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Eleanor’s Secret app review

Eleanor’s Secret (2011), adapted by French developer Chocolapps (formerly So Ouat) from an animated film of the same name, is an engaging story about the power of story itself.

When elderly Eleanor dies, she leaves her home to their Nathaniel’s family and a Russian doll to his sister Angelica. Nathaniel, to whom Eleanor used to read aloud, receives the key to a locked library in her home. Then a storm badly damages the house, and Nathaniel offers to sell the library’s books to pay for the expensive repairs.

But when Nathaniel goes to select a single book as a keepsake, tiny characters from his favorite stories emerge from their books. The characters tell Nathaniel that if no one reads their stories by noon that day, they will fade away forever. A struggling reader, Nathaniel is too nervous to read, and an angry evil fairy shrinks him down to the characters’ diminutive size to punish him. The books — and Nathaniel — are carted off to an antique dealer’s warehouse.

Accompanied by Alice and the White Rabbit, Nathaniel treks back to Eleanor’s house just in time to save the storybook characters by reading aloud. In another happy turn of events, Angelica discovers Eleanor’s jewelry, worth enough to cover the repair expenses, hidden inside her doll. Finally, Nathaniel shares the secret of the library and his new-found reading prowess with his sister.

Perhaps due to its abridgment from the film, the app’s story has a few holes (what is Nathaniel’s family’s relationship to Eleanor? how do the books get back to the library? how, exactly, does Nathaniel read the characters back to full strength?). Users familiar with the movie will likely follow the tale more easily.

The production values of Eleanor’s Secret are high, with a large amount of gorgeous animation and sound effects from the film smoothly integrated. The “Read to me” mode is narrated naturally and pleasantly with word highlighting; “read by myself” modes is also provided. Users may switch between English and French language options at any time. Both language options allow users to toggle between script and print, and define (somewhat arbitrarily chosen) words verbally and visually. The French version also identifies syllables and silent letters, presumably to help English speakers learn French. Navigation is straightforward, with a thumbnail menu accessible from every screen.

Fans of The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore, another film-to-app adaptation about the love of books, will find Eleanor’s Secret a readalike in both theme and style.

Note: The app also includes a mailing list sign-up, links Facebook and Twitter pages, and several in-app purchases. There is no disable function for these features.

Available for iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad (requires iOS 3.2 or later); $3.99. Recommended for primary users.

Katie Bircher About Katie Bircher

Katie Bircher, associate editor at The Horn Book, Inc., is a former bookseller and holds an MA in children's literature from Simmons College. She served as chair of the 2018 Boston Globe-Horn Book Award committee. Follow Katie on Twitter @lyraelle.

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