Sunday, January 30, 2011

Magic School Bus Oceans - exploring a new app/ebook (ages 6 - 10)

Our whole family has loved using our iPad, and I've been thinking a lot about how children will use use the full color iPad for reading picture books. So when I heard about Scholastic launching three established picture books as iPod/iPad apps, I was intrigued. The Magic School Bus Oceans app is an example of how a publisher can take an established picture book and give it more depth and interactivity by adapting it to the iPad/iPod. If you have children who are interested in learning more about oceans, I highly recommend this app.
Magic School Bus: Oceans
by Scholastic
based on the book:
Magic School Bus on the Ocean Floor
by Joanna Cole
illustrated by Bruce Degen
NY: Scholastic, 1994
ages 6 - 10
available at the iTunes app store
We first grew to know the Magic School Bus when my children were in preschool through their lively PBS television show. The Magic School Bus books and television show help kids learn about science in a fun way - combining a story of crazy Ms. Frizzle, a teacher like no other, who takes her classes on field trips to see science up close, with clear scientific information. But I must say that at times I found the books too crowded and busy with information. It was hard to sit with young children and focus on particular text.

The Magic School Bus: Oceans app draws children in with its bright colors and interactive design. Even better, it breaks each page from the book into chunks, showing a small part of text at a time. Then the reader swipes her finger across the page to read the next chunk. You tap speech bubbles to hear/read what each child is saying. If you tap an animal with a label, a screen slides down and gives you more information, including a photograph or video of that animal. This interactive design keeps kids interested and engaged, while not overwhelming them.

The video below gives you a good sense of how this app works:

My first grader found the app easy to negotiate and engaging enough to want to come back to it several times. She liked the way you can skip to different chapters within the book, or to the games included with the app. I wish that there was an option to turn off the narration, but keep the sound effects. I would recommend this app for kids ages 6 - 10. Younger kids with experience using apps and an interest in oceans might find it interesting, but I think it's perfect for 1st through 3rd grade students.

Overall, this is a great way to share with children that iPad and iPod apps can be entertaining, engaging and educational - hey, the triple E effect! Here's hoping that Scholastic publishes more Magic School Bus apps!

Many thanks to Betsy Bird, of Fuse #8 and the NY Public Library, for her helpful thoughts on what makes a great app for kids' picture books. See her great article in School Library Journal: Planet App - Kids' book apps are everywhere, but are they any good? for more thoughts on reviewing kids' picture book apps.

The app was kindly sent by the publisher. If you  make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion will go to Great Kid Books (at no cost to you). Thanks for your support!


  1. The Magic School Bus books seem like the perfect vehicle for an iPad app. Now, if I only had an iPad! Excellent comments in your post.

  2. Thanks for bringing apps to the Nonfiction Monday world. I like what they have done with this one.

  3. I am having a REALLY hard time waiting to buy an iPad!!! Now I want two -- one for me and one for my classroom!

  4. Thanks for these comments. I'm really interested in exploring more apps that offer a combination of entertainment and education, engaging children on many different levels.