Monday, March 21, 2011

App Smackdown

Eileen Christelow’s Five Little Monkeys Jumping on the Bed (HMH) and Sandra Boynton’s The Going to Bed Book (Little Simon) are probably on most toddlers’ bookshelves. How do the app versions of these popular titles compare to the books and to each other?

Oceanhouse Media’s Five Little Monkeys takes the high road. Less about bells and whistles and more about improving reading skills, this app features unobtrusive monkey noises and other sound effects accompanying static illustrations. Tap objects on the screen and the word for said object appears briefly along with the narrator saying “pajamas!” or “ice pack.” Does that feature “promote reading in young children” (per OM’s website)? I’m no reading specialist, but I wonder why we need to "promote reading" among this book's audience. Read to your bunny, sure, but work on word recognition? Way to suck the life out of a good storytime. Even if the narrator wasn’t irritatingly chipper (which she is), I found this good-for-you route to be dull -- no improvement over or substitute for the old-fashioned book or audio book. And if you choose to turn off the narrator, why not just pick up the book, which is easier for little hands to hold anyway?

Loud Crow Interactive, in my admittedly limited experience with these things, knows how to produce book apps (check out their Peter Rabbit -- it’s superb), honoring the original book while adding just the right amount of special-effects pizzazz. With Sandra Boynton’s The Going to Bed Book, I'll even go so far as to say that Loud Crow’s digital interpretation is superior to the print edition. Blasphemy? I guess that depends on what you feel a book app should be. I’m not suggesting that this app replace the book, because once a child is distracted with rocking the boat, popping bubbles, and wiping steam off the screen (totally cool) they're not going to pay much attention to Boynton's verse. Speaking of which, Billy J. Kramer’s soothing, accented narration and the quiet, gentle background music enhance the whole experience. Like Oceanhouse, Loud Crow’s app highlights each word in the text as it’s being read, a harmless if pointless exercise for the board-book set. Here, however, when you slide out an onscreen drawer, instead of hearing and seeing the word drawer, a bunch of pajamas pop out of the drawer and fall all over the screen. Tip the screen side to side and the jammies tumble to the left and the right. Just the kind of surprise this audience likes, and just the kind of thing that apps do best.

-- Kitty Flynn

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