Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Part 3: Fun & Games Since John Newbery's 'Pretty Little Pocketbooks'

This is the third in a series of dotMomming's conversation with Patrick Cox,  who is teaching Children's Literacies, a course at Rutgers University in Camden, New Jersey, about learning to read in the digital age. Patrick is a Ph.D. candidate in Rutger's childhood studies program.

DotMomming: The term "book" has become a loose thing as app developers include games and other whistles and bells with their digital stories. Often a parent wonders, "Is this a book? a game? a movie? all three?" What is your take on these new beasts?

Patrick Cox: I think it’s great to be prompted to such questions, and to hopefully conclude that books, games, and even movies needn’t be mutually exclusive. Perhaps it’s OK for reading to be fun. . . it always has been. Adding a few bells and whistles to reading is nothing new. John Newbery’s Pretty Little Pocketbooks are often mentioned as a starting point of children’s literature, at least as a marketed product. He published them in 1744, and they were accompanied with balls and pincushions. Children’s books and toys have always gone hand-in-hand.

One can argue that children’s literature has always crossed a line between “reading” and “playing” in such a way and to such a degree that should really force us to always consider fun, play, and even “gaming” as part of it. Digital enhancements are just the next development.

And the questions and concerns about digital reading are age-old as well. Nowadays, people can’t tell if the latest reading device is a toy or a book, but in the past, people have asked, “How can this be serious reading if the rhymes and rhythm are so bouncy? Won’t the colorful pictures distract from the reading? Aren’t these pop-up images just a little ‘too much’? Isn’t it enough to just read?” But the truth is, reading is supposed to be fun.

I think it’s also worth pointing out that there’s very little evidence to suggest that either:
  1. No one is reading any more, or 
  2. No one is reading books anymore. 
The presence of these new types of experiences with reading are not spelling the end of reading – to the contrary, I’d argue they enhance and encourage it! And to those who ask, “What’s wrong with just reading a book?” I’d reply: absolutely nothing, and the sales figures suggest that most people – especially young people – agree! These new creations really ought to be embraced for their ability to bring new people to reading and new experiences to reading, and not feared as some sort of enemy of literacy.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Part 2: Digital Literacy and Learning to Read

This is the second in a series of posts in which we'll hear from Patrick Cox, a Ph.D. candidate in the childhood studies program at Rutgers University. Patrick taught a summer course on learning to read in the digital age, and he will repeat it in the fall and spring. In exploring how digital readers are impacting early literacy development, Patrick is engaging his students in better understanding technology and how young children are learning about it and with it.

DotMomming: The digital natives born into the iPad world are experiencing reading and learning in a whole new way. I don't mean this as a plug for Apple, just in the sense that books are a fluid thing now. Kids can toddle over to the bookshelf to sit down with a paper book, or they can tap their fingers on a reading tablet and read a digital one. Is one experience better than the other?

Patrick Cox: Of course not! Certainly the experiences are different from each other, but it gets a bit sticky to ascribe words like “better” or “worse” to one experience over another. Apart from whatever text is being read in each medium, both media also teach valuable skills to young readers. “Book awareness” starts very young, and the book is itself a technology anyone in the United States really needs to learn how to use.

We don’t really think of it, but at some point we had to learn the difference between the cover of a book and the back of a book, or which direction to turn the pages, or that we read from left to right. These are all skills that are developed from a very young age and will serve us throughout our lives . . . unless books completely disappear, which I don’t think is likely at all.

Similarly, reading tablets and other hi-tech manifestations of books teach other useful skills we might call “tech awareness.” As unromantic as it sounds, these days we need to learn a connection between pushing buttons and things happening on a screen, or “swyping” a screen to move an image. In my state of Pennsylvania, naming and having some understanding of how to use computer parts like keyboards, a mouse, a touchpad, and a cell phone is part of the pre-kindergarten education standards. The fact is, like it or not, it behooves us all to learn how to use these new devices.

I’m very interested in this phrase “digital native.” I’ve heard it before and understand what is meant. But there’s an implication about it, it seems, that there’s something natural about kids’ connection to technology that people who aren’t “natives” can’t ever fully learn or become a part of. “Native” means some people are “not native,” so there’s a separation being made in the phrase between children and adults. “You grow up with it or you don’t; you’re a part of it, or you aren’t.” Children and adolescents have been classed as “separate” in different realms before. (There’s actually a book about teenagers called “A Tribe Apart,” another term that both primitivizes children and separates “them” from “us” – the presumably less primitive adults.)

