The Very Cranky Bear

Very Cranky Bear front page

The time for hibernation is coming as the days are getting shorter, so what better subject to choose for a story app review than a bear in a cave, trying to find some peace and quiet? We’ve been enjoying The Very Cranky Bear, the first in a series of apps adapted from the picture books by Nick Bland.

It’s a dark and rainy day, and Zebra, Moose, Lion and Sheep are looking for somewhere to play cards. They find a warm and cosy cave but it isn’t long before they are disturbed by a very, very cranky bear! Wondering how to cheer him up, three of the friends try everything which makes them happy – giving Bear some stripes, some antlers and his very own mane. But this doesn’t seem to help at all – can Sheep find out what would really make Bear happy, and save the day?

The Lion suggests his Mane

Nick Bland’s rhyming text and illustrations are excellent, as you would expect from an adaptation of an existing picture book. Interactivity is light but is available on every page, usually involving pressing characters to see their actions and reactions. What this app really brings to the table is the original music by Helen Croome which adds so much atmosphere to the story. It adds menace and gloominess as the friends venture into the dark cave and are surprised by the bear, and it lifts the mood in lighter moments. I caught my husband whistling the theme tune this afternoon which goes to show how catchy it is!  The music complements the animation – bringing to life the rain storm and the moment that Bear suddenly appears out of the darkness. If your child is scared of bears, there are some potentially sticky moments to steer them through, but hang on in there as all is resolved by the end of the story and Bear isn’t really so scary after all.

I really appreciated the underlying message that what makes you happy might not make someone else happy, and instead to think about others’ needs and how you could meet them. I’m hoping this will sink in with Mr Tall (6) and Little Miss Chatterbox (4).

animals run away from bear

One minor problem with adapting an existing picture book is that one of the main strengths of this format – the page turn – can be difficult to translate to an app. When the reader is exploring the page, an awkward pause can occur between the start of a sentence on one page and the end of the sentence on the next, particularly if choosing the narrated option. For example, “a very, cranky…. “ PAUSE for a few minutes while you explore the page and only now turn it “…bear!” It is a slight annoyance rather than anything more, and I have seen it in other apps too, but just highlights how difficult it can be to adapt existing material. Otherwise, I think We Are Wheelbarrow have done a good job of developing the app.

There is one extra included in the app. If you collect playing cards with animals on which are placed throughout the illustrations, you can unlock a short game. Finding the cards is quite tricky and took us (including parental help!) at least five readings, but is good fun. Unfortunately the game you unlock isn’t quite enough to reward the work of finding the cards.

If you already own this picture book, there is probably not enough here to buy the app too. However if it is a new series to you, as it was to us, then it is definitely worth a look as it has had many rereads in our house in the past month or so. I have previously reviewed another app by the same author/illustrator and developer team, The Wrong Book which is highly recommended.

The Very Cranky Bear, developed by We Are Wheelbarrow, compatible with iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch. Available from  priced at £3.99/$ 5.99 at time of writing. Two sequels are also available – The Very Itchy Bear and The Very Hungry Bear.

The Very Cranky Bear was written and illustrated by Nick Bland, and published by Scholastic Australia.