Find the perfect app for you and your child!
Radio Jones and his Robot Dad
Reviewed on 02/06/17
Free on | iOS
This wordless, animated graphic novel book app takes us on an adventure with a boy and his robot. When his real dad spends too much time working, our hero, a boy named Radio Jones, decides to create a robot version of his dad who can play with him and take him out for wild escapades. The app features gorgeous artwork with a muted palette, a subtle but beautiful soundtrack and unobtrusive hints to help readers find the interactive elements of the story. Generally, these are not descriptions that would lead to an app that will appeal to readers ages 6-8, but somehow, in this app, it works. Maybe it’s the graphic novel layout. Maybe it’s the slightly edgy shenanigans Radio enjoys with his “robot dad.” Maybe it’s the very satisfying ending of the story. Maybe it’s all of these elements combining together to make one of the most appealing book apps for older kids that I’ve ever seen. Especially impressive is how all of the interactive elements help move the storyline forward, they’re not just flashy distractions. This story could have been told as an animated short film, but it works great as a graphic novel because it puts the reader in charge of moving the story forward at their own pace. This element of requiring input from the user engages kids more deeply than passively watching a movie. It’s also an excellent conversation starter. What would your child do if they had a robot mom or dad?
Create simple animated movies, now with three-dimensional characters and settings! The original Toontastic app has been a gold standard in the land of content creation apps for years. Now, the creators have put together this new app that takes all of the wonderful features you’ve loved in Toontastic, made them 3D and added a few new fantastic options. You can still learn a lot about the arc of a storyline by building your movie in several scenes, but now they’ve given you three options for the type of story you want to tell-- short story, classic story and science report! Each of these options starts by breaking down your movie into scenes (beginning-middle-end or more nuanced divisions like “conflict” or “hypothosis”) and you choose which part of the story you want to tell. Need more than 5 scenes to tell your story? Add more or take a few away--it’s completely customizable! Each of the scenes is now larger than just one static screen and your character can walk around inside the scene, zooming in or out. I also appreciate that ALL of the characters can be customized with variations in skin tone and clothing colors as well as adding a photo for character faces. If you don’t like their pre-made scenery, you can always draw your own original artwork for backgrounds, characters, props, etc. Get inspired in the “Idea Lab” by watching movies that others have created! A fantastic sequel to a wonderful app, Toontastic 3D is perfect for home, classroom or road trips. The whole family can work together to create their own original film masterpiece!
The Complete Fairytale Play Theatre
Reviewed on 11/02/16
Paid on | iOS
Retell your favorite fairytale or mix them all together to make completely new stories. Nosy Crow, creator of the best fairytale apps, has now combined all of them into one incredible, creativity-sparking app. You are provided with a blank, empty stage, then you have the option of adding any background, character, object or soundtrack from any of their popular fairytale apps. Once you've chosen all of the elements of your story, record your voice while you move the virtual "puppets" around on the stage. Create multiple recorded scenes and then combine them together to make one long story. This would be a great app for families to use together. Pass it around the table while waiting for your meal at a restaurant and challenge each person to come up with a new scene to add to the story, then watch the whole thing together when it's done! Add an extra layer of silliness by not allowing anyone to watch the previous scenes before adding their own scene! A fun way to practice the early literacy skills of sequencing and storytelling. This app is packed with content and the creative possibilties are endless. The price is scheduled to increase in the future, so grab it now!
The Very Hungry Caterpillar - Creative Play
Reviewed on 07/04/16
Paid on | iOS
Play around with the textures and colors of Eric Carle’s classic collage illustrations in this unique art-making app. Choose from a number of templates depicting favorite Eric Carle characters like Brown Bear, The Mixed-Up Chameleon, and (of course) the Very Hungry Caterpillar himself or choose a blank page and create an original piece of art. Art techniques include “cutting” shapes from Carle’s brilliantly textured “paper,” painting (with a brush or finger painting), or drawing with a pencil. Completed pictures are hung in the Caterpillar’s in-app gallery, but can also be saved to your device to share with friends and family. I’ve seen many variations of DIY art apps for kids, but the textures (especially in the collage options) make this art experience unique and very inviting for kids (and adults!). The templates help users who might feel intimidated by a blank page, but the option to also just use a blank page is very welcome. I’ve also seen a variety of apps inspired by the Very Hungry Caterpillar and this one is by far my favorite for its interactive and creative nature. The tracing and other fine motor skills required for this app are great for early literacy pre-writing practice!
