Wednesday, August 7, 2013

12 Great Interactive Story Apps

It seems a long time since I have reviewed some story apps. You can look at my entire app reviews HERE. In this post I want to review 12 story apps published in recent months. As in my other app reviews, I have used a rating scale that attributes a score from 1 (Poor) to 10 (Outstanding) to indicate the extent to which the app meets the following criteria:
  • The app is enjoyable to use
  • Children learn new things because of the app
  • The app makes it easier for children to learn
  • The app interactive elements don't distract from the key learning goals
  • The app is well designed, attractive and engaging
  • The app represents good value for money
1. 'Dr Seuss Short Story Collection' (Oceanhouse Media)

Dr Seuss's Short Story Collection contains eight classic titles all in one electronic book app (what Oceanhouse Media calls an 'omBook'). The format for the app is consistent with most Oceanhouse story apps. The reader can choose to read it themselves, be read to or record their won version of the reading. Pages swipe easily and the narration is a lively male reading in an American accent. The text is highlighted as it is read (word-by-word) and the reader can touch illustrations which are then named.

The eight separate stories are available from the apps 'home' where your bookcase displays the books in the collection. The stories of course are by Dr Seuss which makes them good value at $10.49 for eight stories. As I've said before in my reviews, I find the Oceanhouse template that is used in slightly varied forms for their children's books to be a little 'wooden' and lacking in interactive elements that engage the reader and support the magic of the Dr Seuss texts.  Having said this, children will enjoy some of the classic stories within the collection, including 'I Can Lick 30 Tigers Today', 'The Glunk that Got Thunk', 'Zax' and 'Too Many Daves'. Brilliant stuff from Dr Seuss.

My rating of this app is 7

2. 'Storybook Maker' (Merge Mobile)

This is a story app that allows children to make stories for others to enjoy. It allows children to create, share, and read storybooks on the iPad using a basic word processing app that has great and easy links to images, audio (for narration), music, hand drawn original artwork and a wide range of stickers that they can add. You can create new books with the touch of a single button. You are prompted for a title, options are given for a cover and then you are guided through the formatting of your story. As you move from page to page the previous page is automatically saved.

A variety of templates are also provided with different layouts. You can use blank pages to create your own layout or use one of the twelve pre-designed options. This is very easy app to use. If you're using an iPad you can take photos and instantly save them to your book. The use of text boxes, resizing, and layout are all very easy with pinch and stretch options using simple swipes of the screen. The app also offers the very cute use of “physics” objects that include a bouncing ball and a little dune buggy that can be dragged around the page.

The stories that children create are stored in 'My Library' that allows them to easily read, edit and share their work. Files can also be shared by email as a pdf (automatically generated) or via the web as a public document.

Interestingly, the app has no audio instructions, with all instructions written, using a combination of words, images and icons. However, even very young readers will handle the app easily. At $4.49 this app is very good value, I love it and can see many individuals and classes having great fun with it.

My rating of this app is 9

3. 'Little Critter Collection 1' and 'Little Critter Collection 2' by Mercer Myer (Oceanhouse)

There are two 'Little Critter Collections' available written by the legendary author Mercer Myer. Each has ten short stories that are suited to younger readers (aged 3-6 years).  The ten short stories in the second collection include 'Just Go to Bed', 'Just Going to the Dentist', 'Just Granpa and Me', 'What a Bad Dream' and 'Just me and My Cousin'. At $15.99 for the set they represent good value.

Like the Dr Seuss short story collection (reviewed above) the books have simple interactive elements, text highlighting and all illustrations are labelled. Touch the image and they are named for the reader, supporting basic word recognition.

The app also has the option to record your own narration which I'd prefer. You can also turn off the sound effects and interactivity if you want, which I think I'd be tempted to do for most readers who want to enjoy the story not do word recognition by tapping the pictures.

