Thursday, December 22, 2011

the Town Musicians of Bremen

The Town Musicians of Bremen was created by Centum Interactive Co., Ltd. and was named one of Best Book Apps for Kids by Common Sense Media, a great resource for parents for information and tools. Price: $0.99
Device Requirements: iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad; Requires iOS 3.2 or later

Developmental Appropriateness: This story was originally an old folktale by the Brothers Grimm. While the plot touches upon a few darker themes such as being abandoned, and robbery, the story is mainly about a few animals who band together and embark on a journey to Bremen. Overall, the storyline is fitting for young children. The text is easy to see and highlights as it's being read. There is also a small icon (could be bigger) after the text that leads to the entire text of the page to be repeated. The e-book includes fairly easy puzzles and tasks within the story that require the child to tap on hidden hotspots, drag and drop objects or line up pieces of the puzzle that require a light touch. Some of these motor skills will require a bit of practice for younger children. Rating: 4/5 (aim for around 5 years of age)

Balance: After my first reading, I realized I didn't actually know what happened in the story - I was too busy finding all the hotspots and doing the puzzles! Almost all of the pages include a lot of hotspots, many that are not relevant to the story. For example, flowers are hidden in the grass and birds are hidden in the trees. If you keep tapping the bird, more will appear. Or, in a scene on a farm, many farm animals are illustrated, but not mentioned in the plot. You can tap on each of the animals and they will move and make a noise. All these hotspots can be activated during the reading of the text and you can turn the page at anytime, even in mid-sentence. The puzzles are inserted within the story every few pages with no text or plot occurring on these pages. While they may be fun, they are interrupting the plot, and may be more suitable for use after a few readings. Rating: 2/5

Sustainability: While young children like hearing their favorite stories read over and over again, I'm not sure if this story shines through all the bells and whistles. Maybe the novelty of the puzzles and hotspots will wear off, but by that time, will the child still be interested in the story? Or will they just be bored because they've come to know this book as the one with the hotspots and puzzles that they are too familiar with? An interesting mode of this app is that you can create your own story using the same illustrations and characters. You can write your own text, but it will not be read aloud. Although this may lead to more usage of the app, it is not the most user-friendly feature and would definitely require parental guidance. There are better book creator apps out there. Rating: 3/5

Parental Involvement: There is no mode where the voiceover can be turned off (although I guess you can turn the sound, including the music off). So parents' main role would be to watch and listen along with their child and then elaborate on the text and pictures after the voiceover completes each page, and to keep their child focused on the story. Parents should also remind their child of what's happened in the story as they will likely have lost track after spending time on the puzzles. The more extra features, the more parents should be involved. However, this is not the type of parental involvement an app should aim for! Rating: 4/5

Total: 13 out of 20 = 3 stars

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