A while back, GeekDad Dan Donahoo wrote about a new desktop learning adventure for called The Land Of Me, which weaves a kids learning experience into an illustrated storybook, complete with games, activities, sound effects and narration. It has been very well received since its launch, and has even caught the eye of publishers Penguin (specifically the Ladybird brand), who signed a deal with developers Made In Me earlier this year to get The Land Of Me launched globally.
Another aspect of that deal has just come to fruition as well, Me Books, a different picture book reader for iOS devices. For their part, Ladybird have provided access to some of their classic range of picture books from the 1950s onwards and Made In Me have taken these tried and trusted stories, scanned them, cleaned them up – not too much, so they still have a bit of a worn look – and placed them into the Me Books app, available now from the iTunes App Store for 99c/69p. The app comes with one story included, The Zoo (from 1960), and 13 others are available as in-app purchases for $2.99/£1.99 each.
At first glance you can straightaway see the effort put into the app. Upon tapping your chosen story from the tabletop, it opens up in a nicely rendered video to the title page, which has the instructions scribbled on the left page in pencil. A simple swipe turns the page and takes you into the story and tapping the words reads them aloud. You can also tap areas on the – wonderfully retro – illustrations to hear additional sounds effects and dialogue.
Nothing groundbreaking there really, but you might have noticed the little circle in the top right corner. Tapping it displays all the hotspots on the page, allowing you to see any that you may have missed, and here’s where it starts to get really clever. If you tap and hold any of the hotspots, you can record your own versions right into the app and play them back from the pages. This is great fun, for both you and the kids. We started off well, with me reading the words of the story and then both of us collaborating on the sounds effects. Roaring lions, chuckling monkeys, barking seals and so on, but it didn’t take long for us both to descend into the gutter and start making the tigers blow huge raspberries and the elephants let out giant bottom burps! Hours of fun!
Many of the additional stories are read by UK comedians including, Adam Buxton (of Adam & Joe), Simon Farnaby (star of quirky indie film Bunny & The Bull) and Josie Lawrence. They add the kind of humour and characterisations the story that we parents always do after reading the same stories over and over again – partly to enhance the tale for the little ones, but also to stop ourselves going nuts!
Buxton gives each of The Three Little Pigs their own silly voices, but the little rabbit ducking for cover as the Big Bad Wolf runs by doesn’t have any lines, so Buxton added one – it created a giggle and started a massive search throughout the whole story for more little nuggets. Then of course we had to go back through our version of The Zoo and add in more hotspots – for the people looking at the animals, as well as other animals that didn’t say anything before.
It’s going to be great if I’m ever away for a while as I could pre-record a bedtime story and next time we see Nanny, I’m gonna have to get her to record one as well, which leads me to my only criticism of the app. You can only have one version of each story. If you chose to record your own one, you can only go back the original by deleting your one. I suppose you just have to buy the other stories and pick and choose which ones to keep original and which ones to hack. It is a universal app, meaning that it runs all iOS devices and doesn’t sync between them so I guess you can have different versions of the stories on all of your various devices. My phone can have Mummy reading the story for when I’m out and vice versa.
The vintage illustrations and infinite recording possibilities of Me Books definitely makes it a keeper on my iPad and may even supplant The Cat In The Hat as the go to digital book of choice for my little one!