Bottom line: A strange little interactive book that delivers a message about overeating with some rather heavy handed tough love. I realize it's a matter of personal taste, but I just didn't enjoy it.
If you would like to purchase Fat Shadow - Interactive Book App for Kids ($.99 limited time, iPad only) please use the Smart Apps for Kids approved iTunes link:
Fat Shadow is an interactive ebook for iPad from Scarpetta and Lauria Productions, an Italian developer, and was written and illustrated by Enzo Lauria. This app tells the story of Reginald, who has a gift for making hand shadows. He gains the derogatory nickname Fat Shadow due to his love of licorice wheels, which make his own shadow a little on the plump side. Said shadow, fed up with being fat, apparently, snips itself free of Reginald one day and takes off. The shadow specialist doctor recommends that Reginald be kept in the dark until his shadow grows back. Luckily for Reginald, a little mouse offers him better advice and helps him win back his shadow and lose the licorice, which allows him to regain his svelte figure.
Let's start with the good stuff. The illustrations are nicely done and the real star of the book. The interactions on each page are subtle, which is my preference in an ebook. I want my daughter to pay attention to the story, not get distracted by tapping around looking for dozens of bells and whistles on each page. The narration can be turned on or off, which is a plus for older kids who would rather read at their own pace. The music provides a soft, unobtrusive backdrop to the story, and was a nice addition rather than a distraction. The music can also be turned off, allowing the reader to use the app much like a traditional paper book, which is helpful in settings where you need your little urchin to entertain herself quietly. Well, sort of. More about this later.
In addition to the story, there's a jigsaw puzzle section (AGAIN with the jigsaw puzzles — we need something more original, developers!), offering puzzles from 6 to 24 pieces. My daughter loves puzzles, and was far more interested in this than in the story. The pieces don't lock into place, which would be a nice fix in the next update, but they're cut into interesting shapes. There is also a rather pointless page of hand shadows that caused a bit of frustration at my house — my daughter couldn't duplicate them from the drawings alone, and the page doesn't contain any further instruction. With a little work, though, this could prove to be a nice addition to the book, given its theme.
So what would I change? Let's start with the technical glitches which can be fixed in the next iteration.
- Yes, you can turn the narration and the music off. Unfortunately you can't turn off the sound effects that accompany the interactions on each page. I found this out the hard way when I gave my daughter this app to play with in church. In addition, every time the reader comes back to the home page for some reason, the mute setting resets itself and the narration and music come back on. Again, not cool when it happens in church. If you want the app to be truly silent, mute the iPad.
- The navigation on the home page is painfully slow. There's a significant delay between tapping a button and getting where you want to go, so much so that I was at first convinced my taps weren't registering on the iPad, which caused me to tap like a mad woman. Turns out they were registering — I'm just not very patient. Neither is my five-year-old.
- There are a few grammar glitches, which I've chalked up to English-as-a-second-language issues. Tense switches from present to past and back again, and there's one egregious sentence structure error. Again, fixable in the next version with the help of a good editor.
So much for the stuff that's easily fixed. The rest of it? Not so much. To begin with, the story is quirky, to say the least and would take a major overhaul to make it appealing to a wide audience. Maybe Lisa R. would like it — it would make a great addition to her list of quirky, oddball apps. For my taste, it's too dark, too strange and too disjointed, and my five-year-old agreed – after we'd read it once, she was done, and had no desire to hear the story again.
I often felt as if the illustrations were driving the narrative rather than the other way around. What do hand shadows have to do with Reginald being fat and earning a rude nickname? Why is there a naked, skeletal witch that eats shadows for lunch? There's so much about the story that doesn't make sense, it feels as if it was written on the fly, and perhaps by committee. Again, an editor would be a worthwhile investment here. The message that if you are fat you'll have no friends except shadows, and then they too will get fed up and desert you is brutal. The idea that if a child gives up the one thing he loves, that will cure his obesity is unsettling.
One more thing: this may not bother anyone else, but it annoyed the heck out of me. The book refers to Reginald's hobby as making "Chinese shadows." Maybe, as the mother of an Asian child, I'm overly sensitive, but the rest of the world doesn't generally attribute the practice of making animals with shadows cast by one's hands to the Chinese.
Suffice it to say that I'm not crazy about this app, and wouldn't be crazy about it even if the technical details were addressed and corrected. It has gained a following, as Fat Shadow is a finalist in the "Best App Ever" voting, but a good marketing campaign isn't always the sign of a good product. Fat Shadow is very appealing to look at, but its premise that fat = unworthy of love is rather ugly.
Emilie Davis is a writer and mom of a feisty five year old. She has a fat shadow that's still attached. smartappsforkids.com was paid a priority-review fee to complete this review in an expedited manner.