The Disappointing Pancake - Mibblio / Lisa Loeb

TitleThe Disappointing Pancake

Developer:  Mibblio / Lisa Loeb

Compatibility: iPad // iOS 5.1

Size: 91.7 MB

Description:   Another month, another stand-alone Mibblio app.  This one features "The Disappointing Pancake " from occasional kids' musician and author Loeb.  The song, like the titular pancake, has bounced around for awhile -- it originally appeared on Loeb's first solo kids album, 2008's Camp Lisa (with Steve Martin on banjo!).  As with other Mibblio apps, the song plays while the user can add or remove different tracks (e.g., guitar, percussion, keyboards) from the recorded song while simultaneously being able to play melody and stringed/guitar instruments in harmonically compatible keys, not to mention percussion.  It basically lets kids (and adults) play along in ways that allow some creativity but also help make whatever comes out sonically sound decently.  (You can also pinch out to expand it to full screen if you just want to read and sing along.)

In addition, the songs are accompanied by illustrations that feature lyrics to those songs.  The result is a musical picture book over which the user has some small control.  Along with the song, which is one my favorites of Loeb's, I also enjoyed the retro illustrations of Brad Renner; his pancake looks very happy as he goes on his adventures in Loeb's story song, which is kind of the point, isn't it?

The price for the app, $0.99, is pretty cheap, the same price as if you'd buy it through the main Mibblio app if in fact you could do so -- which you can't at the moment (or at least I couldn't find it in my app).  [Ed.: The folks at Mibblio say it's now available in the main app, too.]  As with the rest of the Mibblio apps, it's well-done, and this is definitely one of the more appealing songs in the Mibblio library.  Fans of Loeb or the song will enjoy it, and it would make a fine selection if you want to explore the concept for the first time.

Age Range: 3 through 7

Price: $0.99

LinkiTunes

Note: I was provided a copy of this app for possible review.

Animal Alphabet Band - Mibblio / Key Wilde & Mr. Clarke

TitleAnimal Alphabet Band

Developer:  Mibblio / Key Wilde & Mr. Clarke

Compatibility: iPad // iOS 5.1

Size: 82.2 MB

Description:   One of these days I swear I'll review the main Mibblio app, but they keep releasing stand-alone versions of their "Mibblets," and I get distracted by the shiny new object.  This one features "Animal Alphabet" from Key Wilde & Mr. Clarke's second album Pleased To Meet You.  If your family's seen the fun video, this app will seem very familiar.  It'll also seem very familiar if you've used other Mibblio apps -- the song plays while the user can add or remove different tracks (e.g., guitar, percussion, keyboards) from the recorded song while simultaneously being able to play melody and stringed/guitar instruments in harmonically compatible keys, not to mention percussion.  It basically lets kids (and adults) play along in ways that allow some creativity but also help make whatever comes out sonically sound decently.  (You can also pinch out to expand it to full screen if you just want to read and sing along.)

In addition, the songs are accompanied by illustrations that feature lyrics to those songs.  The result is a musical picture book over which the user has some small control.  Since Wilde is a trained illustrator of his own books, album art, and videos, naturally his illustrations (based on the video) are present here as well.  Wilde does a good job of conveying personality to the variety of animals with a minimum of adornment.

The price for the app, $0.99, is pretty cheap, the same prices as if you'd buy it through the main Mibblio app.  It's well-done, of course, and if you have ever wanted to try a Mibblio app (or if you're a KWMC fan), this is certainly a worthwhile one to try.

Limited-time note: The song (not the app) is available for a limited time here.

Age Range: 3 through 6

Price: $0.99

LinkiTunes

Note: I was provided a copy of this app (via the main Mibblio app) for possible review.

Hello, Baby Animals! - Shortstack Apps

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TitleHello, Baby Animals!

