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Little Lamb in Amsterdam

16 Jun

littlelambiconLittle Lamb in Amsterdam, by Joshua and Donna Wilson, is two stories in one: a simple story of a little lamb on her cycling adventures, and a fact book full of historical, geographical and cultural information about the Netherlands. Little Lamb has an adventurous spirit and sets off on a cycling tour of the Netherlands, finishing in Amsterdam. Along the way she sees different things including windmills, tulips and wild flowers, canals, clogs and more.

Each page is filled with a colourful, interactive illustration and a line or two of text telling the story. Tap the bottom of the screen to show extra information. Find out about the different things windmills grind when little Lamb cycles past them. If you ever wondered why the Netherlands teams wear orange, you will find that fact on the page where Little Lamb celebrates their National day. Extra information is sometimes revealed In the animations; we are treated to some works of Dutch masters such as Vermeer, Van Gogh and Rembrandt when Little Lamb visits the Museums and Galleries, and see boats passing under bridges on the canals. Sometimes Little Lamb is hidden, and finding her becomes a fun hide and seek activity. Continue reading

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Little Lost Note

11 Apr

lostnoteLittle Lost Note is the story of, well, a little lost note. The note wanders through the story looking for the instrument it belongs to, encountering a piano, guitar, trumpet and drums throughout the story. We get to explore the sounds made by these instruments until the Little Lost Note finally finds the way home to her right instrument.

 

Features

  • Interactive elements – The major interactive elements occur when the Little Lost Note meets the different instruments and you get to play them. The piano is similar to those piano simulation apps you may have seen, and you can tap a couple of notes at a time to play chords. We had fun strumming the guitar and even more fun when we found we could tap the fret markings and change the notes. The trumpet was a little trickier, until we found that you had to hold down the keys and tap the mouthpiece at the same time. It was interesting to find that each combination of keys on the trumpet can produce both a high and low sound. You can skip straight to the instruments via buttons on the front page of the app.
  • Other Interactive Elements – Each page features some fun interactive elements, some of which repeat on other pages. Tap on a pile of dirt and Mole may appear (or disappear), birds might sing etc.
  • Narration – The narration is clear and well – for a quiet, calm story.  We love the British accent.  You can turn narration off on the main page.  We couldn’t find any way of making the story repeat, except by flipping the page back and forth.
  • Highlighted Text – The text highlights as it is read, which is very supportive of emergent readers.
  • Nighttime Mode – If you tap on the ZZzzz (in the top left of each page) to activate a special mode for calm, quiet, bedtime reading.  The app dims to a level that makes a comfortable read in a darkened bedroom.
  • Background Music – The background music is delightful, and you can listen for the different instruments that appear in the story.
  • Illustrations – I love the original, colourful illustrations that are not too bright for a calm, bedtime story.  There is a lot of clear space left for the text to display without it being obscured by different elements on the page.

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The UnStealer

13 Mar

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.

Story

These Uns were changed by tapping words on the page.

These Uns were changed by tapping words on the page.

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. Continue reading

Babar and Badou’s Musical Marching Band

4 Dec

badouappTales of Babar the Elephant and his adventures were favourites of mine as a child, however the characters have evolved, and now my children enjoy watching the adventures of Babar’s grandson, Badou, as an animated series on television.  Cupcake Digital have brought other animated stories to the iPad in ebook form, and now it is Badou’s turn in Babar and Badou’s Musical Marching Band.

The Story

In the story, everyone in the palace is getting ready to greet The Lord of the Rhinos and his wife.  Ambassador Crocodylus is jealous of the attention (that he never received!) and plans to sabotage the event by getting his musically-challenged nephews to play at the reception, hoping that the music will be so terrible, the Rhinos will be insulted.  Badou uses cleverness and kindness to turn the situation around with a delightful outcome for all….except for Crocodylus!

badoustory

Continue reading

Clicker Sentences by Crick Software

13 Sep

clicker sentences app iconThose of you who read my recent review of Clicker Docs will know that I’m a big fan of Crick Software and their products, having used them years ago when working in special education settings. Today I’m looking at Clicker Sentences.

Clicker Sentences is all about helping children write sentences and stories using words and phrases. Designed for the early learner, Clicker Sentences is adaptable and will suit older learners with special needs. It operates in a similar way to a word processor, with a writing area at the top, but with the keyboard replaced a grid containing words and images (although there is a simple version of a standard keyboard available on demand.) Sentence sets, containing multiple grids with one sentence per grid, can be used to write stories. Unlike Clicker Docs, an image can be included on each sentence grid and can be inserted into the document as an illustration.

