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The Earth app review

tinybop earth title screenAt the start of The Earth app (Tinybop, September 2015; iOS only), our blue planet rotates against a field of stars, with occasional comets flashing by (reminiscent of the opening to Neil deGrasse Tyson’s Cosmos). Scroll along a timeline at top of the screen to move through four geological eras, beginning with the Hadean Eon — the earth’s appearance changes with the era.

You can also move a sliding bar across the earth to see it in cross-section, with labels identifying core, mantle, crust, and other features (tap a key-shaped tab at top left to access a pull-out menu when you can turn the labels on/off, change the language, etc.).

earth slider

When you get to the Phanerozoic Eon — the current era — tap on Earth to explore the ways geological features are created and eroded. This screen displays two mountain ranges illustrated with a cut-paper look: the left-hand mountain is in a warmer, coastal locale and the right is in a snowy region. Tap anywhere on the screen or touch the magnifying glass in the upper right-hand corner to zoom in on each landmass. You can interact with many of the geological features — causing rain to fall and tectonic plates to shift — but most of the action takes place inside highlighted circles.

Tap the circle near a volcano, for instance, to zoom in on it. Here you can change the height and width of the volcano using icons at the right, and a sliding bar allows you to see the cross-section. Make magma spew up and over the top by tapping repeatedly. What’s particularly cool is that when you exit this zoomed-in screen to get back to the mountain ranges, any changes you made to the volcano remain (mine is now short and fat). It’s even cooler when you accidentally throw a lighthouse into the sea (oops) and then can find it there every time you go back to that area. And there is a hotspot volcano underwater which, when tapped repeatedly, spews lava that then solidifies, making the volcano larger with every eruption. When it gets big enough, it emerges from the water and becomes a volcanic island that’s still there every time you revisit the app. The pull-out menu at the left side of the screen allows you to easily access any of these featured geological events.

earth hot spot volcano

earth hot spot volcano zoomed

It is not always easy to figure out what to do in the app. For example, in the “River Erosion” section, you  can tap the bank to make more and bigger rocks fall into the water. However, when the individual rocks are tapped, they become highlighted by a purple circle that doesn’t seem to do anything. And the river bank doesn’t actually appear to erode (even though in other sections — “River Meandering,” for one  — the geological forces change the landscape significantly).

There is a handbook in the parent’s dashboard with useful terms and helpful explanations. But while navigating the app itself, more guidance would have been welcome — an optional voiceover explaining different phenomena or indicators hinting what to do in each activity would be incredibly useful. Otherwise, The Earth could certainly be entertaining, attractive, and educational for a patient, science-minded middle-grade user.

Available for iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch (requires iOS 7.0 or later); $2.99. Recommended for intermediate users.

Siân Gaetano About Siân Gaetano

Siân Gaetano is assistant editor for The Horn Book, Inc. Follow her on Twitter @KidLitChick.

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