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App Review: Nosy Crow’s Three Little Pigs

I’m very excited to bring you my very first app review on the blog! (It’s part of a bigger secret project to come in the next few weeks.) And what an app this is! It’s Nosy Crow’s Three Little Pigs, A 3-D Fairy Tale, and it’s available now in the iTunes App Store and via your iPad. The full book is available for $7.99 and there’s also a free “Lite” teaser app for your playing pleasure.

There are many competitors in the Three Little Pigs arena. Since this well-known story has kid appeal and no licensing fees, many developers have come up with offerings. Having played a lot of these, though, recent and not so recent, I have to venture and say that Nosy Crow’s take is the best yet.

Nosy Crow is an independent book and digital book publisher out of the UK. Immediately, I can tell that they’ve got a great eye for art and design. A lot of the other Three Little Pigs apps available have cartoonish art that, to my picture book-honed sensibilities, looks cheap and one-dimensional. Not so with Nosy Crow. In fact, not only does Ed Bryan’s art and animation have its own charming and quirky aesthetic, but it is very much three-dimensional.

One of the coolest effects in this story has to do with the point of view. Using the iPad’s built-in accelerometer (which detects the device’s acceleration, tilt, motion, and rotation), readers can tilt the iPad up and down and to the sides in order to see past the story’s “frame.” There are also surprises — like a very cute spider and things that fall when you shake the iPad — for those kids who move around each page by tilting, shaking, and zooming/pinching. And it really does feel 3-D, which is all the rage for movies, TVs, and even phones these days. While some of the rendering was buggy and maneuvering around each spread got jerky at times, especially if zoomed in, it’s still a wonderful concept that enriches the feeling that you’re diving into a (very visually appealing) story world.

The story itself is winning and simple, the voice energetic and very kid-engaging. Readers can flick characters to make them jump and flip, trigger dialogue by touching hot spots, and help the pigs build their houses. The coolest part is that kids are encouraged to blow into the iPad’s microphone to help the wolf in his nefarious scheme! (Some apps, like Ocarina, are actually responsive to how and when a user blows on the mic. That is not the case here, as I was disappointed to learn. Even if you don’t blow on the microphone, the wolf will still go through the “blowing” sequence. Still, it’s a really fun concept.)

Kids can choose the “Read to Me” option, which plays the app straight through, the “Read by Myself,” without the narrative voice guiding the story, and “Read and Play,” which features the narrator but lets the reader “drive” the pacing. Each option lets readers interact with the characters, the scene, and the wolf.

One concern I had was the pacing/dialogue. On one spread, for example, we’re told that the wolf is trying to blow the brick house down. On the same spread, then, we’re told he can’t. That latter revelation would’ve been a much better fit for the next page. More suspense that way. The three piglets also have several phrases of dialogue on each page that they cycle through. Some phrases introduce the page’s action, others react to the page’s events. Sometimes, though, the pigs will seem to speak out of order as they loop through their soundbites. So one pig could be saying, for example, “Here comes the wolf!” while the next says “Good riddance!”

Another concern is the intricacy of the thing. This is a breathtaking app with beautiful art and really rich user interface. Are we shutting some of the younger kids out of the action, though? The pigs try to curate the story by guiding a reader from one hot spot to the next. Some younger users, however, may not get through a page’s events/dialogue in the order the designers intended. And it took a few plays to realize that the menu is also a tutorial. There’s just so much to do on each spread that the forward momentum could get lost. But I’d rather have an app that’s too engrossing rather than a flat, boring, and one-dimensional experience!

My favorite things about this app are the art (so stylish!), the interactivity (so many different layers), and the brilliant attention to every detail, from multiple perspectives. Everything has been thought through and through and I would recommend you check out this app today. I firmly believe that quality, visual appeal, and innovative functionality will be the hallmarks of the next generation of app developers, nay, artists. With their first digital release, Nosy Crow has become one to watch.

Speaking of watching, check out the app’s video preview, courtesy of Nosy Crow.

ETA: Added illustrator name, as there is indeed a credit screen.

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  1. Kristin Gray’s avatar

    Great review and will check it out… sounds like my 3 & 4 year olds will love it.

