CNET editors Joseph Kaminski and Scott Stein share their kids' favorite iPad apps.
Wreck-It Ralph Storybook Deluxe
Joseph: This storybook deluxe has all the features we've become accustomed to from a Disney title: Movie cutscenes, touch interactions, and a narration mode that reads the book while highlighting the words. Parents can also record their voice as the narration or children can read to themselves. In play mode you can bake/create your race kart to race on one of three Sugar Rush tracks.
Joseph: I’m not a big fan of subscription services, but the Reading Rainbow app offers a good value.
Instead of buying book apps individually, which can get pricy and consume storage, the Reading Rainbow application works similar to a library. Children can visit themed floating islands, with hundreds of books to download to your virtual backpack, up to five at a time.
There are video field trips hosted by LeVar Burton, an online portal where parents can track how much time their children spend reading, and kids also have the option to read or be read to, with reading material for ages 3-9. Subscriptions can be pricey: $29.99 per six months or $9.99 per month.
Joseph: Flip is an interactive book with a design and feel reminiscent of a Tim Burton film, mixed with a traditional pop-up book. Users have the choice to read, record their own voice, or have the book read. My son enjoyed this book very much, but I thought it was a bit too short (fortunately, it's only $3.99).
Joseph: Nick Jr. Draw & Play allows a child to create countless clip art masterpieces that can be printed, e-mailed, shared on Facebook, or even turned into an e-card. For parents worried about the social media aspect, there are also parental controls.
Using backgrounds with popular Nick Jr. characters, a child can create projects, color in black and white images, and add animations to art projects, including fireworks, floating leaves, musical notes, splatter tops, and bouncing balls.
Joseph: Mickey Mouse Clubhouse Road Rally Race is an appisode (a Disney term for episodic content) inspired by the series that airs on the Disney Channel. Like the TV show, Mickey solves problems with the help of the viewers. The app more interactive, and at certain points you can talk to Mickey (via the iPad's mic), and also shake, drag, swipe, to interact with scenes. The best part is this app is absolutely free.
Joseph: As a child, one of my favorite Marvel characters was Spider-Man. Fast-forward to fatherhood, and now he's one of my son's favorites. Marvel Reads' The Amazing Spider-Man: An Origin Story app is narrated by Stan Lee, and is full of interactive touches. When Peter gets bitten by the spider, you shake the iPad to get it off; later on, you swing Spider-Man from building to building, and even target bad guys to shoot webs at them.
Scott: Mo Willems' kids books are the standards of this generation. Rather than republishing one, this app generates a variety of new stories via an app that asks kids several questions, Mad Libs-style, and inserts the answers into a tale of a very stubborn pigeon. Several age levels increase the level of interactivity, and a fun bonus section teaches your kid how to draw a Mo Willems-style pigeon line by line using the touch screen. It's expensive at $6.99, but it's cute.
Joseph: Beauty and the Beast Storybook Deluxe delivers Disney's classic movie in a fun, interactive storybook way, with added puzzles and coloring pages. These features have become a staple of the type of content you'd find in many Disney Digital Books.
In addition to the beautiful, vibrant illustrations, readers will also be treated to musical video clips from the movie. You can record your own voice for the book, or have the included narrator read along.
Scott: The "Sesame Street" classic "The Monster at the End of This Book," starring Grover, was an iPad re-creation of a beloved 1970s book. The new sequel that recently hit the App Store features Elmo and Grover together, and adds a few new clever puzzles throughout. The voice narration from Grover and Elmo is spot-on, and the animation is charming. Even better, the app costs 99 cents through the new year, which is a steal.
Joseph: What do you get when two entrepreneur dads leave corporate America to pursue their dreams? The Truly Great Noodle, from Grid interactive. It's a story about a boy named Nate who sits down at the dinner table and attempts to eat a noodle so long that...well, I'll leave that for you to find out.
You can record your own voice to the story, play a Burp-O-Meter game, and listen to the book's soundtrack, "Believe in Pasta."
Joseph: JibJab Jr. books allow parents to personalize each book with their child's photo and name, so your kid is the star of his own book. The application is free for download and comes with a single book ("Biggest Pizza Ever"). Additional books can be purchased two ways: individually for $7.99, or $3.99 for subscribers. My son really enjoys them.
With rhyming tales, animations, and bright colors, these books are perfect way to end the night.
Scott: In one sense, Bartleby's Book of Buttons app is simple stuff: a picture book with eight or so pages of interactive buttons. Is it worth the price? I'd say yes when it was several dollars, and even more so now that it's 99 cents. Ask my kid, who took to this app immediately and wouldn't stop pressing all the buttons. A nice part of this book is its procedural element; kids need to learn how to press buttons, pull levers, and operate equipment to get to the next page. It's a mini-puzzle book of sorts.
Joseph: Disney's line of digital books for the iPad has puzzles, painting, sing-alongs, minigames, and voice recording, along with stories based on hit movies. Cleverly, Disney continues to offer the "Toy Story" book for free as a way to attract parents. It's worth trying, and you'll probably get hooked.
