One of the unexpected pleasures of owning a iPad has been time spending with my four year old daughter, Sadie, drawing pictures, playing educational games, working puzzles, and reading books. Of my three children, she has always been the most inclined towards these activities. However, playing with my iPad has really kicked her interest into high gear. She could spend hours drawing pictures with Doodle Buddy, or playing various matching or puzzle games while sitting in my lap. I certainly don’t mind.
Just as with stories and games, Sadie has also always been fond of looking at books and having stories read to her on the iPad. Again, the immersive experience of the iPad has just taken something she already loves and made it more fun. It’s one thing to just read a book together, as fun and rewarding as that is. It’s quite another to be able to see the words as they are spoken, interact with the visual environments, and play games based on the story. This is even more rewarding when we can do enjoy these activities together.
We have tried out a couple of traditional children’s books in iBooks, as well as a few book apps that offer some additional features and interactive content. Of the apps we have tested together, Disney’s Digital Books have been the most polished and are the ones that Sadie returns to most often. In case you’re not familiar with other Disney Digital Books, they are highly interactive, fully illustrated representations of various Disney movies, often taking scenes, voice work, and music directly from their source. The most recent addition to our Disney collection is Finding Nemo- My Puzzle Book, which tells a condensed version of the underwater-themed story from the familiar animated movie released in 2003.
Upon opening Finding Nemo- My Puzzle Book and getting past the title screen, you are immediately taken into the animated world of the movie. There is no setup required to get started, which makes it perfect for kids to immediately pick up and play as soon as it is installed on your iPad. Your child is simply instructed that there are “treasures” located in some of the screens that can be collected, and then the story narration begins.
As each page of the story is read aloud, the text of the narration is displayed at the bottom of the page. I find this feature especially valuable for kids who are starting to read, as they can follow along and start to pick up some of the words.
Each page of the book is very colorful and detailed, and has multiple animations, which helps to really draw your child into the story. Some of the characters and elements can also be touched and manipulated for additional interaction after the page narration is complete. For example, touching the boat motor on this particular page causes the propeller to spin.
Also, if you touch one of the aforementioned “treasures,” it will fly off the screen, where it is stored in your collection.
You are then presented with a final slide after the end of the story where you can plug in the items to decorate the page.
If you don’t have them all, you are given a link to go back and find the missing treasures. If you have collected them all, the volcano in the background erupts, bringing the story to an end.
It was the puzzle aspect of Finding Nemo- My Puzzle Book that caught my eye, as I knew that would get my little apprentice excited to help me out on this review. While Sadie has enjoyed the story, I think it is working the simple jigsaw-style puzzles that have kept her coming back to the app. While most of the app’s pages contain animated scenes, four of them appear as static graphic screens with the image cut into puzzle pieces.
After the page narration is complete, the puzzle pieces fly off the page when touched. The pieces then pop up two at a time on the right side of the screen, where your child can touch and drag them into place.
With the app in its default configuration, the puzzles only have six pieces, and are kept pretty simple. This makes Finding Nemo’s puzzles ideal even for young children. There is also an increased level of challenge available, which we will get to in a moment. One thing to note, however, is that the puzzles are not required to progress through the story. If your child is younger, or just doesn’t feel like doing them at the time, they can just skip them to move on with the story.
The Navigation back and forward between pages of Finding Nemo is done by tapping large right and left arrows in the upper corners of the iPad screen.
This shouldn’t be an issue for most children three and up, as both my daughter and one of her cousins that I asked to play with the app had no trouble at all figuring this out or getting around in it.
While Finding Nemo- My Puzzle Book comes ready to go immediately after install, there are a few options available that, in my opinion, really add some versatility to the app. The first option you have is to increase the difficulty of the puzzles.
When you select this option, the puzzle pictures are split into twelve pieces, rather than four. This adds a little extra challenge for children who may be a little older or advanced. I know that Sadie quickly got bored with the easier mode and appreciated the increased difficulty.
