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Four Little Critter interactive childrens books hit iOS

David Winograd

Mercer Mayer has been writing Little Critter books since the grown-up children were sleeping in cribs. My kids loved the series and had me read it to them hundreds of times. Little Critter is a hedgehog-looking animal that very small children can easily relate to as he goes about his simple adventures. Each of the over 200 books featuring Little Critter tells a very simple story, providing positive reinforcement for very small kids who sometimes need to be told how competent and good they are, even if they sometimes get things wrong. All of the books are whimsically illustrated and quite funny in a gentle and childlike manner. These are very simple books without any hard words and are very appropriate for little ones starting at about one year old. Each of them sells for US$1.99, and they are universal apps that work well on all iOS devices -- of course, they look better on the larger screen of an iPad.

Oceanhouse Media has released four of the series so far, and I'm sure that, as time goes by, many more will show up. They all use the Oceanhouse engine that has become a standard in the industry. As in all the OM books, there are three options. AutoPlay is for the smallest of children. Each page is read as the built-in animation zooms now and then to highlight what's important on the page. The pages turn automatically as the sound effects play, and each word is highlighted as it's read. Read To Me provides a bit of autonomy; the young reader swipes the pages to turn them, and the text is read by a very young sounding voice. Touching the text block will cause it to be read again. Read It Myself deletes the narration until the text block is tapped in case the child has a problem with a word or two. In all three options, touching an object speaks what it is, and the word appears in a colorful animation. If the object appears in the text, the word in the text block is highlighted. This has served OM well for its series of Dr. Seuss and Berenstain Bear books, among others, and it's just as appropriate for Little Critter.

All By Myself is probably the simplest of the books. It tells about all the things that Little Critter can do, like getting up, brushing his fur, tying his shoes and even pouring juice for his sister, which winds up mostly on the floor. What he can't do is go to bed without a parent reading him a story. There is a simple game where if you tap on all the pictures of his constant companion, a little mouse, you are rewarded with a Well Done at the end. If all of the mice aren't found, you're told how many you identified, and you're given a chance to try again. For the intended age group, this game is just hard enough not to be silly.

Just Grandma and Me is graphically a bit more complex. It tells of a day with Grandma on the beach. Little Critter tries to be helpful by setting up the beach umbrella, but the wind is too strong. He drops the hot dogs, so he washes them off in the ocean, which seems like a reasonable enough thing to do, and the face of Grandma eating the hot dog is precious. He needs help with most things that never seem to go right, but Grandma is wonderfully supportive, and they have a great day together. In this book you tap on spiders and crickets as a game. I haven't read this book in over 25 years, but I remembered just about every word.

Just Me and My Mom tells about a big trip to the city starting on a train, where Little Critter loses the tickets. Then he moves on to the Natural History Museum, where the guard is not very happy with his playing with dinosaur eggs and getting dressed up in period costumes. Then it's on to the Aquarium and Art Museum where things don't go very well either, but in typical Little Critter style, he never knows it. After lunch, they go shopping, and after that, a sleepy Little Critter takes the train home. In this book, there are signs most everywhere, and tapping on them causes the words to be read. The game here consists of trying to find all the frogs.

I Just Forgot
is one of the simpler books where Little Critter gets everything about half right. He makes cereal, but he forgets to put away the milk. He gets to the school bus, but he forgets his lunch. He plays in the rain and remembers his slicker, but he forgets his boots and so forth. Of course, things end happily with his mom reading a bed time story, and he always remembers to kiss her goodnight. The game here is finding mice and spiders.

In an iTunes search you may find another book called Just Me and My Dad, which is not an Oceanhouse Media book. It was a port from an earlier CD-ROM version and plays more as a cartoon then as a straight reading of the book. The first page is available for free, and I didn't think it was up to the high standard of the OM products.

All the Little Critter books introduce little ones to new and potentially scary experiences. By seeing how Little Critter does it and how supportive everyone is, it can take the edge off of things that might be frightening to the smallest of children. If Little Critter can do it, so can everyone else, no matter who or how little one might be. This is a lovely series -- they're exceptionally well done and are sure to be favorites of the smallest of children.

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