Picky Kid Rating: 4.0
The Tale of the Missing Acorns is a richly illustrated interactive story with lots of learning activities built in. You can play the activities separately from the story as well, which gives this app lots of flexibility for different attention spans. This game is fairly advanced for the Pre-K crowd; we’ve had it on our list for a while and waited until B was almost four to add it to our iPad.
When you first start the app, you’ll come to a beautifully illustrated home screen – a pastoral scene with puffy clouds, flowers, animated butterflies, and a dressed-up squirrel peeking out of a book with a magnifying glass. That’s our protagonist, Mother Squirrel. To the right, there’s a baby squirrel standing in a wooden drafter’s triangle holding a sign that says “STUDY”. The two obvious choices are to tap the baby squirrel’s sign to study, or a card poking out of the book reading “STORY” to start the book. Although the choices are written, there are enough visual clues that kids who can’t read will quickly learn which choice they want.
If you haven’t guessed already, the premise of the story is that Mother Squirrel’s acorns have suddenly gone missing. She suspects someone may have stolen them, and sets off looking for clues to find the culprit. Of course, she encounters plenty of learning opportunities along the way, and kids can help by solving challenges presented as part of the story. Some of these are nicely integrated with the plot. For example, the first activity is to spot differences in Mother Squirrel’s home before and after the acorns disappeared.
Other activities are more like diversions (finding a baby bird and putting back in a house of a certain color, or helping friends share candy by equally weighing it out). Because of this, the story’s plot feels slow to progress. This didn’t seem to bother B in the least bit though, she happily followed instructions (with some help) and followed along all the way to the story’s surprise ending.
It’s possible to skip activities (there are ten) that are too difficult or too boring by tapping the “x” in the upper right corner. This will close the activity and continue the story. On regular (non-activity) story pages, there are left and right arrows in the bottom corners of the screen to turn the pages back or forward. On almost every page, there’s also an alternative way to go forward. An animated white arrow indicates a swipe motion that will advance the page. The swipes need to be pretty precise, and B gets frustrated when she can’t make them work.
A narrator reads the text on each page, and text highlighting may help kids learn to recognize words if they’re following along. If you’d like to hear the narration again, tap the small circular arrow. (At first I thought this was a reset button for activities.)
At the top of most pages, there’s a menu gadget. Tapping this allows you to navigate back to the home page, set options for the story (Read to me, Read Myself or Read with Parents – read with parents allows you to record your own voice), navigate to the Study page, change settings, see other apps (oops! there are unprotected purchase links), and read info (a tutorial and credits) about the app. The settings available include Mode (Story and Study includes the activities in the story, selecting just “Story” will remove them), toggles for background musics and effects, and language. You can set both a main language and a “sub-language”. The options are English, Korean, Chinese and Japanese. If you set a sub-language, you will be able to toggle the text and narration on the fly while you’re playing. Pretty cool!
The illustrations are beautiful, and somewhat reminiscent of Beatrix Potter’s, which also makes them old-fashioned feeling. The animation effects are simple, but generally effective. Small details like blinking eyes go a long way to give life to the scenes.
The narration (in English, it’s a female british voice) is well done, and the background music is pleasant and subtle. The sound effects are sometimes too loud, and a bit weird in some cases. For example, when you make mistakes in activities, you’ll hear a noise that sounds like a baby whining. That’s not something I need to hear any more of!
Overall, the Tale of the Missing Acorns is a beautiful app with a lot of learning activities and a decent story to boot! Its activities are too difficult for toddlers, but present good challenges for pre-K and kindergarten-aged children. We have a few minor quibbles with the user experience, but they shouldn’t keep you from trying this one out.
[The developer of this app requested a Picky Kid review. No fees were paid.]Review: The Tale of the Missing Acorns iPad App,
The Tale of the Missing Acorns
Played on: iPad 2, iOS6