The World Of Apps: Helping You Find That Needle In The Haystack

Pick a child, any child that you know. Maybe they need some practice with math facts, or geography, or communication. You look at your iPhone and iPad, and hope to locate the “perfect” app to help with your situation. But where do you start? Some people ask friends or family members. Some head to app review sites. Some try the App Store.  You read the reviews, and download a few apps. Basically, you gamble. But you come away with your brain feeling like this:

The developers at Moms With Apps, many of who are parents and educators themselves, think there is a better way. Coming soon to your iPhone will be a Moms With Apps App Catalog, a mobile directory of apps broken down by category. Our goal is to meet your specific family needs with a specific list of apps, right at your fingertips.

So wish us luck. We’re working hard as parent-app-developer-volunteers, to pull this off. And while you’re at it, commend Lynette from PicPocketBooks for building this visual haystack, and Andrew at BabyBinks for coding an app solution that will make many families very, very  happy. Three cheers for another amazing year at Moms With Apps!

Introducing Ruckus Mobile Media: What Happens When the Big Fish Come to Town?

This week we are introducing Ruckus Mobile Media, one of our first Moms With Apps “Family-Friendly Companies”. The post is written by Lorraine Akemann, Editor at Moms With Apps and independent iPhone/iPad app developer. Lorraine has a dedicated interest in fostering family-friendly content for mobile devices like the iPhone and iPad. With two children of her own, she wants to ensure that choices are not only educational, but also interactive and useful tools for discovering more (not less) of what life has to offer.

Last week I had the pleasure to talk to Rick Richter, CEO of Ruckus Mobile Media, who is releasing a line of children’s book apps to the iPhone, iPad, and other mobile platforms. Rick’s knowledge of the children’s book industry is substantial given his former role as President and Publisher of Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing. His new company, Ruckus Mobile Media, is releasing a series of classic titles as interactive apps on the iTunes App Store. Make no doubt about it, Rick’s presence in the app market will make waves in children’s digital publishing, and this conversation helped me understand a little more about what he’s up to, and why it matters for my family.

Let’s look at one of his first apps, John Henry, for example.  The morning before our conversation, I took out the iPad and launched “John Henry” for my 5 and 7 year old daughters. The three of us listened to Denzel Washington tell the fascinating account of American Railroad history through the eyes of John Henry.

Hearing Denzel’s voice, listening to the music of BB King, reading the captions, and seeing illustrations of the majestic United States all added up to an engaging storytelling experience for the whole family. The story touched on history, community, diversity, and the ever-intriguing topic of man vs. machine. Quality production? Yes. Interesting subject matter? Yes. Interactive options (play story, read story, record story)? Yes. Celebrity magic? Yes.

While Rick and I talked about the positive aspects of the apps, we also brainstormed on ways to make them even better, and it was encouraging to hear that he is open to candid feedback. For example, adding reading comprehension questions to the story would extend and exercise the important concepts. So WHY did John Henry want to beat the Steam Drill? WHY did so many people come to root for John Henry during the competition? WHY did John Henry sing while he worked? We agreed that discussion topics could strengthen the parent/child connection and help the app facilitate teachable moments.

As Ruckus brings more titles to life on mobile devices, it’s up to you to think about the best ways to instill a love for stories within your own family. As my 5 year old continues to talk about John Henry, it’s up to me, ultimately, to harness that interest and take her down to the local library for more books on the topic. If book apps can work together with parents to enliven a family dinner conversation, or blaze a trail to the local library, well, then we’re on to something.

Stay tuned regarding the Big Fish conversation, because I also hear things are heating up over at Barnes & Noble. Details forthcoming.

App Friday: PicPocket Books and Okenko Books

Welcome to App Friday, our weekly link exchange of family-friendly apps. This week is all about books: digital books, book apps, eBooks, interactive books – you name it – we download it, think about it, and explore it. The conversation around digital books is heating up, and the developers at Moms With Apps are right in the middle of that great debate by providing exceptional content on this new platform. Let’s learn more, and even give a few a try for FREE this App Friday October 15th.

