Bottom Line: Finely crafted picture book that's a cut above. Much more than what first meets the eye.
Super Harry's Rotten Luck by Nina Lim immediately calls to mind the book Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good Very Bad Day except instead of having a bad day, Harry has a miserable week. He gets chased by bees, slips in a puddle, and has scary encounters with a gorilla, shark and ferocious dog. After getting pooped on by a bird, Harry decides things have to change. The following week he helps people, volunteers at an old age home, catches a thief and does increasingly heroic acts. His good deeds are celebrated by the entire town.
The app, which is produced by Pic Pocket Books, features options for Read-to-Me narration and word-by word highlighting. Most pages have some form of animation or sound effect. Some of these are automatic and others require tapping to discover. The various animal sounds and dance music are especially fun. The illustrations by Rebecca Kellie are also quite appealing and provide clues as to the source of Harry's bad luck. You have to look closely, but his mishaps closely follow littering, some form of animal cruelty or breaking rules.
What really stands out about the app for me is the way in which so many important language lessons are seamlessly woven into the story. Children can learn the days of the week because each one is read off twice. Counting to seven is subtly incorporated as well. The author uses many strong action verbs, and the animations bring them to life. This combination makes for a great vocabulary builder and enhances comprehension. Finally, alliteration is seen throughout the story. Having words with the same initial sounds follow one another in a story helps develop phonemic awareness which is important for early literacy. I also like that only one or two sentences appear on each page. That makes reading the book independently more manageable for beginning readers.
Ms. Lin's intent to make this book educational as well as entertaining really becomes apparent if one downloads the teachers' notes PDF available from her website www.ninalim.com, which is listed on the credits page. Several ebooks have comprehension questions at the end, but I've never seen one with an entire lesson plan available as a supplement. The teachers' notes, which can just as easily be used by parents, include eight discussion questions centered on some of Harry's poor choices that led to his mishaps. There is a drawing section, creative writing exercise and a word search which uses vocabulary from the story. Users should be aware that the questions do betray the author's Australian roots as rubbish, bin and queue are not commonly used in the US for trash, can and line.
I think this book would work well in a classroom setting. It conveys some important messages about making good choices and taking responsibility for one's actions in a positive way without being preachy or judgmental. These themes are universally shared by most cultures and important lessons to learn. Ms. Lin has done an incredible job of presenting rather mature subject matter in an accessible, enjoyable fashion.
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Jill Goodman considers herself lucky to be part of the crew at smartappsforkids. smartappsforkids.com was paid a priority-review fee to complete this review in an expedited manner.