________________ CM . . . . Volume XXIII Number 29 . . . . April 7, 2017


The King's Ears picturebook app.

Cynthia Nugent, Play Designer and Animator. Narrated by Terry Jones.
Seattle, Washington: Rascal Media Inc., 2016.
$5.49, iTunes.

Grades 2-4 / Ages 7-9.

Review by Frances Cutt.

**½ /4


This app is based on the award-winning and 2010 Finalist for the Blue Spruce Award (Ontario Readers'Choice) book, The King Has Goat Ears, written by Katarina Jovanovic. The story is an adaptation of a Serbian folktale and is beautifully illustrated by Phillipe Béha. The King's Ears app (Rascal Media, 2016) is faithful to the story and illustrations and immediately recognizable for anyone who loved the award winning Canadian book.

      The app offers both a read aloud or listen along option as well as opportunities to interact with the characters as you tap your way through the pages. Terry Jones of Monty Python fame is the perfect choice for a narrator and, in combination with the background music, captures the folktale setting brilliantly.

      The app is visually appealing and offers many layers of interactions that encourage repeated play for children in a grade 2-4 classroom setting. It could easily be used in conjunction with the book as a springboard for discussion around self acceptance. However, it has some limitations as a stand alone app with immediate "kid appeal". The best children's book apps enhance the experience and do not take away from the story. In The King's Ears, full text and wonderful narration are included, but you must tap on the sound icon on every page in order to hear the story. Ideally, this should happen automatically because the story, itself, is the most important feature, and any animations or interactions should be secondary. An option to either have narrative on or off should be provided. Also, to turn pages, an arrow icon at the top of each page had to be tapped. Functionality in apps should be intuitive, and swiping left and right to turn pages would be less clunky and more in keeping with the natural way pages are turned.

      I was fully cognizant that each page had interactive features, and so I found myself tapping and swiping everywhere, trying to discover hidden features. Many of the hidden features were quite clever and enjoyable, but there was inconsistency between pages. Sometimes there was a lot to discover and other times very little. In sharp contrast to the thoroughly enjoyable narration and background music were the sounds of people murmuring, shepherds singing and an apple vendor that continued on to the point of annoyance after one tap or less. I was disappointed to find there was no sound feature included with the many speech bubbles that appear on different pages.

      This app would best be used in a classroom setting with adult interaction to guide children through the story and encourage them to discover all the features. Initial and independent interaction with the app by grade 2/3 children with no coaching resulted in a quick read through of the story because it did not appear intuitively interactive to them. When they were encouraged to try different features, they immediately started to discover additional ones each time they revisited a page. A guiding hand could subtly encourage children to shift screens slightly to the side in order to expose characters hidden almost entirely off screen or stay on a screen longer to wait for opportunities to create a reed flute. The multiple layers of interactive features provide an excellent vehicle for deeper exploration and retelling of the story; however this is best done in a group or classroom setting so the central most important feature, the story, is not lost.

      The The King's Ear app requires iOS 7.0 or later, and is only compatible with the iPad. It can be purchased on iTunes for $5.49.


Frances Cutt is a Literacy Facilitator with the London Public Library in London, ON.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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