Bottom Line: A cute furry friend, positive lesson and great narration fail to make up for a slow story and less than stellar interactivity. A portion of app sales goes to support protecting red pandas though.
I remember as a child being disappointed when I went to the zoo and discovered that red pandas were not candy-cane colored giant pandas. They're still pretty cute and cuddly looking though, and Laloo, the star of Lauren Freeman’s new eBook app, Laloo the Red Panda from Laloo, LLC is no exception. The app features “read to me,” “read myself” and “auto-play” narration options. There are also settings which allow the music and sound effects to be turned on or off.
Laloo’s story is a journey of self-discovery which may be a bit too deep for the 4-7 year old age range best suited to the text and interactions in this app. First, Laloo gets caught in a trap in the forest. He escapes Gambo, the trapper and finds himself on a movie set. There, he meets Scrilla, a famous dog. Scrilla says his family will help Laloo get home. Laloo continues on his way with the help of Scrilla, Chilla and later Drilla. Gambo continues chasing Laloo throughout jungles and past the Taj Mahal and other parts of India. When Gambo finally catches up to Laloo and it looks bad for our furry friend, a big spider saves the day.
The lesson learned in Laloo's journey across India is that he doesn't have to be chill or famous like his friends. It's good enough that he likes bugs. This is a worthy lesson for a child to learn but it doesn't come across that clearly with the Drilla Chilla Scrilla dog pack and other extraneous distractions within the story. At times it seemed the story was bent to fit a preplanned interactive element rather than the other way around. There’s lots of howling, grunting and yodeling of Laloooooooo. Also, Gamba coming in and out of the story didn't make a lot of sense. Many things were left unexplained. Is Shama, the pink panda, Laloo's mother and why is she pink?
There are some cool special effects like tapping the sun to wake Laloo up in the morning, but others are rather dull. Interactions are denoted by a glowing bulls-eye which is helpful for young readers. Laloo likes bugs and one of the interactive activities included with the app is finding worms, flies, spiders and assorted critters on most of the book pages. As they are collected they fill up a grid. While fun, this activity is something of a distraction from the story. I would prefer Laloo talking about the bugs on a separate page at the end of his tale.
Certain pages have a paw highlighted which tells some extra facts about pandas or their habitats when activated. I would again prefer to access these separate from the story. It was not immediately apparent what the paw was for since it doesn't light up on every page. The app contains an external link to information about adopting red pandas which are an endangered species. A portion of app sales goes to support protecting these cuties which is nice to see. We just missed International Red Panda Day on September 15, 2012 but will know better next year.
Overall I found Laloo the Red Panda to be rather disjointed. The rhyming dog names were bothersome and they didn't seem to fit the theme of a journey across India. Bollywood is not a familiar concept for most kids. This is a pleasant enough story but I would liken it to a library book that you check out, read and return before the due date. It's not likely to get nightly readings before bedtime and the lesson imparted may take some deep discussion.
Jill Goodman regularly visits visits the Lake Buena Vista Zoo at Disney's Animal Kingdom Lodge with her twin boys. smartappsforkids.com was paid a priority-review fee to complete this review in an expedited manner.