July 15, 2024

App Smart: For the iPad, Books That Respond to a Child’s Touch

The latest book apps to appear on my iPad include The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore ($5), Angelina Ballerina’s New Ballet Teacher ($1), The Wrong Side of the Bed in 3-D ($3), Oh, the Thinks You Can Think! ($4) and Cars 2 Storybook Deluxe ($6).

They’ve scored higher marks with my children than the earliest book apps, like Miss Spider’s Tea Party and Toy Story 2 Read-Along.

Even though publishers haven’t yet woven the interactive thrill of the Elements chemistry app or the AirCoaster roller coaster app into a children’s narrative, the book apps are usually much cheaper than traditional books. It’s hard to feel cheated with a purchase.

The first thing to keep in mind when buying children’s books on the iPad — many of them are also available for the iPhone and iPod Touch — is that there are two places to buy them, the iTunes App Store and the iTunes Books store. The Books store has categories devoted to Children and Teens and Kids’ Picture Books.

Apps in those categories follow the traditional book model, with text and illustrations and little else.

In the iTunes App Store, though, offerings for children are scattered among the 41,000 books that include sound, animation or graphics that respond to the reader’s touch.

Aside from highlighting a children’s book app in the New and Noteworthy or What’s Hot selections, Apple gives parents little help in finding selections for their children. Kirkus, the book review service, devotes a Web page to its 2010 list of best iPad books for children, and sites like CNet, Gizmodo and others occasionally mention good ones as well.

I chose three from those sources and added the Cars 2 and Dr. Seuss books, which were released last week, as examples of the latest products from well-financed developers.

Of those, Morris Lessmore is the best. It is a visually stunning bit of work with entertaining interactive features.

The content is largely pulled from the animated short film of the same name, which tells the story of a young man’s experience with a magical library. The app’s pages are brief movie scenes that pause to reveal interactive elements: books suddenly fly at the reader’s touch, for instance, and readers can play a piano or scribble in a blank book of their own.

The interactions are placed with a storyteller’s touch, so they generally serve the narrative instead of distracting from it.

If there’s a flaw, it’s that the book is not suitable for a wide enough audience. Between the narrator’s voice and the animation, young readers can probably follow the action, but as a reading experience it is beyond the reach of, say, 7-year-olds.

One imagines future books of this type with alternative narratives tailored to different age groups. For now, Morris Lessmore is better suited to older children and preteenagers.

Slightly younger children will appreciate Angelina Ballerina, which also deftly mixes animation into a traditional children’s book format. The story involves a ballet-centric drama consistent with other installments in the “Angelina” TV and publishing franchise.

The artwork isn’t nearly as arresting as that of Morris Lessmore, but it is beautiful in its own right, and the interactions are engaging. If you touch a character’s image, for instance, it acts out a fragment of the plot. But a character will sometimes react to the actions or words of another character, so if you tap them in the incorrect sequence you’re rewarded with non sequiturs.

The text occasionally includes highlighted ballet terms that, when tapped, yield a printed and narrated explanation of the term. It would be nice to see that feature extended to more words that could trip up early readers.

The newest book apps on my list, Oh the Thinks You Can Think! and Cars 2, fairly represent the market’s approach to new readers. Oh the Thinks is conventional Seuss fare. The illustrations aren’t animated, but the images move subtly across the page to enliven the graphics. Like other book apps for early readers, Oh the Thinks highlights each word as the narrator reads it. But if you tap important characters or images from the story, the narrator speaks the operative word — “wall,” for instance — and an animated rendering of the word pops out at the reader.

I’ll let literacy specialists and parents debate the pedagogical merits of this approach, but my immediate impression was that it probably couldn’t hurt.

Cars 2 is more entertainment (and, arguably, media branding) than children’s literature. That will suit many parents and children just fine, of course, but a beginning reader can sometimes lose the text in the wash of animation, music and sound effects. As with many other book apps for children, this one includes a coloring book option, simulated jigsaw puzzles and games for many pages. In other words, it’s more app than book.

Come to think of it, that’s not a bad way to see the genre at the moment — more app than book, but the book is gaining.

At least on Apple devices, that is. On Android, I found almost nothing worth recommending. The ones I tried often featured static, low-resolution graphics with advertisements intruding on the story. Oceanhouse Media, which publishes Oh the Thinks and many other children’s book apps on Apple, also distributes most of them on Android tablets and phones. But that wasn’t the case for any of the other good Apple app books I tried.

If Android tablets make a bigger dent in the iPad’s market share, the imbalance in the book app category will most likely shift. For now, though, the category is almost all Apple’s.

Quick Calls

Tennis fans can track the month’s biggest tournament on their Apple devices free, with Wimbledon, from the All England Lawn Tennis Club. … N.O.V.A. 2 HD, the poplar first-person shooter game on iTunes, is now available on Android for $7. … Slightly tamer: Pretty Pet Salon for Android, free.

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=cfc77251faddd5375b8b2c2865417fa0

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