Rounds: Franklin Frog by Barry and Emma Tranter (Nosy Crow, August 2012) is a great interactive nonfiction app for one- to three-year-olds. First in Nosy Crow’s new series of nonfiction apps based on life cycles, Franklin Frog presents the life of a frog — including feeding, hibernation, mating, birth, metamorphosis, and maturation — in an accessible way that’s respectful of both its subject and its audience.
The text is supplemented by Franklin’s engaging exclamations, which do not at all condescend to young users. Prompted by the user’s taps, these range from the just-for-fun “How are you?” and “Yippee!” to the informative “I can jump the length of TEN frogs!” or “My skin is smooth — toads have bumpy skin.” What Franklin says depends on the environment and the activity, e.g. while swimming, he tells users how he breathes underwater, and when he is hungry, he talks about his sticky tongue or how he hunts.
Admittedly, my favorite parts were when Franklin is in danger. I spent a lot of time making him swim past herons just to hear him say things like “That was too close for comfort!” and “I don’t want to be a heron’s breakfast!” interspersed with admonishments to look out for predators. Similarly, later his mate Felicity wants the user to help protect her frogspawn from other fish; it’s fun to let them eat her eggs to hear her exclaim, “Leave my eggs alone, greedy fish!”
Simplicity is key here, with a unifying color scheme across screens, rounded shapes in the illustrations, and repetition in Franklin’s movements. The background music plays in a loop, and the melody slowly wraps around itself for a calm yet cheerful reading experience. A “Read by myself” option lets readers play and interact with the app without the narrator’s direction, but the child narrator in the “Read and play” option is friendly, polite, and sometimes surprisingly playful in tone.
The one thing that threw me off was the account of Franklin’s mating. He calls to attract a mate, meets Felicity, and then jumps into the water with her. On the very next screen, Felicity is laying frogspawn, hilariously shooting them out behind her. While I understand that it may be awkward to explain amplexus (frog fertilization — I looked it up because of this app!) to the preschool child for whom this app is recommended, the omission isn’t exactly subtle. Be prepared for questions, parents!
After Franklin and Felicity’s baby Fraser grows from a tadpole to a froglet to a frog (detailed clearly in the text and illustrations), the narrative starts over — get it? “Rounds”? — as Fraser jumps, swims, eats, finds a mate, and procreates. The user can follow two full generations of Franklin’s descendants before the app resets with baby Franklin.
I definitely recommend this app, while noting that the app-child interaction should be supplemented with adult-child interaction to fill in some omitted elements of the frog’s life cycle. Available for iPhone, iPod Touch, and iPad; $4.99.