Bottom Line: The duckling is not the only ugly thing in this awkwardly worded, poorly conceived app for beginning readers. The first tale is free however.
If you would like to try Fairy Tales for Clever Kids (Free, iPad/iPhone with $1.99 in-app), please support Smart Apps for Kids by using the following link:
The premise behind Fairy Tales for Clever Kids is quite simple: The child gets to choose from a collection of fairy tales with comprehension exercises built-in. Right now the word "collection" is kind of a stretch – you can download Hans Christian Andersen's The Ugly Duckling for free, and you can purchase Charles Perrault's Cinderella for $1.99). After reading each page of the heavily abridged tales, the child has to answer a "small educational question" in order to move on to the next page. (Quote is from the app's iTunes description.)
As an elementary school teacher, books are very important to me and I am always on the hunt for reading material I can present to my students. For my struggling readers especially, I will pretty much download anything if I think it will get them reading. That being said, I will not be downloading this app onto my students' iPods until quite a few things are corrected:
- The developer has taken a classic story first published in 1844 and appropriate for those with an Accelerated Reader Level of 3.5-4.4 and clumsily tried to adapt it to kids aged 5-8. The first page of The Ugly Duckling has 100 words which may be overwhelming to young readers, especially when there is no narration to help them. When using this app on an iPod or iPhone, the child will not even see an illustration at first because the words take up so much space.
- Words are used unacceptably awkwardly throughout the story, at least for English readers. The books can be read in English, French, German, or Russian. It's possible the story which was originally written in Danish, was abridged in Russian before being translated into English. Something obviously got lost along the way. Here are some examples from the app with a truer translation from Forlaget Carlsen's print version in parentheses:
The water went over their heads, but they came up in a flash, and floated to perfection (beautifully).
"Stir (use) your legs," the mother duck said to her children. "Quack and bend your necks (duck your heads) to that duck over there. She is the noblest of us all."
- To go along with the wording issues, the vocabulary used in the stories is not kid-friendly. Some words a young reader will come across in this version of The Ugly Duckling are: burdock, dense, weary, scarcely, intact, endure, splendor, envied, and wretchedness. I'm all for kids learning new vocabulary, but when higher level words are thrown into a text-heavy story that will most likely overwhelm the reader, then learning new words will not occur. I recommend that in the editing process, a feature be added that will allow the child to touch a highlighted word and learn more about its meaning.
- The "educational" questions that are on the bottom of each page are sometimes confusing and not always educational or related to comprehension of the text. My main issues with this feature are: 1. There are no hints, and 2. The child cannot move onto the next page until he answers the question correctly. This will be very frustrating for many kids since it was frustrating for ME. One of the questions was, "What food is good for ducklings?" I chose the worm. Nothing happened. I chose the worm again. Nothing. Finally I dragged the worm to the duckling and I was able to move on. The questions need to be restated more explicitly so that the children know what they are being asked to do. One of the less educational questions I came across was, "With what did the girl kick the duckling?" Which leads me to. . .
- Violence and thoughts of suicide are a theme in this story. A little girl kicks the duckling because he is so ugly. Hurt and saddened, the duckling flies away and comes across some beautiful swans. The duckling thinks, "I shall fly near these magnificent birds, and they will peck me to bits. . . . better to be killed by them than to be nipped by the ducks, pecked by the hens. . . . or suffer such misery in winter. "Kill me!" said the poor creature, and he bowed his head down over the water to wait for death." Of course, he then sees his reflection, learns that he is a beautiful swan, flaps his wings happily, and the story ends. So, the lesson here is, kids, if you're ugly, you can only hope for death! But if you're beautiful, hooray! Wait. What? No. There is a place for the original, dark versions of fairy tales, but in an app geared toward young children the stories MUST be a bit brighter and the lessons more gently learned.
In an attempt to be both thorough and fair, I bought Cinderella for $1.99 so that I could check and make sure that my comments applied to the entire library two books) this app provides. After reading this description of Cinderella on the first page, "She was a kind, nice, and charming girl – very much alike to her diseased mother." Still, I plugged along, determined to go all the way through the book, just to make sure.
On page two, the question at the bottom of page two reads, "What do you use to scrub the floors?" The pictures show soap, a scrub brush, a knife, pots, shoes and a coat. After clicking on the scrub brush and soap man times, I started clicking on everything. Nothing happened. I tried dragging items around to different areas. Nothing. I finally gave up and I was not able to read the rest of the story because, as mentioned before, if you can't answer the question, you don't get to move on.
Allison Kelly is a teacher of some very clever kids. smartappsforkids.com was paid a priority-review fee to complete this review in an expedited manner.