This holiday season I have been as busy as one of Santa’s elves getting all the book apps with Christmas themes reviewed in time. In fact, I wish I had a few elves myself with so many great new titles being released. Our original top 25 has quickly become a top 50 …
Reading holiday themed storybook apps, just like their print counterparts, can be a wonderful tradition. Children enjoy the chance to build anticipation for the big day while older family members can recapture that same excitement, with familiar stories and music to stir happy childhood memories. But all book apps (just like all books) are not created equal … so with just a couple weeks before the big day, here is a list of my ten very favorites titles, plus a bonus list of the five best free titles we’ve discovered.
Top 10 Christmas Recommendations:
1. A Charlie Brown Christmas – 4.75 Stars
This is a top notch holiday app from Loud Crow Interactive, makers of the popular PopOut series. This app has a similar format with an assortment of fun additional interactive elements, like helping Linus throw snowballs or getting Charlie Brown to peer into his empty mailbox. Text is in several layers on many pages, with original voices from the Christmas special narrating the story as it highlights word-for-word. Lovers of the original Christmas special will want to download this title right away … it is such a treat! If you haven’t seen the special (meaning you’ve been living under a rock for the past 50 years), you will also not want to miss this spectactular title. Play jingle bells along with Schroeder, decorate a tree (parents should be aware of in-app purchases here), and so much more. Highly recommended! Don’t miss their other great holiday app, “PopOut! The Night Before Christmas“.
2. Violet’s The Night Before Christmas – Interactive Storybook – 4.75 Stars
This is an adorable re-telling of The Night Before Christmas, starring Violet (aka Phantom Girl). Like other titles in the Violet series by Allison Keeme & My Black Dog Books, this title has unique interactivity that is almost more like a ‘lift the flap’ book. Tap the stockings or presents in Santa’s bag to see what is inside. The detail & whimsy of these interactive ‘discoveries’ makes this book a hit with readers young and old alike. Hints for interactive elements are in the form of small yellow dotted lines around the images. There are also some ‘hidden’ elements that have sound effects to trigger with a tap. Overall a top notch title and our highest rated version of this classic tale! Also see the latest Christmas adventures of this daring protagonist in Violet’s 12 Days of Christmas!
3. Michael Garland’s ‘An Elf for Christmas’ – 4.5 Stars
This is a unique Christmas story about one of Santa’s elves, Tingle. He gets left behind at a child’s house under the tree and mistaken for a toy gift. After everyone is asleep later on Christmas night, Tingle mans a tiny toy plane that he manages to fly all the way back to the North Pole. Eventually, with the help of a friendly polar bear, Tingle is reunited with Mr. & Mrs. Clause in Santa’s village. Solidly made with word-by-word highlighting, stunning animated clips and simple, swipe-style page turning. There are animated scenes in the ‘read to me’ mode only and no interactivity, but overall this is a top notch holiday storybook! Based on the 1999 print story by the same name. Check out their other great app, “Icarus Swinebuckle“.
4. Biscuit Gives A Gift – 4.5 Stars
This is an adorable book based on a print series popular over the last decade. Little Biscuit is a cute puppy who helps his little girl deliver presents to all their friends one snowy day. From wrapped packages to birdseed for their feathered friends, this duo shows the spirit of giving. This app is beautifully illustrated with light animations that are triggered by tapping the images. Text highlights as narrated and has simple sentence structure perfect for young learner readers. There is also a selection of extras including coloring pages, memory game & stickerbook. Children will also love the hidden bones on almost every page for the challenge to find them all for Biscuit.
5. How The Grinch Stole Christmas! – Dr. Seuss – 4.25 Stars
A classic Seuss tale for the holidays that captures all the charm of the original with the light enhancements found in all omBooks from Oceanhouse Media. Starring the famous Grinch (with his heart that is possibly two sizes too small) and the indefatigable Whos from Whoville. This tale is delightful in digital with great sound effects, snow falling and educational touches. Tap any image to hear and see the words. For the holiday season, this is not the most highly produced app but still a timeless story that will enchant children & parents. Also see the other great omBooks for the holiday, including Tacky’s Christmas, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, and two Berenstain Bears holiday titles: “Trim the Tree – Lift the Flap Book” and “Christmas Tree“.
6. Elly the Reindeer – The Polar Bear [Elly Book 10] – 4.25 Stars
This is a winter/holiday themed title from the popular Elly book series from Jon Higham. It is perfect for both pre-readers and learner readers, with simple but engaging text (although it does not highlight as narrated). Elly is a sweet character with lots of forest friends that help her out in every episode. In this title, Elly meets a polar bear that needs help getting back home. All the friends work to help the lost bear find his way and in the end the whole group gets to travel to see the northern lights. Featuring light animation & simple interactivity, this is a great title for bedtime or anytime for ages 2-6. Featuring lovely narration by Rose Higham and a simple, but well-made interface perfect for youngsters.
7. The Nutcracker Musical Storybook – 4.25 Stars
This is a gorgeous presentation of the Nutcracker story with lots of animated elements and some light interactivity (mostly sound effects). In storybook mode the page dims to let you know to turn the page. This title is not narrated and initially I found it a bit difficult to navigate, although you can return home by tapping the top of the page and an assortment of numbered ornaments functions as a page guide. The ornaments transform after being tapped or when a page has been read. Text appears on the page and then disappears on it’s own, so some young readers may find this difficult to enjoy on their own if they don’t read the text in time. While I really enjoyed this tale, especially the illustrations and music, I would love to see narration added or at least have the text stay put until the reader turns the page. Overall, this is still the very best version of the Nutcracker I’ve seen in the AppStore, bringing much of the drama and suspense to the iPad in an animated gem of an app.