My rating of this app is 7

4. 'The Grunts: Beard of Bees' by Philip Ardagh and illustrated by Axel Schefler (Nosy Crow)

This free game is a clever marketing strategy for Philip Ardagh's 'Grunts' books that are illustrated by Axel Schefler. The app itself is a lot of silly fun, with the player trying desperately to give Mr Grunt a beard made from bees. This scenario of course is one of the events from the first electronic title in the series, 'The Grunts in Trouble'. This is the outrageous story of Mr and Mrs Grunt and their son, Sunny. Of course, Sunny isn’t really their son, as they stole him off a washing line when he was a baby. The story follows their adventures in a badly homemade caravan, drawn by Clip and Clop (donkeys) and their encounter with a household of disgruntled servants from nearby Bigg House, as well as a swarm of angry bees and assorted mischief along the way.

The second title just released is 'The Grunts all at Sea' with other titles to appear soon.  In the second book Mr Grunt is a man with a mission. He has to get a Person of Great Importance (or POGI) to someone called Mrs Bayliss by the twenty-fifth. Alive and well of course. And he can't tell anyone more than that, not even his lovely wife, because there will be people trying to snatch the POGI and so the POGI must be transported in secret. It's an exciting adventure. You're right, it sounds like a lot of fun. If your children like the best (most outrageous?) of Roald Dahl's tales then they will like these stories.

The books are over 200 pages long (with illustrations) and will suit readers aged 7-11 years. I have to say that the complex interface between free app, iTunes and the Nosy Crow website is clunky and I wonder why the publisher doesn't just sell the books via iTunes.

My rating of this app is 7.5

5. 'Grendel's Great Escape' (HD) by Michelle Anaya and illustrated by Kenny DeWitt

This is an interactive story about a boy named Martin and his pet ferret Grendel.  The story takes us along with Martin and his pet on a show and tell day adventure. We can help Martin find his favourite Monster Tee, tackle the laundry monster, catch his ferret and get to school on time. The app allows the reader to join Martin in his race against time to find Grendel while avoiding the grizzly school Principal.

This simple app is filled with over 50 interactive elements and animations that are of high quality. It also has the usual read to me and read by myself options.  One thing it doesn't have (that will please parents and teachers) is any external links to other sites and products. The app is great value at just $2.99.

My rating of this app is 8

6. 'The Berenstain Bears and the Trouble with Chores' by Stan and Jan Berenstain (Oceanhouse Media)

I just love the Berenstain Bears and so do most children aged 4-7 years. In this story a crisis occurs within the Bear family because Papa Bear and the cubs seem to avoid all the normal chores around the house. Mama Bear decides that two can play at this game and so stops doing them as well. The consequences are a disaster and of course something must change. Guess who has to change?!

The illustrations and text are delightful and will engage younger readers. The story has the Berenstain charm and magic. The app is available for $3.99 US.

My rating of this app is 8

7. 'A Shiver of Sharks' by Judy Hedlund (Little Bahalia Publishing)

This HD app is a sequel to 'A Troop is a Group of Monkeys' and was written by Judy Hedlund and illustrated by Pamela Baron. It is all about the creatures of the sea. It has good animation and lots of interactive elements. The text on each page is simple and highlights a single creature, a creative collective noun and a simple statement for each. Each has related and appropriate sound and animation. For example:

'A cast of crabs scuttles sideways at sea'
'A screech of gulls snatches picnic debris'
'A risk of lobsters cuts food with sharp claws'
'A battery of barracudas hunts a school of small fish'

The animations work as you touch the screen and the audio offers complementary sounds. For example, the page with the cast of crabs has the sound of waves washing the shore, and the barracudas make snapping noises (and open their mouths) when you touch them. The app is in high definition but most people won't see much difference in quality compared to SD apps.

I love this app and at $3.99 give it a high recommendation.

My rating of the app is 9

8. 'Meet the Insects: Water and Grass Edition' (NCSOFT)

This is the 3rd and latest app from NCSOFT in a series about insects (previous apps were 'Forest Edition' and the 'Village Edition'). It is an app that children interested in natural history will love. It presents a huge amount of knowledge about insects using varied written texts, images, videos, animations, interactive stories and a wonderful observation manual. It is a large app at over 500 MB but I wouldn't allow this to put you off.

The app is easy to use with the home screen offering a comprehensive set of options to sample multimedia, the journal, a quiz, or just explore insects. The observation journal is a fantastic aid. It offers the user a page for every day, with the options to add titles, weather conditions, photos, where it was spotted etc. It would work well for individuals, a class or even a family.

