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Two new interactive eBooks for Halloween

David Winograd

Just in time for Halloween, Oceanhouse Media introduces two more of their excellent interactive children's storybooks. Both of them are spooky, but certainly not scary, being targeted to the four year old and up crowd. Both are about acceptance and teach a gentle lesson about not judging a book, an empty pair of pants or a pumpkin by its cover.

The first is a short book by Dr. Suess titled What was I Scared of? (US$1.99). It only runs 22 pages so it's priced a dollar less than most of the Oceanhouse Media titles. In it, a very brave furry little guy meets up with a pair of empty pale green pants in the woods that keep popping up wherever he goes. He winds up being not as brave as he thought he was as he becomes more and more frightened of the disembodied pants. It turns out the pants were as scared of him as he is of them, and this is the beginning of their friendship. This book originally came out in 1961, and I have fond memories of reading it to my children. The soundtrack is terrific and as usual, tapping on objects highlight and speak words. The difference I noted between this and the other Oceanhouse Media books is that if you choose the Read To Me option, the young reader must turn the pages by themselves. In the other titles I've seen, this was done for you. The same is true with Spookley and I think was a great design choice.

Authors note: I'm wrong on this last point. All the Oceanhouse Media books work the same way. I mistakenly confused the Read To Me with the Auto Play function. The Auto Play function does turn the pages automatically.

The second book is The Legend of Spookley the Square Pumpkin written by Joe Troiano and illustrated by Susan Banta ($2.99) which was made into a popular holiday video in 1964. This 39 page book includes a wonderful narration by a Boris Karloff sound-alike. The story revolves around a pumpkin house where Spookley grew to be the only square pumpkin. Being different, he wasn't accepted by his round pals. But on one dark and stormy night, pumpkins started getting sucked out of a newly broken fence and it was up to square Spookley to make use of his shape by blocking the hole, saving all his friends and becoming a hero. The next day, the farmer saw what happened and realized the virtue of pumpkins of all shapes, sizes and colors. The next year he planted different seeds and all sorts of pumpkins grew, proving to be very popular with all the kids visiting the pumpkin house.

I haven't read them all, but Spookley is the best designed Oceanhouse Media book I've seen. All the books use the same engine I detailed in a prior review, but they've brought something new to the game this time. Instead of tapping on things and having the word spoken and emphasized, every object you tap on in Spookley either plays a character voice commenting on the action, some of them quite funny, or plays an appropriate sound effect. There is so much hidden speech in the book that all the hidden goodies add up to nearly as many words as the printed text. I've never seen so much interactivity in an eBook of this sort. Tapping on anything and everything makes something happen and I can see little kids having a great time getting their parents' iPad screen dirty for hours on end.

As usual, both books are universal apps taking full advantage of size of the iPad screen, as well as looking great on the iPhone 4 and iPod touch 4G Retina displays.

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