PicPocket Books for iPhone & iPod Touch

What are your apps about? The PicPocket Books collection includes books to expand horizons with rich, lively illustrations that are enjoyable to read aloud again and again. We work with a variety of publishers and authors and produce books for the iPhone and iPad that have been previously published in print versions. Our goal is to provide children and families with high quality stories that are beautiful, fun to read, and honor diversity.

Why are they special? Several features set PicPocket Books apart from other picture book apps for the iPhone. We offer a wide range of classic content from established publishers, including previously published “board books,” concept books, easy readers, fairy tales, and other culturally diverse picture books. The full color illustrations are detailed and clear. The text is easily readable and the books for the youngest set of readers includes a “learn-to-read” feature where the text is highlighted as the words are spoken, encouraging a connection between the written and spoken word for emergent readers.

What’s in it for me? For App Friday October 15th, Lynette has set FIVE wonderful PicPocket Books to FREE on the iTunes App Store. Apps usually revert back to regular pricing by 8pm US PST, so download quickly!

Huggybird and the Dreambox Huggybird is a versatile character with a high content hug and a humorous approach. He stands for friendship, hugging, humor and can be a bit mischievous. Huggybird loves himself as he is, but he also likes to dress up to try new roles. The different characters allow both children and adults to identify with Huggybird. Let them spark creative play for dress up, storytelling, or “let’s pretend!” (This particular PicPocket Book is also available for iPad: Huggybird HD, which is free for App Friday. Also free for App Friday in Spanish and in Dutch for the iPhone and iPad)

Mico: The Mouse Who Was Afraid of the Dark Mico is a little mouse with a big fear. A special friend helps him make discoveries that open up a whole new world for him! Mico’s story encourages kids to take new steps that lead to positive experiences.

My Friend Isabelle This is a charming story about two young friends, told with simplicity and grace. Charlie and Isabelle are the same age and share a love of drawing, dancing, playing at the park and snacks! Like most friends, they are also different. This book offers an opportunity for a discussion about tolerance, acceptance and friendship by showing that “differences are what make the world so great.” My Friend Isabelle is a subtle introduction to Down Syndrome – share the story to honor Down Syndrome Awareness Month this October.

Best Friends Sleepover Gilbert’s friends help him get through his first night away from home in Jacqueline Rogers’ humorous and heartwarming story about friendship. And her richly detailed watercolor paintings perfectly capture the spirit of four rambunctious little boys, who just happen to look like animals. Narration and original ukulele music by the author. Originally published by Scholastic Books.

…And another App for Spanish Readers:

!Ay, Caramba! Las desverturas de un granjero soñoliento que se preocupa pensando en los labores que debe hacer al día siguiente. ¿Cómo ordeñará la cerca, reparará la vaca, segará el silo y subirá al heno antes de que la mañana llegue?

Okenko Books for Android (iPhone coming soon)

What are your apps about? Our Android app is a children’s picture book library for children 3-8 years old. The app is called Okenko Books Reader and it serves as a reader of books we publish every two weeks. So far we published four books: Lindy lee Loves Pink (Jo S. Kittinger, Sonya Hallett), Sip’n’Cup Go On Vacation (J. Adeleke, Katka Hustaty), David Drew Likes Blue (Jo S. Kittinger, Sonya Hallett), and Andie Plays Pretend (Jade McBlade, LittlePinkPebble). Next on our list is Mike Rides His Bike to School (Julie Musil, Julia Tiller) and it will be published next Friday 10/22. We strive to deliver great, age appropriate stories with decent artwork to spark a child’s imagination and provide educational fun at the same time.

Why are they special? We offer our books in a very innovative way through a subscription service (www.okenkobooks.com) delivered directly to your device. Each subscription may have as much as 5 registered devices so that the whole family can share our stories. We offer several subscription options via PayPal so that the whole process is easy, smooth and secure. All you need to share with us is your email address so that we can inform you about our newly published books and other news at Okenko Books. At the moment we support Android, iPhone (coming soon), Windows 7 phones (coming soon), iPad (coming after that) and we are looking into Kindle and Nook to make it complete.