Using the App

Sentence Sets are created quickly with just a few steps:

  • Enter the sentence into a grid. Each word will appear in its own cell and punctuation marks will appear to the left of the grid. If you wish more than one word to appear in a grid, use square brackets around those words.
  • Model sentence – choose how the model sentence will appear. it can be included in the grid, appear as a pop-up, or can be spoken. There is also the option for no model sentence. Any of these settings can be changed at any time.
  • Word Order – words can be displayed alphabetically, randomly, in the sentence order, or by Guided order. This last option dims words, only allowing one cell to be active at a time, guiding the student through the sentence.
  • Picture – An image can be added to each screen using photos from the iPad photo reel, or taken with the camera. These images will be added to the text when they are typed. Pictures can be removed from the grid.
  • Background – choose from 16 colours.

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Learning Grids

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Write to Read – WriteReader

6 May

writereaderThere are more than 750 000 apps in the iTunes AppStore, with many doing similar things, so it is very exciting to find an app that does something really different.  WriteReader is one of those apps.  The app is based on research that strongly links success in learning to read with learning to write.   The app is aimed at children aged from 3 to 10 years, although I believe it would be suitable for older children who have special needs.  I’d like to thank Sarah Muzzammil, a member of the WriteReader marketing team, for giving me the opportunity to look at this app.

Main Features

writereaderpageApart from the title page for each book you create, each page consists of a picture that you add from your camera roll, and two text entry points: one for children and one for adults.  You can add an audio recording to each page, and you can easily add speech frames, thought bubbles and text boxes to the pictures.  Children select a picture, then write a caption, concentrating on the sounds in the words they wish to use.This might be just a couple of letters for one-word caption, or it might be several words.  Adults then type the correct “adult writing”  in the second box.  This is the way my children do their first writing at school.  I’m sure many readers are familiar with being presented with lovely artwork captioned with (what appears to be) a mishmash of letters, and a teachers’ writing underneath translating it for us.  What is actually happening is that children are trying out their letters and sounds, exploring the process of writing at its very first stages.  By seeing their writing alongside the adult’s writing, children can see their successes. [UPDATE 14/7/2014: The adult writing can be disabled by tapping the large owl.]

WriteReader is more than just a writing app, as it has been designed to be used as part of a whole language approach to help children learn to write while they are also learning to read.  There is a good deal of research behind it from its Danish development team and the Danish School of Education. The publishers write: Continue reading

The Adventures of Onesock – My Pal Roger

20 Apr

Onesock app iconPublished by JustKidsApps, The Adventures of Onesock – My Pal Roger is delightful story about Onesock and his misadventures with the newest family member, Roger the dog, who bounces into his world and develops a liking for Onesock’s favourite toy.  Although it isn’t mentioned in the story, Onesock has Autism and displays behaviours associated with this.  Like many children with autism, Onesock has sensory issues with his clothing, in this case with his sock.  He has difficulty with social situations and changes to his environment, such as the introduction of the new pet or visiting his Grandparents.   Onesock has a particular attachment to his toy alligator, which he uses for comfort and to transition through difficult situations.  When faced with a trip away from home, and a new dog that keeps trying to play with his toy alligator, Onesock becomes distressed and anxious. Things are resolved when Roger saves the day. It is no surprise to learn that the author, Roy Ruiz, is the father of the real life Onesock.  Onesock is portrayed with love, respect and acceptance.

Features

This is a story with a lot text, so having two reading modes is a handy thing.  I prefer to read the stories to my children and tend to turn narration off, but my children have listened to the narration and enjoyed this too.

The illustrations are  attractive and colourful.  We loved finding the missing sock in each page, although we still haven’t found it on one page!

There are subtle interactive elements on each page indicated by sparkles. Touching some of these might activate an environmental sound, such as a dog bark, a giggle etc, but other interactive spots play more dialogue in the voice of the character, so you can learn more about how the character is feeling. As with many other JustKidsApps books, this kind of feature can help with comprehension.

Other features

  • Lovely illustrations by Natalie Silva
  • Clear, soothing  English narration by Priya Rana Kapoor.  (I don’t speak German, but the child  narrator sounds clear and expressive, as do the voices of the characters)
  • Text is highlighted as narrated
  • Bilingual in English or German

This YouTube video gives away the plot by showing you the last page of the story, but you’ll also get to hear the soothing narration.  

Wish List

  • An option for clicking individual words to hear them spoken when in “Read Myself” mode.  This would help those children who are mostly independent readers, but who struggle with the odd word.
  • More Onesock adventures – I’ll buy these as soon as they are published.

