Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Bartleby's Book of Buttons Vol. 2: The Button at the Bottom of the Sea

Bartleby's Book of Buttons was created by Monster Costume Inc, and is the second in a series of Bartleby e-books. It has been named one of Apple's 2011 Best App: #1 Book App iPhone, #3 Book App iPad and has received the Children's Technology Award and Kirkus Star. So of course I had to check it out. Price: $2.99
Device Requirements: iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad; Requires iOS 4.2 or later

Developmental Appropriateness: I am quickly learning that most apps do not give a target age. Apple labels this app as 4+, meaning that there is no objectionable material, and it is suitable for children 4 and older.

It terms of content, this app is really a game more than a book. If you were expecting a book to encourage reading by a beginning reader, this may not be it. The text is fairly small and there is no highlighter, making it difficult to follow the text. In terms of reading instruction, children are usually encouraged to follow the text they are reading with their fingers. The size and font of the text here makes that hard. There are even times when the text is being "typed" and the voiceover does not read at the same speed as the typing which makes it hard for a new reader to match the words they hear to the words to the words they see. There is an option to turn the voiceover off, in which case a parent or older person will have to read aloud.

As for the game elements, each page has a puzzle or task that needs to be completed in unique ways before moving onto the next page. In this sense, what kid wouldn't like figuring out what to do and what motions are needed to solve the task? However, some of the tasks require good motor skills - some tasks require one hand to hold down a button while the other hand spins a gear or to tilt the iPhone or iPad to complete a puzzle (this was kinda hard!). A younger child, 4- or 5-year-old, may not know what to do or may get frustrated because they do not have the gentle touch or coordination required to complete the task. An older child, 7 or older, may possess the skills needed, but may also find the tasks boring once they've figured it out. Rating: 3.5/5 (aim for around 6 years of age).

Balance: Given the design of this e-book, the user could easily get caught up in figuring out what to do instead of paying attention to the plot. A plus is that the plot is like a mystery, and it engages the user to try and solve it. Furthermore, the tasks are related to the plot and one cannot move onto the next page until the task is completed. However, one can complete the task without reading or hearing the text in its entirety, or at all. Rating: 4/5

Sustainability: The most frequent comments about Vol.2 is that it is too short and that it is frustrating that it ends with a "To be continued." Seems like the creators use a strategy similar to Harry Potter or Twilight to stretch out the ending to make more money. While this strategy may help sustain interest in the series, it may not keep children coming back to Vol.2 as they are now focused on finding out what happens in Vol.3. Vol.2 does have an incentive feature where you can collect stickers as you move through the tasks. You can then print out the sticker collection. Rating: 4/5

Parental Involvement: Books of any kind are a great way for parents to be involved. For parents with younger kids, this would be a good opportunity for parents to focus their child's attention on the text and then help their child to figure out the tasks. Parents may find themselves surprised by how entertained they are by this app given the novel interactive ways to solve the tasks. For parents with older kids, the tasks are a great way for parents to relate the task back to the text and to elaborate on the plot points. Rating: 4/5

Total: 15.5 out of 20 = 4 stars

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