Do you have a little boy who loves video games but is not so keen about reading? Nosy Crow, one of the pre-eminent developers of interactive book apps for kids, designed its new storybook app "Jack and the Beanstalk" to address this issue. The app purposely blurs the distinction between a book and a game to create a new reading experience. Here's a closer look at "Jack and the Beanstalk" as well as two other storybook apps that will particularly appeal to boys.
Jack and the Beanstalk
Nosy Crow, best for ages 3-8, $4.99, iPhone, iPod Touch, iPad
Rating: 4 stars (out of 4)
The classic fairy tale of beanstalk climbing and giant wrangling gets a digital makeover in this version by Nosy Crow. In Read and Play mode, the story is narrated while the words highlight and the characters appear fully animated. Kids can extend the story's narrative by touching the characters to hear what they are thinking or to learn more about what they can do. They can also choose to read the story to themselves.
What makes this version special – besides the lovely illustrations and lively animations – is the addition of game elements. For example, climbing up the vine becomes a mini-game of jumping between three possible vines where some stop midway up. The giant's castle houses an additional nine games, each found in a different room. The games vary, but kids will have a blast sneaking gold out from under the sleeping giant, rescuing a baby dragon by solving a puzzle and directing a bucket as it plunges down a well to retrieve a gold ball for a frog prince. Near the end, the giant's chasing Jack turns into a side-scrolling jumping game where kids tap Jack to make him jump over scattered barrels.
The ending of the story, revealing how well-off Jack and his mother have become, is directly tied to how successful the reader was in the games. This is great motivation for reluctant readers to revisit the story so they can replay the games. Jack and the Beanstalk cleverly creates an intersection where gaming and reading meet.
Heartdrive Media, best for ages 3-8, $.99, iPhone, iPod Touch, iPad
Rating: 4 stars
Nestled within the 30 pages of simple, childlike illustrations is a heartwarming tale about the importance of feelings. "Pete's Robot" stars an inventive little boy who decides to build a robot. With the help of his trusty dog, Spot, Pete orders the parts and assembles the robot. Unfortunately, the robot escapes and starts wreaking havoc all over town. When Pete discovers that his invention is missing its "heartdrive," he repairs it and delights in owning a kind robot who helps everyone.
By presenting a hilarious robot adventure filled with clever interactions, the app draws even reluctant little boys into this story. When the robot is malfunctioning, it does silly things such as entering a dance contest, baking mud pies at the diner and grabbing the mailman's pouch. When Pete fixes the robot, it turns into a hero, constantly helping everyone.
Though the story can be read by three different narrators or kids by themselves, the end result is a book filled with comic book-like sounds and lots of exclamation points. Every page has a high-octane interaction that is zany and silly. Touch Pete, and his expressions change wildly. Tap the robot, and its face contorts through a series of wacky animations. This is a zonky adventure that will entice those high-energy boys who don't normally like to read.
Bacciz, best for ages 4-8, $1.99, iPhone, iPod Touch, iPad
Rating: 3.5 stars
This book app's hook for little boys is its superhero theme. Brave Rooney is an ordinary kid who somehow ends up in a school for superheroes. He immediately feels out of place as the other students regale each other with their heroic feats over summer break. Rooney can't hold back a rock slide, and he can't blow out a forest fire with his breath.
Rooney soon discovers he can do something all his adrenaline-pumping classmates can't: He can stand up in front of the whole school and recite his own poem. Because he isn't afraid to speak in public, all the other kids respect him. The story ends with Rooney being celebrated for his own special power: bravery.
This book will appeal to all little boys who imagine themselves as superheroes. Learning about how Rooney's classmates' lives are different from normal kids is fun and imaginative. More than 50 interactive spots, which frequently reveal a superhero's power, make this a treasure trove of hero-worship tapping. Parents will appreciate the option to set the interactive spots to be inactive until after the words have been highlighted as read. That way, kids will pay attention to the story before playing on the page.