Grimm's Rapunzel is an interactive pop-up book done right

David Winograd
D. Winograd|12.24.10

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Grimm's Rapunzel is an interactive pop-up book done right

Although a number of interactive children's books have billed themselves as being pop-up (or pop-out) books, like The Tale of Peter Rabbit and The Night Before Christmas (both from Loudcrow), nothing really popped up and constructed the 3D scenes that I remember from my childhood. Grimm's Rapunzel - Interactive Pop-up Book from Ideal Binary (US$1.99 for now) does just that, and beautifully. It's a universal app that makes full use of the Retina Display of the iPhone and iPod touch, and it looks and plays gorgeously on an iPad.

When you start the book, you are presented with a profusely illustrated book similar to the one used at the start and ending of Walt Disney's Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. The book opens, and a text and picture page is displayed where nothing moves, ... but turn the page and the book shifts horizontally as the scene springs to life. Using physics that feel just right, objects bounce up and form a scene where you are given a clearly described task to perform. Each of the pop-up pages contains an activity ranging from sowing and watering seeds to helping Rapunzel find her sheet music and harp. When completed, each activity pays off with a character thanking you or providing reinforcement, like Rapunzel playing a little tune on her harp. Touching objects on the pop-up pages causes things to bounce a bit, which is common, or add a few surprises; for example, when you touch a candelabra, it lights up.

By using your finger, you can move the tableau up and down or side to side to show different views of the scene, which is a very nice addition. When you're ready to go to the next page, the scene collapses back into the page; with the touch of a button, the page turns, and the book becomes vertical so that the next text page can be read. It's all done to a lovely soundtrack of harp music and other soft sounding instruments. In all there are 30 pages of illustrated text and 9 pages of pop-ups, providing a nice balance between story and activities.

When playing with it, the app's look and feel is excellent, smooth and seamless, with three options for reading. One is Read to Me, in which the reader turns the pages and interacts with everything, but the story and activity instructions are read by a comforting female voice. Read it Myself omits the narration. Autoplay is done better than I've seen before. The pages turn by themselves and everything is read, but when an activity occurs, everything stops to allow the child to play. Once completed, the page collapses and the next page is turned automatically. When the task is being worked on, the orientation of the book can be moved around, and all of the actionable objects can be tapped. I really enjoyed how this function was designed. It adds most of the play value lost in many other interactive children's books, which narrate and just keep on going.

I found a few of the tasks to be a bit difficult. Two that come to mind are when you need to shake a rattle over the baby Rapunzel to put her to sleep. It seemed like it wasn't working until I shook the rattle for an inordinate amount of time. The most frustrating was when the Prince and Rapunzel are cooking a vegetable stew. You can't just toss stuff in the pot -- each item has to go in the right order. I may not have been hitting the right spots, though, and could have been doing it wrong.

Carping aside, this is a very nice app, and for now the price is quite cheap. I wondered who was going to get pop-up books right, and Ideal Binary wins by a long shot. I recommend this app quite highly and know that little ones will come back to it again and again. Great work all around!

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