What’s in it for me? Our app (the Okenko Books Reader) is available for free at the Android Market and it includes a free story about Lindy Lee. All other books are available through the subscription service which provides stories for your kids in a convenient, hassle-free way. The Apple version of Okenko Books Reader is in an approval process right now and should be available very soon.If you own an iPhone/iTouch it is still a good idea to submit your email address at Okenko Books website so that you are informed at the moment the iPhone version is approved. Let us know what do you think!

HALLOWEEN FUN Stay tuned to Moms With Apps for a Wicked Awesome post to celebrate Halloween. In the meantime, don’t forget to carve your App-O’-Lanterns!!!!!

App Friday Link Exchange Our goal at Moms With Apps is to spread the word about family-friendly apps. Do YOU have a favorite app to share? Please participate in our link exchange and post it down below. Include the app name in the Link Title, your email, and a URL to the app. Thanks for your participation!

App Friday EXTRAVAGANZA!!!

Welcome to App Friday, our weekly link exchange of family-friendly apps. Today we are celebrating the growth spurt of our Moms With Apps developer group. Over 100 Moms, Dads, Aunts, Grandmas, Reviewers, Educators and Industry Specialists with an interest in family-friendly apps are collaborating together over our Google Group. For this APP FRIDAY JULY 16th, many of our developers have decided to set their apps to FREE for you to try! So launch iTunes, grab your iPhone, and help yourself to our FREE APP FRIDAY EXTRAVAGANZA! [But act quickly, the iTunes settings switch back to regular price by 8:00pm Pacific Time, USA.]

Sunny Bunnies Summer’s here and these two sunny bunnies can’t wait to play. At the beach, with big sister leading the way, they’ll build a castle, fly a kits, and – of course – jump in the waves! This endearing rhyming tale with its cheerful illustrations captures a perfect summer day. Hidden interactive audio hot spots throughout the book augment the narrated story and pictures for a new dimension of exploration and discovery for little ones. Requires iPhone OS 4.0.

Dinosaurs! Dinosaurs! StoryBoy’s newest book app Dinosaurs! Dinosaurs! combines cute brightly-colored dinosaurs, fun rhyming verse and upbeat music to entertain the youngest dinosaur lovers. The simple navigation and auto-read function on StoryBoy book apps also make them easy to use for the youngest readers. If you like this app, check out our other 20 titles in iTunes!

The Crystal Mountain PicPocket Books brings quality children’s picture book literature to digital media. The Crystal Mountain is a magical fairy tale story with elaborate illustrations. PicPocket Books brings this classic picture book originally published by Little, Brown and Company, to life on the iPhone with a new audio recording and the same stunning pictures as the original hardcover version. Requires iPhone OS 4.0.

One Little Boy An interactive StoryBook about  a boy’s imaginary journey before bed time. The boy meets his favorite fairy tale characters, brings them along on his journey and comes back just in time for bed. The story encourages children to practice counting, as they “paste” each character onto the screen, one after the other, and make them go skipping happily down the road. Best for ages 2-5.

MathGirl Lite Launching any minute! MathGirl Lite has been approved by Apple and should show up on iTunes sometime Friday! Girls learn to see “how many” in an engaging game and then earn stars to buy flowers, bunnies, a rainbow, a tree house, and more for their personal gardens. A 4-year-old can tackle the first of 12 levels. Girls learning addition and multiplication will fill in steps often missing in school.

Kids Math Fun – Kindergarten Kids Math Fun~Kindergarten encourages children to practice the addition and subtraction of two single digit (0-9) numbers.  Children can gain confidence by doing practice problems with unlimited time or they can build proficiency to see how many problems they can answer within a time limit.  Teachers are using the Kids Math Fun applications which are available in English, French, Spanish, Korean, Portuguese, Filipino, and Turkish.

