Recommended apps and e-books

The apps and e-books recommended below were developed within the last few years. Grade levels are only suggestions; the individual child is the real criterion. Click on the title links for full reviews of individual apps, or view all of our App Review of the Week selections here.

Preschool

Suggested age level for each entry: 2–4 years.

A Present for Milo written and illus. by Mike Austin (Ruckus Mobile Media, 2010)
Kitten Milo chases a mouse until they reach — surprise! — a birthday party. Clever interactive elements and crisp sound effects accentuate the cleanly drawn pictures and simple text.

The Going to Bed Book written and illus. by Sandra Boynton (Boynton Moo Media/Loud Crow Interactive, 2011)
This adaptation honors the original board book while adding just the right amount of pizzazz with smart interactivity, Billy J. Kramer’s soothing narration, and gentle background music.

Goodnight Moon written by Margaret Wise Brown, illus by Clement Hurd (Loud Crow, 2012)
Users discover surprises in the “great green room” of Brown’s sleepytime classic. Just enough interactivity, plus soothing music and narration, complement the beloved text and illustrations.

The Endless Alphabet (Callaway Digital Arts, 2013)
A gaggle of friendly monsters invites young users to expand vocabulary and spelling skills with funny animated shorts. Weekly automatic word updates make the app’s information “endless.”

Spot the Dot written and illus. by David A. Carter (Ruckus Mobile Media, 2011)
In this concept-learning app, users search for colored dots hidden in increasingly complex, kaleidoscopic screens of bright shapes.

Freight Train written and illus. by Donald Crews (Curious Puppy, 2010)
Like the book, this app offers a simple, logical presentation of concepts; users explore many-hued train cars (each with a different purpose) to reveal cargo, staff, and stock.

Bizzy Bear Builds a House written and illus. by Benji Davies (Nosy Crow, 2012)
Based on board book Bizzy Bear: Let’s Get to Work, this app invites toddlers to pitch in around a construction site, completing tasks such as digging a hole, piling sand, and unloading bricks.

Pat the Bunny based on the books by Dorothy Kunhardt (Random House Digital., 2011)
Inspired by the lift-the-flap classic, this app offers new opportunities to play with Paul, Judy, and Bunny. Perky, clear instructions help pre-readers navigate the retro-illustrated activities.

Sleepy Mole’s Moving Day illus. by Melanie Matthews (Ginger Whale, 2011)
This soothing choose-your-own-adventure story provides eight possible new homes and sixteen new friends for Mole to encounter on his quest for a quiet place to sleep.

Goodnight Safari illus. by Luciana Navarro Powell (Polk Street Press, 2012)
In this bedtime narrative, users help African savanna animals prepare for lights out. Cuddly characters, soft colors, and nighttime sound effects make for an interactive, but sleepy story.

Spatter and Spark written by Deborah Underwood, illus. by Luciana Navarro Powell (Polk Street Press, 2013)
Friends Spatter (an artist) and Spark (an inventor) build bouncy shoes to visit the crow family in their treetop home, but bounce a bit too high. The silly story celebrates creativity and friendship.

The Monster at the End of This Book by Jon Stone; illus. by Michael Smollin (Callaway Digital Arts/Sesame Workshop, 2010)
Grover, attempting to contain the “monster” lurking at story’s end, tempts readers to explore. The frantically animated muppet, spot-on narration, and humorous sound effects add to the fun.

Rounds: Franklin Frog by Barry and Emma Tranter (Nosy Crow, 2012)
The life of a frog (birth, feeding, metamorphosis, maturation, hibernation, and mating) is presented in an accessible way that’s respectful of both its subject and its preschool audience.

Rounds: Parker Penguin by Barry and Emma Tranter (Nosy Crow, 2012)
This second entry in this series life cycle nonfiction apps covers emperor penguins’ physiology, behavior, habitat, and place in the food chain — all with the developer’s signature quirky style.

