Bottom Line: A simple age appropriate story with a happy ending becomes a full day's entertainment with the countless energetic animations and a week's worth of language arts lessons with the comprehensive teacher's resource guide.
If you would like to get a copy of Arthur's Birthday ($4.99 iPad/iPhone, $.99 in-app upgrade for French version) fresh from the Apple Store orchard, you may download it using this handy Smart Apps for Kids link:
Arthur is an aardvark who stars in an extended series of beginning readers by Marc Brown. He also has a long running PBS television show and dozens of DVDs based on the show and books. Wanderful's storybook is a mash up of the various incarnations in which Arthur can be found and the second app featuring this earnest boynimal. The app contains the complete text of the original book Arthur's Birthday which was first published in 1989. This means it's one of the few book apps that carries an Accelerated Reader rating and can be read for schools which participate in that program.
Marc Brown's books have vocabulary and themes appropriate for 5-8 year old early readers. The words per page are manageable, and the language employed is simple yet descriptive. Because the app is a faithful reproduction of the book, it preserves these valued characteristics and adds some delightful enhancements.
The settings menu gives an idea of all the technical options available. These are also described in a page for parents. Notable among them is a patience mode which requires children to wait for the narration to complete before exploring animations. Additional options include turning on hotspot identification, activating page turns by swiping and a bookmark setting. The ability to customize the reading experience is of particular importance since this book may be enjoyed by independent readers or those at the beginning stages of literacy.
The story is fully narrated in English and Spanish with word by word highlighting. Unlike most books, however, a large part of the text is dialogue and the lines are actually read by the characters in the story. Listening to this book is in many ways like watching an Arthur show on TV. The page is never static. After the text finishes, readers can explore the illustrations to uncover more animations and hear additional dialogue from the characters. They can also tap out individual words from the text to hear them spoken.
The story has a page index which along with the bookmark function allows it to be restarted where a child left off reading. There is also an ability to change languages midway through if desired. The book has around 750 words and 14 pages so with all the interactive elements to explore, it may take multiple sittings to complete. As if all this wasn't enough, Wanderful has also made available a classroom activities supplement. A preview of some pieces is included with the entire package being available through an in-app purchase. This is the first time I've seen an in-app add on used to market a non iOS feature. The material is very comprehensive and CCSS aligned so for teachers looking to incorporate more technology in their classes, this makes for a positive selling point.
The festive nature of the story kicks off right from the home screen when Arthur does a little jig after pointing out the read to me or let me play options. He is excited because it's time for his birthday and he has invitations for all his friends. Unfortunately he discovers that his party is planned for the same day as one of his schoolmates. Because Arthur is a kind and very well-mannered little aardvark, he solves this dilemma without any hurt feelings.
Whether your child reads the story first then goes back to play and discover or combines the two, there is a lot to see and do in this app. The first page alone has at least 20 hotspots. These include a dancing kettle, a teapot that flings a plate across the room complete with a big crash, a java jolt that wakes Arthur's dad Mr. Read right up, and talking jars. There's a nice balance of silly sounds, music and something as sweet as Arthur's mom giving the top of his head a nice big mwah.
Friends and family are a big part of the Arthur series. It's nice to see Arthur's whole family in the kitchen together at the beginning of the book and again preparing for the party. There are positive role models throughout the book and some subtle lessons on being a good friend and compromise. These themes and others can be more fully explored in the classroom activities packet that is available for $1.99. The app contains a link to a downloadable summary. For teachers that rely on leveled readers in their classroom, it's a very good investment. There are separate strands for pre-K, Kindergarten and ELL students and activities covering language arts, reading, writing, drama, math, art, music and social studies. The supplement includes printable sheets to share with an entire class and it outlines the common core standards covered by each lesson.
This app is one of the most polished productions I've reviewed. It's on par with Oceanhouse Media's popular Dr. Seuss apps and thus commands top dollar for a book app. The only thing I don't like about it is Arthur. I've never understood why he's an aardvark or why his sister has the unfortunate moniker D.W. Arthur's Barney factor notwithstanding, I would strongly recommend this app and the accompanying teacher guide for K-1 classes and especially ESE classes. The repetition, textual clues and ability to hear select words repeated make this an invaluable resource for struggling readers and those with language deficits.
Jill Goodman recently saw a real aardvark at Busch Gardens in lovely Tampa and fed some kangaroos. Who needs Disney? smartappsforkids.com was paid a priority-review fee to complete this review in an expedited manner.