Thursday, August 9, 2012

London Calling: Gold Medal-Worthy British Media

I can hardly believe the Olympics are almost over. If you’ve been following the games, I’ll bet you’re yearning to visit (or revisit) the United Kingdom. I know I am! But with a tiny bit of effort, you can surround yourself with media that will transport you to the land of Dickens, Shakespeare, the Spice Girls, and Lily Rose Cooper; and you won’t have to wait in line at airport security.

The first "Charlie and Lola" book
If you follow this site, you already know that one of my favorite pre-school tv shows is Peppa Pig on Nick Jr. The charming British accents of the child and grown-up voice artists on this show will immediately transport you. Another absolutely fabulous pre-school British import is Charlie and Lola on Disney Junior. This show is based on the wildly popular picture book series written and illustrated by Lauren Child. What I love about this show is that older brother Charlie doesn’t merely patiently tolerate the antics of little sister Lola; he actively loves hanging around with her because she’s so funny. It turns the more typical formula of “you have to be kind and patient with your younger sibling because they don’t know any better” on its ear, transforming tolerance into active enjoyment. The child voice artists are charming and real with an almost improvisational quality; and the illustration style that mimics the collage look of the books is awesome.

A pair of apps from one of my new favorite app developers—Nosy Crow—are irresistibly fun. Bizzy Bear Builds a House and Cinderella are easy to navigate and filled with layers of functionality that will keep your preschoolers and youngsters entertained for many visits. Bizzy Bear Builds a House has a young bear living out many kids’ fondest fantasy: working on a construction site and operating a series of earth-moving machines like a steam shovel, bulldozer, and dumptruck, as well as swinging a hammer. A piglet on the construction site says, “This is the best job!” and it would be impossible to disagree with her. Child voice talent keeps this anchored in a young world with a good mix of male and female voices (with British accents, naturally). The illustrations are bold, bright, and adorable.

Notice how the mirror reflects the app user's face
Cinderella makes a game of the classic tale. Each environment features a young girl’s narration; interacting characters with dialogue; and fun activities related to the story, such as helping Cinderella clean up the kitchen; or assembling items like a pumpkin and mice to help Cinderella’s Fairy Godmother. There’s an additional challenge to find Cinderella’s pal—a little red bird—in each scene. And touching just about anything in a scene activates some fun challenge. Cinderella and her Prince seem like young teenagers and everyone in the kingdom is invited to the palace for “dancing and ice cream,” which puts this story in the world of young kids. I love the way Cinderella and the Prince finish the story by playing ping-pong; they’re just a couple of kids who like each other.

Beau Crow - The Greedy Crow written and illustrated by Jason Harris is a seemingly simple storybook with an important twist. Users can read this by themselves or have the book read to them by the British narrator; but the fun variation here is that users can record their own voice narrating the book. It’s a great motivator for reading aloud and a wonderful vocabulary builder to boot, with a good mix of simple and tougher words. There’s a bit of functionality in the illustrations, but that’s not really the draw here. The ability to record your own voiceover makes this a fun and rewarding do-it-yourself project for kids.

Silly and necessary
There’s little to no educational value to the Wallace and Gromit Chat-O-Matic but if you’re a fan of the Wallace and Gromit series, it’s pure silliness and a must-have. It turns the user into Wallace himself. You set your iPhone or iPad to go, then hold the screen under your nose as Wallace’s clay animated mouth appears, delivering classic Wallace-isms like “Hang in there, Gromit! Everything’s under control!” Honestly, the only two reasons to get this app is that you’re a super-fan and because it’s free. But as a super-fan myself, even I wouldn’t purchase the upgrade to unlock extra phrases, but turning yourself into Wallace is a great way to round out this Olympic season. I’m going to put the kettle on. I need a nice cup of tea.


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