I’m looking for an app about… characters with a disability

Every month, I link up with children’s book blog Playing By the Book for a thematic round-up of bloggers’ book reviews under the title “I’m Looking for a Book About…” For September, the theme is disability. Launching the link-up, blog host Zoe said:

“I say theme, but actually I’m hoping that we’ll create a resource of books which are about all sorts of things, which just happen to feature characters with some disability, rather than disability being the sole focus of the books in question. I’m hoping that with the close yesterday of the 2012 Paralympics, lots of children will have seen many more people with varying disabilities and that it will have been both a topic of conversation and also something “normal”, part of everyday life.”

If I am honest, this was the hardest month so far for me to find book apps to recommend, as I didn’t own any on this topic and it was not easy to find them on the App store. However, I’ve selected a few which might just do the job.

Van Gogh and the Sunflowers
by Auryn Apps

This app is a wonderful version of the book by Laurence Anholt, who has written and illustrated a series of children’s books about famous painters. It tells the story of Vincent Van Gogh through the eyes of Camille, the postman’s son in the village where he is staying. Camille and his father, the postman, are kind to Vincent when many others in the village are not. The villagers fear this “different” man and eventually force him to leave. My son, Mr Tall, commented that the children at Camille’s school didn’t like the portrait Van Gogh painted of him “because it didn’t look like him, it was green.” Mr Tall was also interested in the fact that the story was based on real people. The subject of Van Gogh’s mental illness is never mentioned, and only a bandaged ear in one picture is a clue to one of the most famous episodes reported about him. One great feature is the virtual museum with a selection of pictures and facts about Van Gogh and his subjects. You can also paint the characters and use those pictures in the story. Finally, there are some fairly tricky puzzles to complete on every page, which animate the characters. Highly recommended, although Mr Tall at nearly 5 is probably at the lower end of the age range for this app.

Compatible with iPad. Available from http://itunes.apple.com/gb/app/auryn-van-gogh-sunflowers/id468823176?mt=8 priced at £2.49/$3.99 at time of writing.

My Friend Isabelle
by PicPocket Books

My Friend Isabelle is a picture book by Eliza Woloson, illustrated by Bryan Gough. As an app there is little added to the original pictures and text, and some of the page transitions are very quick. [Ed 2/10/12: PicPocket have told me it is one of their earlier apps, intended as a straight picture book app, and later ones have more interaction.] The story itself is totally charming, talking about all the things Charlie does with his friend Isabelle, the things they have in common as well as some of the differences between them. It celebrates friendship between children of all backgrounds and abilities, while never explicitly mentioning why Isabelle and Charlie are sometimes different. In fact, Isabelle has Down’s Syndrome, and on the last page we meet the real Isabelle, who is Woloson’s daughter.

Compatible with iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad. Available from http://itunes.apple.com/gb/app/my-friend-isabelle/id321206787?mt=8 priced at £1.49/$1.99 at time of writing.

[Ed 2/10/12: PicPocket have also told me about a second app they have, covering the topic of Down’s Syndrome. This is We’ll Paint the Octopus Red, available from http://itunes.apple.com/gb/app/well-paint-the-octopus-red/id335700194?mt=8 priced at £0.69/$0.99 at time of writing.]

The Story of Red
by Theratech Solutions

Red has one wish – to touch the sky. His mum and dad try to help him, but they cannot lift him high enough, so they enlist the help of other colours who each manage to lift Red a little more… until it starts to rain, and all the colours melt away. Will Red ever touch the sky? In the end, the answer involves all the colours working together. My children both absolutely loved this story, particularly the solution, and asked for it three times in a row. They were joining in with me by the third reading (there is no option for narration). It’s an intriguing story with a positive message, and while Red is clearly depicted using a wheelchair, this is never referred to in the text. The author, Brian Simms, is a speech pathologist who works with children who have disabilities. It is not the most polished of apps, but the illustrations using coloured lines for characters are quite unique, and both these and the strong story really appealed to my children.

Compatible with iPad. Available from  http://itunes.apple.com/artist/theratech-solutions-llc/id398866820 priced at £0.69/$0.99 at time of writing (NB the app is listed as free; however an in-app purchase is required to read the full story after a few pages. Not something I would usually recommend!)

The Wonky Donkey
by Kiwa Media

Although I had not heard of it before, this is a hugely popular book in its native New Zealand. It puts the words of a song by author Craig Smith to pictures by Katz Cowley. The story sees the narrator walking down the road and meeting a donkey. On each page, we learn more of the donkey’s characteristics, leading to a huge list of rhyming words describing the donkey. With three legs, he is a wonky donkey. One eye? A winky-wonky donkey. Likes country music? A honky-tonky winky-wonky donkey. And so on. The book has won many awards and lots of positive reviews, although one or two I saw did wonder whether calling a three-legged donkey “wonky” and laughing at him might be discriminatory. I would be very interested to know the thoughts of someone affected by limb or eye loss. My children found the song amusing and catchy, although they got frustrated when the interactions stopped the music playing. The interactivity is mainly of the “press to make a noise” variety, but you can also paint the scenes to use in the story, and record your own narration.

Compatible with iPad. Available from http://itunes.apple.com/gb/app/the-wonky-donkey/id383510128?mt=8 priced at £2.99/$4.99 at time of writing.

Do you have a  book app on this topic to recommend? I’d love to hear your suggestions below.