Verdict

It is a joy to see a story with an autistic child as the main character in a story.  Given the prevalence of ASD in our communities,  children with ASD have been under-represented in all forms of media and particularly in children’s literature.  Any child will enjoy reading about the adventures of Onesock, but the story will resonate with families affected by autism.  I was happy to part with a measly 99c for a story of this quality, and I’d happily pay more.  This is the second of Ruiz’s  Onesock books, but the first available as an app.  JustKidsApps timed the release perfectly to coincide with World Autism Month in April, 2013.

Adventures of One Sock - My Pal Rodger - JustKidsApps - Katrin Draemann Barothy
Publisher:  JustKidsApps
Cost: 99c
iPad only

Alphabet Animals – a slide-and-peek adventure

9 Apr

ABC Animals app iconI was excited to be able to review this app from Auryn Apps with my children.  I own quite a few story apps published by Auryn, and the quality of illustrations and stories is always high, so I was hoping Alphabet Animals would be of the same quality.  I’m delighted to say that it is.

abc animals - H for HorseAlphabet Animals is exactly what it sounds like:  an alphabet book with illustrations of animals. Each page has an animal in the shape of the initial letter of its name. D is a dragon, L is a lion, O is an orang-utan and so on.  I love the gorgeous illustrations by Suse MacDonald.  As you slide the tab across to see the letter, the animal moves a little.  The crocodile opens its mouth, the vulture’s wings flap, and so on.  If a few seconds pass without the screen being touched, prompts appear highlighting the interactive parts of the page.

You could go through the book page by page, in alphabetical order, or you can tap on specific letters to go straight to that letter.  My children were impatient to see “their letters” (i.e. the letters in their names) so this is how we first explored the book.  It was also fun to guess which animal would illustrate each letter.  Zebra for Z was a no-brainer, but we shouldn’t have been so surprised to see the dragon for D (it is the app’s icon!)

abc animals game 1It was nice to see an Australian animal used to illustrate the letter K, but we have a quibble.  Koalas are marsupials, not bears, and it is incorrect to refer to them as koala bears.  Koala on its own is the correct name.  Unfortunately it is a mistake we’ve seen in a lot of apps and books. My little Aussies are very picky and would like the developers to fix this in the next update.

 Game Time

abcanimals - name game The book on its own is wonderful, but there is a game in the app that adds to the fun.  Children select the letters of their name, then drag the “animal letters” over the top to spell their name with animals.  They can then select a frame and save the image or send it to an email address.  My children love this activity.  The images of their names are works of art, and I’m going to print them as photos to go in my children’s scrapbooks.  The names would also look great on the front of greeting cards.  I know the activity asks you to enter a name, but we took it further and entered spelling list words.

Music

One other feature is a musical theme that plays in the background.  While the tune is cute and happy, you can turn it off.  I chose to have it off after a bit, but not before my children had fun making the animals ” dance” by sliding the tab back and forth in time with the music.

 Verdict

I’ve seen a lot of ABC apps, and while there are some I quite like, I can honestly say there are not too many illustrated as beautifully as this one.   Alphabet Animals will hold your child’s attention and is a great one to share snuggled up on someone’s lap.  Highly recommended.

Alphabet Animals: a slide-and-peek adventure is an enchanting picture app, kids will love to learn from. This app teaches animal names, alphabets and their shapes to kids; by Suse MacDonald (iPad version, by Auryn Apps) - Auryn Inc.Publisher: Auryn Apps
Price:  $1.99
iPad only.

Sassy Cassie – PicPocket Books

27 Mar

SassyCassieSassy Cassie, written and illustrated by Nancy PLA Schneider, is two stories for the price of one.  Cassie is an imaginative and creative little girl who loves to colour her world.  Despite having all the toys a child could wish, Cassie favourite toy is her mother’s makeup.  Cassie loves to use her and her friends’ faces as a canvas.  (I’m sure I’m not the only mother who can relate to this scenario!) Her increasingly exasperated mother manages to extract a series of promises from Cassie about not using her makeup, although it seems Cassie is an expert in finding loopholes in promises and rules, not unlike a child dear to my own heart. Katie eventually manages to find another interesting way to express herself creatively.

sassycassie1

At the end of the story, Sassy Cassie receives her very own art equipment in Color Mixing with Cassie.  She experiments with blending primary colours to make secondary colours, and plays with black and white to make shades and tints in her search for the perfect pink.  While I’ve seen apps that explore primary and secondary colours, I’ve never seen one that looks at shades and tints.  It would be useful to read this part of the story before art activities, and then have children see which colours they can make.
But wait:  there’s more!  In addition to a great story and an art lesson, the Color Fun Quiz section rounds off the app with a series of comprehension questions.  The question is written and narrated.  Tapping the Answer button will reveal the answer.