This will be a great app for classroom teachers to use as part of natural science or will be a very popular app with children who love the natural world.

The app has two quizzes that children will enjoy completing, although they are quite simple and won't test children with a good knowledge of science.

My rating of the app is 9

9. 'The 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins' by Dr Seuss (Oceanhouse Media)

'The 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins' is one of my favourite Dr Seuss books. It is essentially the tale of a boy who when he needs to take his hat off to honour the king - who is passing by - finds that there are 499 other hats under his first hat. Taking off the hat doesn't prove to be easy!

King Derwin demands "hats off to the King", but poor Bartholomew can't manage it. He is taken to the royal throne room and brought before the King's magicians to solve the problem.

A wonderful Dr Seuss title that children aged 4-8 will enjoy. It is priced at $5.49 US.

My rating of the app is 7.5

10. 'Sir Charlie Stinky Socks and the Really BIG Adventure' written and illustrated by Kristina Stephenson (KIWA Media)

This wonderful story app is a delightful story about courageous Sir Charlie Stinky Socks who sets out on a BIG Adventure. With his trusty grey mare and Envelope the cat, Sir Charlie and the reader can explore the deep dark forest, hear the monstrous trees groan, terrible beasts moaning and wiggly woos that cannot wait to tickle your toes. Sir Charlie doesn't flinch when he meets the beasties, or the dragon, or the wily witch, but when he comes across the princess, he realises he's met his match! As you read the app you are part of the trials of Sir Charlie defying the drooling monsters and the fire-breathing dragon to save the day. This is an innocent tale of a boy who wants adventure and finds it to be surprising and not quite he was expecting.

The app makes excellent use of sound and numerous animation features that allow readers to touch, drag and shake the iPad. These features will keep children coming back to the app (but they aren't the main game), but hopefully the wonderful images and interesting text will keep them there.  It has other features such as the option to colour in outline versions of images and children can record themselves reading the story. One feature that I like a lot is that the option to touch the text and hear it has a word by word option (which I've criticized in the past) and the ability to hear phrases, lines and sentences with a swipe of the text. This is a great feature and encourages the use of context, meaning and syntax.

This app was winner of the Practical Pre-School Bronze medal and shortlisted for the Red House Children’s Book award. It sells for $5.49 and is suitable for children aged 3-6 years.

My rating of the app is 9
11. 'I Love My Dad' by Anna Walker (Snappyant)

This is a lightly animated and interactive app based on the popular children's book, 'I Love My Dad' (published in 2009 by Scholastic Press). It was written by Australian author and illustrator Anna Walker. Anna works with ink, pencil and collage to create her beautiful images. It is a delightful story with great sound effects. The story is simple but beautifully written.

 The story is centred on Ollie, a gorgeous lively Zebra and Fred the dog. The central character (and narrator) of the story loves his Dad. The language use is so authentic, every word is well chosen, and the actual reader on the app has a delightful and appropriate male voice. As we read along, we go with Ollie as he plays and enjoys a fun day with his Dad. And as we do so, we can touch the characters on every page and make them move along with the narrative. We can make Ollie ride his bike, help him to swing in the tree, paint the fence, go down the slide and we can even move the playground equipment. But soon it is time for bed and Dad falls asleep reading to Ollie. This is a beautiful bedtime story that all children aged 2-5 years will love. It sells for $4.49. 

My rating of the app is 9.5

12. 'McElligot's Pool' by Dr Seuss (Oceanhouse Media)

Marco casts his fishing line into McElligot's pool and wonders what sea creatures might bight if this pool is connected (perhaps) to an underground river that starts at the pool and flows to distant places.  Might some strange and wonderful fish be on their way to his hook this very moment? He wonders, "Will I catch a fish with a pinwheel-like tail! I might catch a fish who has fins like a snail!" His over-active imagination takes him through a world of possibilities, as he considers wild creatures with unusual habits! The book has the typical Oceanhouse features. Switch off the word recognition facility of it is a distraction so that your readers can just enjoy the wonderful Seuss story. It is available for $4.99 US. Readers aged 4-10 will enjoy this book.

My rating of the app is 7

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