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iPad apps for kids: Bats! like a furry museum field trip

Should kids' books live in iBooks or in the App Store? The gamelike Bats!: Furry Fliers of the Night app uses game-like graphics to push the boundaries.

screenshot by Scott Stein/CNET

What is a "book" on an iPad? It's a question that bears some consideration, because the very nature of a tablet redefines the book experience.

According to Apple, iBooks 2 is the answer. However, plenty of booklike apps on the iPad also redefine the territory; the newly released Bats!: Furry Fliers of the Night doesn't live in iBooks, but this app feels as next-gen as Apple's iBooks offerings, or more so. It lives in the App Store, as do many, many other interactive booklike apps.

Almost more game than book, Bats!: Furry Fliers of the Night often feels like a portable museum exhibit. Developed by Story Worldwide, the app was built using the Unity game engine, and incorporates some 3D linear navigation, like flicking through a 3D forest, while keeping the app size small (96MB, a fraction of some space-hogging kid books).

The focus is narrow--yes, the app's all about bats--but it's expertly researched and detailed thanks to Mary Kay Carson, a nonfiction author of children's science books. The six distinct chapters feel as interactive and graphically attractive as those touch-screen kiosks installed at museums. A few challenges and hidden items sprinkled throughout give the app some replay value.

This forest isn't free-roaming, but it's rendered with 3D graphics. screenshot by Scott Stein/CNET

Using a 3D gaming engine is a clever idea, and one I hope carries over to more kid apps; there's no reason to keep books, even interactive ones, stuck in a 2D realm of pop-out animations and virtual page-flipping. Bats!: Furry Fliers of the Night is a small but significant example of where these books can go next. One bit of advice: this is recommended for ages 5 to 11...little toddlers might find the bats a freaky.

It's available now in the App Store for $4.99.

For other recommendations on some favorite apps for young kids, check out picks by Joseph Kaminski and myself.