Bottom line: A girl's imaginative daydream inspired by a letter in a bottle comes to life in this beautifully presented app that truly reads like a book.
If you would like to purchase Letter in a bottle ($2.99 iPad only), you may download using the Smart Apps for Kids link provided below:
Eastern Europe seems to be the new creative hotbed for iOS design talent. Letter in a bottle developed by Poland's The Suqoon Project has a very distinct look that sets it apart from the many other narrated picture books we review. The story is written by Agnieszka Sobich and illustrated by Marta Kurczewska, but has no awkward phrases or other issues commonly seen in works from those for whom English is a second language.
The app begins with an idyllic beach scene. There's a catchy melody playing in the background and the sound of gulls. You can almost feel the gentle sea-breeze and smell the salt in the air. Superimposed on the backdrop is the cover of a square book. When tapped it opens and lays flat against the sandy beach. A page slider that allows readers to skip ahead or jump back runs across the bottom of the screen with forward and back arrows at each corner. Actual page turns are accomplished by swiping the book pages.
The narrator has a wonderful accent and truly captivating delivery. Just the right emphasis is placed on the text and his tone really draws the reader into the story. Words are not highlighted as they are read, but I'm fine with that as it would actually detract from the peaceful tranquil mood the developer has so carefully crafted. Also, while the text isn't particularly long or difficult it isn't what I'd select for a child just learning to read. For this book it's best just to sit back, relax and enjoy as much as you would your own family day at the beach.
The animations in the book are subtle. The clouds float across the sky and the girl's hair ripples as the wind catches it. This material is not meant to entertain tap happy toddlers. It's much more suitable as a sendoff for a nice long nap after a day in the sun. The illustrations perfectly match the soothing understated feel created by the smooth narration and limited interactivity. They are whimsical, full of color and deftly bring to life the little girl's runaway thoughts as to the identity of the author of the letter she finds. Often I found myself lingering on a page just watching the clouds go by and letting it all sink in.
The story, if you haven't guessed by the title, relates what happens when a girl finds a letter in a bottle that's washed up on a beach. The letter is an invitation to tea. The girl ponders who might have sent it and imagines pirates, a pink elephant and the white rabbit from Alice in Wonderland. Her outlandish speculation is brought to life with the detailed drawings. Seeing the elephant in a row boat sipping tea is very funny as is the idea of scruffy pirates stopping for a spot of Earl Grey.
It's all a bit of a mystery which lends itself well to further discussion with your child. The story ends with a gull unceremoniously swooping in and flying off with the letter. Kids, therefore, are free to decide on their own the identity of the party who sent the invite.
In a world full of beeping, flashing loud books apps, it was a pleasure to return to a simple story that's engrossing and memorable for its text and illustrations rather than over the top sound effects, meaningless puzzles and/or find the object games. The price is a bit steep for a book app this stripped down, if you will, but don't let that dissuade you. This is an app for a lover of books, not a book for a lover of apps. (NOTE: price dropped from $5.99 to $2.99 eff. 1/15/13)
Jill Goodman was pleased to see the word flabbergasted in the text since she has a special face she makes to convey the meaning of this rather advanced vocabulary. smartappsforkids.com was paid a priority-review fee to complete this review in an expedited manner.