Parents have the option to read the story or use autoplay, which narrates using character voices from the "Toy Story" movies.
Note: While the DDBs books support autoplay, not all highlight the words being spoken. I personally find this feature very important for developing reading skills. Fortunately, my son's favorite "Toy Story" series does.
Scott: Classic iPad usage scenario: kids' books cost a lot and tear easily. Dr. Seuss classics galore fill the App Store, and at a few bucks a pop, they're among the better values for toddler apps.
My son is a huge Dr. Seuss fan, and the nice part about these e-books is how low-key they are, focusing on the beautiful Seussian artwork. You can choose to eliminate the sound effects and autoplay (as I do) or have it read and highlight words. All the books have fun audio surprises, but the ABC book is particularly fun.
Joseph: Handy Manny Workshop brings four different activities to toddlers: a game where Handy Manny's tools are scattered around the shop and need to be located, a coloring book of images from the TV series that children can color any way they choose, a memory-matching game where matching duplicates is the goal, and a variety of animated puzzles.
Though my son plays all four games, I find him playing Match It and Find It the most. The interface is simple and easy enough for children to navigate by themselves, and the app's obviously a great choice for any child who already loves the show.
Joseph: The iPad's a great tool for some mess-free creativity. Kid Art is a cross between drawing and the fun, classic Colorforms kits.
Kids can draw or add stamp/sticker characters (kids, animals) to a variety of included backgrounds and themes. Afterward, you can save a snapshot of the drawing in your photo library or e-mail it to a relative.
Scott: Smule is one of my personal favorite iOS developers; its musical apps push the boundaries between game and musical instrument, and they are incredibly easy to pick up and play. Magic Piano was Smule's first iPad app, and it remains the best. The idea of a virtual touch piano isn't unique, but Magic Piano's selection of wacky stretching keyboards -- circular, spiral, even a freeform black canvas -- make for fun musical doodling. You can also play with other people in live duets, but for kids it's fun to let them play by themselves.
The iPhone version of Magic Piano is free, but the superior iPad version is far more finger-friendly.
Scott: A classic '70s-era children's book has been lovingly updated on the iPad in app form, thanks to this Sesame Street effort. Everything from the artwork to the font feels like a throwback, yet this app is full of animation and even interactive bits that feel fresh.
Best of all, Grover's voice acting (he reads the whole book and guides kids through) is spot-on. Parents will love it for the trip back in time, and kids will love it because, heck, Grover's wearing a hard hat.
Scott: My son loves to count, name colors, and identify dozens of dinosaurs, but he hasn't learned letters yet. As a fun experiment, I downloaded Intro to Letters for him to play with.
Based on Montessori teaching methods, the app is simple: letters are pronounced by sound rather than spoken, and kids can trace their fingers around letters to make their shapes. The clean design captivated my son, and it made for a fun set of flash cards. Occasionally, a gentle quiz challenges kids to identify letters in a lineup by the sounds they make.
Scott: Kids like dinosaurs. It's that simple. National Geographic's app is relatively expensive and takes up a good chunk of your iPad's flash memory, but the digital book has dozens of dinosaurs, lots of text, and a voice that will read to young ones. This app skews toward older kids, but at least it's an e-book that will grow with your child. One caveat: scenes of dinosaur violence may be something you want to review before sharing with your child. My kid loves it, but it's up to you to decide how you feel.
Scott: I don't subscribe to cable. Instead, the small amount of TV we watch comes over the digital airwaves in crisp HD. PBS is our house staple, and my son loves "Dinosaur Train," "Sesame Street," and many of the station's other shows.
A lot of these shows are available for streaming on Netflix, but the free PBS Kids app gives non-Netflixers the joy of dozens of clips from these shows, easily presented for a kid to browse through. Sadly, the PBS Kids app doesn't offer full episodes of most shows, but for a free app it's a solid package of entertainment. At least, my son thinks so -- he keeps asking for the app by name.
Scott: Another great example of a formerly paid app going free. Again, it's to promote a new version, but the original still works fine. It's not rocket science, but the beautiful rippling Koi pond surface and delicately swimming fish beneath are like a form of kid Zen. I don't own a fish tank in my small apartment, but this is the next best thing.
Joseph: High-tech can still be old-fashioned at heart. Case in point: this is a pop-up book that brings a more traditional look and feel to the iPad, with classic visuals that will probably remind parents of their childhood books.
Besides the beautiful pop-up elements, kids can interact with objects in the book. As they touch them, they make unique sounds. Words are pronounced aloud when text is touched.
Below is a link for the free Lite version, as well as the full one.
Joseph: This timeless story is brought back to life in the form of an interactive pop-up book: turning the pages creates 3D effects, and when certain objects are touched they perform animations or make sounds.
With its impressive graphics and ambient sound, it's no surprise that my son gets so immersed in this book. I find myself touching the interactive objects, too; I guess that's a sign of a book that's beautifully done. For those who like to try before they buy, there's also a free Lite version.