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Bluebeard app review

BumpBump Books’s app Bluebeard, a French Folk Tale (January 2013) retells the fairy tale in clear, concise text.

A young woman, despite some misgivings, marries a wealthy man with a blue beard. Bluebeard gives his new bride all the keys to his home, but tells her she must not enter a particular room. When Bluebeard departs on a trip, his curious wife seizes the opportunity to open the forbidden door. Behind it she discovers the bodies of his previous wives. Bluebeard returns, sees the now-bloodstained key, and realizes his wife has disobeyed him. The wife cleverly stalls Bluebeard’s murderous rage by saying she must go upstairs to pray before she dies; instead she implores her sister to look for help from the tower. Their brothers arrive in time to kill Bluebeard before he can slay his wife, and she inherits all his riches. The brief afterword credits the text to seventeenth-century French anthologist Charles Perrault.

Bouchra Welch Hooper narrates the story with just the right amount of drama, and her melodious accent suits this version’s French provenance. The mixed-media illustrations combine watercolor-and-ink paintings with collage; the ephemera includes antique photographs of French architecture, wallpaper scraps, and motifs from Victorian stationery. A simple animation appears on each screen.

But like its illustrations, the app itself is a bit of a mixed bag, with several inexplicably odd choices in its design. Bluebeard has the body of a man and the head of a dog, while the other characters are human. The app’s only interactive element is a bumper car game which Bluebeard plays against BumpBump characters Baba Yaga, Punch, and Hermes (each collision initiates a sound effect or joke). Strangest of all, the wife’s sister takes the form of a bird to search for help — an obscure, if not invented, variation on the tale.

Gorier aspects of the narrative are kept subtle and minimally bloody in the illustrations. (Another bizarre moment: the text “They ran their swords through [Bluebeard’s] body” is accompanied by an animation of snakes writhing from Bluebeard’s disembodied head.) The afterword explains fairy tales’ transition from oral tradition to print and offers two interpretations of the tale. More commentary on the story and information on image sources are available on BumpBump’s website; it would have been nice to have this material in the app itself.

For users who don’t mind a few weird details, this app offers a solid  — and not too scary — introduction to the fairy tale. And who doesn’t like a round of bumper cars?

Available for iPhone, iPad, iPod touch (requires iOS 5.0 or later), and Android devices (requires Android 2.2 or later); $1.99. 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. Follow Katie on Twitter @lyraelle.

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