There is a thoughtful and responsive development team behind Axel's Chain Reaction and we here at Digital-Storytime.com congratuate this "little indie that could" for being shortlisted for the coveted 2014 Digital Book World Innovation Award!
This app was originally reviewed on October 1, 2013. In the meantime, it has had a big update (Oct. 15, 2013) that took care of several of the technical issues I found in my initial evaluation. The text still scrolls 'karoke' style on the pages, but now it is syncronized nicely with the narration. Overall stability of the app and load times were greatly improved, and most of my other concerns (including the crazy-hard math for the parental gate) have been fixed or otherwise resolved.
Is your child full of kinetic energy? Meet Axel and his 3rd grade class as they explore the interesting lives of three artists. This fun app was created by author Allison Pomenta and developer Cubic Jigsaw and features delightful, expressive illustrations from Mónica Armiño. This title is filled with polished animation and top-notch interactivity. Nice hints are provided to guide young readers to the right places to tap on each page and nearly all of the enhancements add to or reinforce the storyline. Children will love the variety of ways to engage with this story, including extras that show how to build three projects.
Axel is a boy with a lot of energy ... but it's a distracted, nervous energy that gets him in trouble for not paying attention. Rarely sure-footed, Axel knocks things over, gets frustrated, impatient and often finds himself teased at school for being clumsy. One bully in particular, Daniel, causes a lot of grief for young Axel, calling him names like "Axeldent". Then one day there is a talent competition at school. Axel, with the encouragement of his parents, works hard on his project for many weeks, mastering the art of patience and perseverance while creating his masterpiece. But on the way into class, chaos ensues and nearly ruins the entire exhibition, until Axel comes up with a unique solution that inspires everyone.
The story itself is exceptional, but the presentation has technical difficulties and a few quirks that make the reading experience less than ideal. It is a long story, well-written but wordy and paced a bit slowly for technical reasons. The text on each page is only partially shown, requiring the reader to tap arrows to scroll, with some pages needing as many as five taps. The arrow 'bounces' a little to let the reader know there is more to read, which is useful, but also distracting. There is also no word-for-word highlighting, nor does the text scroll automatically to keep time with the narration, so my child was often looking at different text than what was being read aloud. These are minor technical issues, but they do interrupt the natural flow of the book.
Game elements within the story are fun and well-placed, but can also be touchy and slow, particularly on the iPad 2. The app also crashed a few times, particularly between pages 23 and 24, although with the recent release of OS7, there may be a stabilizing update on the horizon. I also stumbled onto a few other minor bugs, like having noise from the calendar on page 21, even with the sound set to 'off', so the app might just need some fine-tuning. The app does have nice settings otherwise, including a fun page guide that scrolls open. Pages can be turned by arrows or swiping, although this did cause my child to turn the page backwards a couple times while trying to uncover all the interactive elements.
Educational features are solid, with nice biographies of Alexander Calder, Alejandro Otero and Theo Jansen, as well as a glossary and several areas marked "coming soon". The links that leave the app within this section require you to answer a math question to get past the parental gate. I think the developers may have overshot the difficulty level on this one, though, with questions like "5a + 5(c-a) = ?". I haven't done algebra in about 25 years, so I asked my husband to 'unlock' the access to youtube for me, to make sure the link worked.
Overall, this is a terrific and unique title, despite some technical challenges. The story has great messages about learning to make the most out of our unique talents, sticking with a project and standing up to bullying. It will even resonate with kids and families dealing with special needs. Filled with educational enhancements and a host of other extras, Axel's Chain Reaction is an engaging blend of fiction and non-fiction, with extension activities designed for inspiration.
This app has been thoroughly evaluated by our staff. Please click on the 'star ratings' tab above, to see how it fared in all nine of our rating categories. See synopsis tab for more details about the storyline.
Note to readers: This review was expedited by the developer for a fee. The content of the rating/review is the same, but timing of publication has been prioritized.
All reviews are of the app, not the platform/device. Based originally on iPad versions. Minor technical details may vary.
Allison Pomenta/Mónica Armiño
Laura Allison Pomenta Badolato
30 - 45 Minutes
Based on non-digital book: No
Allows Own Narration:
Uses Motion: Yes
Age: 6 - 10
A creative tinkerer, Axel Jansen struggles to connect with his classmates and get them to see past the fidgety, distracted, clumsy boy they think he is. Inspired by the work of Kinetic artists, the third-grader decides to build a moving insect to show everyone at school what he’s capable of.
Axel’s own traits means he’ll need a large dose of perseverance in order make a moving sculpture he’s proud of: a swinging, vibrating, tinkling work of art. But his personal bully Daniel sets off a disastrous chain reaction that leaves everyone yelling at each other! Axel believes he can help by creating a beautiful sensory experience out of this mess —if they give him the chance…
(Parents of children with high-functioning ASD, SID, ADHD, or language disorders, might recognize a bit of their child in Axel. This is a reassuring story for their kids, and a message to their peers and teachers.) [From: iTunes]