8. The Night Before Christmas presented by One Hundred Robots – 4.25 Stars
This is an exceptionally nice digital rendition of the classic with great production values, especially for the audio & animation. Watch the ‘visions of sugar plums’ dancing in the the sleepers heads and see Santa fly through sky with his sled full of presents. This title is nicely narrated and features great computer graphics along with easy-to-read text (although no highlighting) and simple arrow page turns. Solidly made with a nice array of settings although no interactivity. Overall this is one of the nicest versions of “The Night Before Christmas” in the AppStore! See their 5-Star title, Hildegard Sings, too!
9. KidsMag Christmas Special Edition – 4.25 Stars
This great little app is from Portegno Apps, makers of the KidsMag series. These digital ‘activity books’ are a great way to get kids learning while having fun. The holiday version of KidsMag for Christmas is full of lots of engaging games, stories and puzzles, including matching colors, ordering reindeer by number, decorating a tree, dot-to-dot, spot-the-difference, and much more. KidsMag apps are a treat for children ages 4-8 anytime of the year, but this version is especially suited to the winter holidays. Kids will enjoy the games and other activities while getting into the Christmas spirit. See the whole KidsMag series for hours of learning fun!
10. Snowman Joe – 4 Stars
This is a delightful winter tale perfect for reading during the holiday season. It is about a snowman who wants the stars to know he is there, looking up at them in awe. But they don’t wave back or say hello, so he tries to get their attention. Simply but solidly made with very little enhancement, this app instead features great narration, music and beautiful illustrations that evoke a very chilly atmosphere. The story is told in rhyme and the text is in an easy to read font. This title makes for a great bedtime read and is lovely in a low-light environment. It captures the cold, crisp nighttime environment beautifully and will have little ones snuggling deep into the covers as they listen or have it read to them.
Top 5 Free Christmas Book Apps:
And as a bonus, here are our top 5 recommendations for free Christmas stories for your iPad this season:
This is an adorable original story about a little girl working hard to prove that Santa is real. Santa takes a picture to prove he is real to the little girl’s mom, although the results are not quite what the little girl expects. Like other titles from So Ouat!, this one is not interactive within the storybook (all interactivity is in the extras) but has top notch animation with autoplay mode as the only setting (play/pause stops the animated scenes as well as the narration). Overall this is a captivating storybook to share with children this holiday season although not one easy to set up for silent reading.
Jingle is an adorable husky pup that loves all the children who go to Pineville Elementary School. But Jingle doesn’t have a home of his own. He follows the children all the way to their bus stops and doors but when they tell him to be a good dog and ‘go home’ he doesn’t have anywhere to go. The story has a heartwarming ending, though, courtesy of Santa’s intervention. This Hallmark book app is intended to work in conjunction with their ‘story buddy’ stuffed animal of Jingle, but other than a brief mention of the toy at the beginning of the book, this book app is delightful all by itself. The app is very lightly animated, narrated and includes the ability to record your own narration. Also includes 16 puzzles (based the story’s pages), a Xylophone and a Christmas tree to decorate.
3. The Christmas Train – I Think I Can – 3.75 Stars
This is a cute story about a little train engine that helps a large train get back on track to deliver holiday gifts to children on the other side of a mountain. Perseverance pays off in this sweet Christmas tale. The app itself is solidly made & features a unique kind of interactivity based on the print ‘magic ink’ books. In digital form, these titles are a lot of fun, with each page containing two images and text – simply swipe your finger over the grey-scale page to reveal a second colorful page that triggers additional text. Otherwise the app is not especially enhanced, but has a great story, nice illustrations and quality narration to go along with the ‘magic’.
4. Henry Motlies Xmas Story – 3.75 Stars
This is an adorable story starring one of Santa’s reindeer that you’ve probably never heard of … Henry. He is one of the Motlies, “a group of … animals [that] speak “animalish” – the common language in the wild … They are quirky and fun and can help to bring an understanding and appreciation of the world around us.” This story is about Henry, a reindeer that can only fly upside-down, but this doesn’t prevent him from being useful on Christmas Eve. In fact, Santa’s whole sleigh flies upside down with Henry at the lead, making it even easier to drop presents into the chimneys below. The app itself is well made with simple swipe-style page turning and an easy to read font, although no highlighting as narrated. A couple cute extra activity pages also appear within the book for an added Christmas treat. Simple but engaging animation and light interactive elements make this free title fun to play with as well as read.
5. Christmas Tale HD – 3.75 Stars
This is a unique and very interactive read & play title with light animation and some great features. It includes a countdown clock that shows the number of days ’til Christmas and even a ‘wish list’ you can fill out and email to Santa (or anyone else). Unfortunately as a free app it includes a banner ad at the bottom, although an in-app purchase can turn this off. Parents may want to put device in Airplane Mode to prevent accidental trips outside the app by little ones. There is also very little connection between the interactive elements and the story, but children are unlikely to complain as they find hundreds of images that bounce, make noise and generally amuse. A 2nd free holiday title, Christmas Tale II, is also available from TabTale.
And what are your holiday favorites for digital reading this Christmas? You can also find a list of a dozen free non-book kids apps under the Holiday tab on ourDaily Deal Page, or peruse our entire holiday book app collection.