Dear Zoo iPad app

Review by Miranda West, Children's Editor, The Literary Platform

First things first, we had no idea this little book was published nearly 30 years ago! My first experience of seeing Dear Zoo – a lift-the-flap boardbook – was when my son came home from nursery dragging a bag of free books kindly donated by the Learning Trust. Presumably the initative was to reduce the chances of inner-city kids starting school and holding up a book saying ‘What’s this?’ – as opposed to a Nintendo DS which they’d grab and start playing.

We became big fans of Dear Zoo and enjoyed reading it together, lifting flaps and making the animal noises. I did the same with my daughter a couple of years later.  Now I’m told this has been going on around the world for nearly 30 years?!

So assuming most of you are familiar with Dear Zoo, you’ll know that it is a PRIME CANDIDATE for app treatment. There is already an element of interactivity with the aforementioned flaps and it has, now we know, a proven track record amongst pre-schoolers.

For this project, Macmillan collaborated with interactive app developer ETV. The end result has few surprises – although the sudden turn of the Lion’s head nearly made us jump – and overall the digital version has remained true to the book. In doing so, this app will be enjoyed time and time again by toddlers. Even the author Rod Campbell – who provided some original artwork – thinks having the book in app form is ‘rather wonderful’.

The secret of the book’s success over the years has to be the winning ‘peek-a-boo’ formula – a game beloved by any gurgling toddler. And this is where a digital version works superbly. One chubby finger placed on the crate exudes a creaking noise as the side slowly lowers to reveal the animal inside. Another rusk-smeared finger on the animal and it grows bigger, make a noise and moves around. Brilliant.

The app version goes beyond the original book by allowing your child to play fetch with the puppy (you remember, the animal that isn’t sent back to the zoo). And there’s a good game of animal pairs at the end using illustrations from the book. So plenty here to encourage repeat visits.

Caroline Quentin is an excellent narrator, and of course, there’s the option to read to your child.

All in all, for £1.99 this is good value for money. The Dear Zoo app for the iPad will be – much like the book – perfect for car journeys, quiet time, and as an early foray into playful storytelling.