I’ve heard children’s picture book apps on iPads described as perfect for young children because “kids these days are wired differently.” I think there’s a growing belief that children “just know this tech stuff” as if it’s not learned but natural to them, as if children are somehow at one with technology and its accompanying gadgets; “wired differently” as if part of the computer’s circuitry.

What’s troubling in all this is the perception that using reading tablets and other techie gadgets is somehow not reading. And that the gadgets – the digital books and apps and so forth – are cutting us off from “the natives.” We often hear a critique of e-readers along the lines of, “Yes, but it’s just not the same as curling up with a book and turning the pages.” People talk about the feel of paper, the smell of books. Indeed, a Kindle is not the same. But I’m not sure the difference is such as to affect a young reader’s comprehension or engagement with the story being read or their connection with the characters. In other words, reading hasn’t changed; just the device has changed. But that seems to be fraught with a lot of other meanings for people.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Rutgers Scholar on Reading in the Digital Age

As we explore the role technology plays in early literacy development, we’re always on the lookout for cool happenings in the realm of kids books. Imagine our surprise when dotMomming stumbled across an undergraduate course being taught this summer at Rutgers University in Camden, New Jersey, about learning to read in the digital age.

Titled simply Children’s Literacies, the coursework examines how literacy has expanded beyond the basics of reading and writing to include technological literacy as well. We reached out to Patrick Cox, who taught the summer course, is a Ph.D. candidate in the childhood studies program at Rutgers, and is clearly passionate about digital books and their effect on early literacy.

We'll devote the next many posts to exploring digital books and learning with Patrick.

DotMomming: Can you talk about the Rutgers course? Who was your audience? What were your topics? What did you hope to accomplish with the program?

Patrick Cox: The course is taught in the Department of Childhood Studies at Rutgers. Previously, the only children’s literature courses taught on this campus were offered through the English department, a discipline that takes a particular approach to literature. My department wanted some sort of children’s literature course that approached the literature in a Childhood Studies sort of way, which meant, first, it had to be a multi-disciplinary course, and second, it had to keep “the child” at the center of the study in some way.

So in a very important way this course is a children’s literature course that deliberately includes media other than books: e-readers, toys, CD-ROMs, websites, transmedia texts, cell phone novels, vooks [combination of books and videos] – we even looked into stories told through clues on T-shirts! People are really doing some amazing things with how they tell stories. And children’s and young adult literature is leading the way.

I wanted students to end the course with a greater awareness of and appreciation for some of these other forms. But we also read novels, short stories, picture books, comic books, graphic novels, because none of these things have been replaced; they’re part of children’s literacies too.

On another level, the course is about literacy itself: how it has developed, why it’s been taught, what has the spread of literacy meant for our culture, how has it been used as a “gatekeeper,” and what has it meant for those who have been left out. So my students also read about cognitive development as children learn to read, pedagogical approaches in classrooms, educational theory, ethnographies conducted in schools, scholarly work on incorporating popular culture into literacy instruction, and popular writing from newspapers and magazines to get a feel for the general cultural discourse and controversies around these new forms of literature. We also spent a good deal of time discussing the role of the marketplace in new literacies.

The course is open to any undergraduate student at Rutgers, and I hope those majoring in Childhood Studies find it fits with the rest of their courses: a one-of-a-kind course in a one-of-a-kind department. That to me is very important: it should be a course people can’t find anywhere but here.

I always hope for a certain number of students to come from the Teacher Prep program as well, to bring their expertise to the classroom and, hopefully, think in a different way about their role and approach as literacy instructors. Also, the undergraduate population is not a bunch of 18-year-olds anymore. Most of them are older (some quite a bit older), and half of my students have kids of their own.

I love teaching parents, as a parent myself, exchanging new ideas and materials and hoping they leave the course with an understanding that there are multiple forms of literacy, multiple ways to teach children to read, that literacy instruction these days begins at home and at a very young age, and that it’s OK to have fun while doing it. Also that not having the latest technological device will not doom your child to a life of illiteracy.

I’ll be teaching [Children’s Literacies] again this fall and then again in the spring. Enrollment for the fall session is already at capacity!

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Author-Illustrator Elizabeth O. Dulemba Conjures Up Adorable App with "Lula's Brew"

In getting to understand picture book apps, we've heard from app developers about what it takes to bring their ideas to market. But what about the author-artists themselves? What's it like to see your illustrations and stories come to life as a digitally animated book?

