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Martha Speaks Story Maker app review

martha speaks title screenCreate customized stories and practice vocabulary with loquacious mutt Martha in PBS Kids’s Martha Speaks Story Maker app (2012).

The main section of the app functions as a sort of Martha Speaks–themed MadLibs. Choose from four dog characters — Martha, Skits, Lily, and Pops — for your story’s star, then pick from two settings. These choices will determine which of the eight general story outlines you’ll be working with, i.e., “Skits in Space” set on an alien planet vs. “Skits’s Got Talent” set at the zoo. The brief stories range from fairly day-to-day (as day-to-day as a talking dog gets, of course) to utterly fantastic:

Then select four objects — which introduce the app’s 128 vocabulary-building words — to be featured in the story and change minor details. Familiar objects are frequently paired with adjectives that will be new to young users (savory sandwich, malicious monster, dainty teacup), adding context and offering a mnemonic for the unfamiliar terms.

martha speaks pops

martha spaghetti

Once you have fully customized your story template, Martha will read it to you, filling in details from your selections. The text is highlighted word-by-word as she narrates; vocabulary words are called out in blue. Additional commentary from Martha provides both humor and further explication of vocabulary words. Odiferous cheese prompts Martha to say, “Boy, that really stinks! Yum!;” the orange wig elicits “Do you think that’s his real hair?” Tap on a blue word to hear its definition. The audio quality is uneven (sometimes Martha sounds like she’s at the bottom of a well) but the voiceover acting is engaging. A few silly sound effects and upbeat music add to the presentation.

The illustrations are done in the friendly and funny watercolor style Martha fans know well. They are enhanced by very simple animation with a paper-engineering effect: “slide tabs” to make the dogs and other objects move.

martha speaks pops spaghetti

After reaching the end of your story, you enter the “Word Bone Zone” to test understanding of the four new vocabulary words you’ve just learned. You can also enter this zone from the main menu to be quizzed on all of the new words you’ve encountered so far. Your books are saved to a library (only one version of each story, though) to be re-read or modified with different selections at any time. Tips for encouraging vocabulary learning can be found in the parents’ section of the app as well as at PBS Kids’ website.

Available for iPad, iPhone, and iPod Touch; free. Recommended for primary users.

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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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