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Review: Piccolo Picture Books

While most apps and ebooks can be purchased directly through iTunes or Google, a trend among app publishers and developers is to create bookshelves for their products. Consumers download the bookshelf app (generally free), peruse the publisher’s offerings, and make their purchases through the shelf. As collections, bookshelves may have themes, be a series, or have something else in common. For example, the recently launched uTales are subscription-based e-originals, one of the Read Me Stories shelves features apps that teach concepts, while MeeGenius! offers a selection of 200-plus digital storybooks for individual purchase.

The Piccolo Picture Books app was launched in early June, and the shelves are filling up quickly. Presently 15 titles are available, and there are plans to add 5 more by the end of 2011. Prior to their app incarnation, all of the Piccolo stories enjoyed successful print runs in The Netherlands (published under the Unieboek | Het Spectrum label) and a number have sold well outside the country.

What do the Piccolo apps have in common? Each Piccolo app offers listening/reading options in 5 languages: English, Dutch, German, Spanish, and French. Sound effects and animation have been added, but are minimal; in each production the story takes central stage. The collection features a variety of tales for children ages two through eight, “something for everyone,” notes the publisher. Quality illustrations are another given with these apps.

To take a look at the entire Piccolo list, download the free iPad bookshelf app from the iTunes store. The download comes with a lite version of Sanne de Bakker and Noëlle Smit’s The Competition.

We’ll start the week with a look at three of the titles on this shelf; look for notes on other Piccolo titles throughout the week, and reviews of other bookshelves in future blog entries.

Title: Will You Come for a Sleepover?
: Marianne Busser and Ron Schröder 
: Alex de Wolf 

Title: Tim on the Tiles
Tjibbe Veldkamp 
: Kees de Boer

Title: The Flying Dutchman
Author: Niels Rood
Illustrator: Yke Reemer

Each Title:
Platform: iOS, requires 4.2 or later, iPad exclusive
Published by: Uitgeverij Unieboek | Het Spectrum B.V.
Developed by
: Unieboek | Het Spectrum B. V. and Mobile Generation   Version: 1.2
Price: $4.99 ea., purchased through the Piccolo Picture Books bookshelf

In Marianne Busser and Ron Schröder’s Will You Come for a Sleepover? (1999; PreS-K) a cheerful mouse is thrilled when she wins a bed in a drawing competition. It’s a roomy piece of furniture—large enough to accommodate a group of friends for an overnight. And come they do. A badger, a cat, a rabbit, a frog, a hedgehog, and a number of other animals—so many that the resourceful hostess must find someplace else to sleep for the night. The colorful artwork is full of painterly details depicting a cozy home decorated with checkered curtains and patterned linens and wallpaper, and the outside scenes in lush greens and blues are just as inviting. It’s a satisfying story with an endearing, can-do problem-solver at its heart.

Poor Tim, he just wants a few minutes of his father’s time, but the man is too busy—so busy he can barely divert his attention from his computer to tell his son to “stay on the pavement” outdoors. In Tjibbe Veldkamp’s Tim on the Tiles (2004; PreS-Gr 2), the boy does just that—he takes a seat on a pile of pavement tiles stacked neatly on the sidewalk. When workmen come to load the unused tiles onto their truck, the boy explains his situation. Hearing that it’s Tim’s father that wants the boy to stay put, the workmen place boy and tiles onto their truck…and so it goes, as the boy and tiles move from the truck to a boat.

In a simultaneous wordless story in smaller, inset images, Tim’s father spots the boy on the truck as it drives off down the street and begins in frantic pursuit after the (oblivious) child. The two collide when the father tries to jump from a bridge onto the barge passing below. The hapless father misses the boat, leaving Tim to fish him out of the water. Boy and father are last seen sailing off into the dusk. Delightful pencil-and-watercolor artwork by Kees de Boer, filled with humorous, cartoon details, illustrates this charming story.

In Niels Rood’s The Flying Dutchman (2011; Gr 1-3), illustrated by Yke Reemer, children hear the haunting legend of the reckless, rum-drinking Captain Willem van der Decken who set sail toward the Cape of Good Hope during a storm. As the ship ventures deeper and deeper into the raging storm, suddenly it’s sails become the color “of blood” and the ship turns into the direction of the wind—appearing to rise as it does so. Though begged to turn back, the captain refuses, insisting that they must reach the Cape. Days, weeks, and years pass, and one by one the men die until only the Captain is left, destined to travel the world “to the end of days.” Sounds of waves, the cries of gulls, and the captain’s “hollow, tired laugh” add to the atmosphere.

The richly colored paintings are speckled with color as if the sea splashed against the screen. While some children may wonder about the presence of mice and a cat in beginning and end of this version, the creatures add a touch of levity for those who may find this tale a bit frightening.

Each Piccolo story offers “Listening,” and “Reading” modes, and some include the “Learn to read” option, which features highlighted text (in British English, Spanish, French, German, or Dutch) as it is read aloud by a professional narrator. Translations are smooth. Animations and additional sound effects (squeaks, bells, wagging tails, moving limbs, etc.) are triggered by touching the screen. These are solid stories that will be enjoyed by children again and again.—Daryl Grabarek, School Library Journal