We got our iPad a few months ago, after a loooooooooooong time of yearning after one (and that was just me…) and since then have been trying to have as much fun with it as possible. It hasn’t actually been as hard as I’d anticipated to keep control of how much time the boys spend on it as even at their young age (two and four, at the moment) they don’t want to spend yonks on ‘screen time’ (M hates that phrase, but it does usefully encompass both iPad and TV use ;) ) when they could be tearing around jumping off sofas or playing with Lego.
However, beyond the genius of the Toca Boca and Sago Mini ‘game’ apps (WELL worth checking out) the one thing that is guaranteed to grab their attention is a good story book app. For H, especially, with whom I frequently spend time in the hospital waiting room as we attend for his eye check-ups, it has been great to be able to just grab the iPad and feel confident that we’ll have enough stories to keep us going no matter what delay we may experience. Given this family’s owl obsession (gallantly spearheaded by yours truly) I’m pleased to report that his very favourite read-at-the-hospital story is ‘The Owl Who Was Afraid Of The Dark’ (by Jill Tomlinson, illustrated by Paul Howard (a Me Books purchase).
Searching for children’s apps has become much easier since the introduction of the kids’ section on Apple’s App Store (as we only have an Apple product I can only comment on their apps and app store rather than any others) and there are some gorgeous examples of book apps around. I’m just going to highlight a few of them but please do have a look yourselves as there is definitely something for all tastes out there now, especially with developers like Me Books adding new stories to their virtual shelves on a weekly basis.
‘Lucy Ladybird’, developed by Sharon King-Chai and Iain Clark
You may remember that we reviewed Sharon King-Chai’s book, ‘Lucy Ladybird’ a while ago and LOVED it, so we were incredibly excited when Sharon contacted us to ask if we’d like to take a look at her app version of the story. The app is an enhanced version of the book, which means that all the stunning illustrations are still there, along with the heartwarming plot containing messages about finding your own inner confidence and beauty, as well as friendship and sharing and the changing of the seasons.
However, there are lots of ‘added extras’ with the app version, including no less than an original ‘Lucy Ladybird’ song complete with karaoke option – how cool is that?!? C and H love the different features on each page – making the leaves fall, the fish jump, Lucy’s spots move around, etc. There is also a colouring option, though we haven’t tried this yet as the boys just want to read the story all the time :)
Have a look at these screen shots if you should need any more convincing about the high quality production and sheer awesomeness of this app:
When we first got this app our only gripe was that the page turns were a little tricky for small fingers, but this seems to have been fixed now and ‘Lucy Ladybird’ is therefore even more popular with us. An absolute must have!
Me Books is a free platform for in-app purchases of an ever increasing range of brilliant picture books. The books are usually £1.99 (unless on special offer) which is obviously cheaper than you’d pay for the ‘real’ book. For me, nothing will ever replace ‘real’ books, but then I don’t think book apps are necessarily trying to do that anyway. As I mentioned above, we use the iPad to access book apps in certain circumstances and for certain reasons, but this is never to the detriment of our daily consumption of ‘real’ books.
What Me Books have done is to take gorgeous picture books and provide users with the opportunity to hear them read by well known actors such as David Jason and Tamsin Grieg (though in a twist of sheer genius, Clara Vulliamy’s ‘Martha’ book is narrated not by a trained actor but by her very own daughter, who is also called Martha!).
If you’d rather, you can record the text yourself so that your child hears a comforting and familiar voice at bedtime. We are very lucky in that M and I are usually home to read stories with the boys at bedtime, but I have friends with families where at least one of the parents works shifts. While it won’t replace the cuddles, how wonderful it is for a child to be able to at least hear their parent’s voice when they can’t be there in person.
What’s brilliantly fun about the Me Books recordings is that there are lots of little ‘hidden’ bits that you only get if you tap the right place on the page. You might hear some animals muttering in the background, or perhaps the whisperings of a character’s thoughts that aren’t expressed in the text. C and H adore exploring each story to find out what else is ‘new’ each time.
To me, this is technology used to great effect. Me Books are selecting great books and enhancing them in new and exciting ways so that they can be enjoyed as well as, (NOT instead of, hard copies of books. We can’t wait to see what the future brings.
‘Hugless Douglas And The Big Sleep’ by David Melling – a Me Books story
We were very lucky to receive ‘Hugless Douglas’ from Me Books, with its narration by Alan Davies (who couldn’t be more perfectly suited to the role). We already have hard copies of a couple of the Hugless Doulas books, but ‘…Big Sleep’ was new for us and made us laugh out loud from the very first page. David Melling is a king of comedy as far as C and H are concerned and I could see the scene from the first screen shot below playing out live in my head as I read it, which led to grinning and guffaws!
