Elmo’s Big Birthday Bash!–A Step into Reading App ($3.99Sesame Workshop and Random House Children’s Books, ages 2 and up*)  is reviewed today by Rita Zobayan.

NOTE: *The iPad rating is for 4+, but I believe a child two years and older can benefit from this app.

            My three-year-old daughter is like most of Generation Z: she understands technology at a very early age. She knows the basics of how touch screens work, understands that the blue bar means loading and knows that devices have to be charged. She’s also very aware of apps, and even has her particular favorites. Despite her growing technological sophistication, however, she is still a young child who loves cuddling up next to Mama and being read to. She still believes that characters from books (and television/movies) are real, and actively uses those media to engage her own imagination.

            Enter Elmo’s Big Birthday Bash! !–A Step into Reading App, an iPad application that is an interactive storybook. This easy-to-use educational app centers on Elmo’s birthday party. It’s an immediate hook, really. After all, which child doesn’t want to see what’s going to happen at Elmo’s party? We follow along as Sesame Street’s very own Bob McGrath narrates how Elmo prepares for his party and invites his friends, who, in turn, brainstorm thoughtful gifts. And, of course, we get to join in the birthday fun along with Abby, Big Bird, Zoe, Cookie Monster and more of our favorite Sesame Street residents!

As we read, my daughter and I enjoyed the story’s features. Each page had something enjoyable, such as changing Elmo’s drawings, moving refrigerator magnets, and my daughter’s favorite, of course, tickling Elmo.  The words were highlighted as we followed the narration. All words, once touched, pop up and are pronounced. Words bolded in red have a pop-up text box, a verbal definition and follow-up question. For example, following the definition of dish, Bob asks, “What is your favorite birthday dish?” These seemingly small touches made it so easy to personalize the story for my daughter. She wasn’t passively viewing Elmo’s birthday, but was actively thinking about and imagining her own.

In addition to the story, there are three games. The first consists of placing the invitations into the correct mailboxes and promotes letter identification. The second game has the reader match Elmo’s gifts with their beginning sounds. In the final game, the reader helps rhyme the content of Elmo’s dream because he loves to “dream in rhyme.” The games alone held my daughter captive for extended periods of time because they were fun and simple to play. Over and over, she moved the invitations into the mailboxes, checking to see which letters matched and reading the letters out loud.  I loved seeing how proud she was as she announced, “I did it!”

            The piece de resistance for me was the ability to record the story in my own voice. Now, I’m no David Attenborough, Oprah Winfrey or Bob McGrath, but, boy, did I enjoy trying to be. Even my older daughter, who is far removed from the Sesame Street age group, got in on the act, snuck away the iPad and recorded the story for her younger sister to listen to!

            The app has more features, including a “Parent Info” section that provides reading tips and parent tips. There’s a help section that includes a screen shot with story page explanations and the settings menu features. These are handy guides because the app has a lot going on, and the guides made it easier to make sure I wasn’t missing any of the many components.  (Unlike my daughters, I’m not so technologically sophisticated. My older daughter figured out the recording feature before I did!)

            Elmo’s Big Birthday Bash! !–A Step into Reading App impressed both of my daughters and me. It’s silly, good fun that promotes literacy via technology. What more could a former English teacher ask for her Gen Z kids?

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