Bottom line: If you want a lovely, well-executed and very interactive way of introducing your children to Polynesia - this is the app for you. But it's more interactive video pages than ebook.
Lulu in Polynesia, from developer Zanzibook, is a terrific way to introduce children to the sound of other languages (the app is narrated in both English and French) and the geography and culture of Polynesia. The eponymous Lulu is our guide on an excursion through some of the islands that make up this country in the South Pacific. She is accompanied by her cat, Zazou, who is an interesting foil for her. Where she is adventurous and loves discovery, Zazou is cautious and prefers things that are familiar to him. If you have a child who is reluctant to try new things then they may identify quite a lot with Zazou and it's nice to see the cat relax and start to enjoy himself after a while.
Lulu and Zazou sail around visiting different islands and at various points on their journey there are activities for the reader to partake in - making flower garlands, picking fruit, catching crabs, putting together the ingredients for a Tahitian salad, sending a postcard to a friend at the end of the app (see example) and my favorite, a literal shell game with mother-of-pearl. There is also singing, dancing and coconut-water quaffing to be done along the way.
The artwork in this app has a lovely vintage look and feel, that is colorful and fun for kids but also gives the app a very sophisticated look. The games are fun, age-appropriate and each has three levels of difficulty. There's also a lot of interactivity in addition to the games; for example, there is a little pink bird to look for on each page and most of the animals will name and describe themselves when touched. The narration is clear and easy on the ear. The look, sound and animation are all very well-executed. The production value of this app is high.
What's keeping the app from Top Pick status is it lacks a lot of qualities that one expects from an app that is ostensibly an ebook. On each page there is a sentence at the top left that corresponds to the opening sentence in the narration but words are not highlighted as they are read. After that initial sentence, the rest of the narration and all the dialogue is audio only. For younger readers, this means that there is very little here to support or encourage early reading. For older children, there's virtually nothing to read. I wish the developer would have provided subtitles, that could be chosen as a setting in the menu. A lot of opportunity has been lost here in relation to learning new words, singing along with songs and learning familiar words in a non-native language (e.g. in French for a child whose first language is English).
My second concern in relation to this, is that there are no written instructions for the games or interactive activities. There are some visual prompts but younger children as well as kids who are either deaf or have trouble with audio processing, miss out not only on reading opportunities, but also a lot of content and guidance. For example, when making the Tahitian salad, the ingredients the child needs to put in the bowl are listed by Lulu using audio only. The last way in which it is clear this app is not a book, is in its lack of narrative. The pages do not really hold together - they are in essence a collection of separate activities and the jump from one page to the next is sometimes jarring. For example, at the beginning, Lulu and Zazou are on their boat, seemingly ready to set sail, but on the next page they are cooling off in a waterfall. Apparently they left the boat and went on an hour-long walk.
So, in summary, my number one wish (that I hope the developer takes note of), is for subtitles that match the audio. With that addition, I think the app would be a Top Pick at its current price of $2.99. As it is now, the app is still worth buying at that price if you're looking for a content-rich, interactive way of introducing a child to the culture and geography of Polynesia.
If you would like to purchase Lulu in Polynesia ($2.99, universal) please support Smart Apps for Kids by using this link button:
This review was written by Deanne Shoyer who has never visited the South Pacific but does love the musical of that name. smartappsforkids.com was paid a priority-review fee to complete this review in an expedited manner.