The story features, as with the other Hugless Douglas books, the eponymous bear and his gang of fluffy, friendly sheep as they have yet another gentle adventure. This time, it’s Douglas’ first sleepover and despite his ever-so-snazzy jim-jams, things don’t go entirely to plan…
We would encourage you to seek out both the ‘Hugless Douglas’ book within the Me Books app, as well as the ‘Hugless Douglas’ books themselves, as you’ll fall equally in love with both of them.
Nosy Crow are an exciting publishing company in their own right – as in they publish many wonderful ‘real’ books – but they also have a super-talented app development division. They have many great apps out there (‘Rounds: Parker Penguin’ gets a big thumbs up from us) but our favourites have to be their versions of traditional tales, three of which are featured below.
Their apps are read by children, which is a huge plus and a touch that both C and H are very impressed by. You are also able to choose your own way through the story by, for example, selecting one of two paths to take through the woods. If I had a time capsule and could take you back to my youth when I spend HOURS on ‘choose your own adventure’ books, you’d know how utterly beside myself with joy I was to see this feature!
The apps are hugely visually appealing and include lovely ways of bringing the story up to date (Little Red Riding Hood is wearing a hooded sweater, for example) that don’t feel brash or overdone. I could witter on for hours, but here are a few screen shots to give you an idea of what I’m talking about…
‘Little Red Riding Hood’ developed by Nosy Crow
I had to include the screen shot below as not only does it include an owl but it is also a woodland scene and for some reason, I am just LOVING woodland-y things at the moment.
‘Cinderella’ developed by Nosy Crow
Look! It’s a princess and she’s not wearing pink! Brilliant :)
‘The Three Little Pigs’ developed by Nosy Crow
One of the pigs is female and one of them wears glasses. This ticks a lot of boxes in our house. From a very personal point of view, I also like the fact that the pig who gets it ‘right’ is a male character. Given that I have two sons, I occasionally get frustrated by people telling me that boys just want to have fun (do you see what I did there?! ;) ) while girls are much more likely to sit down, focus and work hard.
I agree that this isn’t something that is necessarily always represented in children’s books (where girls are sometimes encouraged to bake cupcakes while they wait to be rescued by a man) but that’s a whole separate blog post. I am just happy that in this book, the third pig “works hard” and his house “takes longer to build”. Patience and perseverance are great traits and ones that I was happy to discuss with the boys after reading this (though I’ll be honest and say it hasn’t made a *huge* amount of difference to their lives just yet, though I’m sure the message will sink in… Soon…).
The big bad wolf drives a van. For some reason, this just tickles me :)
Lorna Freytag is the creative force behind this little gem, which is also available as a ‘real’ book. She has clearly worked incredibly hard, along with her small team, to develop an app that looks stunning as well as having a plot to be proud of. The simple story follows a little furry (though definitely not frightening) monster whose very favourite treat in all the world is to gobble up socks.
The quirky illustrations are brilliant and the boys spend ages making Sock Monster eat all the different socks so that they can watch him take on all the colours and patterns of each item – ‘You are what you eat’ definitely holds true here.
However, nothing could top their enjoyment of seeing what happens when he eats stinky socks. I’ll leave you to find that out for yourselves, but if you have children who find toilet humour side-splittingly hilarious then you won’t be disappointed…!
The final page shows Sock Monster leaping into a mountain of socks and making satisfied burrowing noises, not too different from the satisfied smiles on our faces when we read this story. It may be shorter than some of the other apps, but it certainly makes up for this in character :)
This final book is an iBook rather than an app (or in-app purchase) and for this reason alone we have read it less than all the others. That’s not to say that the story isn’t great – I have been a ginormous fan of Babette Cole since I was young – or that it doesn’t offer any comparable features (you can have this one read to you by none other than the author, there is additional video footage, and so on), but simply that this is the only iBook we have and so we don’t open the app much. The picture for the iBook app is very plain and simple (as I’m guessing Apple want it to appeal to adults as well) and so the boys often drift over it. In contrast, they know that the Me Books app is purely for them and so they click on it freely.
Anyway, Inky Sprat have done a super job with the book itself and when I do direct the boys towards it, they guffaw at things like the names (check out the screen shot below)…
and the fact that a baby could be in charge of everything!
And here we go again with the toilet humour… ;)
This witty and slightly subversive tale is lots of fun and I only hope Inky Sprat bring many of Babette Cole’s books to the attention of a new audience by turning them into apps. ‘Princess Smartypants’ would get my vote.
I must end this post by letting you know that if you want the very best information about book apps, you need to visit the CAppTivated Kids blog, run by the awesome Helen. She is my go-to person for all things app-related and keeps her keen eye on all that the world of children’s book apps has to offer.
Disclaimer: I received my app versions of ‘Lucy Ladybird’, ‘Hugless Douglas’, ‘Sock Monster’ and, ‘The Other Royal Baby’ from their respective developers. I was not asked to write this post, nor was I given any money for doing so, and the reviews represent my own honest opinion.