“Best app for children learning to read” is a high accolade indeed, but there is absolutely no doubt that the Me Books and Ladybird Classic Me Books – Penguin Books educational apps for preschool and school children deserves the title.
Storytelling has always been a big part of our lives, whether it’s Grandpa telling (completely made up) stories about his friend Simaon the Goan Monkey, Mum relishing the beauty of Julia Donaldson’s books, or Dad reading Now We Are Six snuggled with the kids on the sofa. We’ve downloaded a few good audiobooks for the car, but with our 4 year old daughter learning to read we’ve been looking for something she can listen to more actively, and begin to read some books independently. Everything we’d tried was met with the child equivalent of “Meh” and soon abandoned.
Earlier this year, we had the immense pleasure of discovering The Land of Me, a brilliant educational game for young children. Months later, our children are still asking to play Land of Me every day – an absolute rarity, as most modern toys and games are quickly forgotten. So when its producers, the London-based Made in Me team, mentioned their new app for iPad and iPhone, I leapt at the opportunity to try it out.
The idea behind Me Books is simple – take our favourite classic books for children and non-gruesome versions of fairy tales and app-ify them. Easy peasy. Like Kindle for kids, right? Ah, well if you’ve ever witnessed the layers of rich interactivity and child-led learning opportunities on Land of Me, you’ll know that the Made in Me team couldn’t just upload some stories and leave it at that.
Me Books takes reading to a whole new level, and is a shining example of both the huge potential of the iPad in supporting learning and of the joys of storytelling.
Take the Cinderella story for example – being a big Disney Princess fan this is one of my daughter’s favourites. There is a sweet little ritual to it. She sits at the kitchen table, opens the iPad and props it up on her own, carefully folding the protective cover. She skims past Daddy’s Huffington Post apps and other “boring adult games” and loads Me Books at the touch of a finger. She carefully looks at all the book covers in the Me Books visual library, and chooses the Cinderella story.
Depending on her mood, she will either flip through the pages, looking at the illustrations and trying to recognise words she has been learning at school, or make full use of the interactive features. Touching the screen on any given page, she’ll listen to a narration of that page, and touch areas of the illustrations to hear the sound effects and dialogue. I can tell from the contented smile spreading slowly across her face that she feels incredibly empowered being able to flip through a story on her own, and loves it.
Now here’s where it gets reallycool.
Touching the page for a little longer, my daughter and I can edit the narration or the sound effects, and even create new hotspots for additional sound effects. I can’t begin to tell you how much fun it is to play the story back with my daughter’s own “clip clop clip clop” for the horse-drawn carriage, and how nice it is to have the whole story narrated in my own voice.
With The Zoo, also included with th eLadybird Classic Me Books app, we’ve been adding silly new sound effects for the various animals, much to my preschooler’s delight. Now that my daughter is officially Learning to Read (oh yes, it merits capitals) at Big School, I’ve been recording over some of the words with phonics instead of straightforward narration or sound effects. For example, rather than saying “Monkey”, I might say “mmm-oh-nnn…” – you get the picture!
We haven’t ventured down the translation path because we thought that might confuse my daughter at this stage of her reading, but I do know that some other bilingual families with pre-reading age kids have been recording new narrations in their mother tongue. I’m intrigued, especially as I can guarantee I won’t be finding any Ladybird books narrated in Quebecois French any time soon, and am looking forward to trying some homemade Montrealais recordings on my littler one.
It’s nice knowing that you can really let loose and get creative, and reset the book at any time to go back to the actors’ narration.
So it must cost a million, right?
Absolutely not. The Me Books app will set you back a whole… well, nothing. Yes, that’s free, and that includes some books to get you started.
From there, you can build your very own collection of children’s books, including classic fairytales, Topsy and Tim stories, Peppa Pig books, and some excellent non-fiction books. My daughter’s favourite is Dinosaurs, and she’s spent hours on end creating her own sound effects and narration. The individual books cost £1.99 each and are worth every penny.
So there you have it –
Me Books get a super massive thumbs up from the Really Kid Friendly team and our mini reviewers for creating this fabulous app. Easily 5 stars.