Bottom line: A high interest story, stylish CGI artwork and superb technical design make this book app a classic to be cherished. It's everything an e-book for beginning readers should be.
Before I start this review, I must admit that I have a serious love affair with cheese. Cheese and I go way back. It's always been there for me, through thick and thin. So, when I discovered that in this app there is a raccoon who goes everywhere with a wheel of cheese, I felt an instant connection. Any raccoon who values a wheel of cheese has immediately won his way into my cheese-lovin' heart. And any developer who feels the need to incorporate a cheese-wielding raccoon into a story is a-okay by me.
When your child first opens Kodee's Canoe - Echo from developer Nitrogen Media, he is greeted with a fun little movie which introduces Kodee and his best friend Raccoon and some of the fun activities that they get up to. It also gives an inkling of the superb quality of illustration and CGI animation you and your kids are set to experience within the ebook itself.
This first story by Nicole Stinn and Greg Tiernan takes place beside a beautiful lakeside somewhere in the wilds of Canada. There is the ever-present call of a loon (an iconic Canadian water bird) and various other wildlife sounds. This wonderful ebook is simply teeming with wildlife - birds, bugs, fish and even a waddling lizard make their presence known in movement and sound throughout. The Canadian wilds are never quiet. In fact, Kodee the curious Kermode bear and his cheese-toting friend Raccoon have discovered a new sound. So off they go in their little red canoe to investigate and find out what it's all about.
The animations are deceptively simple but incredibly sophisticated - tap a flower and a ladybird appears, gently bending the stem as she crawls along. One of the pages shows the view from under the lake as the red canoe travels across the surface - the dappled light play, realistic sounds and reflections are fantastic. Sometimes a single animal will perform a variety of actions each time it's tapped. The whole feel is very realistic and subtle, yet fun and vibrant. It is, quite simply, very very good.
Reading options are just as well done as the artwork and animations. The narrator has a very nice gentle tone and a lovely turn of phrase. Each word is individually spoken and highlighted when kids tap it. Also, Kodee and Racoon speak their dialogue from the story when they are tapped. As far as I know this is a first for book apps. In addition to read to me, there is the option to read yourself and one to personalise and re-record the story for up to three different profiles. There are very clear instructions on hand on how to do this too.
A pull-down menu available at the top of each page includes a page index (so readers can jump to whichever page they would like to visit), a return to the home page icon, and it offers instructions on how to navigate the app. My absolutely favourite page is the one in which Kodee and Raccoon get ready to get into the canoe - 'Paddle, check' (insert paddle in Kodee's paw) 'Life jackets, check' (put life jackets on, very important) 'Wheel of cheese?, Kodee sighs and says, check' (insert wheel of cheese in Raccoon's paws). I giggle every time I think of it. This book gently tickles my funny bone. I swear it's not just the cheese though. I promise.
Kodee and Raccoon never do figure out the mystery, but your little explorer will. I loved the little question marks that appear over their heads near the end - pop them in just the right time and you'll recognise the Kodee's Canoe theme song!
The 'explore' tab is where users can create their own echoes and have them bounce back again and again. My daughter just loved this and I now hear her randomly playing with the 'echo' feature at the strangest times. There's even a little written description about how an echo works that you access from the pull-down menu. I had to read it to my child as she is too little to read herself and there was no narration, so I'd love to see the option in an update to have it narrated when tapped.
There are the usual social media/leave a review/check out our other apps external links under the 'more' tab. The developers have added an extra step here and double-check that you really want to leave the app before exiting, so hopefully this will stop random tappers from accidentally leaving the app. I could have done without the 'please rate us' pop up that appeared after a few times (plus it misspells 'echoes' which further annoyed me). This is a wonderful app that I will go out of my way to rate on iTunes, so please don't pester me with pop-ups.
I also wandered over and checked out the website and the blog is worth mentioning - it's not your common garden-variety type blog, advertising what's coming next - it's actually full of info about various nature and craft activities, all appropriately worded for school age children and all really high-quality. It's definitely worth a look. I particularly enjoyed the instructions for making a maple seed helicopter, complete with downloadable colour template.
Even though it's not specifically designed as such, this ebook would be an excellent bedtime story - everything in it is smooth, gentle and calming, from the narration through to the animations, to the sound effects. It's as soothing as spending a beautiful day wandering in the wilds. Now, somebody book me a plane ticket to Canada.......