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‘Appy Christmas Kids

It’s nearly Christmas. You should be shopping, we should be shopping, but for some reason certain ‘busy types’ are still being productive and a snow-like flurry of new children’s book apps has come in.

What to do, what to do? We can’t simply ignore them. Some are actually quite good. So like an ITV2 end-of-year slot-filler, here’s a round-up of the latest releases.  *switch to the voice of Dermot O’Leary* Okay, in no particular order:

App Name: My House
Platform: iPad
Publisher: Winged Chariot @storiestotouch
Date of Release: 15 November 2011
Price: £1.99

New from Winged Chariot is My House, one of the first bilingual apps for the iPad. You can chose to read or listen in French, English, or seamlessly switch between the two. This is a lovely way for your child to learn or improve their French – and the range of vocabulary that appears in this one small app is astonishing.

Written and beautifully illustrated with simple pencil artwork by Marianne Dubuc, My House takes us on a dreamlike journey from a house on a hill and back again via all manner or people, places and things – a Princess, a whale, a ship – as the narrator asks: what’s inside, behind, in front of, next to, on top of…? You glide through a forest, a zoo, the ocean, a town and space.  Past shooting stars and space rockets, dinosaurs and werewolves.

This is one of the first educational apps from Winged Chariot and is an excellent way to introduce your child to another language or to aid language-learning.

App Name: Off to Bed!
Platform: iPhone, iPod touch
Publisher: Dada
Date of Release: 6 October 2011

I’ve seen sleep-deprived new parents break down and cry as the choir breaks into ‘Silent Night’ during midnight mass. But here’s something that may actually help. Off to Bed! is a soothing, gentle book app aimed at very young children to help with bedtime.  As your child helps the character go to bed – and sleep – before you know it they’ve nodded off too. Dream on. If only bedtimes were this simple. What will likely happen is that you will doze off, lulled into a relaxed state by the gentle tones of the narrator, calming background music and ambient lighting, while your child takes possession of your iPhone and manages to tweet ‘GooGooGaaGaa’ to your 56 followers.

This is the first book app from Dada Company, an independent publisher of digital books for children based in Madrid. Since its release Off to Bed! has reached No. 1 in the book section of the Spanish app store.  Off to Bed! is a sweet app with some fun interactive elements – such as the turning propeller attached to the front of the baby’s cot – but each screen was rather slow to load and it didn’t seem to be offering anything really new or innovative.  In terms of bedtime apps, Nighty Night is still the one to beat.

App Name: Patchy the Patchdoll
Platform: iPad
Publisher: Tailspin/ Emantras
Date of Release: 6 October 2011
Price: £1.49

This is an endearing tale about an abandoned Patchwork doll who comes to the aid of young girl found crying after having lost her dog. To cheer her up ‘Patchy’ gives her a bright yellow heart-shaped patch. The girl is soon reunited with her lost dog and, when she realises Patchy’s act of kindness, she scoops her up and gives her a new home.

Young children will like the caring nature of Patchy and the sweet animation, but compared to some of the children’s book apps now available, this one feels rather lacklustre. The story is written in the form of a poem and we’re told the narrator is a 12-year-old girl, but what this adds in authenticity, it lacks in delivery and punch.  The ploddy narration does nothing to lift the tale, even when Patchy is rescued and taken to a new home. Patchy is a sweet book app that will appeal to a young audience, but there is little here to inspire repeat readings.

App Name: The Phantom Clickerist
Platform: iPad
Date of Release: 6 October 2011
Price: £1.49

If your child likes to solve a mystery and you want them to start thinking about the environment this app works on both levels.  The 3 characters: Flash, Graham and Melody Tulip can’t work out why the lights in their flood-lit house keep going off, who is the ‘clickerist’? When they find out they get a free lesson in global warming from an unlikely source.

The Phantom Clickerist feels fresh, funky, original and slick. The illustrations are mad, as are the acid-house colours, and the animation and interactive elements are superb. There’s no narrator so children will HAVE TO READ THIS ONE (shock, horror), but they will be rewarded as there’s plenty of fun to be had – bed jumping and what-not.

This is the first book app from Jerome Keane, a London-based designer and art director working in advertising and publishing.  He is the author of Ellie’s Bad Hair Day (Anova Books, 2010).

App Name: There’s No Place Like Space
#1 The Cat in the Hat’s Learning Library
Platform: iPad
Publisher: Oceanhouse Media
Date of Release:  16 November 2011

Hot on the heels of the recently-reviewed The Bippolo Seed and Other Lost Stories, this is another Seussian collaboration between Oceanhouse Media, Dr Seuss Enterprises and Random House Children’s books. There’s No Place Like Space is the first digital adaptation of the bestselling Beginner Book franchise: The Cat in the Hat’s Learning Library.

