Mike Austin’s A Present for Milo has been one of the most rich and vibrant experiences of my holiday season. It is the first children’s book that I have viewed on my iPad, and I hope it will not be the last from Austin and Ruckus Media because they got it right. That’s not only my opinion, it’s the opinion of my Pre-K grandson, Malachi who proved to me that a book is more defined by its content than it is its form.
Malachi and I started the book together and went through a couple of pages worth of exploring the background and flipping pages before he took over the task. Three readings later he was still going strong. During one of those readings the teapot in the background whistled and his grandmother said, “Is that a teapot?” He confidently replied, “Yes, I’m reading a book.” Malachi’s own recognition of the reading event was distanced from the technology at hand and that says a lot about skills that transfer to any environment filled with print. Another predictable advantage that Malachi gleaned from the book was that he mimicked the tone and intonation of the reader. He was able to use language expressively, rather than just call out words or repeat what he had heard. With interactive background pictures and characters the book feels analogous to a popup book. The variance and connectedness of those images inspired Malachi to take the book off the page and into his own world as he literally ran “around and around and around” the iPad with Milo. With every successive reading, Malachi added his own new elements to the story and the concepts that were presented.
Malachi requested use of the iPad several other times during his visit, and each time he found his way to A Present for Milo. He never asked if I had any other books on the iPad because he was satisfied to occupy himself with a story that enticed him and invited him to be a part of it. Needless to say, I will be looking for a few more books to add.
The book and its imagery is playfully reminiscent of both Eric Carle and Leo Leoni, and that’s certainly meant as a compliment. The strength of the images and their textures transition well into an application that runs flawlessly on my iPad. Like Malachi, I was engaged by the story and the creative use of language that abounded in the story. No matter how well the application works, no matter how well illustrated, there isn’t anything worth mentioning unless there is a story; and what a story it is. Emerging readers need concepts, but they also need repetition and predictability without the constraints of a corporately controlled vocabulary. Austin hit the mark and did it in a natural way that complimented both the illustrations and the medium. Even with his recorded narration there is still plenty of room for interpretation and interaction with the characters. Malachi took the characters into new conversations with his family and through our kitchen and up and down our stairs.
My only complaint about the book is the fact that author and narrator Mike Austin did not continue the voiceover on the last page. Instead, it was left for us to read more about him on our own, since that seems like a page that kids might ignore. Kids like Malachi will notice, at least once, and ask that it be read after their initial examination. Or maybe the design provided by Sequel Digital did not provide for that option, since theirs is the only active link on that page, and clicking it takes one out of the book and opens a browser? No matter, Malachi’s grandfather only made that mistake once, and Malachi never did.
Who should acquire this iPad book? I firmly believe teachers using iPads in early childhood programs should add this book to their devices. It also makes sense to send those iPads home with students so all families can have this rich experience together. Even one iPad loaded with ten titles that rotates through a classroom could make a huge difference in promoting a culture of reading in many homes. Teachers and libraries will also want to acquire this title for similar use and as an addition to their center-based activities. Media specialists might consider featuring this title in a technology fair to promote both the technology and the book.
Can it be used with an entire class? There are a few ways that the book could be utilized with a class, but one would need a VGA adapter, active board, projector and some planning to turn this into more than the equivalent of sticking in a movie. For a teacher to treat it as they would a read-aloud defeats the purpose of both the book and the technology on which it is delivered. Yes, maybe demonstrate how it works, but then turn the kids loose and let them go at it in a center in which they can discover and extend the book into new areas. Observe and listen to the comments of these young readers as they build meaningful experiences with print within a community.
Forget the newest iPad commercials and the apps that they feature because A Present for Milo holds its own with any of those featured in the commercials. Add this app to your basket and enjoy a feast at any time of the year.
5 out of 5
Andrews High School
50 HS Drive