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Radio Jones and His Robot Dad app review

robot dad titleRadio Jones and His Robot Dad (Nexus Productions, 2016; iOS only) is an animated graphic novel about a boy whose dad doesn’t have time to play soccer with him, or to do much at all besides sit in his dim office and look miserable.

Radio takes matters into his own tech-savvy hands and creates the next-best thing: a Robot Dad. Robot Dad has plenty of time for soccer, water guns, and antics of all kinds. But is he really the next-best thing to Human Dad? Will Radio and Human Dad ever really connect?

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This is a wordless graphic novel, beautifully illustrated in muted greens, browns, and purples whose soothing effect is enhanced by the pleasant background music (and the sound effects, such as the clicks and beep-boops of a robot moving through the world, are mercifully unobtrusive). Many of the screens begin with an animation. The screen then indicates if there’s something interactive for you to do in any of the panels within that screen: a bullseye appears to tell you to aim a water pistol at Robot Dad’s head (and if you’ve ever been in a water fight, you’ll probably figure out that turnabout is fair play), or an arrow directs you to drag Robot Dad so he can rope-swing across a gorge. When a clock shows up in the corner, you can tap it to see what Human Dad is doing at the same time. (He’s usually working in the aforementioned dim office with the aforementioned miserable look on his face.)

Some of the interactions are more interesting than others — tapping food to make characters eat it may not be that exciting, but other interactions make up for that. Tilt your device to get Radio and Robot Dad speeding along in a shopping cart across all sorts of don’t-try-this-at-home obstacles. And tap a bunch of dance-partying appliances to get them to go haywire (spoiler: projectile laundry!).

The app’s greatest strength is in its visual storytelling — it’s unsurprising that it’s created by filmmakers. (The team also worked on the Oscar-nominated short film This Way Up.) The characters’ expressive body language and the dynamic mix of panels ably communicate emotion. But the interactions add a little something: with a wordless story, it can be hard to know what to focus on, and this way users are encouraged to spend time looking closely at every page.

Available for iPad (requires iOS 7.0 or later); free. Recommended for primary users.



Shoshana Flax About Shoshana Flax

Shoshana Flax, assistant editor for The Horn Book, Inc., is a former bookseller and holds an MFA in Writing for Children from Simmons College. She is a member of the Sydney Taylor Book Award committee.

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