Bottom line: a fun way for kids (and parents) to create their own stories using a variety of well-drawn characters, props and backgrounds. Worth a look even at $5.99 for ages 5-9.
If you would like to inspire the next Newberry Medal winner, you may download Toonia Storymaker ($5.99 iPad only) using the following link which supports Smart Apps for Kids:
Toonia Storymaker is the first effort from Toonia Apps, a Slovenian developer and 3fs. According to their website, a second app called Colorbook is in the works, and based on Storymaker, I look forward to seeing what else they have to offer.
Storymaker is just what it sounds like — the app gives the user all the components to create a story, and the user's imagination takes it from there. Included are four "worlds" for the user to populate using seven characters and a whole collection of animals, props and aliens (yes, there's a space world). The kid characters have names and fairly extensive histories, which can be accessed under "Toonia Worlds" on the home page. I was impressed with how much thought had gone into the characters' back stories — probably not a necessary component to create a story, but a big help to a kid whose imagination may need a little prompting.
Characters, animals, props, aliens, etc. can be placed in a variety of settings within each world, and then made to do the user's bidding — sing, talk, fly, whatever. Little authors can create dialogue for the characters, courtesy of balloons that indicate speech, thought or sound effects (much like the "POW!" balloons found in old Batman comics). Users can also change pretty much everything about the characters to suit the story — facial expressions, body positioning, skin, eye and hair color, or color of clothing.
Toonia's web site points out that when Legos were invented, they changed everything about toys for kids. For the first time ever, a duck wasn't just a duck and a train wasn't just a train. Kids could now create whatever they wanted to match their imaginations. Storymaker is sort of like Legos for books. All the components of a good book are there, and it's up to the kid to create what he wants, rather than just accepting that this story is about these characters and these situations. It's actually pretty revolutionary.
The app is recommended for kids ages 5 and up, but my daughter, who is 5 and doesn't read or spell very well yet on her own, couldn't quite manage the dialogue. She was delighted to find that, in place of actual words, Storymaker offers a series of pictures, sort of like emoticons, to help the characters express their feelings. There's a light bulb, music notes, a rain cloud and several others, all of which can be used to express a wide range of moods, attitudes and actions. For my daughter, this addition meant the difference in using the app independently and leaning on me for help.
Although I'm not a fan of in-app purchases, especially for an app that's already this high-priced, the two that are available here are cheap and fairly unobtrusive: users have the option of purchasing two new worlds and all the accoutrements thereof. I think it will take a long while for boredom to set in with this app, but when it does, it's nice to know there are some additions available to prolong my daughter's interest.
The app's graphics are really well done and quite adorable, and the user interface is easy to figure out. There's almost no chance of your little storyteller tapping on something by accident or finding herself someplace she didn't mean to go. A very tiny info icon lives on the home screen, and it takes you to information about the developer, including their web site, their Facebook page, their Twitter account and more. I'm not crazy about the idea of my kid ending up on Facebook by accident, but in all the time she's played with the app, she doesn't seem to have ever noticed the little info icon at all. So, I think the chances of her reaching a cyberspace destination I don't want her in are pretty slim.
Once your little author creates his master work, he can save the story to his bookshelf, where he can come back and read it again and again. There are also two stories created by the developer already on the shelf, and these proved to be a big hit with my daughter as she was learning to use the app and discovering its capabilities. A little inspiration was all she needed to get her off and running with her own storytelling.
Overall, there's very little I would change about this app, except for the price. As good as Toonia Storymaker is, I think most users will have a hard time shelling out $5.99 for it which is a shame. Given that a similar app, Toontastic All Access, is $9.99, the price isn't out of line for the quality or functionality offered.
My daughter is on the bottom end of the age range for this app, so I expect many more stories from her as she grows into its capabilities and her own imagination. It will be fun to look back in a year's time when she is reading independently and revisit her early creations.
Emilie Davis has resolved to give everyone a free pass for poor grammar during the month of January. smartappsforkids.com was paid a priority-review fee to complete this review in an expedited manner.