DotMomming reached out to Elizabeth O. Dulemba, author-illustrator of the darling picture book app Lula's Brew. Aside from illustrating over a dozen traditional books, she is the Illustrator Coordinator for the Southern region of the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators, an adjunct professor of illustration at the University of Georgia, and also sits on the board of the Georgia Center for the Book. And we cannot overlook this incredibly cool resume footnote: she created the laser show on the side of Georgia's Stone Mountain one summer (which I think I attended back in 1991 when I worked for a South Carolina newspaper).

DotMomming: You have a strong background in traditional books and art, but you've begun to dip your toes in the land of picture book apps. How's the water?

Elizabeth O. Dulemba: Interesting. I've always been a bit of a geek -- taught myself html, do my own website, illustrate digitally. So when e-books came along, of course I was intrigued. I love that we have this new media in which to share our stories, often in interactive new ways. It opens even more possibilities for storytelling.

DM: Lula's Brew is a gorgeously illustrated book. What is your creative process in making your art? And how does it look to you on the iPad, Nook, and other digital formats?

EOD: Thank you! I usually start with pencil sketches which I scan, arrange, and then color digitally (mostly in Photoshop). I'm thrilled by how Lula looks on these devices -- exactly as I intended, with light from behind. The viewer can see every brush stroke, every nuance of color. Fantastic!

DM: How does this compare to the paper books you've produced? Do you prefer one medium over the other?

EOD: I originally got into this business because I love books. Paper and cardboard and color. I will never lose my love for the turned page. So while I love digital formats, I will first and foremost always want to hold a finished book in my hands.

DM: Can you take a moment to talk about the production process with Lula's Brew? How long did it take you to go from "ah-ha" moment with the story idea to "wow" moment when you could download the app? How does this compare with traditional?

EOD: Lula's Brew had a tumultuous journey. I actually created the story and the dummy years before. One of the illustrations even won me a Grand Prize in the SmartWriters competition. And although it got close, the story was never picked up by a major publishing house. When apps came along, I searched my archives for something that I could adapt, and Lula was the one. It had received great feedback, was short, funny, the sketches were done...

But with a Halloween theme, I had a short window in which to complete it. That was two weeks of late nights, and then I sent my files to my app developer. I did a voice recording in a mock sound studio at his house, he put it all together and submitted to Apple. The app was live two weeks later - just before Halloween.

Traditional publishing is a completely different animal. I usually have months to a year to illustrate a book, and of course, I don't have to record a soundtrack. I'm also working under contract with a publisher. The app was on my own.

DM: As an illustrator of traditional books and now with app experience under your belt, could you speak in general terms about profit margins. For a picture book to be deemed a success, it needs to sell about 10,000 copies. Lula's Brew, which was released in April 2010 and retails for $2.99 in the App Store, has already marked more than 10,000 downloads. Despite the lower price, are your profit margins better than for your traditional paper books? Can you elaborate?

EOD: Lula's Brew has done remarkably well in downloads, however the profit margin is still nowhere near a traditional book contract. It's done better than I thought, but I currently wouldn't look to apps as a true money-making venture. Especially now that the field is growing so crowded. The advantage I had of having one of the first picture book apps out there is no longer, so marketing is yet again the grand beastie challenge.

DM: Could you take a moment to gaze into your crystal ball? What do you see as the future for picture books in five, ten years? Of course digital does not have to wipe out print -- as with movies, there's still room for big-screen film experiences along side video-watching at home. Do you see the market preferring one over the other?

EOD: I do think digital picture books will cut into the paper book market, however I don't see it replacing it. Nowhere close. Picture books are still a child's first foray into reading, into loving books, and I don't think parents will be eager to replace that experience with electronic devices. Yes, iPhones are great on the fly, but not as much at bedtime. And the prices of various devices are still too high to make them accessible to all families.

I see the two media working together over the next few years, giving our young ones so many options, they become bigger readers than ever. Doesn't that sound nice?

DM: A worry I have as the mother of young kids is that picture book apps can sometimes blur the lines between book and movie, or even book and game. What are your thoughts about young readers and their early literacy experiences with apps vs. traditional books?

EOD: I agree with your concern. I think it's important for parents to introduce books not only for reading, but as a concept. The world flies at us these days, and children need to know they can find refuge in a simple book, in a story that uses their mind as the interactive element.

DM: What's next for you? Are you illustrating more picture book apps? Are you writing them as well? What about traditional books? What do you hope to be doing three years from now?

