A month or so ago I attended the Bologna Book Fair for the very first time. While there, I noticed the distinctive electric energy surrounding the fair, and learned later that much of this was due to the near universal excitement folks were feeling about ebooks, apps, and other electronic wonders. One of the new companies making a big splash in this area was Nosy Crow, a relatively new group that kept popping up in the news in articles like Nosy Crow Inks German, French App Publishing Pacts (pacts?).
Deb Gaffin, Nosy Crow’s head of digital products, was kind enough to meet with me while there and took some time out of her busy schedule to show me one of Nosy Crow’s more popular and well-publicized apps for The Three Little Pigs. It got me to thinking . . . until now I’ve not reviewed much in the way of children’s book apps. Though I wrote an article for SLJ on the subject (Planet App), until last week I didn’t have my own iPad. Then that all changed . . .
On that note, I am pleased to announce that I will be able to now start reviewing apps from time to time. So, without further ado . . .
Date of Review: May 3, 2011 (this is important to note, as apps have a tendency to be updated and improved on a regular basis, so this review may only have a certain amount of relevance until the next update.
Opening Length: There’s a seven second or so opening before each Nosy Crow app advertising the company. I suspect they could get that down to three or four seconds easy and be none the worse for wear. It’s still better than the horrid Ruckus Media openings, of course. Those things feel like they take years off of your life.
Summary: This is the general story of The Three Little Pigs that you remember. Read entirely by the voices of English children, all the characters are given a non-threatening feel. The wolf is scary looking enough, but with a child’s voice it’s easy to dispel any fears a younger child might feel upon meeting him. The wolf only chases each pig after blowing down their houses. In fact, no one at all gets devoured in this version. They’ve kept the part where the wolf goes down the chimney and falls into a pot of boiling water, but rather than get eaten himself he takes off for the high hills holding his bum.
Options at the story’s beginning: You can “Read and Play”, “Read to Me” or “Read by Myself”. There are no other options as of this moment in time.
How well is the art integrated with the text? Quite well, actually. For some reason the story of The Three Little Pigs has become one of the most popular tales to tell in an app form these days. You can see versions from So Ouat, Game Collage, and XIMAD. The Game Collage version with illustrations by Leslie Brooke is pretty magnificent and probably has the best art out of the bunch, but Nosy Crow has clearly put some significant effort into the look of this piece. There’s nothing I like less than an app that doesn’t bother to include halfway decent art. Now Nosy Crow does not credit the artist behind the book (some apps don’t) but the look is very nice. From the start you pan down through some lush evergreens directly onto your heroes. Then, as you go through the story, the characters have a very nice feel to them. The text always appears within the pictures, avoiding the problem some apps have had of creating separate white space. That kind of look would completely break up the story and look awful. No fear of that now.
How is the music? Very nice. It’s subtle and plays softly behind the action. It doesn’t draw attention to itself, and even when it plays behind the version of the tale where you read all the words yourself, you don’t get sick of it.
If a picture book app has its own narrator, how well does this reader convey the story? The children hired to read the story do a top notch job. I think it was an excellent choice though, admittedly, like every other Yank I’m a sucker for adorable British kids.
Can you skip to different parts of the book with ease? Sadly, no. This was indeed a problem with the book. I would want to skip to one page or another and found I couldn’t do so. I had to page through the whole book to get to the part I wanted. Grrr.
Can you turn off the narration? You can! However, you can only do so at the beginning of the story. If you get midway and want to read the rest of the app yourself, you’ll have to go back to the menu, turn off the narration, and then start the story all over again.
What does the app provide that a simple lapsit with a print book and an adult does not? In this particular case the app provides multiple chances to read various words coming out of the characters’ mouths when you tap them. If you turn off the narration you can get kids to tap and read new phrases over and over again. They are inclined to tap and read, tap and read, tap and read.
Any cool details you haven’t seen before? At one point when the wolf is going to blow down the house you, the reader, are encouraged to blow onto him. If you do that, the microphone in the iPad will pick up on the sound and the wolf will react. Be sure you’re holding the iPad correctly (I had mine upside down, so it didn’t work the first time) and be careful. This is a surefire way to end up with toddler spit all over your device. If you would rather not blow, you can just tap the wolf and it will have the same effect.
Can you select different languages? No, alas. It’s English or nothing with this one.
Does it contain distracting elements? Not really. Some apps will include little games within the pages that completely distract you from the story. This app never does that. Indeed, after you’ve tapped and flipped everything on the page you’re really inclined to learn what else happens in the story. It becomes quite engaging, the further in you go. Only on subsequent rereadings will kids linger much longer.
How is this app best used? Kids can get a lot out of this one with a grown-up, which is my preferred use of any picture book app. However, should you find yourself on a long car ride somewhere, there’s no harm in handing it to them to play with on their own.
Would you read it again? I would. There are lots of little hidden details to find on repeated viewings.
What it still needs: To highlight each word as it’s read, of course. As of right now you don’t get the cool option where you can tap on a word and hear it pronounced (or, better yet, defined). A pity. Seems like a lost opportunity. Another lost opportunity? Having strong female characters. There are only two girls in this book (the mother pig and the sister pig) and both are pretty ineffective. For good old-fashioned stereotypes Mom’s seen vacuuming in a skirt while dad sits, unshaven, reading in front of the tv. Our sister pig, the second one, tends to wear pink, carry a purse, and lug around a flower. I don’t need every app I see to be a political statement, but how about putting the mother pig in jeans? Or having her lounge about while the father vacuums? It wouldn’t have been hard.
Age recommendation: The app suggests that you try the book out with children as young as four. Personally, I think that’s a bit young to be handing kids an iPad. Not that they can’t handle it, but it’s nice to restrict screen time for as long as possible with the young ‘uns these days. So though the reviewers of this app say that their two and three-years-olds find it a joy, I might suggest holding off until the kid is as old as five. Maybe that’s just not possible in your household and maybe it’s impractical, but that’s my suggestion for the moment.
Would you recommend: I would. In spite of my quibbles this is one of the stronger apps I’ve run across. Apparently it was Nosy Crow’s first and they even include a section at the end where folks can send in their suggestions for improvements.
What are other people saying?
- Already the app has been listed as one of the top 10 “Best Children’s Books on iPad” as named by the New York Times blog Gadgetwise.
- It received a starred review from Kirkus.
Website for the app: http://nosycrow.com/apps/the-three-little-pigs