Best book apps: Part 2

One of the most common arguments against letting children read books on an iPad is that the stories will lose out to games and little actual reading will take place.

There are certainly interactive picture book apps available that bend over backwards to provide game-play elements, often to the detriment of story flow. How is a young reader supposed to follow a plot when they’re being urged to shave hairy tarantulas*, for instance?

My answer to the game-versus-reading argument is that when a book app is well thought out and the storyline is strong, then that magical reader immersion will still occur. Finding the outcome of the story will become more important than top scores and mindlessly groping interactive illustrations to discover what whistles or burps.

The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr Morris Lessmore by Moonbot Books is my ‘favourite and best’ example, (as Lauren Child’s Lola might say). This book app blurs the lines between short film, picture book, musical instrument and game but the story pulses through every page. When I demonstrated this app to a group of librarians, they clapped at the conclusion!

It does help that the plot promotes the healing power of books (actual printed books!) but I believe the Moonbot code poets deserve credit for their app design, too. It’s no fluke that this app is a global bestseller. In my opinion it represents the future of reading.

Meeting the books in Morris Lessmore
Meeting the books in Morris Lessmore

My children have read Morris Lessmore on iPad many, many times. Yes, they like being able to write messages in breakfast cereal and twirling a house in a tornado but they persist to the finish because the story is the pay-off.

It warms my heart that you can now buy print copies of Morris Lessmore in good bookstores. I wonder if this is the first instance of an app’s success resulting in publication of a picture book?

Here are some other favourite book apps for middle/junior fiction readers:

The Heart & The Bottle by Oliver Jeffers
Beautiful and moving story from a wonderful children’s book author-illustrator. The interactivity in the pictures isn’t always obvious but I think this encourages reading through before getting distracted. That said, there are seamless opportunities to engage with the book and most enhance understanding of the story. For example, the central character puts her heart in a bottle when she thinks she doesn’t need it any more. When she wants to get it out, it proves very difficult. We learn this because we’re helping her try to retrieve it.

I particularly like that readers are invited to draw a picture during the story. When you turn to the next page your artwork is framed on the wall as if it has always been there. To my mind, this proves you are part of the story. (Given the plot involves death and grief, we all live this story one way or another, eventually). This is a magnificent app.

The Three Little Pigs & The Secret of a Pop-Up Book – App by Game Collage
OK, there’s a risk that kids will click through this app without reading, just to interact with the images. Indeed, they may already know the story so well they won’t bother reading. On the other hand, if you sit with a reluctant reader and monitor their progress through the book, the images could be the rewards for persevering with the text.

The winning twist is that the retro ‘pop-up’ book illustrations offer an x-ray function. Touch the x-ray vision goggles button and you get to see the cogs and springs that make a pop-up image work. This is a very clever touch by the designers.

Pinocchio – App by Elastico
Based on the novel by Carlo Collodi, this is much darker than the Disney version of the story. The illustrations contain lots of interactivity, such as when Pinocchio’s wooden feet catch on fire when he sites too close to the hearth. (The reader gets to put out the flames.) This is a new spin on an old yarn.

Animalia – Graeme Base
This mega-successful picture book was an obvious candidate for conversion to app. Just as the printed book contained elements of game play (find the hidden animals, etc.), the app features hide-and-seek with the author, alphabet treasure hunts and more. Perhaps best of all, you can expand the magnificent images to look at them in high-res detail.

This Too Shall Pass – Jacqueline O Rogers (App by Moving Tales)
More story book than app, the reason for tuning in here is to see letters flow into words and enjoy the intricate, multi-dimensional images. This is a folktale-style yarn and text heavy, so perhaps not for reluctant readers. It looks great though and the app offers the book in several languages.

PopOut! Peter Rabbit – Beatrix Potter (App by Loud Crow Interactive)
The picture book classic gets a beautiful makeover for the iPad, with screens filling with autumn leaves and blackberries. There are also traditional pop-up book effects based on pulling levers and twisting dials. It should be enough to find Ms Potter another generation of readers.

Other titles worth a look:

  • Alice for the iPad – App by Atomic Antelope. Essentially Alice in Wonderland with attractive, retro-style interactive illustrations.
  • My Dad Drives A Roller Coaster Car – Bill Doyle (App by Crab Hill Press) An array of crazy vehicles for readers to propel across the page.
  • When I Grow Up – Weird Al Yankovic ill. Wes Hargis. (Harper Collins) This story contains five games, including the aforementioned *tarantula shaving! Boys love it but the story does get a bit disjointed.
  • Cozmo’s Day Off – App by Ayars Animation. Spectacular, effect-rich illustrations of an alien and his colourful universe.

In my next post I’ll tackle book apps for YA and older readers.

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