Features

  • Easy navigation – swipe pages to move through the story.  You can also swipe backwards to hear a page’s narration again.
  • Audio can be turned off
  • Text is highlighted as spoken.  This feature is supportive of emergent readers who are reading along with the narration.  This feature is only available in the main part of the story, but not available in the Color Mixing or Quiz sections.
  • Beautiful illustrations by PLA Schneider
  • Clear and expressive narration by Sylvie Ashford
  • Art lesson about mixing colours.  Cassie narrates as she experiments with colours, mixing primary colours, white and black to make secondary colours, tints and shades.
  • Quiz section

sassycassie2

Wish list

It would be useful for children to hear words spoken aloud as they are tapped.  I’d also love to see the highlighting of words as they are spoken extended to the second part of the story. Children with a hearing impairment, or those reading the story in noisy environments, may have difficulty hearing the answers in the Fun Color Quiz, so it would be great to see the answers also available in text and/or illustration.

Verdict

Sassy Cassie is a delightful app that gives you a funny story as well as a lesson in art.  Children will be amused by Cassie’s antics and inspired by her creativity.  Parents will be amazed by how Cassie’s mother manages to keep her composure when facing “trying” times with her precocious daughter.   An enjoyable and educational reading experience for all.

This review was originally published on The Appy Ladies blog.  The Appy Ladies are running  a giveaway of the iPad version of this app until April 04, 2013.  You can enter tbe Appy Ladies Rafflecopter Giveaway here.

Sassy Cassie HD - PicPocket Books

iPad version, requires iOS 4.3 or later.
Price:  $2.99

Sassy Cassie - PicPocket Books
iPhone version.  Requires iOS 4.3 or later.
Price $1.99

 

Seven Super Stories by Susan Syddall

28 Feb

I couldn’t resist using some alliteration in the heading for today’s post. Susan Syddall is an Australian author and illustrator who also has a website, Stories and Children, which is full of great educational ideas and resources and more information about her apps. Today I am reviewing the seven story apps Susan has published to date. Most have been supplied by Susan, but I acquired one of them while it was on sale recently.

A page from Hog and Frog

A page from Hog and Frog by Susan Syddall

Features

The following features are common to the apps.

  • Beautiful illustrations
  • Two reading modesRead to Me or I’ll Read.
  • The narration is expressive with an Australian accent. Most of the story apps I own have either an American or British accent, so it is a delight to hear a story in my accent, particularly one so well narrated. I don’t believe the accent would present difficulties for other countries, particularly now we have such global exposure to such a variety of accents.
  • How to section – explains the different features of the app.
  • Text presented in different ways – in addition to the standard text, you’ll see speech and thought bubbles, environmental text (labels, signs, books etc), and words presented in different graphic formats.
  • Subtle interactive elements – there are no animations, but some pages have interactive areas that will produce sounds. These pages are marked with an asterisk.
  • Extension activities – these differ for each book but include activities such as mazes, word finds, comprehension activities, spot the difference, counting, vocabulary and more. There are at least 5 extra activities for each book and these can be printed and/or completed in app.
  • Guide Notes – These printable activities include suggested focus questions for discussions, Language activities and extension ideas, and integrated curriculum ideas.
  • An introduction to each story – this is a feature you don’t often find in story apps, and it helps cue the child into the language and concepts explored in the story. In some cases,these introductions give background knowledge the child may not already have (see Lyrebird Park for a good example.)

More support materials can be found on the Stories and Children website. A free membership is required to access the materials.

Those are features common to each story app. Below are my notes on each book in the series. I’ve included some first impressions on some of the learning opportunities for each book, but if you dive into the supportive materials included with each app, you will find many more ideas.

