Are App Books the New Pop-Up Books?
Kids used to be wowed by the ability to pull a tab and make a little cardboard bee fly back and forth on a page. Now, on an iPad book app, they can tap that bee, hear it buzz, watch it fly figure eights and maybe even swat it with their hand and smash it. Just how interactive can these books get?
The Monster at the End of This Book by Jon Stone, illustrated by Michael Smollin (Callaway Digital Arts, $0.99 -- that's an introductory price; it will go up soon)
Back when this Sesame Street classic was written in 1971, it was already groundbreaking in terms of interactivity. For those of you not familiar with the original, the entire book consists of Grover begging the reader not to turn pages; he's afraid of getting to the end of the book, which, based on the title, he assumes will hold a terrifying monster. With all of its fourth-wall-breaking greatness, this book was a prime candidate for app-book transformation. It was brilliant the way Grover would build a brick wall on one page, and by turning the page, the child reading it would seem to knock it down. In this new version, kids get to literally poke at the bricks and watch the wall crumble bit by bit. There's definitely something to be said for the simplicity of the original, but getting to untie knots and saw through boards with your fingers is incredibly fun -- especially while Grover is begging you not to. In fact, Grover himself may be the best thing about this electronic edition: He's hilarious. He even comes out with off-book ad libs if kids are slow to actually turn the pages. And frankly, there are many parents out there whose throats could use a break after trying to read the original in a muppet voice.
What Does My Teddy Bear Do All Day? by Bruno Hachler, illustrated by Birte Muller (Auryn, Inc, $1.99 -- that's a sale price, too; regular is $7.99)
This lesser-known picture book (the app goes by the abbreviated title, Teddy's Day) is a cute story about a little girl who spies on her favorite plush toy to see what it does when she's not around. The app version does an amazing job of making the original illustrations come to life. When interactive hot spots are tapped, the painted characters become suddenly three-dimensional and move around with realistic, fluid motion. In addition, kids are given the opportunity to literally use objects in the illustrations. In one scene, when the young girl is shown putting a jigsaw puzzle together on her living room floor, readers can drag the loose pieces into place and help her finish it. Kids can draw their own crayon portraits that will then hang up on the character's walls, blending in seamlessly with the rest of the artwork. It's quite impressive.
Cozmo's Day Off by Frank and Emma Ayars, illustrated by Frank Grau, Jr. (Ayars Animation, $3.99 -- also an introductory price)
Cozmo is an adorable little alien who struggles to get to work on time, running into one obstacle after another. The plot feels secondary, though, as the book is packed with over 100 unique interactive features. Kids (and adults) can explore every page, finding all sorts of hidden bells and whistles –- a superhero poster that spouts out comically over-the-top slogans, a robot chef who churns out a batch of popcorn on demand, billboards with magically-changing advertisements (for spoofy fake products), radios that play funky sci-fi music, balls you can roll around within the scenes, and much more. There are even a few bona fide games secreted among the illustrations. And an awesome voice-changer that allows you to tinker with the speed and pitch of the narration. Some may question whether the book sacrifices true storytelling in favor of a slew of neat tricks, but that question has been asked about many an old-fashioned paper pop-up book. Just like those traditional pop-ups, this kind of app book is simply a different animal and should be judged as such. My only beef with Cozmo's Day Off is that, unlike in the first two app books reviewed here, the names of the authors and illustrator are incredibly hard to find. The Ayars, who developed the app as well, should take more obvious credit for the fun verses they wrote. And Frank Grau Jr. deserves his name is glowing neon for the gorgeous art he produces, not a tiny line credit at the end of parents' manual.
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