Learn to Tell Time / Kids Time Fun Learn to Tell Time encourages children to learn and practice how to tell time and how to practice math involving time.  Kids of all abilities can use this application because it provides full access to all the settings.  There are six activities: Tell Time, Elapsed Time, Time After, and Time Before, Set Time, and Mixed Mode.

iEarnedThat iEarnedThat was designed by a pediatrician to help motivate kids and make parent’s lives a little easier. It’s an amazingly fun and simple app which transforms any picture of a desired goal into an interactive 3D puzzle. Kids work towards their goals and learn about earning things one puzzle piece at a time. Everyone loves it because it’s fun and incredibly easy to use. Parents, teachers and even grandparents are finding it’s great to promote reading, chores, being physically active and eating healthy to name a few.

Road-Trip-Bingo Bring the classic family travel game to your iPhone or iPod touch! Road-Trip-Bingo is an app that you play while riding in a car to help pass the time during the trip. Start up the app, get a random bingo card and then begin watching out the window for signs, vehicles, animals and more. As seen in The New York Times and USA Today!

Snow Globe Maker Beach Celebrate beach season — create and share unlimited, beachy souvenir snow globes with the most customizable snow globe app ever. Combine your photos with professional art to design unique, virtual snow globes; you choose the background, base, five inserts, label, and snow style. Snow Globe Maker souvenirs are fun to make and it’s easy to email, post, save, and share your creations with friends and family.

Mom Maps Mom Maps is an iPhone application that helps you find fun, kid friendly locations on the go! Search our extensive list of parks, playgrounds, restaurants, museums and indoor play areas, as well as reviews by parents, for parents. Using GPS, you’ll see nearby results, plus a map to get you there. Over 20,000 locations supported.

Milwaukee Loves Kids Milwaukee is one of the best-kept urban secrets in America (clean, green, and not mean)—the Milwaukee Loves Kids iPhone app will get you started on your next visit to Brew City. Milwaukee is a four-season town, and the app was created with year-round activities in mind (you’ll find entries for thrifty fun along with museums, nature centers, indoor-gyms, and even water parks). This visually-rich “virtual tour guide” includes also over 500 photos and 70 unique suggestions for a wonderful day in the Midwest.

Draw With Stars Use Vincent Van Gogh’s “Starry night” painting color palette to draw carefully designed and animated stars over a night sky canvas or photos from your albums of your iPad or iPhone. Animations and sounds are everywhere: musical chimes when stars are created, summer night natural sounds, and even when stars are removed, they are turned into shooting stars which fly away!

Save Teddy Oh no! Teddy has wandered off and finds himself dangling dangerously from a balloon.  Only you can save him by getting him safely to the comfy basket below.  You can use fun balloons to bounce around and get to the basket, but beware of the crows though, they are trying to peck the stuffing out of poor Teddy!  There are 20 exciting levels and great soundtracks in Save Teddy and it is fun for all ages. See if you can guide Teddy to safety before he falls to his doom!

Faces iMake – Creative Craziness!! The simple premise of the game is making faces with everyday objects. It was developed by iMagine Machine in conjunction with the artist Hanoch Piven, and is based on his artistic collage style and art workshops he has successfully conducted for the last 10 years. With Faces iMake you can create fun faces out of everyday stuff. A banana for a mouth. Lettuce for hair. Toy wheels for eyes. Through Hanoch’s work, Faces iMake inspires and empowers people to make art in a highly accessible way.

Still have room on your iPhone, iPod touch, or iPad? Check out our page tabs across the top of our blog highlighting apps for reading, learning, fun, special needs, travel and parents! Are you a developer trying to get the word out about your app? Our Mike and Bryan interview on marketing your app might be just what  you need!

App Friday Link Exchange Our goal at Moms With Apps is to spread the word about family-friendly apps. Do YOU have a favorite app to share? Please participate in our link exchange and post it down below. Include the app name in the Link Title, your email, and a URL to the app. Thanks for your participation!

App Friday: Madera & Figaro Save The Day

Welcome to App Friday, our weekly link exchange of family-friendly apps. Today we are featuring Madera & Figaro Save the Day, an interactive storybook adventure with fun superhero characters Madera Monkey andFigaro Frog. The second in the series from Lyn and Line, Save the Day is making waves on the iTunes charts and is turning out to be a big hit with families. Let’s go see what these superheroes have been up to!