Developer:  Shortstack Apps

Compatibility: iPad // iOS 4.3

Size: 58.3 MB

Description:  Although most of my reviews of iOS apps have some music-related function, I'm willing to make an exception for well-designed, smart-looking apps for other kid-related purposes.  Hello, Baby Animals!, the latest app from the indie app developer Shortstack (led by founder Carolyn Merriman), fit that bill for me.

My chief initial interest in exploring the app was the fact that Austin-based illustrator and author Divya Srinivasan animated the app.  From a kindie perspective, you'll probably recognize Srinivasan's style as she's animated several videos for They Might Be Giants' kids music albums.

The app itself lends itself well to Srinivasan's eager-eyed, brightly-colored style.  It features 10 different baby animals, each on its own screen and given a simple interactive role.  In the case of the piglet above, the user can swap wigs for the pig; other screens include matching mittens for a kitten and having a baby fox (a "kit," as the app points out) his socks.  The user can choose to have an adult voice or child voice narrative the rhymes on each page, or turn it off.

This is a simple app, but it's well-designed, smart-looking (see above), and is perfectly targeted to, and constructed for, the preschool/kindergarten set.  I really liked it, and think it's worth the $2.99 (it would be worth more than that if it had simply been turned into a book), but if you're not sure, there's a free version with four of the full version's ten screens.  Lots of fun, and worth checking out.

Age Range: 2 through 5

Price: $2.99 / free (lite version)

Link: iTunes (full version) iTunes (free, lite version)

Note: I was offered a copy of the app for possible review.

Wonder Wheel - Mibblio / Dan Zanes

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TitleWonder Wheel

Developer:  Mibblio / Dan Zanes

Compatibility: iPad // iOS 5.1

Size: 88 MB

Description:   Another month, another Mibblio app.  This one features Dan Zanes' popular song "Wonder Wheel" from his 2001 album Family Dance.  The basic structure of the app is the same as with the other Mibblio apps -- the song plays while the user can add or remove different tracks (e.g., guitar, percussion, keyboards) from the recorded song while simultaneously being able to play melody and stringed/guitar instruments in harmonically compatible keys, not to mention percussion.  It basically lets kids (and adults) play along in ways that allow some creativity but also help make whatever comes out sonically sound decently.  (You can also pinch out to expand it to full screen if you just want to read and sing along.)  I'll admit that it feels a bit odd to use "fake" iPad instruments to play along with a DZ song...

In addition, the songs are accompanied by illustrations that feature lyrics to those songs.  The result is a musical picture book over which the user has some small control.  In the case of this app, the illustrator is Aldo Saaf AKA Donald Saaf, who's illustrated a number of Zanes' albums and books.  Maybe it's just because I've so long associated Saaf's illustrations with Zanes' music, but I can't picture anyone else doing the illustrations for this.  If you're familiar at all with Zanes' music, the illustrations will feel very familiar.

The price for the app, $0.99, is pretty cheap, though you're probably paying for just the app because you already have the song.  (I couldn't find the song available through the main Mibblio app.)  Another song converted well into an app by Mibblio -- families with younger DZ fans may find it worth the $0.99 to try it out...

Age Range: 3 through 7

Price: $0.99

LinkiTunes

Note: I was provided a copy of this app for possible review.

The Phoenix Weekly Story Comic - David Fickling Comics

TitleThe Phoenix Weekly Story Comic

Developer:  David Fickling Comics (aka The Phoenix) / Panel Nine Software

Compatibility: iPad // iOS 5.0.1

Size: 176 MB

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Description:  Let's get this out of the way from the very start - I am not a comics reader.  Not opposed to them, mind you -- I take my kids to the comics shop down the street every spring for  Free Comic Book Day and do try to share the occasional graphic novel with my kids -- just have long since decided that in terms of my own cultural passions, it's just too far down my list for me to become an expert or anything like a fan.

The Phoenix is a weekly comic app that works through iOS' Newsstand; it's the electronic equivalent of hard-copy version sold in England.  I'd heard about it before as being a good all-ages comic, and when I saw that they were offering all of their back issues for $0.99 apiece through the end of January, I thought it was a good time to check it out.