Press Here by Herve Tullet (Chronicle)
Users explore cause and (frequently surprising) effect in fifteen activities featuring Tullet’s hand-drawn dots. Silly sound effects and musical notes add to the fun.

 

Primary

Suggested grade level for each entry: K–3.

Even Monsters Get Sick (Busy Bee Studios, 2012)
Harry’s new pet monster seems like a bore — but he’s just sick. When TLC perks Zub up, the two have a blast together. Each page offers a variety of interactions, activities, and sound effects.

I Love Mountains illus. by Amanda Joyce Bishop (Forest Giant, 2012)
Cute kid narrator Sloan shares fun facts about mountains through nineteen interactive pages, covering types of mountains, plate tectonics, the largest mountains, and mountain wildlife.

Shake & Make! illus. by Ed Emberley (Night & Day Studios, 2011)
Shake your device to break a simple image by artist Emberley into its component shapes, then recreate it by repositioning the pieces. A nice introduction to Emberley’s geometric illustrations.

Bramble Berry Tales Book 1: The Story of Kalkalilh (Loud Crow, 2013)
Lily and Thomas’s grandfather catches them sneaking a midnight snack and tells them a folkloric cautionary tale. Lulling string music and hidden touch-activated elements supplement the story.

Meet Millie (MegaPops, 2011)
This first app in a series chronicles the “heroic” adventures of an ordinary dog doing ordinary doggy things. Game show–like activities complement the visual irony and over-the-top narration.

Cinderella: A 3-D Fairy Tale (Nosy Crow, 2011)
The familiar tale is enhanced with cheeky humor, child narrators, and thoughtful interactivity. A friendly robin suggests interactive opportunities, plays hide-and-seek, and offers commentary.

Little Red Riding Hood (Nosy Crow, 2013)
A choose-your-own-adventure structure encourages interactivity and nonlinear story exploration in this humorous (and non-bloody) retelling. Vibrant colors continue the lighthearted tone.

The Three Little Pigs: A 3-D Fairy Tale (Nosy Crow, 2011)
This retelling is faithful to the traditional tale while adding a few original touches. The interactive features are clever, and the narration by child readers refreshingly unaffected.

Pop-Out! The Tale of Peter Rabbit written and illus. by Beatrix Potter (Loud Crow Interactive, 2011)
Potter’s original text and illustrations are re-imagined as a digital pop-up book, with characters animated by tabs and wheels. Interactivity contrasts cheekily with gentle narration and music.

Wild About Books written by Judy Sierra; illus. by Marc Brown (Random House Digital, 2011)
Witty rhyming text (with lots of interactive opportunities) tells how a bookmobile librarian got a zoo hooked on reading. Apparent three-dimensionality of the scenery and animals adds bounce.

Dragon Brush by John Solimine and Andy Hullinger (Small Planet Digital, 2012)
In this story based on a Chinese folktale, Bing-Wen discovers a magic paintbrush which brings his art to life. Text, art, sound, animation, and interactive elements are well-balanced.

Don’t Let the Pigeon Run This App! written and illus. by Mo Willems (Disney Publishing Worldwide, 2011)
Users fill in gaps in a Mad Lib–like narrative to create their own Pigeon stories. Record your own plot points and play them back, save stories to revisit, and follow a Pigeon-drawing tutorial.

Pigeon Presents…Mo on the Go! written and illus. by Mo Willems (Hyperion, 2013)
Five activities are engaging enough for many repeat uses. While these types of activities may be found in other kids’ apps, other apps lack Willems’s signature wit and beloved characters.

When I Grow Up by Al Yankovic; illus. by Wes Hargis (Bean Creative, 2011)
Billy discusses his many (mostly improbable) career options. Weird Al’s own excellent narration enhances the text; interactive opportunities include games based on Billy’s potential professions.

 

Intermediate

Suggested grade level for each entry: 4–6.

Barefoot Books World Atlas written by Nick Crane, illus. by David Dean (Barefoot Books, 2011)
This app considerably enhances the atlas’s print version with expanded text, up-to-date statistics, photographs, animation, music and sound effects, and a variety of browsing/searching options.

