iPad, Read Me a Story
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Whatever you want to do, there's an app for that: It's already a stale joke.
But, as they say, there's truth in jest. And when it comes to bedtime stories, yes, there's an app for that. Many, actually. And a lot of them are (ahem) not very good. But there are a few picture book apps out there that are mind-blowingly great. Here's a look at just how cool virtual storytime can be.
The Little Mermaid and other stories by Hans Christian Andersen (Game Collage, $8.99)
With the look of a well-worn tome, pulled off the shelf of a long-forgotten library in Grandma's house, the cover of this e-book alone is enough to entice book lovers to dive in. And once you start flicking pages, you'll come across Andersen's original text, augmented by beautifully lifelike three-dimensional illustrations, nearly all of which you can interact with on your iPad. Light and unlight swaying lanterns, swat mosquitoes, pop bubbles, swish the tendrils of sea anemones -- even set off fireworks. These are truly interactive illustrations. There are even neat Easter eggs in the text (tap the word "bells" and you'll hear them tolling). The app also includes equally interactive versions of "The Emperor's New Clothes" and the garden snail fable, "The Happy Family." If you're squeamish, you should love the unbelievably real-looking bugs and slugs that crawl across your iPad screen in that last one.
Miss Spider's Tea Party (Callaway Arts & Entertainment, $9.99)
This gorgeous, vibrant e-book version of David Kirk's now-classic picture book (the inspiration for Nick Jr's Miss Spider cartoon series) will actually read itself to you. And you can see it in two ways: Either with the original still illustrations (all of which are loaded with tappable hotspots that will start characters moving and even talking) or with a fully animated video version of the tale. Bonus: There are games included! Kids can play a memory match game, put together several jigsaw puzzles and get artistic with a virtual coloring book feature. Anybody looking to make read-along book apps for little kids should look here for inspiration.
Green Eggs and Ham (Oceanhouse Media, $3.99)
This is but one of the many excellent Dr. Seuss e-books published by Oceanhouse Media. Really, any of them would make a fantastic intro to the world of virtual kids' books -- "The Lorax," "The Cat in the Hat," and "Oh, The Places You'll Go" are all particularly good -- but the Sam-I-Am classic is the best of the company's newest slate of Seuss apps. One thing that makes it (and the others) so wonderful is the truly fantastic voice acting. These voiceover folks are not just reading the books -- they're performing them. The beg-and-snark interplay between Sam and his curmudgeonly friend in "Green Eggs"is gleefully played out. All the original Seuss illustrations are there, and even though they're not animated at all, kids can tap any image in the pictures to both see and hear the name of that item, whether it's "fish" or "Lolla-Lee-Lou." And the camera work, so to speak, is also masterful, as the focus pans from place to place on the page, always directing readers to the most relevant part of the sometimes-large illustrations.
Alice for the iPad (Atomic Antelope, $8.99)
First, a word of warning: There are several versions of "Alice in Wonderland " for the iPad. The one titled "Alice for the iPad" is the one you want. This is one of the earliest apps to show just what the technology could do to add some zing to a children's classic. There's no voiceover, so as with "Little Mermaid," you'll have to read the story the old-fashioned way. But here, the developers took those familiar John Tenniel illustrations and added all sorts of movable, interactive bits. There's a real physics engine behind this artwork, too -- pull one of the movable props, like the "Drink Me" bottle, up to the top of the page and let go of it, and it will quickly drop to the bottom, following the laws of gravity. Viewing this app is worth it just for the spectacular image of giant Alice caught in a whirlwind of playing cards at the end. And of course, you can tilt you iPad or swat the screen to get in there and play with those flying cards.
Related: Summer Picture Books You Must Read to Your Kids