EOD: I don't have any picture book apps in progress right now. In my opinion, it's not efficient from a budget standpoint to spend time on them from scratch. It's just too dicey as to whether or not they'll earn enough revenue. Truly, I think the best use of the media is to bring out-of-print picture books back to life -- giving them a new audience. Although, I am curious to see how Lula's Brew does as a Nook Book through Barnes & Noble. Maybe that will change my mind. It's still too new to tell.

I currently have a new picture book dummy being shopped by my agent to traditional publishing houses, as well as a middle-grade novel. In three years, I hope to have them published and be creating more!

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Dublin's Ideal Binary Living the Fairy Tale

Among the many interesting things about app-land is that businesses can pop up anywhere you can imagine: a loft in downtown Chicago, a yurt in outer Mongolia. When we read about Dublin-based Ideal Binary and their award-winning adaptations of Grimm's fairytales for the iPad and iPhone, we wanted to find out more about this Irish business (not to mention we have fantasies about moving to the old sod someday). So we contacted Aidan Doolan, who started Ideal Binary with his twin brother, Kevin Doolan. 

DotMomming: Who is Ideal Binary and why did you decide to enter the app business? Do you produce books for kids exclusively? Or are you game developers as well? Why Dublin?

Aidan Doolan: Ideal Binary was founded by my twin brother and me in 2008. We were born and raised in Dublin, Ireland, and that's where we live with our wives and families. Location isn't so much of a barrier to doing business globally any more.

We have a long background in the games industry, and have worked on many games titles for companies like Sony, Disney, Konami, and others in the past, and our chairman, Barry O'Neill, also brings extensive commercial experience to the business from companies like Bandai Namco.

We decided to enter the app business because we could see an opportunity to create something no one else had created before - and we set about building the technology platform PopIris to allow us to realise this goal. Our experience in the games industry building high-performance 3D graphics engines and 3D physics engines, along with our experience as artists and animators, has given us a technological advantage over others in this space.

We are currently focused on family-friendly book apps, and we see this as continuing to be the focus of the business - but as we grow we'll expand our products, targeting into different family interest areas aimed at a wider age base.

DM: The picture book app market has changed dramatically since you entered the scene in 2010 with Grimm's Rumpelstiltskin. While there were just a handful of app producers then, it's a very different ballgame now. More and even bigger publishing houses are putting books out there now (Scholastic and other heavyweights). How can a small house like Ideal Binary compete?

AD: It's true, there seems to be an ever growing gold rush with numerous small and large book app producers entering the market every day. Survival rates are very low, however, with many of these (even some of the large ones) under-performing or even generating losses for their publishers. All of our apps so far have been highly profitable. One of the reasons for this is that we focus on producing unique, high-quality book apps that provide a significant wow factor. It's the wow factor that gets people talking about our apps. This helps us tackle the problem of app discovery to a large degree, and it means we have a competitive advantage. Our technology allows us deliver the "wow factor" at a reasonable production cost.

DM: How do you reach parents about your books? When I slog through the App Store, I have a hard time deciding on what books to consider for my kids. Do you have suggestions for weary parents trying to connect their kids to quality picture book apps?

AD: Thankfully, we have built a very large satisfied customer base for our interactive book apps. When we release a new product, we are able to get the word our very quickly to an audience that knows and trusts our work.

The problem of app discovery for parents is a difficult one. First and foremost, I would recommend that parents talk to their friends about what book apps have impressed them. There are also numerous review sites and blogs, such as this one, that offer good information. This will help provide parents with all the information they need to make good, informed decisions about which kids book apps to purchase and which ones to avoid.

DM: When I was reading your apps with my kids, I was pleased to see my 6-year-old taking his time with the text pages in between the pop-up activity pages. I thought it was a great balance and was pleased that I didn't have to compete with his little fingers tap-tap-tapping on clouds and stars, etc., when he was supposed to be reading. Can you talk about what goes into your decision-making in producing books. How do you strike a balance between whistles and bells vs. literary content?

AD: Above all, the most important component of any kids book app is the story, and the entertainment and educational value that can be drawn from it. We only add interactivity at key points in the story where there is an opportunity to weave the reader into the story itself. We avoid adding bells and whistles interactivity to the text pages because it simply distracts the reader from the story. There are exceptions to this, of course. You may see some examples of this in our upcoming book apps. Again, the interactivity is only added where it can enhance and not distract from the story. We see a lot of apps that try to achieve too much onscreen and overwhelm the user. Design of these aspects is key.

