iRead With Curious George and the Firefighters (Tribal Nova, 2014) presents a story based on Margret and H. A. Rey’s famous Curious George books in a format designed to help parents read aloud to children and engage them in the story.
George and the Man in the Yellow Hat accompany an elementary school class on a field trip to the fire station. Naturally, that curious monkey George gets distracted and separated from the group. He slides down the pole, tries on the firefighters’ gear, and jumps on the truck to go along when a call comes in. All ends well: George makes some new friends and gets reunited with the Man in the Yellow Hat.
In “Listen” mode, suitable for independent use by a child, an amiable narrator reads the story aloud. Tapping on bolded, brightly colored words — called “living words” — in the text triggers animated context clues and sound effects for that word (e.g., the brown word “George” dances on monkey feet with a monkey-chatter sound effect; the red “truck” sprouts tires and a flashing light while a siren sounds). These are accompanied by animation in the illustrations (George sprints for the fire truck, losing his too-big firefighter accoutrements along the way). Unobtrusive pulsing circles indicate which parts of the illustrations to tap for interactivity.
The main part of the e-book, “Read and Talk” mode, is intended for an adult user to share with a child. Users choose from ten child and ten adult Playmobil-esque avatar choices (both female and male options, with various hair colors and two skin tones) to represent themselves, then record the “living words” (George, hat, boots, etc.) to be played with the associated animations as the pair reads the story together. The avatars can be changed and the words rerecorded at any time.
The animated avatars appear at the bottom of each screen with questions and comments to encourage discussion between the (real) adult and child users: “I’ve seen fire dogs but have you ever seen a fire monkey?” Prompts with concrete answers (“Look who’s happy to see George! It’s the man with…”) show the child avatar with a thought bubble, which displays a hint when tapped.
Three levels provide different sets of avatar commentary for different rereading experiences. Completing each level earns the users five “puppets” (i.e., stickers of characters and the items featured as “living words”) to use in the third mode, “Theater.”
In “Theater” mode, the child arranges the puppets they have earned on one of five backgrounds, then records their own George story while moving the puppets around the screen. Once recorded, the narrative and the movement of puppets can be rewatched.
In addition to selecting avatars and recording their own “living words,” users can customize their experience of the e-book with on/off toggles for interactivity, music, sound effects, and recordings plus English, French, and Spanish language options. Tips for reading aloud and discussing books are appended. A good e-book for preschoolers to use alone — but even better as a shared reading experience.
Available for iPad and iPad mini (requires iOS 5.0 or later); $2.99. Recommended for preschool and primary users with adult participation.