What is your app about? Madera & Figaro Save The Day is an interactive picture book. The app is an original story about a monkey named Madera andher best friend, a frog named Figaro, and their adventure to clean up their town after a big storm. Each page is filled with interactive elements for your child to discover. It contains a number of small mini games that aim to teach numbers, letters, colors, matching, and counting. It has been featured by Apple as “New And Noteworthy” in several countries including the US, the UK, and Canada. It was also featured as “What’s Hot” in the US.

Why is it special?We feel Save The Day is special because of how interactive it is. It is a storybook, but it was written and designed to take full advantage of the iPhone/iPad/iPod touch screens. Also our mini games in the app were designed to be integrated in with what is actually happening in the storyline. We felt this was important so that your child can feel like they are part of helping save the day. [Special note: Our music is done by the multi-talented singer, songwriter, composer, Tim Eilers, who also happens to be the voices of the turtles in The Rescue of Ginger, Mr. Butterman in Save The day, and most of the mice.]

What’s in it for me? For App Friday July 2nd, Madera & Figaro Save the Day will be set to FREE on iTunes! Act quickly (like a superhero) because the app will go back to regular price after the promotion ends.

Related Apps? Interested in how the characters got started? Check out their first superhero adventure: Madera & Figaro and the Rescue of Ginger. Still have space on your phone? A list of Apps for Fun and Apps for Learning by the developers at Moms With Apps are listed HERE and HERE.

App Friday Link Exchange Our goal at Moms With Apps is to spread the word about family-friendly apps. Do YOU have a favorite app to share? An interactive app, or just one your family enjoys? Please participate in our link exchange and post it down below. Include the app name in the Link Title, your email, and a URL to the app. Thanks for your participation!

Lyn And Line: What We Learned From Working on Movies

Our feature this week is written by Caroline Dahllöf and Carolyn Uy, founders of Lyn And Line. Their high quality, whimsical, and educational kids apps are recognized world-wide on the iTunes charts, and most importantly, by the parents and kids who enjoy them. This article shares the secrets on why these apps are so darn good. Developers and future developers – take notes!

Before we started Lyn And Line, the two of us worked for a number of years in the film industry doing CGI (computer generated imagery) for feature films. When we decided to make apps, we used a lot of what we learned as visual effects artists in the development of Madera & Figaro in The Rescue of Ginger and Madera & Figaro Save The Day. Storybook apps and feature films are both forms of entertainment, where the visual and audio experiences are an important part of storytelling. We ended up treating the apps just like any other movie we worked on. Here are a few of the things we do at Lyn And Line and why we do them.

Test, test, test (even if you don’t have a finished product).

There are some who believe you should wait for a polished product before doing user testing. We feel you shouldn’t fear showing unfinished work. When testing unfinished products, people will naturally fill in the visual blanks of your story.

Since an animated film can take years to complete, there are often a few test screenings done while it’s still in development. During these test screenings, showing potentially large chunks of unpolished footage doesn’t really matter. Movies that are screened before their release date are a mixture of scenes that are completely done, scenes that are still black and white storyboards with temporary audio tracks, and scenes that are somewhere in between. With any project where millions of dollars are at stake, it’s important to know early if you have a problem. There was one particular movie (it will remain nameless to protect the innocent) where an early test screening didn’t go very well. It was deemed too scary by the moms who saw it. In order to tone it down, an entire sequence had to be removed. Unfortunately, it also happened to be the one sequence that was totally finished. Months of work by dozens of people were unceremoniously left on the editing room floor. This isn’t typical, but it does happen, which is why you test with your target audience.

The same holds true for apps. As much as we discussed and redesigned and tweaked our apps, testing always pointed out something we hadn’t thought of. (By the way, that movie went on be #1 at the box office.)

It doesn’t have to be real. It just needs to be believable.

