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Violet returns to the iPad in a wonderful interactive storybook

David Winograd

Violet is back in the second installment of the Violet series of children's interactive storybooks for the iPad, Violet and the Mysterious Black Dog (US$2.99) from My Black Dog Books. I liked the first one quite a lot, and I found this one to be even better. Once again, Allison Keeme does a phenomenal job of rendering the world of Violet and her family. Violet's world is attractive, colorful, whimsical, and consistent.

Any child familiar with the first Violet book will immediately feel comfortable and get right into the narrative. Finding the mysterious black dog that was teased in the first book is the basis of this second volume. The story is simple and quite appropriate for ages four and up. Violet dons her mask and assumes her alter ego as Phantom Girl, going off in search of clues and hoping to find the black dog. When she inevitably does find the dog, a lesson is taught on how children should approach and deal with stray dogs, including a citation from the Humane Society.

The 19-page book is a great technical improvement over the previous offering. In the first book, there was scant interactivity and the potential of children getting frustrated by having to tap on everything to get infrequent payoffs. In this book, the important tappable objects are defined by dotted yellow lines, kind of like a treasure map. When an object is tapped, it produces a detailed enlargement of the object. For slightly older or more inquisitive kids, there are unmarked tappable items on the majority of pages that kick off actions or sounds, like a lamp lighting or the buzzing of bees.

There are also nice little animations that often appear, such as the bouncing of Violet's little sister's ball, or the mysterious dog popping his head into the page. I especially enjoyed one page where you are told to help Violet find clues, but the child can find a clue that Violet doesn't find, bringing the reader deeper into the story and adding a level of interactivity and involvement that was missing in the first book. Another welcome addition is that there is a speaker icon in the upper left corner of each page. When tapped, it plays a recording of Allison Keeme reading the page, and her reading is excellent.

As in the first book, you have the option to turn the continuous music on or off, and there's also nice curling page turning animations. However, just like the first book, there are a few technical problems, though far fewer than before. This time, I only found two. On the first page, there is a tappable region showing a clock. Tapping about half an inch to the right of the yellow dotted line also enlarges the picture. This active area covers two smaller pictures, which could be potentially confusing and send the wrong message to a child player.

The other glitch occurs when Violet's mother holds a poster, which again needs to be more constrained. These are both simple fixes, and I'm sure they'll be addressed in an update. Jeff Keeme, the coding side of the My Black Dog Books partnership, told me corrections for these sort of problems, plus other fixes to the first Violet book, will appear as a free update in the next week or two. There is also information on how to get to a Web-based activity center where you can print out a few pictures and color them in, but going there also offers a drawing pad that doesn't work yet.

Violet and the Mysterious Black Dog is an excellent second volume to what I hope will be a long line of Violet books. It improves on the first, both technically and in the amount of useful features. It is sure to become a favorite for small children, who will read it over and over again. Congratulations go out to Allison and Jeff Keeme for creating a remarkable app and a much-loved character; I can't wait to see what mystery she solves next.

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