Bottom Line: A terrific story that is sure to capture the imagination of any child who likes treasure hunting and pirates. One of my daughter's favorites.
Since I started reviewing apps for smartappsforkids.com, I've been keeping notes on which apps are my daughter Madelynn’s favorites and which are mine. Sometimes, we both pick the same app and one such app is Penelope the Purple Pirate by PicPocket Books.
Author Melissa Northway creates a magical world found in the imagination of a little girl named Penelope. Instead of taking her nap, Penelope, armed with her pirate outfit and purple sash, embarks on a treasure-hunting adventure. Along the way, readers meet her three very different sea creature friends: an octopus, dolphin, and turtle (which are actually plush animals and a lamp.)
Together, the group explores an island in search of a treasure chest. It is refreshing to read a story with a female character in what is typically viewed as a male role, even if it is a fantasy one, and the story is fun enough that both male and female readers will enjoy it. As Madelynn was a pirate for Halloween, we were really happy for her to meet Penelope.
There are three things I believe are ebook must-haves: The narrator must be clearly understood, there should be an option for the text to be highlighted as it is read, and there should be discussion questions to help foster reading comprehension. Penelope includes all these.
The narration is clear and read by a child, which is always more engaging to Madelynn. The developers appear to have made an effort to limit the amount of text on each screen, usually no more than three lines, which is also a plus. As some early readers get overwhelmed when faced with too many words, keeping each screen relatively clutter free will help.
The most-recent update added the chance for the child to find hidden sounds. The pages swipe easily and the illustrations have an old fashioned quality that reminds me of stories from my childhood. The characters are very cute and really, who would not like to have sea creatures as friends?
Penelope’s character proves to be inquisitive, adventurous, giving, and kind, while maintaining her childish nature by refusing to take her nap. Included on each page are options to zoom in or out and an information button that the reader can select to change the audio and highlighting-text options.
At the end of the book is a parent/teacher guide, complete with 13 discussion questions. The developer also added fun facts about octopuses, sea turtles, dolphins, and pirates, which is a nice way to encourage cross-curricular learning. Also included are ideas for the classroom and/or home, which are great additions, both for rainy days and to extend the book. The app costs just $2.99 for the iPad and $1.99 for the iPhone.
Most of the comprehension questions are general recall, but I think some higher-level questions should be included as well. For example, "Why do you think they left some of the treasure? Would you do the same? Why?”
I also think the text of the questions should be highlighted word by word in the same way as the text of the story. A pause button should be included here as well so that the questions can be discussed.
It is not clear in the story that Penelope's sea-creature friends have disabilities. In fact, it was not until reading some of the comprehension questions and discussing the app with other parents that I even considered Teddy the turtle's wooden leg as more than a pirate prop. I greatly appreciate giving the chance for children to discuss special needs, especially since my daughter has disabilities, but the question might feel out of place to some readers since this is not mentioned in any way in the story.
While the addition of the hidden sounds is fun, at times, not knowing where to touch the screen and then encountering the same repeated sounds made it frustrating. This can be improved by including an option for "touch points" to be displayed. Also, when touching the screen looking for sounds, the narration is sometimes interrupted, which takes away from the flow of the story.
Other options I would suggest are an automatic read/page turn, an option to record someone else's voice, and a button to return to the home screen from any page.
All in all, though, my daughter and I are both big fans of Penelope the Purple Pirate and anything having to do with purple (and pink). This is a good, well-written, and well-done app that is currently in heavy rotation at our home. Highly recommended!
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This review was written by Jessica Jensen, a former teacher who misses the days of annoying her students by telling them to “dig deeper.”