Monday, December 17, 2012

Nonfiction Book Apps for a range of readers (ages 3 - 18)

I am fascinated by the way that book apps can engage readers by integrating so many different ways of learning. You can look at vibrant photographs, manipulate charts and diagrams, watch videos, listen to narration and learn so much. I've been particularly happy to read several Nonfiction Book Apps during this Cybils season. Here are a few that really stand out to me:
Rounds: Franklin Frog
by Barry and Emma Tranter
developed by Nosy Crow
preview video
available on iTunes
ages 3 - 6
Young children love learning about the world around them. This app does a beautiful job introducing preschoolers and kindergartners to real facts about frogs, from their habitat to feeding to metamorphosis, through an appealing story about Franklin Frog and his offspring. It draws children into the story, as they guide the frogs with their fingers. Children make the frogs jump, swim, catch flies, avoid predators, find a place to hibernate, croak to attract a mate and more. This app always feels like an exploration of how a frog lives, and never feels like a game. As the Horn Book review says, this app presents the information in "an accessible way that’s respectful of both its subject and its audience."

National Geographic Adventure Presents The Greatest Stories Ever Told
developed by National Geographic Society
preview video
available on iTunes
ages 9 - 14
Every time I read and explore this app, I am utterly amazed at the adventures these stories share. This app features five amazing stories ranging from mountain climbing in Yosemite to crossing the Antarctic by dogsled to climbing down into a volcano. Each story hooks readers with a short video, but then encourages them to read beyond this initial video to learn more. Text is interspersed with high quality photographs and interactive graphics. Readers scroll in different ways, vertically and horizontally - this keeps readers stimulated and engaged. The interactive graphics let you discover more - for example, a timeline with a sliding bar lets readers explore the different types of climbing gear used over the past 100 years. But most of all, I was impressed with the way readers got a sense of the real people involved through quotes, video and audio. It conveys a first-hand point of view in an exciting, engaging format.
Wonders of Geology
by Michael Collier
developed by Mikaya Press/Tasa Graphic Arts
a "Top 10 App" from School Library Journal
available on iTunes
ages 10 - 14
The Wonders of Geology combines stunning photography, clear descriptions, and a combination of text and audio narration to teach tweens and teens about how the Earth's great mountains, valleys and other geological features were formed. Collier's breathtaking photographs draw readers in and convey a sense of awe at the wonders of these spectacular sites. The app switches between concise written paragraphs that introduce a subject and longer narrated segments as viewers look at photographs or diagrams. This helps tweens and teens who are curious about a topic but perhaps not determined enough to read in-depth nonfiction text to learn more about the subject. Collier shares his passion and in-depth knowledge of geology, as well as his stunning photographs. While some students may want more interactive features, I believe that others with an interest in the subject will be fascinated. It would make an excellent complement to a standard textbook for 6th graders studying Earth Science.
Animated diagram from Wonders of Geology
Brian Cox's Wonders of the Universe
by Brian Cox
developed by Harper Collins UK and The Other Media
ages 16 to adult
available on iTunes
Particle physicist Brian Cox brings astrophysics to a general audience with the amazing Wonders of the Universe app, bringing together his books Wonders of the Solar System and Wonders of the Universe with his award-winning TV series produced by the BBC. The app uses all of the features of the iPad, drawing readers in with personable, engaging video, clearly written text and interesting diagrams. The journey up from the smallest particles, past the moons and planets of the Solar System, out to the outer edges of the known universe truly blows my mind. I find myself in utter awe that scientists can understand, test and prove this knowledge. As The Other Media's managing director George Crabb says in a Guardian article, "We threw out conventional thinking on multimedia experiences to instead come up with a revolutionary platform that can take complex narratives but deliver them with an intuitive clarity." This is an app for older high school students and adults who are fascinated by physics and astronomy, and who want to explore how multimedia technology can help us understand these subjects. I must admit that I do not understand all of what I am reading in this app, but I am fascinated nonetheless!

Wonders of the Universe combines text and video
Nonfiction Book Apps show that this media has great potential for drawing readers into interesting topics. I am glad that several were nominated for the Cybils Award this year. Tune in on January 1st to the Cybils website to find out which apps are chosen for this year's shortlist.

The apps reviewed here came from both promotional codes sent by the developers and our school app library. The Berkeley Public Education Fund has graciously supported our school as we explore how apps help children learn and engage with a range of books.

Review ©2012 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

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