Story App Review: A Present for Milo

A Present For Milo: Knock. Knock. Who's there?
The story starts with a joke.

A Present for Milo takes full advantage of the iPad’s interactive playground, perfectly blending story, animation, sound, and game-like exploration. The good news for readers is Milo is helping define an emerging art form, the story app.

Most kids’ books that have been converted to the iPad feel very much like animated movies for the mobile screen. They can add gorgeous visuals and beautiful soundtracks to a story. Kids love them, and rightly so.

But what intrigues me the most are the original stories created specifically for mobile platforms.

Milo is a delicious example of a story app created for the younger, pre-reading set. For look and feel, imagine a mash-up of a Sandra Boynton board book and the television program, Blues Clues. Clearly, the Milo sensibility puts it in the company of winners.

And I’m not the only one who’s noticed. Less than a month after its release, Milo was nominated for the third annual Best App Ever Award in the e-book category, pitting it against two Dr. Seuss classics, Green Eggs and Ham and The Cat and the Hat. (Shouldn’t adaptations have their own category?) Congratulations, for the nomination. But an e-book? I’m sticking to my label–calling Milo a story app.

Milo is more than an e-picturebook. It sports game-like interactive features. Though, unlike game apps which have a set-up but no ending, Milo retains its story narrative with a through-line that feels complete.

A Present for Milo: Through the tunnel.
The chase takes Milo through all sorts of interesting places.

It’s a simple story. Milo the cat chases a mouse under the sofa and across the piano. The delightful twist ending is perfect for 2 to 5 year olds. If A Present for Milo existed as a print board book, it would be wonderful.

Originally designed for the iPad, Milo also leverages media and interactivity on every page. As Milo chases the mouse, the narration follows the text of the story, and percussion, piano and various sound effects punctuate the simple animations. (Gleeful, giggling mice run throughout. ‘Nuff said.)

Here’s where the story app gets interesting. If you look, hidden in the familiar home landscape, you will discover delightful side animations. For example, when Milo chases the mouse across the piano, the mouse hops across the black keys one at a time and Milo lands on a set of white keys. Clang! When the action pauses, take a moment to explore the room. Tap on the metronome to set it ticking. Tap on the scattered flowers to rearrange them in the vase. Tap on the sheet music to hear a ragtime tune.

Each of the fifteen pages has a wacky sense of adventure. The interactive motifs include flying saucers, hatching birds, race cars, and a lobster playing a pair of mean castanets. And every time you read the story you will find new actions hidden in the pages. The only disadvantage I found is that each small animated action can only be triggered when the previous sound and movement is done. You may tap repeatedly on part of the picture wondering why the next little action doesn’t start, or worse, assume that you’ve hit a dead spot, one that doesn’t contain any fun surprises.

A Present for Milo: and across the piano!
Play the musical notes and piano keys.

Here’s the interesting thing I found in my non-scientific study: Take an excellent story for very young children, add a perfect blend of animations, sound, and interactive goodies, and you get a story app that is intriguing for a wide-range of ages.

I’m hooked, and I’m squarely middle-aged. My son, at 13 years old (a tough, cynical age, grrr) played through and explored every element. A 70-year-old acquaintance at church (not a gamer-type) saw me sharing the story with some of the kids, and he wanted to find all the hidden characters, too.

A Present for Milo is infused with sheer joy. This infectious quality is the best thing about the new story app. Thank you, author Mike Austin.

The bigger picture is story apps are on the rise, and A Present for Milo has set the gold standard for all current and future writers and developers.

A Present for Milo. Written and illustrated by Mike Austin, produced by Sequel Digital, and published by Ruckus Mobile Media Group. $2.99

Five stars out of five.

(A copy of this product was provided for review purposes.)

Spoiler warning: In case you didn’t see them the first time through, look again. On page one, at first glance it looks like there is but one mouse. I’ve found as many as five. Late in the story, when Milo and the mouse run in circles, tap the words to trigger some visual reprises, including a spaceship or two. Apparently, the order you trigger the animations changes what you get to play with. Every time through is a new experience!

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