iPad Storybook Apps And The Kids Who Love Them

Lily Gallaga reading on an iPad. i i

hide captionLilly Gallaga, age 3, reads from an iPad.

Courtesy of Omar Gallaga
Lily Gallaga reading on an iPad.

Lilly Gallaga, age 3, reads from an iPad.

Courtesy of Omar Gallaga

Omar Gallaga is the technology reporter for the Austin American-Statesman.

It's bedtime for my 3-year-old daughter, Lilly. She climbs into her little twin-size bed with Tinkerbell sheets. It's covered with dolls and stuffed animals. As she gets settled in, we choose tonight's bedtime stories.

"Do you want to read regular books or iPad?" I ask. "iPad!" is her reply.

In November, I started reviewing children's iPad apps for Kirkus Reviews.

Lilly is my review partner. We've gone through 50 apps in two months. Like much of the Apple App Store, the quality of what's available runs the gamut from crude cash-ins with ugly illustrations, barely worth their 99-cent price tag, to lavish productions with top-notch voice talent and 3-D pages. The priciest can cost up to $10.

Lily can name the ones she knows: Alice in Wonderland, Teddy, Jack and the Beanstalk. She doesn't know how to use the Internet or a computer mouse, but she can easily navigate the iPad's touch screen.

Her small hands flip past pages of apps, and she taps a finger on the ones she wants.

Lilly is in her princess phase and is obsessed with not one but two apps that tell the story of Rapunzel. The first is a straight-forward storybook with colorful, hand-drawn illustrations, numerous hidden sound effects and animations you can activate by pressing the screen.

The second is a pop-up book that asks the reader to complete small challenges before Rapunzel can meet and fall in love with her prince.

Omar Gallaga is a regular contributor to NPR's All Tech Considered blog.

hide captionOmar Gallaga is a regular contributor to NPR's All Tech Considered blog.

Courtesy of the Austin American-Statesman

She's not as crazy about some of the apps I've given high marks to, like PopOut! The Tale of Peter Rabbit, where the characters don't just appear; they giggle and wiggle on virtual springs. Lilly pokes them to make them speak, or slides what look like tabs in a paper pop-up book to make Peter squeeze under a fence or to make Mr. McGregor chase the rabbit with a rake.

The apps we both love tend to build on traditional works to create something even better — like Ayars Animation's Jack and the Beanstalk, a great app that features voice acting, hidden sound effects and original music.

Cows moo, the golden harp plays a song, and the giant will sway on the beanstalk if Lilly tilts the iPad back and forth. Do it too much and the giant tells her, "Will you stop that already?"

Some say electronic books are creating a more passive reading experience, but Lilly frequently reads along with the narration, pokes the iPad screen to interact with the stories and asks me to help her solve puzzles.

When we read traditional paper books, whether it's Goodnight Moon, or Mercer Mayer's Little Critters series, she is more apt to lie down and listen.

By the time we're done, we've read five stories and stayed up long past Lilly's bedtime.

"We read a lot of books tonight, huh?" I ask as I tuck her in.

"Yeah!" she says, as she kisses me goodnight.

Omar Gallaga's iPad App Reviews From Kirkus

Additional reviews can be found at Kirkus Reviews.

  • Jack and the Beanstalk Children's Interactive Storybook

    Taking a page out of the Disney playbook (give or take 30 pages), this version of the Jack-versus-Giant tale doesn't offer sparkling prose.

    But in every other area — from its lush, hand-drawn-meets-digital-effects artwork to its treasure trove of hidden games, effective voice work and lengthy list of ways to customize the experience — it reaches great heights. While some of the app's interactive surprises seem more obligatory than revelatory (when Jack buys the magic beans, a hidden bean-matching memory game can be accessed), others are more inspired. On every page, a hidden golden egg can be found; it hatches to reveal a fuzzy yellow chick dancing to a short burst of accordion music. On one page, tapping Jack coaxes him into belting out a song in the style of a Disney animation show tune. And in addition to the standard poking and page turning used by other iPad story apps, some pages also react to tilting the device or shaking it. The characterizations, especially of the Giant, his wife and Jack's barnyard animals, are lively. Production values feel high, and the app's length and bundle of features feel well-paced, never overstaying their welcome.

    Truly an app that grows beyond expectations.

    Buy This App From iTunes

  • Rapunzel

    Rapunzel

    hide captionOniric.co

    Filled with digitally collaged illustrations and pages that take advantage of the iPad's touch and motion features, this app stands out by mostly enhancing, rather than getting in the way of, a good Brothers Grimm story.

