Thursday, January 6, 2011

Literacy & the iPad: A Second Review of Children's Literature Apps

In my last post I reviewed 5 popular ePicture book apps for the iPad and iPhone (here). While not everyone has an iPad or iPhone I intend to keep reviewing a sample of these apps as they become available, as this market will expand quickly. I will use the same framework as in my last post to review another 5 apps. I will give ratings for each app from 1 (Poor) to 5 (Excellent) in terms of a) Fun & interactivity, b) Useability, c) Benefit for learning, d) Benefit for language and literacy, e) Value for money. I will also calculate the total score for each.

1. 'The Cat in the Hat' & other Dr Seuss books

There are a number of Dr Seuss books that have been turned into ePicture books by Oceanhouse Media. These include 'Dr Seuss's ABC' (also available in a free LITE edition), 'Green Eggs and Ham', 'One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish', 'The Lorax' and 'The Sneetches'. I could have chosen any title because they are essentially all the same in design and format. It's hard to go wrong with Dr Seuss books but I have to say that this is a case where the ePicture version does little more than the paper book version.  Why? Because the only interactive element in these books is the ability to click on pictures which then leads to an appropriate word appearing. While this focus on individual words might be good for some young children to learn sight words, there is the potential to turn every reading of these books into a lesson, rather than the enjoyment of the book, the fun of the language, meaning, the rhyme and rhythm and so on. The text is also highlighted word by word in the 'Read to me' function as it is read. This could be helpful for some beginning readers, but distracting for others. You can try out the LITE version for free.

a) Fun & interactivity (3) - there is always fun in a Dr Seuss book, but the iPad versions don't add much to the paper version of the experience.

b) Useability (4) - very easy to use with read yourself and listen to options.

c) Benefit for learning (3) - while these books might reinforce single word by word reading, they could detract from the essential joy of Dr Seuss books, not to mention the wonderful rhyme and rhythm.

d) Benefit for language and literacy (4) - As long as the click on picture option doesn't disrupt the stories there will be obvious benefit due to the natural qualities of the Seuss books.

e) Value for money (4) - at $4.99 US they are good value. 

Total = 18/25

2. 'Jack and the Beanstalk'

This is a very amusing little app from Ayars Animation. While it is a well-known version of the traditional fairy tale, the animations have a sense of fun and add to the experience of the story rather than simply trivialising it (like some apps). It can be read in readalong mode or can be read yourself.  It has a number of hidden features on each page and has a summary menu that can be accessed showing what features are on each page. The varied forms of interactivity include a variety of elements in the illustrations that speak, move or do funny things. There is also a hidden egg, characters that can be moved, a sun that you can set, a page that you can 'paint' and so on. While some forms of interaction on ePicture books can distract from the story some of these quirky animations add value to the reading experience.

a) Fun & interactivity (5) - this is an excellent version of a traditional tale that is a lot of fun and has varied forms of animation and interactivity.
b) Useability (4) - very easy to use although I took a while to realise that you had to tap 4 times to stop the automatic play.

c) Benefit for learning (3) - this book offers a traditional tale that will help children's language development and sense of story.

d) Benefit for language and literacy (4) - there are a number of pluses for literacy with this app. Whereas the Dr Seuss books reviewed above highlight each word as the child reads along, this app uses phrase highlighting that tends to encourage reading for meaning.

e) Value for money (5) - at $3.99 US this app is excellent value.

Total = 21

3. 'Wrong Side of the Bed' by Wallace E. Keller
This 3D story has been produced by Seehere Studios. I haven't been able to view the 3D version that uses the typical paper glasses that you can purchase for about $1, but the 2D version works well. It is a delightful story suitable for 3-6 year-olds and tells the story of a little boy who wakes up one day to find everything is upside down. The book has simple and effective cartoon style pastel illustrations. The level of interactivity is limited except for the ability to zoom in on the images and move the image around a little. Younger readers will enjoy it, but this app does little for me and wasn't that exciting for child readers tested.

a) Fun & interactivity (2) - pretty limited interactivity so the ePicture book has to appeal based on the story and illustrations plus the novelty of the cheap 3D glasses if you can get them. 

b) Useability (4) - simple and easy to use.

c) Benefit for learning (3) - beyond the benefits for knowledge and language that you gain reading any book, there is the added benefit of the potential discussion of gravity and other scientific concepts.  Not much more here that you couldn't get from a traditional book.

d) Benefit for language and literacy (2) - not much benefit beyond a traditional book except for the potential for some reluctant readers to be motivated to read by the technology.

e) Value for money (4) - at $2.99 US this is good value, there are few book apps as cheap as this.