  2. MaryZ’s avatar

    As much as you raved about the stylish art, why didn’t you mention who the illustrator is? Is the illustrator credited in the app? I hope that apps don’t toss illustrators into the anonymous world of back stage technology.

  3. Estee Wood’s avatar

    Not to be cantankerous, but didn’t you get rid of your ipad a few months ago? Not that I’m complaining about this review. I just flew with a two-year-old and kiddie ipad apps were my savior. I have the lite version loading as I type. Thanks.

  4. Kate Wilson’s avatar

    Hello, MaryZ.

    The illustrator is absolutely credited on the app. It’s Ed Bryan, and his contribution was absolutely essential in every way: he not only illustrated, he animated. It is the case that creating apps with this level of multimedia interactivity is a highly collaborative process – more so than books, and I’ve 25 years of book-publishing experience. We are therefore crediting lots of people – the software engineer, the audio producer, the sound recorder, the composer of the original music and the kids who provided the voices.

  5. Leisha Maw’s avatar

    I can see why you’re excited. It sounds and looks delicious. Now if only I had an i Pad. *Wanders away coveting* :)

  6. Kate Wilson’s avatar

    Thank you, Mary, for this really positive and thoughtful review.

    I wanted to talk thro’ the point about the pacing/dialogue and about younger kids.

    Re pacing/dialogue. We did try splitting the narrative up in a more classic, picturebook page-turn way – by, for example, putting the line “…but the brick house didn’t fall down” as the main narrative in the next scene, but it didn’t really work. If children spend a longish time on one scene exploring the extra dialogue and the animation, then there was, we felt, a risk that they wouldn’t hold the thread of the story in their heads, so we tried to keep the narrative in blocks in which a complete incident was described, to keep the narrative coherent.

    The point that you raise about the second pig realising that the wolf can’t blow the house down before this is conclusively the case is a glitch that we’re fixing on version 2. We think that we got this right otherwise. Eg, the extra dialogue from the first two pigs is anxious BEFORE the wolf falls into the pot (oops – should have provided a spoiler alert there) and celebratory after that incident. One of the interesting challenges in writing this was having a linear narrative at one level and a sort of “metatext” non-linear narrative in the dialogue. We wanted the order of the “metatext” comments to be random, so that each reading of the app was slightly different.

    We’ve read the app with children who are 2 and with children who are 9. It’s maybe fun for people to look at the first two videos – the official trailer and how the app inspired one child to make a paper book based on it – in the Media Kit section of the http://www.nosycrow.com website (http://nosycrow.com/media-kit/the-three-little-pigs-app#kit-videos).

    The way that children of different ages approach the app is completely different, with each age-group getting something different out of the experience. It is also a different experience for a younger child to read it with and without adult intervention. I would say as a children’s publisher with 25 years experience that I don’t know of any print books that hold the attention of children with such a wide age-range! I also think that there is something great about providing a version of traditional stories that’s cool and interactive enough for 9 year olds to enjoy!

    Thank you very much again for giving the app your time and attention.

  7. Franziska Green’s avatar

    Wow, Kate, what a lot of food for thought… the idea that PBs could appeal to a far WIDER audience via apps. I’m extremely happy about that idea! And it makes sense too.

    PS I think MaryZ was wondering why Mary hadn’t mentioned the illustrator, rather than the app itself. Mary Kole said “Ed Bryan’s art and animation” which I think led MaryZ to believe that the illustrator hadn’t been credited.

    Mary, thanks for the detailed and thoughtful review! One of my grand plans was to start up a blog dedicated entirely to children’s books apps – reviewed by kidlit writers as well as kids. But that’s not happening any time soon, plus there are a few review sites out there already, so I’d LOVE to read more of your reviews!

  8. Catherine Johnson’s avatar

    Looks awesome, who doesn’t love the Three Little Pigs story? I wish I had a kindle too. Will be flying to the UK later this year with two littlies, that could be just the excuse I’m looking for :)

  9. Karri Justina Shea’s avatar

    I am absolutely fascinated by this whole concept of interactive, tactile reading – I don’t have an iPad and am only beginning to realize the creative ways they are being used – thanks for the introduction via this review!

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