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What Are the Best Literary Apps Available Today?

The question came to me and I admit I was a bit stumped at first.  A colleague was looking for recommendations of the best literary apps for kids.  Put another way, apps with a distinct tie-in to specific children’s books.  So I thought about it. I’ve toyed about with several apps for years.  I could make such a list.

However, before I present it to you, I would like to point out that literary apps are in significant decline.  When first they hit the scene they were prevalent because they were novel.  However, publishers were quick to notice that from an economic standpoint they don’t really make a lot of sense.  The amount of time and money you pour into an app is incongruous with how much one is allowed to then charge the consumer.  It can take years for apps to break even, and ours is not a society where such slow money is seen as desirable.  So while I don’t think apps will ever go away, literary apps will continue to be far and few between.  The only ones I’ve seen crop up in the last year or two are labors of love from creative personalities (Bill Joyce, Shaun Tan, etc.).

Also please note that this list is NOT particularly good at listing nonfiction tie-in apps.  There are, I know all too well, some fantastic ones out there.  However, aside from the Barefoot Book World Atlas, I haven’t had much contact with them.

And now, the hits!

Animalia by Graeme Base – Allows the reader the chance to turn a simple reading of the book into a game.

The Barefoot Books World Atlas by Nick Crane – Absolutely jaw-dropping.  A must-have for any child over the age of four.  Allows the viewer to zero in on different parts of the globe and learn learn learn.

Don’t Let the Pigeon Run This App by Mo Willems – I’m sort of cheating by putting this here since technically it’s based on a children’s book character rather than a specific title, but when it’s the pigeon, honestly who cares?

Dr. Seuss’s ABC by Dr. Seuss – Pretty basic, but I like a lot of what it does.  Reads the story straight through but allows the reader to hear individual words defined.  Plus I like how it handles the many mumbling mice in the moonlight. Mighty nice!

The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore by William Joyce – The rare case where there was first an app, then a short film, and finally a book.  I don’t know how well this one holds up in terms of rereading, but it’s the closest thing I’ve seen to a film in a book app form.

Freight Train by Donald Crews – This may be the earliest book related app out there.  It used public domain music and was originally designed for phones. When the iPad was introduced it had to undergo a change, and remains somewhat pixelated as a result.  That said, it’s still a beautiful piece.

The Going to Bed Book by Sandra Boynton – Boynton books make for difficult book-to-app transitions since there’s not much too them to begin with.  This one relies heavily on a good narrator and small interactive options.  I don’t know that a kid would turn to it over and over, but it’s not a bad app for the little bitty guys.

How Rocket Learned to Read by Tad Hills – A great book to begin with, the app reads the book straight, but also contains interactive elements that don’t distract from the storyline.  A difficult balance to strike.

The Monster at the End of This Book by Jon Stone – Remarkably good. Truth be told, Sesame Street has almost never been good at books.  Stone’s classic is the sole exception, and the app they made for it is stellar.  Though Grover is not voiced by Frank Oz, you’d never be able to tell.  The imitation is dead on.  All the interactive elements work beautifully.  Kids can read this over and over and never get bored.

The Numberlys by William Joyce – Joyce remains the king of the app-turned-book.  Again, this was an app first, a book second.  I doubt anyone minds.

Pat the Bunny by Dorothy Kunhardt – When I first saw Random House premiere this app they acknowledged openly that a Pat the Bunny app is an inherently ridiculous concept.  That said, it’s a very good one for the younger ages.

Press Here by Herve Tullet – Also a bit of a cheat since at no point does the book appear. Then again, the book itself was a sort of anti-app, so what you’ll find here makes quite a bit of sense in retrospect.

The Rules of Summer by Shaun Tan – Tan bears a lot of similarities to Bill Joyce in terms of his love of apps, cinema, and books (not necessarily in that order).  He employed some truly lovely musicians when he worked on this one.

The Story of the Three Little Pigs by L. Leslie Brooke – Also a book meant to look like a pop-up but in this case the reader is allowed to see how the inner gears of such a pop-up might work.  It’s actually really quite cool to watch.

The Tale of Peter Rabbit by Beatrix Potter – You’ll actually want the one called PopOut! Peter.  There is also a similar Benjamin Bunny app that makes for a good follow-up.  It’s just one of the most beautiful I’ve ever encountered.  It makes a great deal of effort to resemble an interactive book down to the silken ribbon there to hold your place.  A masterpiece.

Wild About Books by Judy Sierra – The designers did a very clever thing here when they found a way to allow the reader to tilt the screen so that you can see around and behind the characters and set pieces.

See a gaping hole in the list?  Tell me about it!

About Elizabeth Bird

Elizabeth Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.


  1. Dear Zoo by Rod Campbell. There is also a lovely Miffy app for the iPad.

  2. David Wiesner’s new app, Spot-On
    Mo on the Go (much more interactive and fun than his first app) You can dance with Elephant and PIggie!
    A few fabulous older book apps….
    Heart in the Bottle by Oliver Jeffers (create your own drawing too!)
    Tacky the Penguin (or any book app by Oceanhouse Media)
    Press Here by Herve Tullet
    Wild About Books by Judy Sierra
    Big Nate by Lincoln Peirce (create your own comic!)

    Non-Fiction book based apps-Both DK publishing and National Geographic have a great selection of apps for children. Also, Roxie Munro’s apps.

    • Elizabeth Bird says

      I wanted to include the David Wiesner but it isn’t a book yet, is it? I was mostly concentrating on the ones that were books first, apps second.

      Good suggestions!

      • Thank you!
        And true, David Wiesner’s new app is not a book yet. But it’s such a great app!
        Fancy Nancy book apps are fun too.

  3. Betsy–If by “literary apps” you mean books that have been enhanced digitally in some way (animation, sound, etc) please know that these books need not be apps created at great expense and thus difficult to justify creating. With a little knowledge of css and html, picture book creators can add animation, narration, and sound to their ebooks without the necessity of hiring a developer. I hope you’ll download my ebook, Mother Nature Rhymes, from the iBookstore (it’s free!) and see what’s possible. Of course it’s only available on Apple devices now, but I’m certain that will change. And even granting that current limitation, there are enough iPads and iPad Minis (perfect size for kids) to make the effort worthwhile.

  4. Thanks, great list!
    Would you consider making a list of stories/literacy that did it the other way around: great apps first, print books later? Would be cool!

    • Elizabeth Bird says

      Oo. Neat notion. I’ll ponder it. Lots of great examples out there, that’s for sure.

  5. Such faint praise for The Going to Bed Book! The Boynton adaptations are my go-to example of doing it right – they introduce animations and interactive elements in an intuitive way that enhances the charming board book text without getting in its way. I’ve used one in storytime since I can choose which interactions to trigger. I also find the interactive elements whimsical and surprising. As opposed to the “poke-it-and-it-wiggles” style of interaction, the Boynton apps really reward exploration in imaginative ways – for example, touching the sky adds a star, and turning on the hot water in the bathroom steams up the glass of your device.

    Great list! I just think the Boynton adaptations deserve “masterpiece” status every bit as much as the Tale of Peter Rabbit.

    • Elizabeth Bird says

      Good defense! Now I need to reread them all. They are well incorporated bells and whistles and they never take you out of the text, which is so hard to do in a literary app. Off to rethink!