Our apps are about a talking monkey and frog who are best friends, which isn’t the most realistic scenario. However, making concepts believable and visually appealing requires details that most people don’t think about. For example, contact shadows and consistent lighting direction go a long way in selling believability. If shadows on the ground are missing, or if lighting is inconsistent, people will notice. They might not be able to put their finger on the problem, but it will catch their attention enough to take them out of the story. On the flip side, if shadows are done correctly and the lighting is consistent, no one should even notice (which is the goal).

Version control is extremely important.

On every film that’s ever been made, it invariably happens that if you are showing version number 20 of a scene to the director, he will tell you that what you showed him a few weeks ago was closer to what he was looking for, and you will need to go back and resurrect that other version. Nothing instills more panic than an entire screening room looking at you when you are asked this, and you realize that you have no idea how to find that file.

Having easy access to older versions of files is pretty important. We use a software program called SVN for our images. You can think of SVN as way of adding bookmarks or snapshot in time for a particular file. Once you are at a point where you think, “Hey, I might want to get back to this exact state of my file later”, you check it in. In essence, you are taking a snapshot of what it looks like. Then later on, if you ever want to get back to that point, you can. There are also huge advantages to using it when there is more than one person working on the same project at the same time.

Those are just a couple of the big things we learned from our former days of making water splashes, dropping food from the sky, and destroying things! If there are other film industry veterans that have advice to share, we’d love to hear it!

From Technophobe to Mom iPhone App Creator

Our feature this week is from Anthea, a mother of two boys and a founder of StoryBoy (makers of interactive eBooks for kids). Anthea talks about her technological progression from regular cell phones to the iPhone, and how the iPhone inspired Storyboy’s creation of over 20 book apps for kids. She also shares insight about the role technology plays in her family on a daily basis – news that resonates with many fellow iPhone moms!

About a year ago, I took a leap of faith and jumped off the corporate bandwagon to help my husband and his brother with their start-up, SkyVu Pictures, to create children’s e-books for the iPhone. When I first started in the app business, I was still using my old Nokia 6300 and frankly, quite happy with it. My cell-phone philosophy had always been, “I just need a basic model that I can use to call, text and take photos with.”

Enter the iPhone 3GS. It took me a couple of weeks to get used to the device, and for a while, I carried my Nokia with me as well. I felt more comfortable using the Nokia for my phone, and used the iPhone primarily to test our apps. But the iPhone finally prevailed when I traveled to attend a convention.

To my joy, I discovered that I didn’t need to bring a laptop or a digital camera if I had an iPhone. I could check my e-mail on-the-go, surf the internet, take photos, and demo our app, using a single device. It was fabulous! Following that discovery, my iPhone and I have been inseparable. I’ve joined the legions of iPhone moms who swear that they can’t live without it. This is all the more true since my job revolves around creating and promoting StoryBoy iPhone apps.

The pitfall is that I now feel incomplete without my phone. It’s the last thing that I put down before I fall into bed, and the first thing I pick up when I wake up! The other day, my five-year-old caught me checking e-mail while waiting at a red light and wanted to know why I could use the phone in the car when he’s not allowed to. That’s a good question. It’s risky to try and check messages or make calls when you’re driving, and after my son’s comment, I’ve resolved to limit my use of the phone in the car. I never answer calls when I’m driving so why should checking e-mail or texting be the exception? I think the iPhone’s ability to allow you to multi-task and respond instantaneously through various channels to be liberating and debilitating at the same time.

The New York Times published an article on June 9 about The Risks of Parenting While Plugged In. The feature photo showed a family of four having breakfast with Dad on his laptop, Mom checking her iPhone, the five or six-year-old daughter playing with an iPhone/iPod Touch and the toddler eating breakfast. I’m sure it’s a picture that resonates with many of us, especially those in the business.

It’s ironic that I used to be, and still am to a certain degree, one of those moms who always shunned exposing my kids to too much technology. But what is too much?  I guess that varies from family to family, but I limit my kids’ screen time, which includes television, computer, iPad/iPhone and Leapster (the closest thing we have to a game console before the iPad) time to no more than 1-2 hours a day. There are so many other forms of active play, so I try to encourage mine to explore other options when they are available.

During our Father's Day barbeque this past weekend, I had the kids play outdoors and do some sidewalk painting before dinner.

