Minibombo/Fox & Sheep’s new app Shake the Tree (March 2017; iOS only) offers preschoolers a slight but very funny interactive wordless story. Swipe rapidly back and forth to shake a very springy tree trunk at the screen’s center. With enough shaking, an animal or grouping of animals will fall out of the foliage. These creatures include typical North American woodland creatures (porcupine, mole, owl) — but, upping the elements of surprise and humor, there are also animals from around the world (kangaroo, elephant, koala). Each then enacts a brief animated narrative, which requires an average of three taps to complete. After this vignette, each animal returns to the tree to clear the stage for the next.
The animations play up the animals’ own physiology as well as incongruous (or outright absurd) situations for giggles. The giraffe drapes its long neck over a branch; the moose’s antlers rotate like helicopter blades and levitate it up into the branches. There’s a juggling toucan and a dancing (and jiggling) panda.
The flexible tree trunk is itself a source of humor as well — for example, when a pair of porcupines falls out of the tree, one is stuck to the trunk by its spines, and the other pulls back the trunk to catapult its hapless friend off. The animals appear in a different order and with slightly varied animations on repeat viewings.
While many users (myself included) might be content to tap through silly animations starring an endless parade of animals, there is an end to the story: a beaver cleverly figures out a way to claim the tree for itself. Bright, rounded shapes with a cut-paper look and lighthearted sound effects add to the fun.
Available for iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch (requires iOS 6.0 or later); $1.99. Recommended for preschool users.