The interactivity we add to the pop-up scenes is largely drawn from experience with my own kids. For example, my youngest daughter initially had problems carrying out lists of instructions in the correct order. To help her with this, my wife and I would walk her through simple tasks and get her to repeat them. One task was to first plant some flower seeds and only then water them to help them grow. This of course became the first pop-up scene in Grimm's Rapunzel. After she completed a task correctly, we praised her to help positively reinforce what she had learned. She no longer has any problems with sequencing. This is how we try to present all of the interactivity in our kids book apps.

DM: The lines between "book" apps and games and movies are blurring. What is your take on picture book apps and early literacy? What do you see as the impact these new beasts will have on kids who are born into an iPad world?

AD: While we see a degree of crossover between the different mediums, in reality there's less blurring of the boundaries than some might believe. In the mid-1990s when CD-ROMs started to take off, the media started talking about exactly the same thing. It was forecast that games and movies in particular would merge. Actors like Mark Hammel started lending their talent to game/movie hybrids like the Wing Commander series. Yet here we are almost two decades later, and movies are still movies and games are still games.

We do believe there is a revolution taking place right now with book apps, and that's what we're trying to take the lead on. People (and kids in particular) learn most when they are immersed in engaging experiences they can enjoy. You've heard the Confucius quote, "Find a job you love and you'll never work a day in your life." The same is true of learning. If you can find a learning experience that isn't a chore for your child, they stand to learn so much more from it without feeling like it's a boring process. It's these kinds of experiences that we try to embody in our interactive children's books. These experiences can enhance skills like literacy (for more than one language), sequencing, understanding the benefits of a healthy diet, obedience, and kindness.

The impact of this type of learning on children will ultimately mean they can acquire these skills sooner. That means they have the potential for a richer, healthier life. As a parent, that means a lot to me, as I'm sure it does to most parents.

DM: You've made a splash with your pop-up Grimm books, which also include Red Riding Hood. What's ahead? Will you continue to put your own spin on classic fairy tales? Or do you plan to take on new authors and original stories? Do you feel that there is money to be made off new talent -- there is risk involved there in taking on unknowns -- is it worth your time and money?

AD: We're delighted with the success of our book apps so far, and we'll be accelerating our development and publishing outputs. We plan on continuing the Grimm's series. We have the next book app well under way, and we're very excited about this one. We also have a second line of book apps under way which focus more on early learning. We plan to continue innovating with new approaches to engaging our growing audience. We'll also be enhancing our technology with new interactive features with each new book release.

We will likely be partnering with established brand holders at some point in the future. We're not opposed to working with new authors, but as you say, the risks are higher with unproven brands and stories.

DM: What's the biggest lesson learned so far in the past year of this rapidly changing business?

AD: The biggest lesson we've learned so far is the realisation that to succeed in this market, a fine balance needs to be struck between features and production efforts and costs. Too many people have entered the book app market dreaming of Angry Birds style success and have over invested in products that have underperformed. There are 58,000 apps in the Books category vs. 73,000 in Games. But Games represents more than 60 percent of app downloads, whereas Books is probably less than 5 percent. That's a massively competitive environment, and you need to scale your efforts and expectations accordingly. We're happy that the approach we're taking to interactive kid's books works and is proving highly profitable even with that huge amount of growing competition in this space.

DM: What's your biggest goal for the next year?

AD: Our biggest goal for the next year is to scale our business while continuing to innovate. We've had a wonderful time making our interactive kids books, and we're very excited about the road ahead. We hope our customers are too.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

DotMomming's Top Picture Book Apps

Summertime means good reads at the beach. And while I'm all for lazy days spent with noses in books, I am not so game for plunking the ole iPad down in the sand. So these recommendations are for reading in big, overstuffed chairs rather than on fluffy towels. And hey, this way there's no gunky sunblock to worry about.

I'll kick this post off with a quick confession: I am easily overwhelmed. Not in the meltdown-in-a-crisis sense -- I'm pretty good to have around when there's blood. But I am fairly worthless in a crowded supermarket. And don't even think about taking me to Macy's. I go catatonic amid all those choices. The same goes for searching for books in the iTunes store. How do parents do it? There are so many choices, I wind up making my decision based on a postage-stamp sized image -- "How cute is that little bunny?" And as we all know, we can't judge a book by its thumbnail.

Yet we do.