A new (not macabre!) interpretation of the classic game of HangMan, plus a story studio and the opportunity to illustrate the words yourself -- this app packs in a lot of value! First of all, they’re reimagined the “hanging man” of the classic game as a person hanging from a monkey bar or chin-up bar instead of from a gallows. If you don’t guess the word in time, the person loses their grip on the bar (rather than dying). Players are also given an illustrated hint that grows more elaborate with each guess to help guide them to the correct answer. Those illustrations have been carefully chosen to reflect our diverse world in the most wonderful way (e.g. “queen” = Cleopatra, “farmer” = Cesar Chavez), but if kids would rather create their own illustrations, once they’ve finished a word correctly, they’re allowed to go into the “word gallery” and create their own artwork to illustrate that word instead (you can also switch back and forth with the original illustration--it doesn’t get lost). And because kids learn words best in the context of a sentence or story, the app developer has also included a Story Studio where you can combine all of the words that you’ve successfully “won” and rearrange them to create a story which you can record yourself narrating. The app also includes a dyslexic-friendly font and users can select either the uppercase or lowercase alphabet which they then trace to practice their handwriting skills. The app’s website also includes a fantastic parents guide full of information about the app as well as suggestions for ways to engage with your child as they use the app.
Mystery Math Town
Reviewed on 03/23/16
Paid on | iOS
Fireflies have been scattered throughout Mystery Math Town. You help a chipper little floating ghost search through funky abandoned houses in town to gather them back up. To get through doorways and passages you must build equations to solve math problems. As you play you will discover hanging portraits that speak to you and offer bits of background information about what is actually happening in this town. Once you find all of the fireflies, you gain bonus play in which you can find coins so you can collect the portraits in your own gallery. Unlimited user accounts means that you can set up different games for different children and customize the level of math for each player. This game is scalable through a child’s elementary education as you can begin with addition 1-10 and slowly add levels all the way through division by 10s making it a good investment. (guest post written by Jane Kelly)
Explore your monster’s world, re-designing your monster as you go. Enter a wacky world with cartoonish plants, bugs and fish and let your monster be your guide. As your monster explores the land, sea and sky you will encounter bubbles filled with different monster parts. If you tap on a bubble with a monster nose, that nose will become a part of your monster. Want to explore the sky? Find a bubble with wings in it. Want to swim more quickly underwater? Seek out some fins! There’s also a few magic potions scattered about that will have a temporary and surprising effect and there are other fun little surprises to discover when you tap on some of the plants and animals your monster encounters. A great, wordless and open-ended world for your child to explore to their heart’s content. Bonus: check out this free printable version of the monsters for some hands-on fun!
Red in Bed
One of my favorite book apps! This simple story about colors has the perfect amount of interactivity. There is no spoken narration, but the printed words are available in English, French, Spanish, Magyar and Japanese. The pictures support the text and reinforce the storyline and the interactions lead kids through from beginning to end without distracting from the flow of this simple tale. The sound effects also support the storyline (e.g. while the rest of the colors make a chiming sound when you tap on them, Red (who feels ill) makes more of a honking noise, as though he has a stuffy nose) and emphasize the emotional response to the action. One fun little detail is that the colors, arranged in rainbow order, sound a full octave if you tap on them in order (don't miss out on the little invisible dot at the end of the line!) and if you're musically inclined, you can play a song on them like a xylophone. Great choice for sharing together on your next sick day.
Cookie Next Door -- Rainy Days
Reviewed on 01/24/16
Free on | iOS
A graphic novel that invites you to record your own dialogue. Discover the story of Cookie, a sailor on some rough seas, as you create it! Open the cover of this virtual graphic novel and you’ll discover the first page of the story has only pencil sketches. Each pane contains a yellow star (usually in a speech bubble) and if you click on that star, you can record the dialogue you think should happen in that pane. Once you finish your recording, the illustration changes from a simple pencil sketch to a fully colored (and sometimes animated) scene. For each character in the story, you can choose whether the recording should modulate the voice to be pitched higher or lower. Once you’ve recorded the entire book, you can watch the whole thing playback in the “theater” area of the app. Although the story ends on a cliffhanger, be assured that Rainy Days II is also available in the app store to double your fun. Engaging and hilarious illustrations that appeal to a wide variety of ages and the imperative storytelling aspect make this a top-notch app pick.
One Globe Kids
Reviewed on 01/18/16
Freemium on | iTunes
A series of photos accompanied by text (nicely read by a child narrator and sprinkled with words from the local language) explore a day in the life of a child from one of five different countries. After your child hears about a day in the life of one of the featured kids, they are asked questions about their life (in the same featured child's voice) and can record their answers. A great way to learn about similarities and differences between your child's everyday routines and those of someone across the globe. The app also includes mini-lessons in the different featured languages and facts about the countries. (full disclosure: the app's creator is a friend of mine from college days, but I loved this app even before I knew she was the one who made it!)