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Book-Inspired Apps for Young Children

A couple of weeks ago I posted book-inspired apps for middle school students. Here are some for younger children. Add-on purchases are available for several of these apps, but not necessary to enjoy the fun and games. (FYI: Marketplace information is linked to each title.)

Screen shot from 'Bunny Fun' (Wells) Auryn, Inc.

Rosemary Wells’s Bunny Fun: Head, Shoulders, Knees,Toes (Auryn, Inc./Fourth Story Media) has been out since last spring, and after repeated viewings hasn’t lost an ounce of its charm. The concept is simple: viewers choose from one of four rabbits to hear a rendition of “Head Shoulders, Knees, Toes.” If they choose the creature decked out in a western outfit (with a desert in the background and tumbleweeds rolling by), they’ll hear the song in English; a rabbit in a colorful kimono sings in Japanese; a sailor bunny in front of the Eiffel Tower croons in French; while a rabbit wearing a Mexican sombrero belts out the Spanish version. As the creatures sing they touch the corresponding parts of their bodies. Once finished with their songs, they skip off the stage and viewers can select another animal and version of the tune. It’s a pleasurable introduction to a favorite song and some basic vocabulary in another language, illustrated with Wells’s signature bright-eyed, friendly creatures.

Most children are familiar with Dr. Seuss and with the Dr. Seuss Band (Oceanhouse Media) they’ll be able to join in some zany fun. Colorful musical keys elicit sounds out of a fantastical instrument, customized by users. Children can play along with a soundtrack from one of the Seuss stories, compose their own tunes (“120 combinations of sounds”), or play a game while keeping score. To date, the app is free, but to unlock additional songs, horns, and effects, there is a charge. (The purchase option can be locked by adjusting the settings.)

While not a game app per se, fans of Sesame Street’s books and programs will be delighted to receive a phone call from one of their favorite characters. From the opening screen in Elmo Calls (Sesame Workshop), preschoolers can select of one of three telephone calls from the muppet, or choose to hear a voicemail message. A tap to a large, colorful bar (just the right size for small fingers) triggers a phone to ring and an opportunity to answer the call. While they listen to Elmo, youngsters will see themselves in a mirror in the corner of the iPad screen. Bright graphics, clear sounds, and this endearing fuzzy creature are sure to amuse viewers. Add-on calls are available for purchase.

Games are included in Mercer Mayer’s Where is my Frog? (Sterling Publishing) story app, available for a number of platforms. First, children can choose to listen to or read the animated story about a critter and his dad on a fishing trip. After enjoying the story there are two game options: a “word” or a “picture” match. In each of 10 scenes children are asked to find six items or animals. Success meets with praise (“All Right!” “Awesome!” Excellent!”) and errors with encouragement (”Not quite. You can do it,” “Sorry, try again,” or, “That’s not it, but don’t give up.”). Moving between playing modes and from screen to screen is smooth, and sound effects such as chirping crickets and a barking dog add to the fun. Appsters can also collect coins by turning pages, finding “hidden hot spots,” and so on. A prize page displays three packages, which can be opened when children collect enough points (not so easy), but the real prize here is the playful games.

Eric Carle’s My Very First App (Philomel/Night & Day Studios) encourages parents to sit with their children “the first time they play” (why not every time?) to determine what level (easy, medium, or hard) is appropriate. In this set of games, which are available in six languages, children choose from several match sets. In one, they swipe the images at the bottom and top of the screen until they come up with a pair. For example, when the turtle lines up with its shell, “A turtle lives in a shell” is voiced. The flip-the-card game employs the same pictures (a bird and its nest is a match, etc.). Users can purchase add-on games, password required. There’s also Counting with the Very Hungry Caterpillar (Penguin/Night & Day Studios) which offers five levels of math activities, and adjustable options. Both these apps feature a clean design, a clear narration, and the art of Eric Carle in perfect combination.

And don’t forget David A. Carter’s Spot the Dot (Ruckus Mobile Media/Unicorn Labs), reviewed here last year. It’s a terrific game from the masterful pop-up engineer and children’s book author and artist that will have children exercising their listening and motor skills.