As anyone who has seen this video of a 2-year-old using an iPad knows, Apple’s famed touchscreen device has proven an intuitive, interactive learning tool for children.
Yet creating apps for children — whether that’s musical games, learning exercises for children with autism or full-featured e-books — is no easy feat. Fixing children’s attention on an app requires a high degree of ingenuity, interactivity and, most importantly, variety.
Josh Koppel, chief creative officer of Scrollmotion (the company that developed Esquire’s and O, The Oprah Magazine’s iPad apps, among others), says that the key to making a great children’s app is “to make play possible throughout the app in unexpected places” while remaining respectful of the original material.
This criteria is especially valid for classic children’s books, many of which have been given new life in iPad form. I brought an iPad on a recent trip to Greece and perused a number of them with children in the 4- to 6-year-old range. Those that proved most engaging — both to me and to the children I perused them with — were, exactly as Koppel says, those that allowed for interactive “play.” It was also important that the types of play varied throughout the app; neither I nor the children I tested the apps with were interested in repeating the exact same action page after page.
After an exhaustive search, I’ve compiled a list of what I believe are the five best classic children’s books for the iPad available. Have another to add to the list? Please share it in the comments section below.
1. Alice for the iPad
The app offers both abridged and full-length versions of Lewis Carroll’s fantastical tale, interwoven with colorful, animated and often interactive color reproductions of Sir John Tenniel’s original woodcut illustrations, with a few additional overlays. Playing cards and pepper shakers fly; pocketwatches swing from giant letters; cupcakes and brightly colored pills fall as the iPad is rotated on its horizontal and vertical axises; Alice’s neck and legs stretch at the swipe of a finger.
Although Alice for the iPad was head and shoulders above every other e-book and iOS book app on the market before it came out, it could be improved in several ways. The book would be more engaging if every page were illustrated and interactive — a double-page layout would have made this possible — and if the interactive options were a little less repetitive. And while the illustrations are beautiful, many of the overlays — such as smoke, pepper shakers, and cupcakes — are poorly rendered and incongruous with Tenniel’s highly stylized illustrations. Sound effects and an audio recording of the text would also be welcome additions.
In addition to the $9 version, a free, lite version is also available in the App Store [iTunes link].
2. PopOut! The Tale of Peter Rabbit
Of all the children’s books available for the iPad, PopOut! The Tale of Peter Rabbit [iTunes link] is simply the best. No other e-book offers the same richness and variety of interaction, while preserving all of the charm of the original tale.
Like Alice for the iPad, Peter Rabbit combines many elements of the classic print editions — including full-color watercolor and ink illustrations, and traditional popout tabs — with functionality uniquely suited to the iPad’s touchscreen and software. The entire tale is set to the soft piano keys of Claire de Lune and read by a pretty female English voice. Words are helpfully highlighted as they are read aloud, and young readers can click again on each word to have it re-pronounced.
Click on the little Flopsy and Mopsy and they giggle; click on falling leaves or blackberries to enlarge and scatter them about the page; lift up pots and the animals hiding underneath them will emit little squeaks. Paper doll joints and tethered kettles can be swung about on their hinges and the iPad can be tilted to change the direction of gravity for falling leaves. Each page offers a new opportunity for engagement, making readers eager not only to discover what’s going to happen next in the narrative, but what fun bit of interactivity awaits them as well.
The app is currently available for $4.99 in the App Store, except in Europe.
3. Jack and the Beanstalk Children’s Interactive Storybook
Jack and the Beanstalk Children’s Interactive Storybook for the iPad, iPhone and iPod touch [iTunes link] is more game-like and features more modern illustrations than the latter two book apps.
While the previous two books will appeal to adults and children alike, Jack and the Beanstalk will appeal more to children in the 2- to 4-year-old range.
The story is read in a warm English voice and words are highlighted as they are read. The text floats in a box at the top — it’s not great-looking, but it’s functional (and can be hidden) — over colorful illustrations. Humans will speak, cows will moo and chickens will squawk, etc. if you tap them.
Play is embedded throughout the app, including a mix-and-match card game and coloring page. Clicking certain objects will call forth dancing chicks (I’ve yet to realize how these relate to the narrative in any way) and various games. Drag mice into their proper places and they begin strumming on instruments. Tap a cricket and it jumps.
Jack is available for $3.99 in the App Store.
4. The Frog Prince
Although Siena Entertainment’s The Frog Prince [iTunes link] for the iPhone and iPad is formatted upside down, it doesn’t detract from the vivid loveliness of Anca Delia Budeanu’s vector illustrations.
A condensed and lightened version of the Brothers Grimm classic is set to harp music and read by a young woman’s voice (there are separate voices for the princess, frog prince and human prince). Words are highlighted as they are read, and sound effects (such as bouncing balls) are embedded throughout.
Like Jack and the Beanstalk, the text floats on an unsightly, partly transparent bar that can be hidden. Unlike the others, there is no interactivity or animation whatsoever; the interest lies entirely in the text and the illustrations — which, as I said before, are lovely.
For $0.99 however, the e-book is worth the download. Those who like The Frog Prince should also check out Rumpelstiltskin, which features the same illustrator.
5. Aesop’s Wheel
There are three really novel things about Aesop’s Wheel, which features a smattering of abridged narratives from the original set of Fables.
The first is the table of contents, which is constructed not as a list but as a wheel users can spin to land on a story — a savvy solution for a collection of stories that don’t need to be placed in any sort of order. The second is an option that allows users to record their own voices — great for practicing children or parents who are frequently away from home. The third is the number of languages the app is available in (English, Chinese, Japanese and German).
The app also contains a series of “Spot the Difference” games, which challenge users to find out what elements are differing or missing in two juxtaposed illustrations.
The story pages themselves are not that interesting; it’s just plain text alongside boxed illustrations by Milo Winter, devoid of any interactivity whatsoever.
The app is available for $4.99 in the App Store.
Although we restricted our list to five books for the roundup, we were delighted by many other classic e-book apps in the App Store. Among our favorites are Rumplestiltskin [iTunes link] 3D interactive pop-up book, Dr. Seuss’s The Cat in the Hat, Peter Pan [iTunes link], Robin Hood [iTunes link], Spot Goes to School [iTunes link], and books from the Berenstain Bears [iTunes link] series.
Image courtesy of Flickr, Marcus Kwan
Reviews: Alice, App Store, Beanstalk, Flickr
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