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How Far is UP

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How Far is Up? is a new and mesmerizing storybook app about three friends who wonder how far it is to the moon, sun and even to the faraway galaxies beyond our own. Rusty, Buster and Ting explore the concept of "up" in a familiar, earth-bound world ... from the top of a cupboard to a tall tree, and then to the peak of a mountain. Soon they look farther, beyond the well-known to our greater universe, expanding their view by traveling in a rocketship. The reader is taken along on this exploration of the stars, planets and space, with a wonderful mix of facts and musings.

The story unfolds with perfect pacing alongside lyrical verses and some of the most beautiful piano music I've ever heard in an app. Educational concepts are woven expertly into this dramatic title, featuring facts about space. It takes 30 earths in a row to cover the distance between the earth and the moon, for instance. Then a row of 30 images appears slowly to demonstrate the distance across the screen. Simple concepts, expertly demonstrated, make this a book app that stands out for its narrative technique. Not surprisingly, it was created by a technology and design student, Betty Sargeant, with a clear eye on thoughtful storytelling.

The main downside of this otherwise lovely app is that there is very little flexibility about how it can be consumed. There is a setting to turn the music on and off, but the only way to 'read' the story is to listen to it. The narration is not available in text and the text that is on screen (primarily speech bubbles for the characters and factual tidbits about space) is not available narrated. Settings include a unique pageguide that shows the storyline visually with images from the three friends' journey, although it is more interesting looking than useful.

There is also is a film version (link to Vimeo) of the app and a lovely teacher's guide that includes themes in the story, questions for discussion & reading comprehension, along with many activities to extend the experience beyond the app. The visual presentation of the app is eclectic, with a mix of photography, drawings and other images. Interactive elements show a 'hand' to indicate where you should tap, which is a nice hint, although it interrupts the reverie of the storytelling.

Animations are also included but have an unpolished feel overall. The mix of media feels simultaneously hip and amateur to my eye. This visual quality, combined with the abrupt stop/start of the music as the pages turn and the lack of flexible reading options give me pause in recommending this app. Yet, this book is truly hypnotic, makes a gorgeous bedtime story and manages to capture something about our human frailty. The dancing galaxies alone make this app worth a visit. So, while far from perfect, How Far is Up? creates a sense of wonder in readers and is a joy to share.

Recommended. 

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 review's content is the same, but timing of publication has been prioritized.

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