In There’s No Place Like Space!, the Cat in the Hat takes Sally and Dick on a trip through the solar system. They visit each of the planets, learning key facts along the way.  Having their hands held by such familiar, loveable characters as The Cat, Sally and Dick is a wonderful way to introduce children to the complexities of space; as is delivering the facts in Seussian rhyme. The interactive features add to the learning experience as you tap stars to reveal constellations (aka ‘star dot-to-dot’) or individual planets to learn their names, and search the night sky with a telescope.  Stylistically it’s similar to The Bippolo Seed… with word highlighting, upbeat narration, options to ‘read’ or ‘read to me’. My only criticism is that for a book app of this length it would be useful to have an overview to help navigation.

Aimed at children between 5 and 8 years old, The Cat in the Hat’s Learning Library is a non-fiction series that appeals to children’s natural curiosity about science and nature. More titles will be added on a range of subjects including dinosaurs, pets, marine life, and trees, all featuring classic characters from the original The Cat in the Hat.

App Name:  Bizzy Bear on the Farm
Platform: iPad, iPhone
Publisher: Nosy Crow
Date of Release:  14 December 2011
Price: 2.49

Young children will love this app. It’s bright, fun and engaging with plenty to keep little fingers occupied. Bizzy Bear is spending a day on the farm and has all sorts of jobs to do but he needs a helping hand. With some fantastic interactive features, readers can feed the pigs themselves, round up the sheep by dragging and dropping them into the pen, pick apples from the tree, and collect eggs. Each successful ‘drag and drop’ gets a word of praise from Bizzy which is bound to keep your little helper motivated.  We particularly like the horse ride. As Bizzy sets off on horseback, your finger controls the speed of the horse taking it from a walk to a trot, canter and gallop. Such fun! Likewise as you ‘drive’ the tractor over the hills and into the barn.

Bizzy Bear on the Farm is based on Nosy Crow’s Bizzy Bear board book series aimed at children ages 2-4. With this in mind it’s easy-to-use and all the drag and drop features help develop toddlers’ fine motor skills. I know a few ‘busy’ little people who will enjoy this app.

App Name:  Doctor Who Encyclopedia
Platform: iPad
Publisher: Brandwidth/ BBC Books
Date of Release:  2 November 2011
Price: £4.99

Assuming there’s going to be a Dr Who Christmas Special on the BBC this year (imagine if there wasn’t? It would be like the Radio Times not producing their annual bumper edition – a hideous thought!), we had to give a mention to the amazing Dr Who Encyclopedia iPad app that came out earlier this month. It’s the ‘definitive guide to the TV show’ and covers seven years worth of episodes. That’s 3,000 entries.

The opening sound effects alone will have fans rubbing their corduroy-clad thighs in anticipation. Once inside, it’s a lavish production with stunning visuals – featuring lots of familiar faces – and some nice iPad slice n’ dice action. And call me old fashioned but I love the 1940s-style knobs and buttons, and typewriter keys for searches. Much like the Doctor’s latest incarnation, Matt Smith, it’s, er, easy on the eye.

Given this is an encyclopedia, it’s a dream to navigate. Entries are divided into five categories: The Doctor, Allies, Enemies, Places and Objects and each category  has an A-Z listing. This ease-of-use will ensure it appeals to fans of all ages. So if there’s a new iPad in your household this Christmas, and a least one member of the family is a Dr Who fan, this one’s a bit of a no-brainer.

Lastly, we wanted to flag some festive bells and whistles that have been added to some book apps previously mentioned on the Literary Platform:

App Name:  Picturebook
Platform: iPad, iPhone
Publisher: Maplekey Company

New additions to the Picturebook app include Christmas and winter-themed pictures, as well as a space/ alien set. As a reminder, this app gives children the reins to write and create their own illustrated storybooks dragging and dropping pictures from the image bank.

App Name: Ladybird Me Books App
Platform: iPad, iPhone, iPod Touch
Publisher: Made in Me

Finally, as the Pantomime season gets underway, Cinderella and Puss in Boots have been added to the Ladybird Me Books app. A further 3 titles will also be available by Christmas: Tootles the Taxi, Nursery Rhymes, Rumplestiltskin. Highly recommended as a très moderne way to enjoy some of your childhood favourites and have a moment of nostalgia.

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