This review was originally published on The Appy Ladies website.
Normally I wouldn’t recommend a story where the hero was a sneaky, shadowy thief, but the UnStealer is not your ordinary villain. Yes, the UnStealer is a sneaky thief who creeps in shadows and looks a bit scary in the black hat and cape, but you can’t help love a character who turns unhappy into happy, unhelpful into helpful and uninspired to, well, you get the idea.
The opening pages set the scene by introducing the UnStealer and his favourite “collectables.” Interactive elements allow children to alter the appearance of the Uns to match the text, e.g. Tapping on the words bold, italic or underlined will change an Un to that style.
Once we have been warned of the UnStealer and his shocking exploits, we move on to some case studies. An unfunny, unhappy clown at a sad excuse for a birthday party has his mojo retuned and saves the party after the UnStealer strikes. In similar stories we see what happens to an unconfident lass, and later an unfriendly dog. Spoiler alert: the UnStealer turns out to be a pretty decent chap after all.
The story, by Joshua A Wilson, is written in rhyming verse with a natural rhythm that is enjoyable and also supportive of young readers. The underlying message of turning negatives into positives is one that teachers, parents, counsellors and others will appreciate.
- Illustrations – Donna Wilson seems to use a variety of techniques and collages them together to create colourful illustrations with wonderful detail. I appreciate the uncluttered spaces that allow text to be clearly displayed.
- Interactive elements – All of the interactive elements support the text and add meaning to the story. There are only a few on each page so children won’t be distracted from the story. I particularly like the opening pages where children can click on some words to see an animation that defines that word. It would have been wonderful to see this feature used more throughout the story. Mr 9 discovered that tapping on some elements multiple times will trigger a different animation each time that help tell the story.
- Narration – The narration has a strong Northern American accent, but not so strong that my Aussie kids had any trouble with it. It is well-paced and expressive, and we found it easy to listen to and follow. Unlike other books where the narration begins automatically, in this app it will only begin when you tap the first word on the page. I really like this feature as it gives us a chance to explore the illustrations and talk about the story before reading, helping cue children into unfamiliar words they may encounter. It also gives my more independent readers the opportunity to read by themselves, having the narration handy if they need it. You can easily repeat the text if you miss something.
- Music and sound – the funky “Spy” music plays only on the title page. The other sounds relate to the interactive elements and play for a very short time. There are no sound controls within the app, but these are very easily managed with the controls on your iPad.
Overall, the app is great, but there are a couple of little things I’d love to see in a future update:
- More interactive text elements: The first two pages of the book did this really well, and I’d love to see it used more throughout the story. To be able to tap on a word or phrase and see an animation or hear a sound that further illustrates that concept could be very helpful to some. The interactive elements already do a lot of this, so it would be great to connect them to some of the words in the story.
- Options for each word or sentence to be read when tapped: Some readers will be able to read the book independently, but may get stuck on the odd word. Being able to tap that word, or a sentence, could help scaffold them through their reading experience.
- Highlighted text could also help children follow words during the narration.
Expert Opinion from Mr 9
I think the story is fun and surprising, and would be a fun story for 5 to 10 year olds. I love the illustrations and the backgrounds. I really love how you get to change things by tapping items like tapping the clown and he squirts prune juice out of his squirty gun. If you tap it again, the stain gets bigger and bigger. The best part of the book was when the dog played piano (you have to keep tapping to see that!) I would change the music because it is too jazzy. (Mum: I beg to differ on that point!) If the UnStealer had all the Uns, wouldn’t he be miserable? He’d be Unhappy.
To see the app in action, check out the YouTube trailer below:
I love a good story with a positive message, and I can see The UnStealer being very popular with schools and families. As a story it is engaging and uplifting, and as an app it is supportive to young readers. I can’t wait to see more from the developers. Its recent award of a Kirkus Star is well-deserved. Already, the UnStealer has invaded my house, with my children having fun playing with un words. I just wish he would tackle the untidy rooms, unmade beds and unfinished homework. If you would like to win this app, check out the giveaway running on The Appy Ladies website until March 19th, 2014.
Publisher: The Happy Dandelion
Universal: Requires iOS 5.0 or later.
iTunes link: https://itunes.apple.com/au/app/the-unstealer/id791804571?mt=8&uo=4