Next you have the option to change up the narration of the story. In its default configuration, the story is narrated by a pre-recorded voice with musical accompaniment. If you prefer, you can add a personal touch to Finding Nemo by recording yourself speaking the text of the story. I think this is a killer feature, as it just adds so much extra for your child to have your voice reading them their story any time they want.
Now, don’t take this the wrong way. This is NOT a replacement for reading books to your children in person, but it is a cool way of extending the experience beyond what you would normally be able to do with work and school and time limitations. On that same note, while there isn’t necessarily a built-in mode for reading the story yourself with your child, you can always mute the sound on your iPad and read the text off the screen if you want a more traditional storytime experience.
Another available setting allows you to set up Finding Nemo to automatically move between pages of the story. Enabling this setting turns off all of the in-app interactions and the puzzles, but could certainly come in handy in some cases. For one, if you have younger children, this mode will read the story to them start to finish without the need for any navigation. This mode could also be handy if you have a Digital AV or VGA Adapter and want to display the app on a TV, monitor, or projector without having to control the whole experience yourself.
Rounding out the settings, you also have the ability to immediately navigate to any page in the story, as well as the ability to enter your email address to register for content updates from Disney.
As I already mentioned, I have spent time playing with Finding Nemo- My Puzzle Book with both my four year old daughter, and her five year old cousin over the past two weeks. In both cases, the app was a huge hit. Sadie wasn’t necessarily a huge fan of Nemo before this app. In fact, when I first told her about the app, she was a little disappointed. That is, until I mentioned the puzzles. They immediately got her attention, and she has been a big fan of the app ever since. In fact, thanks to going through the story and the puzzles multiple times, she has had more interest in going back and watching Finding Nemo again. I guess that proves just how well Disney knows their target audience.
I was actually a little surprised that my five year old grand niece was as into the app as she was. Maggie’s parents have Android phones with plenty of children’s books and apps installed, and her grandfather, uncles, and myself all have iOS devices that she and her sisters play with. In other words, she is just as tech savvy as my daughter, if not more so.
Being a year older and in kindergarten, I was wondering if she would like Finding Nemo- My Puzzle Book, or if she would get bored with it and recommend it more for her younger sisters. To my surprise, Maggie read through it several times, and was truly interested in it. She even found the settings menu and set the puzzle difficulty higher on her own. She was actually a bit unhappy when it was time for her to go home and she asked if there was a version of the app for her Mom’s phone. Maybe there will be someday, but there are no Android versions of Disney books at this point.
If you had asked me if I would be stocking up on children’s books and apps before I got my first iPad, I probably would have said no. However, it is apps like Finding Nemo- My Puzzle Book that show the real power and draw of the platform. I have ended up using my iPad for a lot more tasks than I would have originally thought. Thanks to the flexibility and simplicity of iOS, and Apple’s commitment to making a stable and profitable development platform, there are so many different types of apps work so well with the touch interface.
After thinking about it, though, I’m surprised I didn’t recognize that children’s books and games are an absolutely perfect match with the iPad, and its combination of responsive, touch interface, screen size, and great battery life. The iPad and iOS just make for a perfectly natural environment for children.
When you combine the aforementioned advantages of the iOS platform with Disney, and their high standards for quality and great storytelling, the result is something that’s really hard to beat. I can usually find some fault or issue with most of the apps that I review, but I can honestly say that is not the case here. When you consider that Finding Nemo- My Puzzle Book is only $0.99, and how much flexibility and value you get for that small amount, what else can you say except that , if you have kids in your life, you should go get it? This is especially true when you consider how much more immersive the experience of the app is in comparison with a more traditional book or puzzle.
If you don’t trust me, then take my daughter Sadie’s word for it. She has moved on from plenty apps that couldn’t hold her attention for more than a few hours. It’s been a week and a half now with Nemo, and she is still going back for more. That’s $0.99 very well spent.
Finding Nemo- My Puzzle Book is available as a universal app for the iPad, iPhone, and iPod Touch for $0.99 in the App Store.
Disney provided a promo code to iSource.com for the review of Finding Nemo- My Puzzle Book. For further information regarding our site’s review policies, please see the “About” page.