Bats! Furry Fliers of the Night written by Mary Kay Carson (Bookerella and Story Worldwide, 2012)
This beautiful nonfiction app introduces users to the world’s only flying mammal in seven brief chapters on bat physiology, species, habitats, roosting behaviors, colonies, and echolocation.

Disney American Presidents (Disney Learning, 2012)
Entertaining, yet informative video profiles of each president are accompanied by a scrapbook-like spread full of biographical stats and contextual information about his historical era.

Bobo Explores Light (Game Collage, 2011)
Cute robot Bobo guides this engaging overview of many light-related topics (e.g., vision, color, bioluminescence, photosynthesis). Activities allow users to test the principles themselves.

The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore written and illus. by William Joyce (Moonbot Studios, 2011)
Booklover Morris’s house is destroyed in a storm, but he follows flying books to a library which becomes his new home. Animation from the Oscar-winning short film is gracefully integrated.

The Numberlys written and illus. by William Joyce (Moonbot Studios, 2012)
In this cinematic app, users help a number-based society of cute blobby creatures create letters and language, transforming their industrial Metropolis-inspired cityscape.

Big Nate: Comix by U! written and illus. by Lincoln Peirce (HarperCollins and Night & Day Studios, 2011)
Customize familiar characters (each in several poses and two sizes), templates, settings, props and speech-balloon options to create original Big Nate comics; then save and share.

Roxie’s A-MAZE-ing Vacation Adventure written and illus. by Roxie Munro (OCG Studios, 2011)
Sixteen screens make up a gigantic maze through cities, farms, and wilderness full of tiny, animated vignettes. Along the way, users search for hidden numbers, letters, and objects.

The Waking Prince (Story Elves, 2013)
A substantial original fairy tale illustrated with detailed, sepia-toned pencil drawings. In a unique feature, users rotate their iPad to access the hidden “couplet,” a horizontal third page per spread.

March of the Dinosaurs (Touch Press with National Geographic and Wide-Eyed Entertainment, 2011)
Twelve chapters relate an Edmontosaurus herd’s arduous migration south. Smooth animation and impressively thorough profiles of various Cretaceous creatures accompany the narrative.

 

Older

Suggested grade level for each entry: 7 and up.

Creatures of Light: Nature’s Bioluminescence (American Museum of Natural History, 2012)
The five chapters of this app, developed in conjunction with the museum’s exhibit of the same name, offers users a working knowledge of bioluminescence and an overview of its many forms.

Chopsticks written by Jessica Anthony and Rodrigo Corral (Penguin, 2012)
This story of piano prodigy Glory Fleming’s disappearance is told through an interactive collage of photos, video clips, drawings, music, sound effects, internet chats, and ephemera.

The Skull in the Rock: How a Scientist, a Boy, and Google Earth Opened a New Window on Human Origins by Dr. Lee R. Berger and Marc Aronson (National Geographic, 2013)
Using Google Earth to scout dig sites, paleontologist Berger discovered an unknown hominid. The e-book expands the print edition with zoomable photos, maps, and 3D reconstructions.

The Legend of Momotaro (Ghost Hand Games, 2012)
A retelling of the Japanese legend about a boy born from a peach who becomes a hero, featuring a “paper scroll” format, gorgeous layered illustrations, and many glimpses into Japanese culture.

Building Titanic (National Geographic and Neo-Pangea, 2012)
This stunning nonfiction app gives an inside look into a remarkable technological achievement: constructing the ship. A rare perspective of the infamous ocean liner.

Color Uncovered (San Francisco Exploratorium, 2011)
Like any good discovery museum exhibit, this interactive nonfiction e-book invites users to ask questions and experiment for themselves as they learn about seventeen color-related topics.

Pyramids 3D: Wonders of the Old Kingdom (Touch Press, 2012)
Zoomable, 360-degree exterior and interior views of the pyramids are accompanied by brief audio introductions to points of interest and a ten-chapter text on the site’s archeological history.

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