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The Bippolo Seed goes digital

As a Seuss fan, I had high hopes for The Bippolo Seed and Other Lost Stories app (Oceanhouse Media, September 2011). This adaptation of seven rediscovered stories (originally published by Redbook Magazine in the 1950s) ended up being a mixed bag. Here’s what I like about it:

Reader control.
The main menu features a separate listing for each story, allowing readers to choose which story to read; three narration options (“read to me,” “read it myself,” and “auto play”) offer different ways to experience the app.

Word association.
As with many apps, readers can tap on the illustrations to see and hear the word for a particular object or image (usually also mentioned in the text on that page). This addition makes sense, since Seuss’s books have been instrumental in teaching children new words for decades.

Accessible presentation.
The printed picture book (Random House, September) contains large, unwieldy text blocks and few illustrations; perhaps space limitations in Redbook prevented Seuss from including more art and page breaks. In the app, however, four lines appear at a time, and the focus  zooms in and out, highlighting different parts of an illustration as they’re discussed in the text. Animating the actual illustrations would have added a little extra flair, bringing the whimsical stories more engagingly to life.

Which brings me to what I don’t like about the app, outweighing the good:

Grating sound effects.
One example: a cat character in The Bippolo Seed constantly purrs in the background (even as he’s supposedly speaking), and the sound gets old very fast. Happily, you can turn the sound effects off. I also found the theme song playing during each story’s moral to be trite.

Uneven narration.
Four different enthusiastic narrators unfortunately fail to maintain a steady rhythm in their readings. Too often they speak too slowly, throwing off the pace of the rhymes. The stories flow much better in the Listening Library audiobook version (September 2011) featuring Neil Patrick Harris, Anjelica Huston, Jason Lee, Joan Cusack, Edward Herrmann, William H. Macy, and Peter Dinklage. There’s something to be said for narration by accomplished actors: they know how to read lines.

Lack of Charles D. Cohen’s informative introduction.
As the world’s foremost Seuss scholar and compiler, Cohen’s search for these lost stories, the back story about how they first appeared in Redbook, and his detailed analysis are crucial to the collection. Admittedly, the plain text of the introduction would be visually static in an app, but I missed it.

The picture book and audiobook present these stories more successfully than this app. For my money, I’d like to see an app that adds some animation, includes Cohen’s insightful introduction, and uses the audiobook’s star-studded cast of readers.

Available for iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch (requires iOS 5.1 or later) and Android devices; $8.99. Recommended for primary users and up.

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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