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Martha Speaks Word Spinner app review

Based on Susan Meddaugh’s picture book series about a loquacious canine, PBS Kids’s long-running television series Martha Speaks aims to bolster children’s oral vocabulary. The Martha Speaks Word Spinner (PBS Kids/WGBH, 2013; iOS and Android) app, a “family-style party game — but with a distinctly Martha twist,” entertainingly reinforces that goal.

One to four players can participate; each chooses a game piece representing one of the show’s dog characters such as Carlo or Skits. The main screen shows a game board with spaces on a winding path leading to a doghouse. Players take turns spinning the spinner at the bottom left corner of screen to select and play one of six interactive mini-games. If the selected activity is completed successfully within the allotted time, the player earns a bone with a word on it and advances his or her game piece; if the player runs out of time in a game, the player’s dog has to stay (get it?) where it is. The first player to reach the doghouse wins.

There is nice variety in the type of mini-games. In “Bucket Ball,” players have five balls to slingshot into buckets rolling by on skateboards. The object is to get three balls into buckets labeled with images related to the given word bone. During “Name Five Things,” a player must pop five balloons as they say aloud five things associated with a particular word bone. In “Story Sounds,” players push five buttons (at least once each) and use the resulting sound effects to develop a silly story based on a prompt and setting from Martha. With “Stuff Sort,” a player sorts through a collection of picture cards and drags five related to the featured word into a box. “Word Connector” is a matching game with three sets of associated images to drag and connect. Finally, “Who Am I?” is a version of charades: a player acts out a “mystery occupation” for fellow players to guess. (This mini-game is not included in single-player mode.)

Martha’s enthusiastic narration provides clear instructions every step of the way, and helpful flashing prompts indicate what to press or do next. However, sometimes Martha defines featured words during a mini-game and sometimes she doesn’t — which might make actually learning the meanings of these words challenging for young players. This drawback is somewhat made up for at game’s end, when the first player to reach the doghouse is rewarded with all of their earned word bones; players may tap word bones to get a refresher on words’ meanings. (That said, this only applies to words on bones collected by the winner.) But with more than 100 vocabulary words — ranging from simple words such as “pool” and “gross” to more difficult ones such as “agricultural” and “precipitation” — to potentially learn during game play, this app can be enjoyed over and over again with a group or in individual play.

Available for iPad (requires iOS 4.3 or later) and Android devices (requires Android 2.2 and up); free. Recommended for primary and intermediate users. Also check out Martha Speaks Story Maker.

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Cynthia K. Ritter About Cynthia K. Ritter

Cynthia K. Ritter is associate editor of The Horn Book Guide. She earned a master's degree in children's literature from Simmons College.

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