Total = 15/25
4. 'Toy Story'

While you can buy the more recently released 'Toy Story 2' and  'Toy Story 3' based on Disney and PIXAR movies, I thought I'd review the earlier 'Toy Story' app because it is free!! It is essentially based on Toy Story 1 and includes clips from the movie and some of the songs, pages that can be painted at the touch of the screen and some simple games. It has read to and read alone options as well as an option to record your own version. There is also a fantastic find a page option that allows you to bring up thumbnails of all pages and simply flick from one page to another - brilliant! My only beef with the app is that in the readalong version the text highlighting is word by word. I'd prefer a phrase-by-phrase option for many readers, and would suggest that developers try to incorporate both options. 

a) Fun & interactivity (5) - lots of interactivity and clever design in this app. Top rate.

b) Useability (5) - very easy to use, no criticisms from me. 

c) Benefit for learning (4) - lots of learning from this story app, including benefits for reading, creativity and language development. 

d) Benefit for language and literacy (4) - lots to offer in this app. 

e) Value for money (5) - as it's FREE the value is indisputable.

Total = 23/25 Fabulous free app, get it!

5.  'Little Mermaid and Other Stories by H.C. Andersen'

It's hard to go wrong with a Hans Christian Andersen story and Game Collage has done a great job with this app. They also offer a free LITE version that allows you to try it out before spending $11.99 US to buy it. The app includes three H.C. Andersen stories, 'The Little Mermaid', 'The Emperor's New Clothes' and 'The Happy Family'.  This app does what the developers of 'Alice for the iPad' wanted to do but didn't quite achieve. Unlike 'Alice' this app manages to add a wide rang of interactive elements that use colour, movement, sound and image to engage the reader, complement the story and even, in places, add value to the experience of the book.

Like 'Alice', at times the interactive elements seem a little contrived, but they work. They have used an ornate style for the print and design (in keeping with the age of Andersen's stories) and have added a mass of varied interactive features. These include swimming through the ocean with the Little Mermaid, travelling to different kingdoms in the 'Emperor's new Clothes', shooting fireworks from a ship, watching ants and snails crawl across the screen, being able to rock and switch on lanterns and many more. Unlike 'Alice' the elements are on virtually every page.

The 'Little Mermaid' is a longish story, with the 'Emperor's New Clothes' medium in length and 'The Happy Family' much shorter. There is no readalong option for any of the stories which some will see as a weakness.

a) Fun & interactivity (4) - the developers have given us the benchmark for interactive elements in an ePicture book. Lack of a readalong option is the only negative.

b) Useability (4) - works well and easy to follow. A simple drop-down menu that allowed specific pages to be chosen would be helpful rather than returning each time to the contents to find the beginning of each story. 

c) Benefit for learning (4) - plenty to learn from any H.C. Andersen book, the language alone will stretch children.

d) Benefit for language and literacy (5) - this app has three great stories with interactive elements that will help to engage the readers.

e) Value for money (4) - at $11.99 US it isn't a cheap element but given the sophistication of the app elements and the fact that there are three stories it's reasonable value.

Total = 21/25 - a brilliant app, test the LITE version first with your child to see if they will like the stories, I have no doubt that they will like the interactive elements.

Some final general points

There are some exciting attempts to create electronic picture books that are more than simply read along versions for the iPad. Overall, many of the early attempts so far need further work. I would encourage parents and teachers to keep the following in mind:
  • The books need to be more than just fun play with the iPad; they must enhance the reading experience.
  • We need to remember that research shows us that the volume of reading is one of the keys to reading improvement for children.
  • When choosing apps, avoid those with add-ons that have little to add to the story.
  • Look for apps with quality literature and illustrations and rich language.
  • Choose books at your child's reading level.
  • Avoid apps that turn every reading into either a play activity or a reading lesson.   
Some other resources and links

Literacy & the iPad: A review of some popular apps (HERE)

My post on 'Alice', the iPad and new ways to read picture books (HERE)

TechRadar's '7 Best iPad Apps for Kids' (HERE)

5 Amazing iPad e-books for kids (HERE)


Catherine said...

Thanks so much for your help, Trevor! I have not had time to hunt and road test, so am very grateful to have you do the hard work for me. Off to buy some apps.

Trevor Cairney said...

Thanks Cathy, glad it was helpful. Would love to hear from you if you find some good new apps. Trevor