirby on December 20th, 2010
+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad

Price: $0.99
Version Reviewed: 1.1
Device Reviewed On: iPad

iPhone Integration Rating: starstarstarstarblankstar
User Interface Rating: starstarstarstarblankstar
Re-use Value Rating: starstarstarstarhalfstar

John Henry does almost everything right. First off, it's a universal app, so it plays perfectly on both the iPhone and the iPad. Second, it's priced at only $0.99, which is an absolute bargain compared to buying a physical hardback children's book. Third, it's wildly entertaining and provides three distinct options for experiencing its content. This is an excellent app that is sure to delight children as well as their parents.

If you're unfamiliar with the story of John Henry, he's one of the great folk heroes of America's early industrial period. A "Steel-Drivin' Man," John Henry could hammer railroad spikes faster than any man or any machine. The myth of this man who could defeat machines spoke to an America first encountering the possibility of machines replacing workers, and that myth still speaks to us today.

This version of the John Henry story was first published as a book with a cassette read-a-long with Denzel Washington, but developer Ruckus Media has merged several media together to create an app that stands well on its own. You can, of course, choose to read the book in a conventional manner, flipping pages and reading along. Or, you can watch the story's artwork go into motion (in a limited, but still effective way) in a 20 minute animated version narrated by Denzel Washington with wonderful music written and performed by B.B. King. Or, you (or your child) can record your own narration to accompany the images in the story. All are terrific ways to get children interested in the story, and even interact with it at some level.

If you have children, or even if you simply appreciate the value and beauty of a good children's book, this is a no-brainer. John Henry for the iPhone/iPad is a welcome addition to the growing library of apps devoted to translating books to Apple's electronic devices. And even John Henry would appreciate the fact that machines still need a human touch.