Just press play.
No, I mean it. You want to know what an iPad does, and why? Just hit the play button on that trailer for the new children's science app Bobo Explores Light up there.
What an iPad does, and why:
The iPad has a multi-touch screen: In Bobo, you use two fingers to simultaneously move and angle mirrors to explore the angle at which light reflects. Or you drag all your fingers across the screen to simulate a display of the Northern lights.
The iPad responds to tilting: Guide Bobo's spacecraft through space, avoiding the planets of our Solar System (or not). Angle the screen to approximate a 3-D view of diagrams of things like Thomas Edison's inventions or the brain - without special glasses.
The iPad plays video: Footage of lightning strike, shot at a flillion frames per second, shows the leader bolt and subsequent earth-to-air discharges. There's a video that simulates the different ways that animals whose eyes are sensitive to various wavelengths of light see the world. Also, there's a pan-and-zoom presentation of fabulous Hubble images. Also, bioluminescent algae. Also, solar flares. Also, A LOT MORE.
The iPad is a computer: Bobo Explores Light is organized into about 22 pages, including title and The End page. But each page contains within it a minimum of three and a max of, looks like eight, sub-pages. This means that Bobo is like a nonfiction picture book with nearly a hundred pages - combining the small text blocks and large illustrations that we like in picture book nonfiction with the depth of content that we expect from books typically written for much older readers.
But all this... ALLLLL THIS! Could be tedious and lame if the navigation were not simple and intuitive, if the writing was snoozy, if the graphics were twee. If there were not, in fact, a disco dance party two-thirds of the way through the book. (Disco dance party makes no claim to not also be informative: dancers will observe reflection and refraction as they aim colored lights at a disco ball and through helium balloons.)
Bobo himself is endearing without being saccharine. He's got a voice kind of like the little green men in Toy Story. He hums little tunes, giggles, dances like a goof at the disco. When we learn about lasers, we can point the laser anywhere we like. Where do we point it? At Bobo, of course, because we are savage little creatures and we want to see if we can make things blow up. This is a light-duty laser, however, or I guess Bobo is a pretty robust little robot. He doesn't blow up. He makes irritated little "Cut it out" noises, the noises you'd make if your kid kept sticking his hands in your face. Quit it! I mean it!
I love that the programmers of this app not only anticipated that we were going to point the laser at Bobo, but came up with a response typical of Bobo's personality.
But the most important question: do the kids love this app as much as I do? They do. They have learned about photosynthesis and light bulbs, bioluminescence and rainbows. They show their friends the cool stuff in Bobo.
This app is from Juraj Hlaváč's company GameCollage, which also brought us the very fine Three Little Pigs and the Secrets of a Pop-Up. If that app had a weakness, it was that the interactive features were so very entertaining that the text became decidedly secondary. The activities in Bobo blend more successfully. Doing a fun thing prompts the user to read about why doing what he just did made the thing do what it just did. SYNTAX AHOY.
And that's the story of how I finally learned why the glow-in-the-dark stars on the ceiling in the boys' room glow in the dark.
And don't forget to nominate your favorite apps and your favorite nonfiction and your favorite graphic novels and heck your favorite whatever you've read this year... for a Cybils Award!!! Nominations are open to the whole wide world, and they're open now.