Bottom line: This ebook looks and sounds lovely, tells an engaging story and conveys some life lessons in a way that’s not heavy-handed.
Little Koostoe (pronounced Cousteau) is a young boy from Midlandia who wants to be a pirate when he grows up. His friends aren’t sure about this; for them piracy is stealing. Undaunted, Koostoe embarks on an adventure but his plans go awry. The fledgling pirate’s target then helps Koostoe understand how he can realize his dream in a less, well, criminal fashion. As an adult, Koostoe is a sailor but still yearns to find treasure. However, as Captain Jack Sparrow would say, “Not all treasure is silver and gold, mate.”
Midlandia is a fictional setting for several children’s books by Michael Scotto, who also narrates this app. The Pirate Koostoe is the first of the “Tales of Midlandia” series to be given a digital treatment. According to the notes in iTunes “Each story deals with universal concepts and social situations that are relatable to any young child or parent. From bullying to bad dreams, from table manners to temper tantrums."
I enjoyed this particular story very much. Unlike Scott in The Portal in the Park, Koostoe is an active participant in his adventures and I think his dreams of being a pirate are something a lot of young children can identify with. The lessons he learns as the story unfolds, like sharing and the value of experience, are not just important ones to learn but they are discovered organically and in a way that is heartwarming rather than trite.
I particularly enjoyed the fact that Koostoe learns his most valuable lesson when he is an adult. I think it’s important for our kids (and many non-kids) to understand that learning doesn’t stop when we leave school. In fact, it continues throughout our lives. The last page of the book includes some discussion questions about hobbies, interests, and possibilities for jobs as an adult, something which could trigger a discussion with our children about their interests now and how this could translate into possibilities for their future.
The Pirate Koostoe, by developer Midlandia Press, is 17 pages long and has three reading modes – read to me, read to myself and auto play. In the read to me setting each word is highlighted as it is read, a feature I always look for. The music was recorded especially for the app and has a very romantic feel which seems appropriate for a tale about a young boy’s maritime aspirations. I also love the artwork – it’s colorful and engaging but also has a very warm feel, which you don’t always get in a digital rendering. The small amount of animation as well as the pans and zooms are strong and enrich the book reading experience.
I’d like to take this opportunity to discuss my views on the subject of interactivity in ebooks. On page 5, I got very excited because there is labeling! The fish, turtles and starfish sparkle when the narration for that page finishes and when tapped there is both audio and visual labeling of the items. Be still my beating heart!
To my disappointment however, the only other labeling occurs on page 14 where a hat, pelican, sail and anchor are identified. There is some other interactivity - on page 7 and 8 the animals will make noises if they are tapped and the fishing line on page 11 and the dolphins on page 15 sparkle and move when touched but it’s inconsistent and patchy. In my opinion, interactivity is not vital in order for a digital book to be a success. The Elly the Reindeer series all have very limited interactivity but the quality of the characters, story and narration mean these stories still work well as ebooks.
Indeed, for some children, a book that is busy can be too distracting to read. So, while not essential, I would like to see consistency of interactivity throughout the book. If a developer is going to include interactive elements then have at least one on most of the pages. If visual prompts (in this case, sparkles) are used, then employ the same visual prompt for all interactive elements and have it mean the same thing throughout. If objects are labeled on one page, they should be labeled on all of the pages. Inconsistency can lead to children’s expectations not being met, which in turn can lead to frustration with the book. (Note to developers: please don’t tease me with the labeling; do or do not – there is no try!)
Other than more consistent interactivity, the only other recommendation I have is for more information on Midlandia itself to be included. This is not so much a must-have feature; it's more of a wish list item.
You do briefly see a map of the island at the beginning but it would be nice to have a fixed reference map that could be explored, perhaps with pop-up information. I know when I was a child one of my favorite parts in books that told stories of other worlds was the maps. I liked being able to tie the locations shown to the various parts of the story.
In summary, if you’re a parent of a grade schooler or teach children in that age range then I would highly recommend this app. It’s a calm but engaging story that shows Koostoe learning some important life lessons as both a boy and a man. It would be a great way to start a discussion with children about their current interests as well as their future dreams and hopes. If the interactivity were consistent and the app were a little cheaper, this would be a five-star app.
If you would like to purchase The Pirate Koostoe please use the links provided. The cost is the same, but Smart Apps receives a small percentage. Thanks for your support!
This review was written by Deanne Shoyer who, boringly, wanted to be a historian when she grew up. smartappsforkids.com was paid a priority-review fee to complete this review in an expedited manner.