I've put together a quick list of my favorite picture book apps and why your wee reader might enjoy them. From tried and true classics to delightful surprises, these are the books my crew has enjoyed and continued going back to again and again. . . when they can elbow me off the iPad and climb into that overstuffed chair.

Before we start, I'd like to share a few websites worth checking out. These have helped me find my way to some good books. Digital Storytime is one -- a husband-wife team devoted to reviewing picture book apps and rating them. I wish there were some sort of categorization to the list rather than a daunting 200+ titles to scroll through. But hey, it's a great start. Kirkus Reviews is the gold standard for book recommendations. They review picture book apps as well as traditional books, and you'll find a few categories here like "iPad Apps Under $5" and "iPad Apps With Animal Characters." Another site we love is GeekDad, which aside from writing wonderful reviews of apps for children also offers terrific insights into all things techie.

Now, a quick list of DotMomming's recommended reading for summer and beyond -- our selection of the best in picture book apps.
1) Best in Show: Our favorite picture book app right now has got to be Hildegard Sings, from One Hundred Robots. In a single word, it is delightful. Waitress by day, opera singer by night, Hildegard dreams of being a big, BIG star someday. But when a bad case of jitters makes her voice disappear just before singing for the queen, she searches for something to help her take the stage. This story is based on a 1993 picture book of the same title. It is a complete hoot, and the imaginative animations heighten the humor. Most memorable moment: Madame Zelda's hypnotic eyes and her crystal ball. A guaranteed crowd-pleaser. $1.99

2) Beautiful: We could not resist the delicious cut-out lettering and illustrations in Fierce Grey Mouse from Tizio, beautifully created by author and illustrator Chantal Bourgonje. It's the story of a little gray mouse who wants to be fierce for an afternoon. He practices his pouncing. He drinks all his milk and eats all his porridge. He roars and lifts weights and dutifully does all his homework. He really does become quite fierce. But he soon learns it's a little lonely when you have that much attitude. Just the right amount of interaction to balance the text. And while the lettering cut from magazines and papers is lovely, it might prove challenge for early readers to decipher. Good for confident readers. $2.99

3) Thriller: We have to go with Nash Smasher for this one. This clever little book from Crab Hill Press is laugh-out-loud funny. We could not get enough of the whacking, smacking, wrecking, and overall mayhem we could unleash with our new friend Nash. And when trying to set things right again, the mismatched toys were a riot. This is a book kids will go back to again and again. The overall tone is lively, the illustrations are vibrant with a retro feel, and the interactive devices are clever: turn a dial to see Nash's spiraling confusion, slide a tab to mix and match toy parts. The narration and music are first-rate. Crab Hill knocks it out of the park with Nash Smasher. $0.99

4) Classics: We like Ideal Binary's pop-up versions of Grimm's fairy tales. Check out Rumpelstiltskin, Rapunzel, and Red Riding Hood from this Dublin app developer. What won us over was the actual reading required -- it feels like a book. Interspersed between the text pages are engaging activities -- planting seeds and watering flowers in a garden, packing supplies into a basket, helping Red tidy up her room. $3.99, in English, French, and German

5) For the Diaper-Set: We've tried to steer clear of the big names and direct your clicks toward some fresh talent. But we would be remiss to overlook Sandra Boynton and the role her books play for the diaper gang. So our pick for the youngest iPadders is the third Sandra Boynton app from Loud Crow, Blue Hat, Green Hat. Young readers get the hang of this book immediately and revel in the chance to call out "OOPS!" when the clueless turkey makes a dressing mistake. With this picture book app, every time the reader touches the “OOPS,” they are rewarded with a surprise. A must-have for any preschoolers' library. $3.99

6) Early Reader: The Zany ABC of Naughty Names from iStoryTime is one of our favorites. It's a great vocabulary builder as readers tap their way through the alphabet, creating amusing three-tiered creatures from a selection of adjectives and nouns, like a "Tyrannical Urban Vulture" or a "Howling Fuzzy Yeti." For my three kids, who at ages 6, 9, and 11 read at significantly different levels, this picture book app allows them to gather 'round the iPad together for some serious laughs. The word choices are not predictable, so the sixth-grader gets a kick out of it as much as her soon-to-be-first-grade brother. Take that, "Lamentably Mealy-Mouthed Inspectors." $0.99

 7) Don't Miss: William Joyce's The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore from Moonbot Studios is breathtaking in that it blurs the line between picture books and animated film. It simply has to be seen to be believed. $4.99