    The familiar tale of the beauty locked in a tower who lets down her long hair for a young prince includes painted-in pencil sketches of characters and crinkled-paper background textures that display beautifully on the iPad's screen. In addition to fussily amusing British-accented narration, some pages have sound effects (a witch's cackle, a bird's chirp) activated by touch. On certain pages, the foreground can be shifted left and right by tilting the iPad. And on two of the story's 25 pages, a black-and-white sketch can be colored in with finger motions. A handsome pop-up filmstrip bar provides easy navigation, and the narration is also available in Spanish.

    Whether the girl-in-distress-becomes-a-princess storyline is still relevant after nearly 200 years is an entirely separate matter, Disney movie adaptations aside.

    Buy This App From iTunes

  • Pop Out! The Tale of Peter Rabbit

    Startling in its mix of digital and traditional book design, Loud Crow Interactive's first iPad book app translates the text and illustrations of the Beatrix Potter classic into electronic pages that appear to live and breathe beneath readers' fingertips.

    Peter Rabbit's misadventure in Mr. McGregor's garden is told with the illusion of spring-loaded objects and pull-tab animation. For 55 gorgeous pages, every rabbit, flower pot and bird can be wiggled and poked as a lush piano accompaniment and optional British-accented narration plays. The surprises extend beyond the borders of the pictures; poke falling blackberries and they pop out of the image, settling, photo-realistically, at the bottom of the pages. An unobtrusive silver tab at the top of the screen can be pulled down at any time to skip to a favorite page. The happy congruence between the original book's diminutive trim size and the proportions of the landscape-oriented iPad means that Potter's illustrations appear almost as they would to readers holding the book open — a masterstroke of design.

    Elegant, easy to navigate and beautiful, it combines the best of print and digital.

    Buy This App From iTunes

  • Grimm's Rapunzel — 3D Interactive Pop-Up Book

    Grimm's Rapunzel

    hide captionIdeal Binary Limited

    Visually unique with engaging computer-generated graphics and thrilling transitions between a virtual book and pop-up playsets, this take on long-haired Rapunzel's tower imprisonment just misses enhancing the well-worn tale by veering too far from the original story.

    The 3-D employed in the service of this app isn't the kind viewed with special glasses; instead it's the 3-D graphic effects common in video games and computer-animated movies and TV shows. Used here, the effects turn a digital representation of a fairy tale book into a moving, animated pop-up paradise where trees, hills and objects readers can manipulate with their fingers spring from the pages. In between lightly illustrated pages of olde-timey text are the interactive pages, which invite readers to grow flowers for Rapunzel's mother, assist a prince on his quest to find the trapped princess and even drop vegetables into a pot for a romantic dinner. Strangely, there are no interactive pages or mini-games involving Rapunzel's famous hair, a glaring omission. If only the story were as imaginative and full of flair as the beautifully rendered pop-up pages (which themselves seem oddly middle-American next to the old-fashioned look of the text). Instead, this version of the Brothers Grimm story is altered and truncated, exiting on a limp happy ending: The witch gives up Rapunzel without much of a fight, and, except for a brief detour to the Desert of Doom, there's not much adversity to overcome.

    Disappointing.

    Buy This App From iTunes

  • Teddy's Day

    Teddy's Day

    hide captionAuryn Inc.

    A little girl ponders the secret life of her stuffed bear and attempts to catch him in the act.

    Based on the 2004 children's book, What Does My Teddy Bear Do All Day? by Bruno Hachler and Birte Muller, the brief story is sweetly told and full of surprises. At first, the app seems to be a no-frills, basic narrative, with painterly illustrations and simple navigation (arrows at the top left and right to flip pages). With only minimal animation — leaves blowing in a breeze or eyes blinking — it's easy to miss the hidden features like a drawing tablet accessible by tapping on papers taped to a wall, or the teddy bear's ability to flop left and right with a tilt of the iPad on the title screen. Where the original book relied on readers' ability to catch all the details presented on the page, this app takes advantage of the medium with these interactive touches to provide a full-blown picture of this teddy and his chums' secret life. By not calling attention to those features until a few seconds after the narration is read on each page, then highlighting where to touch, it rewards patient readers while still providing a cozy tale for those who want to speed through.

    Subtle, surprising and ultimately spectacular.

    Buy This App From iTunes

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