Bottom Line: An iPad book with a worthy storyline and good discussion questions for a reasonable price.
Builda the Re-Bicycler is the second storybook app from Midlandia Press, who also developed The Pirate Koostoe app, which is one of our Top Picks. The stories take place in Midlandia, where animal-like creatures deal with deeper issues than most children's ebooks. Builda the Re-Bicycler addresses the theme of waste and recycling.
Builda O. Bobo builds new bicycles at her factory for all Midlandians. Whenever a bike breaks in any way, even a small problem like a flat tire, it is thrown out. Builda wisely notices a problem when one day she finds the town’s dump overflowing with bicycles.
She thinks of a new idea to reuse bicycle parts from the discarded bikes instead of just throwing them all away. This revolutionary idea is called “re-bicycling,” until the shorter name "recycling" is found. This is a cute play on words for kids.
This story is a nice way to introduce children to the idea of reducing waste by recycling what would otherwise be thrown out. The characters and scenes are colorful and beautifully illustrated. There are also several interactive aspects on each page—enough to be fun, but not so many that children get distracted from the story.
The interactive elements in Builda are fun and relevant to the story. In the scene with the towering dump, shaking the iPad causes the tower to tumble, while tapping the horn on a bicycle held by Builda gives a short honk. On the next page, a tire on a dumped bicycle spins, the same horn honks, and a little creature hidden in the pile makes a chattering noise with colorful footprints. These elements provide additional language-interaction moments.
In all three reading methods, each story screen is animated. On one page, a character rides a few laps around the track while smoke streams out of the smokestacks of the factory. In another, wheels on the factory turn while the screen moves to change the perspective to those going to the dump.
The story itself is smooth enough and the narrator’s voice is quite pleasant. The pictures are cute and the characters are sweet and endearing.
At the end of the story, there are three discussion questions, including “Name three objects in your home that you can reuse after you are finished with them.” All three questions are focused on how the child could respond to this message. These questions are great! I would also appreciate questions related more to the story itself, such as, “Why do you think everyone threw their bikes away?”
There are three different storytelling options, all accessed by tapping a settings arrow on the bottom-right of the story screen: read-to-me (the story is read aloud with highlighted words, but the page does not advance automatically), read-to-myself (text is shown on the screen for the user to read) and auto-play (the story advances with no tapping—interactive elements cannot be used).
* The settings also include direct links to all of the pages, allowing the user to jump to any part in the story an options for info, sound on/off, a button to replay the page, and an Midlandia Press catalog.
When the sound is turned off, it turns all of the narration off but the interaction sound effects can still be heard. Generally, when I select "sound off" and it means all the sound is off except the narration.
This is a problem because, when the sound is on, there is constant background noise and music. The music isn’t bad, but it is very distracting in the therapy or classroom setting. At least for some students, this will also take their focus off of the story and words; even by myself the constant music over the text bothered me. An option to mute the music but keep the read-to-me and auto-play narration on is a necessity. I almost reduced the app to three-and-a-half stars due to this concern.
* The buttons for info and the Midlandia Press catalog both contain external links—to the Midlandia Press website, to rate the app in the App Store, and multiple links to purchase the other books from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and more. None of the links are especially easy to find, but parents/teachers should be aware. In addition "the end" page of the story includes more links to Midlandia Press and to the App Store to rate the app. I'm not a huge fan of that.
* In the read-to-myself option, the child needs to tap a down arrow button to see all of the text, several times per page. This is a little different than in other apps, but is a good way to present the text in a manageable way. However, there is no option to tap a particular word to have it read aloud in this format. Such an occasional clue can be very beneficial to beginning readers.
Despite those concerns, at $1.99, this is a well-done and importantly-themed ebook that I recommend downloading.
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Heather Hetler, mother of three children and a graduate speech-language pathology student, is currently thinking of ways to reuse dishes and laundry without washing them, but she won’t be throwing out her bike anytime soon, even though the front brakes are broken. smartappsforkids.com was paid a priority-review fee to complete this review in an expedited manner.