When we first brought home the iPad in April, I refrained from showing it to my kids for more than a week because I knew that the battle would begin once they got their hands on it. Sure enough, my two boys (5 and 2 years old) have fights when we give them iPad time. I recently implemented a reward system surrounding iPad time for my oldest son. He only gets to play with the iPad when he’s finished his homework for the day. And this also applies to the iPhone and the computer. So far he doesn’t get to play on digital technology every day nor does he demand to. I often give him non-media options like a craft activity or board game as an alternative. And even though I’ve produced more than 20 StoryBoy book apps, I still read from printed books to my kids every night because I am at heart a traditionalist and love the look and feel of printed media. Book apps are a great way to entertain and educate the kids especially when you’re on the move, but I don’t believe they are meant to be a replacement for parents reading to their children.

Today’s technology is marvelous. It frees you up to do so many things that weren’t imaginable just five years ago. As my family plans an upcoming vacation that will involve a 20-hour plane journey with two kids, I am thankful that we will have in our carry-on an iPad, two iPhone and probably an iPod nano to keep the entire family entertained during the long journey. It will be liberating to leave behind the heavy books and games that we lugged on our previous trips. The kids will probably get a lot more than their recommended 1-2 hours of screen time during the journey, but I’m okay with that since it will probably save my sanity during the trip.

App Friday: Little Blue Penguin

Welcome to App Friday, our weekly link exchange of family-friendly apps. Today we are featuring a storybook app that families can cuddle up with: Little Blue Penguin. Produced by MobiStories, creators of award-winning digital books, this app blends words, illustrations, music and interactivity to make storytelling at bedtime a hit for everyone.

What is your app about? Little Blue Penguin is a book app that integrates storytime with engagement.  A sweet tale about a toy penguin’s journey as a beloved stuffed pet, this app provides cause-and-effect learning opportunities with user-directed animations on each page.  Sound effects and a musical score move the story gently along.  Readers can learn a new language as the text and narration can be switched from any page to English, Spanish or Chinese.  Hear the story in one language while following the words in another to increase language understanding.  Fun, interactive questions at the end of the story allow the reader to check their comprehension and memory of the story. Great for young, new or early readers ages 4 – 8 years old.

Why is it special?What’s special about Little Blue Penguin is it’s ability to maintain traditional storytime while offering just enough interactivity to engage kids without detracting from the story.  The introduction of alternate languages, the ability to mix and match text and narration within those languages, and the comprehension quiz create a reading experience that is unique to book apps.

What’s in it for me? For App Friday, MobiStories is offering FREE DOWNLOADS ON JUNE 4th of Little Blue Penguin from the iTunes App Store. But act quickly, because Little Blue Penguin will turn into a pumpkin and go back to regular price after bedtime!

Related Apps MobiStories offers a variety of book apps for different reading levels/ages in the iTunes App Store, including President Barack Obama in Pictures, Michelle Obama in Pictures, bilingual puzzle board books, and their latest masterpiece: The Marvelous Toy. Still thirsty for words? Check out our NEW Apps for Reading page from the developers at Moms With Apps.

App Friday Link Exchange Our goal at Moms With Apps is to spread the word about family-friendly apps. Do YOU have a favorite app to share? A book app, or just one your family enjoys? Please participate in our link exchange and post it down below. Include the app name in the Link Title, your email, and a URL to the app. Thanks for your participation!

Is A Digital Book Still A Book?

Our feature this week is from MobiStories, publishers of digital books for kids. The team at MobiStories blends reading and storytime with digital platforms such as Mac, PC, DVD, iPhone, iPad, and more (see their extensive FAQ). If you ever wonder how gizmos, gadgets, and mobile devices are going to affect our children, and what the future of reading might look like for kids, then read on!

We at MobiStories have been creating children’s picture books digitally for a few years; first exclusively as computer downloads, and lately as both downloads for home computers and as apps for iPhones and iPads. With the glut of app development, especially upon the release of the iPad, there seems to be a question buzzing around:  “What exactly is an app?”

