Thursday, April 26, 2012

Exploring nonfiction book apps at Emerson School (ages 5 - 10)

My students have loved using iPads at Emerson School. Our library is open every morning recess and we have two iPads for small groups to use. Students read picture book apps, explore nonfiction book apps, and play math games to practice basic math facts. Today I shared some of our experiences with colleagues at our quarterly Bay Area Independent School Librarians meeting.

I've been particularly fascinated by non-fiction book apps. The best of these integrate well written nonfiction text, vibrant full-color photographs and videos, interactive features that help students experiment and engage with the topics, and narration that makes the content accessible for a wide range of children. Here are some of my favorites that I shared today:

Bats: Furry Fliers in the Night
by Mary Kay Carson
developed by Bookerella and StoryWorldwide, 2012
note: price drop right now to $0.99!!

This is an original book app written by Mary Kay Carson, a prolific nonfiction author who also wrote The Bat Scientists as part of the Scientists in the Field series. She layers clear text with interesting diagrams, photographs, and interactive features. The design elements are top-notch, providing just the right amount of zing to keep kids engaged without distracting them at all from the essence of the material. Listen to my podcast review from Katie Davis's Brain Burps About Books:

Bobo Explores Light
by Game Collage, 2011

Many of my 4th and 5th grade students have had so much fun reading this, coming back to it again and again. Bobo the robot guides readers through information on light, inviting interaction in both serious and silly ways. There are short videos embedded in the app that offer even more information. One of the strengths of this app is that it uses so many different formats to provide information on light. Watch the trailer to get a sense of Bobo's fun:

National Geographic Explorer
by National Geographic, 2012
currently 4 issues free

National Geographic has just released this app as a digital version of its classroom magazine National Geographic Explorer for grades 2-6. You buy the app (free) from the app store, and then you download issues from within the app. It is clearly set up for in-app purchases of individual magazine issues. What sets this apart is the way that the developers have layered in many different multimedia ways of exploring information, especially in the Young Explorer issues.

The article "Looking at Lemurs" by Mireya Mayor in the Young Explorers issue is an example of the best of nonfiction book apps for young readers. You listen to a scientist introducing us to the topic, you watch videos of scientists in the field studying lemurs, and you can have the text read aloud by a narrator. The issues for older readers are more text heavy - my students would certainly be drawn in by a greater variety of multimedia, whether it is narrated text, more embedded videos, or interactive features.

Finding book apps for kids

The biggest challenge in sharing book apps with students is finding high quality apps. In librarian terms, this is collection development or curation. The App Store is terrible; you can easily find the newest and the most popular apps, but it is very difficult to find more than that. I regularly turn to the following sources to read about book apps. All provide thoughtful, high quality reviews:

What nonfiction book apps have particularly stood out to you and engaged your children? One participant highly recommended the Barefoot World Atlas, saying that her kindergartners and 1st graders had found it fascinating and easy to use. I'll definitely be checking into this. Word of mouth is still the most reliable source of information.

Review ©2012 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books


  1. Thanks for the review of these apps. I want to check out the Barefoot Atlas now.

  2. Hi Mary Ann, I really should be exploring all these apps on my iPad. I keep meaning to but lethargy and lack of imagination when it comes to techie stuff have been my excuse thus far. I am excited though by everything you have shared with us this week, that I am truly tempted to snap out of it and just search for these apps. Will do that now. :)

  3. Mary Ann, Thanks for the great info. I was wondering how you structure students' time with the iPads and what guidelines do you give them. Only two kids per iPad? Specific guidelines on what apps to play? Do you use them for structured lessons or just free play before school?

    Thanks! Leslie

  4. Thanks, Myra. I hope you have fun exploring this apps! Leslie, thanks for your great questions. I do need to write that up more. But for now:

    We primarily have the iPads available for free use during recess in the library. Kids are excited to use them, so typically 2 or 3 kids pass an iPad between them, taking turns flipping pages and interacting with the story. Math games are also very popular with our students.

    I have been working in the kindergarten classroom, and we have 2 kids use an iPad for about 10-15 minutes during station time. With 2 iPads, we are able to see 3/4 of the class in one period of station time. We simply keep a checklist and call up the other kids next time. I select 5 or 6 apps to have one one homescreen, and ask the kids to select from those apps. With young kids, too much choice is overwhelming. The noise really does not bother other kindergartners during station time.

    Hope this helps!

    Mary Ann

  5. It's such a challenge finding non-fiction! The Rounds series from Nosy Crow are nice, but for much younger kids. That Barefoot Atlas is much too big--takes up way too much space on my iPad. I wish Bookerella/Story Worldwide would make another Bapp soon.