iBigtoy Picture eBooks – a Cautionary Tale?

31 Mar

As promised, I’m starting a series of eBook App reviews.  I’ve already reviewed Susan Boynton’s Moo Media books published by Loud Crow, which are some of the best picture eBooks you’ll find, but today I’m going a little further back down the quality spectrum.   I’m actually starting with some that I just want to remove from my iPad because I really don’t like them.  They act as an example of why you can’t believe everything you read in an App’s description.  Doesn’t bode well, does it? I promise we’ll get back to the good things next post with good ones for the Easter break.

Are we sitting comfortably?  Let us begin……

iBig Toy has a LOT of eBooks available on the iTunes store.  It is difficult to rate this collection of Apps, except to say that there are a few adequate ones, and there are several that are so bad it is nearly funny.

Illustrations and Interactive Elements

The illustrations are pleasant and slightly animated, and they closely follow the text.  The artwork is not exactly high art, but it is fairly reasonable compared to other books. Some of the books, such as Ali Baba and the 40 thieves, have some simple interactive elements.  Most of these work in with the story, such as caves opening, and characters revealing their thoughts, but one or two are a bit odd, for example you can tap on any of 3 caves to open them, but two of them reveal surprises unrelated to the story. Still, overall the interactive elements shouldn’t prove too distracting.

Reading Modes

Children can opt to either read the story themselves or listen to the narration. The App store blurb mentions Professional Narration, however the female voice in all the iBig Toy books I own seems a bit flat and lacking in expression, and my children find it boring.  The narrator stumbles with pronunciation on occasion.  This is a subjective criticism, I know, but I found the voice difficult to keep listening to while reviewing the books. This won’t be an issue for independent readers who won’t need narration.

 Text

The quality of the text varies greatly from book to book.  Most books are very average, with some awkward turns-of-phrase.  This awkwardness is not good for children struggling with reading who are relying on grammatical and syntactical cues to help them work out words (Becky L. Spivey has a great practical handout on how to help children with grammar and syntax at home with some information, or see the links below.) Some are such bad translations from the Chinese text, it is just ridiculous.  The example below is taken from their version of (the) Ugly Duckling. I actually found the image in the iTunes store AND on their own website.  There is a tip:  always check every screen shot in the iTunes store.  The trouble is that you really need to see every page to evaluate.  I should also add that you run into the occasional spelling error too. If you want to see a complete disaster without paying first, check out Pinocchio’s Daring Journey Lite.

Positives

iBig Toy has published a lot of books, and if you can think of a folk tale, they probably have it covered, including some I haven’t heard since I was a child, such as (The) Wolf and the Seven Little Goats.  Some of the stories are traditional stories from Asia, and you don’t often see these in print.  I just love folk tales from other cultures, so I find these fascinating. iBig Toy frequently drops their prices to offer a title free for a limited time, which is how I have been able to look through so many.  They also have ‘Lite’ versions available so you can try some books before you buy them. Text, when adequately translated, is usually placed in clear areas on the screen, making it easy to read.  If there is a lot of text, it is broken into two paragraphs which are gradually revealed. The books (at least, the ones I have seen) are universal, which means they will work on either iPad or iPhone.

Negatives

I find the bland narration a bit off-putting, and my children find it difficult to listen to.  While the scrolling text  is great for those reading along with the narration, those reading without the narration may turn the page without realising there is another paragraph to come.  OK, I’ll put my hand up to that mistake.  I found the narration so annoying that I turned it off after the first page or two of each book, and as a result I’d turn pages and discover I’d missed a chunk of the story. The big problem is the poor grammar and awkward translations present in several of the books, the mis-pronunciation of some words, and the poor spelling present in some of the stories.   Although some of the eBooks are fine, it is too hit-and-miss for you to really be confident that you will be getting an eBook that is correctly translated.

Verdict

I wouldn’t be paying money for these story apps as even the good ones are a bit average in quality.  Instead, wait until they drop the prices to free and then download and see for yourself.  You can always delete them if they don’t work for you.   I’ll be putting up links to any good free eBooks that I find on my Facebook Group.  In a nutshell, there are many eBooks available for the same price or cheaper that feature better narration, great illustrations and interactive elements, and are free of the problems that feature in too many of the iBig Toy books. The iBig Toy eBook apps range in price from 99 cents to $2.99 each, and are universal, so will work on both iPad and iPhone.  There are ‘Lite’ versions of some of the apps, which allows you to review them before purchase. Great.  Reviewed.  Now to delete them……  (am I being cruel?)

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