All of these best iPad books for kids use digitization to enhance the reading experience, not divert attention from it. Where there are frills, I prefer to see them focus on education instead of playtime. There are great books for pre-schoolers but also for older kids, a somewhat under-served sector. And, for those aimed at school-aged readers, I primarily looked for educational offerings, since there are iBooks, eBooks and digital comics for fiction fans. Here are eight amazing iPad reading apps for kids from 2011. The order is based on approximate audience age, not preference.
This classic Sesame Street book is a sequel to The Monster at the End of This Book. It arrived in the App Store late last year with all the same charm as the original, but as in print, this story features Elmo, not just Grover, and lots of new diversions to save our furry blue friend from what terrifies him. The prose is so well tailored to the preschool set, it’s uncanny, and the interactive little games, which basically involve a child tapping to help Elmo undo Grover’s latest obstacle, give this digibook shelf life without resorting to a bunch of vaguely-related games and coloring pages.
This adaptation from the short film which shares its name, was the most delightful surprise of the year. The story itself is very much like a modern day quick trip to Oz, but it’s a book about books. As far as it being digitized, it finds the equilibrium I seek between text and tech wonderfully. It emphasizes the story with polish and enough engaging things for little fingers to play with, my favorite being the piano. The art steals the show: it’s magnificent. This is the rare screen-to-book adaptation of any kind I wholeheartedly recommend.
Auryn - The Little Mermaid ($0.99)
The prose is the original by Hans Christian Andersen, so what’s not to love? But when I stumbled upon this app early in 2011, it made my eyes pop. Hundreds of book-app reviews and tests later, none capture what I personally mean by the right balance of interactivity, story and illustration better. This storybook is soothing, not stimulating, making it ideal for bedtime. The illustrations are glorious and the app resembles a meditation koi pond app more than a digibook. When I first reread the story with adult eyes, I realized this is a deep tale with modern resonance, and this version will engage the smallest children, but endure, as the fairy tale has, as an iPad classic.
With all the amazing original Dr Seuss titles in Oceanhouse Media’s catalog many people will think I’m daft for picking something not actually penned by the great master. I prefer the classics too, of course, but this is one that caters to an under-served market. The Learning Library series is not for pre-readers. Nor is it for kids who are reading independently. It’s perfect, instead, for those in between. Using only ever-present verbal cues (kids can touch a word in any of the Dr Seuss interactive iOS apps to have it spoken aloud), it became the first book my eight-year-old ever cared enough to finish on his own. If digibooks are going to be marketed as tools to help both engage and teach young people, There’s No Place Like Space! is proof that they work.
The Gwaii – 3D Comic Book ($1.99)
Episodic and serialized via in-app purchases, like any good comic, The Gwaii intentionally uses some eye-popping, near-3D art and the time-tested approach of using comic books to engage younger readers. While by no means trite, this is definitely a family – and eco – friendly tale aimed at tweens primarily. The story is set in the northernmost region of Canada where modern humans and ancient mythical creatures must find a way to coexist. Adventure and action ensue, but reading is actively promoted, with interactivity taking a second place to original story and great design.
Be Confident in Who You Are ($2.99)
Again a print import, and from a great source; Annie Fox knows about tweens, education and parenting like few others in the blogosphere. It’s great to use apps to re-tell old stories, or make new stories pop, but it’s greater still to make an app that can uplift the spirit. Using graphic novel styling and characters who resemble real middle schoolers, this title will also engage kids on either side of Junior High. There is almost nothing overly digital here, just an opportunity to spark thoughts or a discussion about issues like bullying and self-esteem. Annie did let me know a second instalment is coming to iOS soon.
The Magic of Reality ($13.99)
When I hear the name Richard Dawkins, I think evolutionary biologist, author of The Selfish Gene, and purveyor of matters for serious mental mastication, not kid stuff. In this title, however, his complex prose is eschewed in favour of an app that offers accessible, if still wholly scientific answers, to a myriad of questions that everyone asks. The text is intended for readers 12 and up, but the answers are timeless. Chapters begin with a look at popular myths from across religions and cultural traditions. Dawkins offers explanations that make sense in terms of natural phenomena. Remarkably none of the mystery and magic is lost. There’s plenty of interactivity, videos to watch and other features you’d expect, but the experiments — like playing at breeding genetically superior leggy frogs and tooling with prisms — make the digital version something akin to a tiny portable science museum for young teens, as well as a book that is designed to be absorbed in small helpings.
Is there a section more feared in middle or high school than the one where an English teacher breaks out this year’s Shakespeare play? Even kids who love to read stuggle with all the 16th century cultural, historical and mythological references, on top of ingenious word play and layered plots. I picked Romeo and Juliet for this list for no reason other than the play’s popularity. Mindconnex’s catalog (it now boasts this, “Macbeth” and “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” with “Hamlet” and “Julius Caesar” coming soon) all use the same UI. In other words as apps, they are largely interchangeable, only the play changes. What makes the series superlative is that alongside the expected easy-access definitions, study-aids, charts and assorted digital goodies, is an animated full-length production broken into manageable parts. There are few apps that capture the spirit of accessibility than Shakespeare in Bits.