The Stories

All of the stories are Universal, are published by Susan Syddall, and are priced at $2.99 each.

hogandfrogHog and Frog Hog and Frog - Susan Syddall– Hog tries to turn into a frog by changing his appearance and behaviour, until he hits the final hurdle. I’m not going to give away the plot, but this story had my 5 and 7 y.o. sons in stitches. There is much use of the “og” sound (and the short “o” sound), opportunities for children to guess how the hog will solve each problem, and of course you can explore the characteristics of frogs.

mathildaThere's Something in the Bush, Matilda - Susan SyddallThere’s Something in the Bush, Mathilda – Mathilda explores the Australian bush and finds different animals hiding in their different homes. There is a great rhythm to the story, and the pattern lends itself to word prediction activities. Each animal has its own action, providing a great opportunity to look at verbs and perhaps act them out. Other concepts in the story include counting to ten and different animal habitats.

groverbillGrover Bill and the Geckos - Susan SyddallGrover Bill and the Geckos – Poor Grover Bill has a very bland, gray life until some cheeky geckos go to town in his house with coloured paint. The big concern in this house was how Grover Bill would react when he woke up and saw what the geckos had done (memories of Changing Rooms). Again, there is a great rhyme and rhythm to the story, making it great to read aloud and very helpful for beginner readers. I love the way verbs are highlighted on each page. Master 5 decided to act out some of the verbs, but unfortunately I didn’t get it on video!

scaredycatScaredy Cat Scaredy Cat by Susan Syddall - Susan Syddall– This is a funny tale of a mouse waging psychological warfare on a cat, who is very hungry. There. You have to get it now! There is rhyme, repetition, and lots of highlighted adjectives enriching the text. My 8 y.o. is being encouraged to write “juicy” sentences for his homework, and I’ve used these highlighted words to show him how he can do that with adjectives and adverbs. Incidentally, there are clocks featured in illustrations throughout the story to emphasise the time the cat is going without food. The clocks are not specifically mentioned in the story, but there are opportunities to look at the time in hours, and count the hours that pass. As you tap on the clocks, you can count the chimes then hear the time spoken aloud.

lyrebirdparkLyrebird ParkLyrebird Park - Susan Syddall – Most Australians will be familiar with the lyrebird that graces our 10 cent coin, but others may not know about this fabulous mimic. The introduction to this book is slightly more detailed than the others so that children receive some background knowledge about this amazing Australian bird. (Non-believers should try searching the Internet for some recordings of the lyrebird, which are amazing and hilarious at the same time.) The story is quite funny, with the lyrebird playing tricks on a family to make them leave his park. Again, there are some fabulous adjectives and adverbs highlighted in the text. In addition to the story told in the text, a second story takes place in the illustrations, with the baby wise to the tricks that the adults are falling for. You might want to try retelling the story from the baby’s point of view, and you can also explore birds that can talk (the sulphur-crested cockatoo is introduced at the end of the book) and animal sounds.

farmer blakeFarmer Blake and Sneaky SnakeFarmer Blake and Sneaky Snake - Susan Syddall – The chickens team up to help stop sneaky snake from stealing Farmer Blake’s eggs in this amusing story. I love how the direct speech is highlighted in the text, and there is some great use of alliteration ( e.g. Snake slid silently in). My children came up with a couple of other ideas the Farmer could have tried.

baddaytobeflyIt’s a bad day to be a Fly! It's a BAD day to be a FLY! - Susan Syddall– There is a subtle reference to that great Aussie character, Louie the Fly, in the latest book in the series. (For my non-Aussie readers, Louie is a character who has starred in fly spray advertisements since the 1950s. I can still sing the jingle created by the late, legendary Bryce Courtney when he worked in advertising in the 60s.) Louie is a trainee fly and is learning how to harass Mr Sty. There are concepts of rhyme and direct speech, and the text is presented in lots of visually interesting ways to support the story, for example on one page it swirls around as Louie buzzes around the house. My children didn’t understand the picture of Louie wearing a gas mask, but were able to understand after a small discussion. (They also now understand why I don’t like to use chemical sprays.)

Wish List

There is a lot right with these apps already, but there are always a couple of things I’d like to see in story apps that are not yet present in these apps.

  • Highlighting words – it would be great if words could be highlighted as they are narrated to give that extra support for children attempting to read along.
  • Repeat text – an option to repeat text would be useful for children who miss part of the narration for reasons such as interruptions, environmental noise, or comprehension.
  • Individually spoken words – being able to hear words spoken as they are tapped, in either reading mode, would be supportive of students who are starting to read independently but who struggle with the odd word. It also allows you to “play” with the text on the page, for example highlighting words from your sight list, or those with a particular phonic element.

Verdict

Some stories are meant for reading pleasure, and others are meant for learning to read. Susan Syddall’s stories fall into both categories for me. They are entertaining and engaging, but also have lots of supportive elements that will make them a welcome addition to both home and school libraries, being particularly suited to emergent readers in Prep – Year 2. They are also age-appropriate for older children with special needs, and I can see these stories being popular with home schoolers too. Finally, it is nice to see some Australian content in story apps. I hope more are in the pipeline, as I’m keen to buy some more for the early readers in this house.

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