Mammals app review

The latest in Tinybop's Explorer's Library series, Mammals (2017; iOS only) offers a fascinating introduction to mammals and how their bodies operate.

The app opens on a natural history museum–like gallery containing five subtly animated creatures: little brown bat, Linnaeus's two-toed sloth, red kangaroo, African elephant, and Bengal tiger. Tap on any animal to interact with it and learn more about its various bodily functions. The format is generally the same for each: selecting a mammal opens a separate page with the chosen animal front and center and icons representing its internal systems (muscular, cardiovascular, reproductive, etc.) along the bottom of the screen. Optional labels identify the specific body parts.

The section I spent the most time exploring was the African elephant's. Tap on the elephant's legs to watch how it moves (faster tapping results in a faster gait — not much faster, in the elephant's case, but it's pretty impressive for the kangaroo and tiger). Using the icons along the bottom of the screen, navigate through the elephant’s body systems. In the skeletal system, tap on the elephant’s bones to remove them, then tap them again to replace them in their correct positions. In the digestive system, drag food to the elephant’s mouth to feed it. If the food item is something that elephants do not eat, the elephant will spit it out. If it is something that elephants do eat, watch as the food travels all the way through the digestive system (complete with flatulence). Each animal's section also includes small icons representing functions unique to that mammal; tap the icon of the elephant’s trunk to see a demonstration of its capabilities, for instance, or select the icon of its uterus to learn about elephants' gestation.

Three additional features along the top of the gallery screen offer different learning experiences. Race any two mammals to see how they move and which is faster. Use your device's camera to simulate the eyesight of the different animals in daylight or at night. Watch how the fur of each animal grows and see how its texture differs from the others.

The visual and audio elements of this app are cleanly designed and enjoyable. Wenjia Tang’s illustrations are aesthetically pleasing — realistic enough to be educational, but not hyper-realistic, in a palette that is muted rather than distractingly bright. There is no background music, which keeps the focus on the sounds the animals (and their systems!) make.

Mammals is an easy-to-navigate exploratory learning app appropriate for a range of ages. iTunes recommends it for ages six through eight, and it is certainly simple and engaging enough to be appealing for primary students. It would also make an excellent supplementary tool for older children (say, the fourth graders I used to teach, who would have been very interested) studying how body systems function in mammals, especially if they already know how the systems work in humans. A free downloadable digital manual adds to the app's usefulness.

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


Emily Day
Emily Day is an editorial intern for The Horn Book.

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