Apps offer many varieties of entertainment: games, experimentation (with color, light and sound), preschool education, maps, restaurant reservations, coupons, and the list goes on.  With the release of eReaders like Kindle and Nook, digital books seem to be an easy sell. But something happens to a book when developers take advantage of the interactivity that can bring a book to life.  A totally different experience is created when readers can interact and engage with the book, its characters, and the story.

When a child can read a board book like MobiStories’ SpringHD on the iPad, and then turn each page into a jigsaw puzzle to be solved, is it still a book?  When youngsters who can’t yet read watch The Marvelous Toy app, a book based on the famous folk song from the ‘60’s, and learn the song by hearing the tune and following along with the lyrics in text….would that be considered a learning-to-read event?  So does that mean it’s a book?

We had a very busy month in May, attending several key conferences on app development and child development/education events.  Dust or Magic’s App Camp, presented by Warren Buckleitner, explored all areas of app development including educational apps, books, and games.  Sandbox Summit, held at MIT by the folks from Parents’ Choice Awards, looked at how children learn through play and through doing. Engagement was clearly the key topic at this conference.  We also exhibited at the nation’s largest publishing tradeshow, Book Expo America (bea) in New York.  Seeing the publishing industry finally embrace digital books was inspiring.  But at all events the same question was raised:  “If a book is on a screen, is it still a book?”

Once a book is transferred to a digital property and transformed into an interactive app which invites the user to explore and engage while maintaining the integrity of the story and original text & illustrations (although they may have been enhanced to allow for the interactivity)…

Is it still a book? Or is it something different, something more?

Many digital book creators have chosen to highlight text as the narrator reads it.  Some reading experts agree that this can help teach youngsters to read, while others disagree, saying that everyone reads differently and may naturally read more or fewer words in a phrase than is highlighted.  Many parents may remember the “follow the bouncing ball” of sing-a-long songs and this memory makes them think highlighted text is crucial.  But when kids read a traditional book, the text doesn’t magically turn into a bright back-lit color.  So, how crucial is it to learning to read?  With apps we have the benefit of making this happen, so why wouldn’t we?  Or, just because we can do it, should we?  For that matter, if a book is a printed version of oral storytelling, is an app yet a different method of storytelling, and if so, are printed words (text) even necessary to the storytelling experience??

Is there another term that should be used for books evolving in the digital realm?  We’d love to hear your thoughts.  Leave a comment. Maybe you can come up with what an interactive digital book app really is..…“BookApp” ?? Hhhmmmm.

Just Got Your iPhone for Mother’s Day? We’ve Got Apps for That!

Aaaahhh, your shiny new iPhone – a gift from the family – arrives clean and unfettered on Mother’s Day morning. After a tasty breakfast in bed, you dream of spending time loading apps, personalizing the wallpaper, syncing the calendar and customizing the settings to suit your particular needs. However, the gift of free time didn’t seem to get the memo. Here, hand it over, and let us help a mother out…

FOR STORYTIME  Mommy’s High Heel Shoes – A sweet story about a working mom and her daughter “Cakes”

FOR FUN  Rescue of Ginger – a fun and hilarious interactive storybook for kids (FREE for Mother’s Day)

FOR REFERENCE  Baby MedBasics – A quick reference guide for parents on basic baby medical care

FOR TRAVEL  My Little Suitcase kids travel app (FREE for Mother’s Day), Mom Maps FREE app for kid spots on the go, and Global Roos for translating basic phrases in different languages.

FOR MEMORY MAKING   Emmbook, a baby book for your iPhone

FOR GOOD BEHAVIOR   Motivational apps such as iEarnedThat, iReward, and iRewardChart

FOR MORE KIDS   Baby Bump Pregnancy App

FOR ANDROID Didn’t get that iPhone for Mother’s Day, but you did get a hungry baby to feed? Try Newborn for Android.

FOR MORE IDEAS  Visit our sidebar on the right to view the websites of our member developers, who are mostly parents creating apps for their own children. There are also some hot tips from Appolicious, and you can never fail at the one and only iPhoneMom.

Happy Mother’s Day and best wishes from Moms With Apps!