Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Cinderella : Our Top Picture Book App of 2011

We've kissed a lot of toads this year in app-land. Or maybe a more apt metaphor for this post would be along the lines of wedging our feet into a lot of ill-fitting slippers.

And while we've also stumbled across some real gems (see last week's post on the Best Picture Book Apps of 2011), our heart belongs to one big winner for the year. I'd like to devote this space to my No. 1 picture book app for 2011 with a few reasons why. So let's cut to the chase and reveal our winner. Drumroll please. . .

Nosy Crow's Cinderella takes a familiar tale and makes it extraordinary. Young readers can follow along with the text, then take a few moments on each page to interact with the story:

  • Help Cinderella clean up the kitchen by clicking and dragging fruits into the fruitbowl, stacking up the cups and plates, and throwing logs onto the fire. 
  • Get a little silly with the Stepsisters by dressing those soft-headed tyrants in ridiculous outfits for the ball.
  • Work with Fairy Godmother in the garden to turn the mice into footmen, the pumpkin into a carriage, and all the familiar ball-preparations. These tasks require real skills and include some fun surprises, which keep my young readers completely engaged.

But best of all is the ball itself, where Cinderella gets a few minutes alone with her prince. Nosy Crow does a great job making their books fun and a little unpredictable, and their Cinderella is no exception. Readers can have the happy couple dance a traditional waltz, break out their disco moves, or even go Bollywood. My first-grader comes down with a serious case of the giggles every time we get to the dance scene.

What appeals to me about Nosy Crow's apps is the emphasis on building literacy skills. These are, after all, books. And the audience is beginning readers. Nosy Crow's app hits the mark at many age levels and abilities, as more savvy readers can explore some of the nuanced humor throughout the story and early readers can tap on the characters to generate more speech bubbles that give clues about surprises on the page.

So what makes Nosy Crow's Cinderella No. 1? It's the perfect balance of a variety of factors:

  1. Top-notch illustrations
  2. Lively writing that puts a fresh spin on a familiar story
  3. Original interactive features 
  4. A commitment to early literacy
  5. Strong sense of fun
This sets the bar high for other app producers breaking into this new medium of children's literature, where the lines between book, movie, and game are often blurred in the push to attract kids. Hats off to Nosy Crow for getting it right, and having so much fun in the process.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Best Picture Book Apps of 2011

DotMomming apologizes for the November hiatus, but we were working on a bit of longer writing that required all our brainpower. But we're back in business, just in time for the holidays.

Both Kirkus Reviews and School Library Journal are great resources for finding helpful reviews not only of apps for kids but for all kinds of reading, like those things with paper. Their "Best Of" lists are rolling out for 2011, and we're hoping to see some of our favorite apps on there.

Here is dotMomming's rundown of our favorite picture book apps of the year:

For the youngest iPadders, Chronicle's Animal Show is adorable. With a festive, circus vibe in the visuals and audio, little swipers can learn to identify 31 animals -- tap on the sheep and hear it bah-bah-bah -- play matching games, test their memory, and work on counting skills. A definite keeper that they'll want to go back to again and again. ($1.99)

We also love the bedtime app Nighty Night! HD ($1.99) from Shape Minds and Moving Images and created by Oscar-nominated animator Heidi Wittlinger. In this beautifully rendered app, young readers get to put the animals to sleep all around the farm by turning out the lights. This is a perfect example of the magic apps can conjure -- the child is the actor and gets to decide when to make the bedtime call on every page. And though I missed the merging of text with narration, my first-grader did not. Parents who want their kids reading or at least having literacy awareness might find the lack of words on the page disappointing as well. But still, the visuals and interactivity more than make up for it.

For parents who want their wee ones interacting with words, check out Sandra Boynton's The Going to Bed Book ($3.99), which allows for a great deal of fun but keeps wee readers focused on the task at hand -- getting under those covers and calling it a day. Created by the wizards over at Loud Crow, the Boynton apps are not to be missed. Every one is a gem, offering kids the choice to have the story read to them or letting them read it themselves. Boynton books are for the youngest readers who are developing literacy skills, so the highlighting of words to flow with the narration and the subtle cues to move us along through the books go a long way in teaching kids the basic mechanics of reading. Loud Crow is a name you can trust.

And while there are plenty of big names in the App Store now -- from Mo Willems' Don't Let the Pigeon Run This App to the Fancy Nancy franchise -- we like what's coming from the smaller producers, too. Teddy's Night ($0.99) from Auryn is an adorable app about what a teddy bear is up to at bedtime. The soft, pastel illustrations set just the right tone, the child's narration is charming, and the interactive elements are surprising and entertaining without taking away from the story.

We've written before about Crab Hill Press, and their My Dad Drives a Roller Coaster Car ($1.99) is still one of our all-time favorite apps. Two words: rollicking hilarity! Forget about minivans, the little boy in this story has a family that drives wild ride rides from the amusement park, like a merry-go-round horse and a spinning teacup and a roller coaster car. With a beach-blanket-bingo party soundtrack, this app is a gas, and the type of story they'll return to again and again. Here's hoping Crab Hill has more great things to come in 2012.

Next up: A review of our No. 1 pick for 2011. Stay tuned. . .