Again, given my sparse comics background, it wouldn't be fair for me to really "review" the comics as I might with kids music, but I'll offer the following observations:

-- there's an excellent mix of comics here: funny and action-adventure, kindergarteners and the early middle-school years, elegant art to "funny pages."  There is even a book excerpt or story and games, jokes, and non-fiction.

-- for those serial comics, the "Something Cool!" button at the bottom of the app allows the reader to briefly catch up on the prior action

-- it's firmly independent - no TV-characters-in-training

-- the interface is simple, and simple to use

I really like The Phoenix, and while I doubt I'd be willing to pay the subscription price given our family's general mild interest in comics, if your family is more into comics and graphic novels, you will definitely want to explore this.  It's for those families who like magazines like Spider and Cricket but who want more visual pizzazz (and perhaps a little irreverence, too.

Age Range: 5 through 10

Price: Free for base app (includes one issue), individual issues $2.99 (through 1/31/14 just $0.99), subscriptions $8.99/one month, $46.99/six months, $89.99/twelve months

Link: iTunes

Santa's Merry Band - Mibblio

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Title: Santa's Merry Band

DeveloperMibblio

Compatibility: iPad // iOS 5.1

Size: 341 MB

Description:   I know.  I've reviewed a lot of Mibblio apps recently (and haven't even had a chance to review the main app).  But they keep coming out with seasonally appropriate ones -- Halloween, Hanukkah, and now Christmas.

The basic structure of the app is the same as with their other apps -- the song plays while the user can add or remove different tracks (e.g., guitar, percussion, keyboards) from the recorded song while simultaneously being able to play melody and stringed/guitar instruments in harmonically compatible keys, not to mention percussion.  It basically lets kids (and adults) play along in ways that allow some creativity but also help make whatever comes out sonically sound decently.

In addition, the songs are accompanied by illustrations that feature lyrics to those songs.  The result is a musical picture book over which the user has some small control.

Once you've done one Mibblio, you've sort of done them all, conceptually, so the value of any particular app (or individual "mibblet," as they call each song) comes down to the song itself and the accompanying illustrations.  There are 8 seasonally-appropriate songs in this particular app:

- G. Love "Christmas Baby" (illustrated by Gabriele Tafuni)
- The Brian Setzer Orchestra "Dig That Crazy Santa Claus" (Leo Antolini)
- Guster "¿Dónde Está Santa Claus?" (Larry 3)
- Indigo Girls "I Feel the Christmas Spirit" (Laura Wood)
- Emmy the Great & Tim Wheeler "Marshmallow World" (Villie Karabatzla)
- KT Tunstall "Mele Kalikimaka" (Kim Sielbeck)
- Dan Hicks "Santa's Workshop" (Joey Ahlbum)
- Rosie Thomas "Why Can't It Be Christmastime All Year?" (Karolina Lijlema)

I liked most of these previously-released tracks-turned-apps, though sometimes what works well on record doesn't work as well in an interactive app -- the Rosie Thomas track, which I have loved since first released, has some kind-of-long instrumental sections during which not much happens in the app itself.  But most of the tracks are quick and snappy, with illustrations -- an area in which Mibblio has definitely distinguished itself -- that will be a treat to young readers/listeners/whatever we're calling app users these days.  Especially fun are the Indigo Girls' bluegrassy take on "I Feel the Christmas Spirit" and British duo Emmy the Great & Tim Wheeler's rendition of the fluffy chestnut "Marshmallow World," which has a suitably fluffy set of accompanying illustrations.

At a tick under $5, the app is a little pricy, but considering you get 8 songs, it's a decent value even if every single song doesn't appeal to you.  Your family will get decent use out of it for 5-6 weeks, and then you can put it away (read: delete it from your iPad) for eleven months, so it'll be fresh for next year.

Age Range: 3 through 7

Price: $4.99

LinkiTunes

Note: I was provided a copy of this app for possible review.