Beyond Reading – Top 15 iPad Book Apps – The Best Extras for Summer Fun

| June 13, 2012 | 0 Comments

A year ago, we presented our first ‘best extras’ list, featuring 10 apps with wonderful games that take learning AND playing to a whole new level (compared to the average book app). I am often a stickler for an emphasis on literacy and reading in book apps, but I still appreciate apps that take things ‘beyond reading’.

The following book apps contain games, puzzles and other ‘extras’, either within the pages of the book or bundled together with the app. Books like this are essential, especially for times when you need a little more ‘edutainment’ value along with a great read. So, just in time for the summer travel season and so many long days out of school, I’ve put together the following list of 15 book apps that are ‘extra’ special, picked from over 500 iPad book app reviews on our site. This list does NOT include any of the great apps that made our 2011 list, so please also check out our Top 10 from last year, too!

1. Don’t Let the Pigeon Run This App!

Screen Shot of Don't Let the Pigeon Run This App!

Mo Willems' Pigeon is an instant digital classic ...

The ever-popular Mo Willems’ Pigeon is back and he wants to take over your iPad (or iPhone/iPod)! Based on the series of print books published since 2003, this app is sure to become a favorite in any house with children under 6. It features customizable story sequences that will enchant fans of Willems’ work instantly. He had me at ‘hello’, literally (or ‘hi’ to be completely accurate). Read more … 

2. Bobo Explores Light

Screen Shot of Bobo Explores Light

A wonderful exploration of science with the cutest little robot!

Bobo is a cute little robot that guides readers 6+ through a fascinating series of over 100 pages of facts, videos, physics demonstrations and interactive goodies relating to the science and history of the study of light. The app is thorough, educationally sound and deeply engaging. It is a non-fiction title with over 20 topic pages that open up three additional windows with so much content it will take you well over an hour to get through it all … but you won’t notice the time because this is such an absorbing book. Read more …

3. Lazoo – Squiggles!

Screen Shot of Squiggles!

A fun story with endless creative possibilities ...

An exceptional app is packaged in “Squiggles” … including a short but sweet storybook and endless options for creative play. Two characters are featured in the story, a cute monkey named Bobu and rabbit named Miku. The pair are going to have a snack of ‘jumping beans’ but first have to catch the bouncy legumes by chasing them. They are on an adventure that takes them from the top of a tree all the way to the moon. This very fun story is solidly made with simplistic illustrations, all lightly animated and interactive. Read more …

4. StoryBox

Screen Shot of StoryBox

The ultimate digital children's magazine!

Are you looking for the digital equivalent of a children’s magazine – the kind with activities, stories, games and more? Well, look no farther! Storybox is a new children’s digital magazine based on the print publication of the same name. This is a wonderful selection of activities & stories to occupy a child. The app contains a full storybook with narration and animation, two cute comics (one a wordless “Polo” story), games and two short fact books about science and animals. Read more …

5. Cars 2 World Grand Prix Read and Race

Screen Shot of Cars 2 World Grand Prix Read and Race

A storybook with top-notch racing game included!

Told with narration that mimics an announcer at the racetrack, Cars 2 World Grand Prix Read and Race is a storybook with an extra children won’t soon forget – a racing game bundled into the app. The storybook covers the plot twists involving the races in Tokyo, Italy and England (plus the trip back to Radiator Springs) and less about the spy mystery (which is the emphasis of Cars 2 Storybook Deluxe, reviewed earlier this summer). After this trip through the movie’s major plot points, children (and adults) will be eager to try the racing. Players get to customize their cars first and then can compete with the other computerized players by holding the iPad like a steering wheel. Read more …

6. Numberlys

Screen Shot of Numberlys

“Once upon a time there was no alphabet, only numbers,” begins this highly polished app fromMoonbot Studios. The story is told in a theatrical way, with exceptional computer animation and interesting games built into the storyline. The look of the app is very dark, in monochromatic tones that remind one of a black & white propaganda film about a communist country during the cold war. It even feels omnious at times, with dramatic music and a narrator with what sounds like a combination of an eastern European accent and a computerized voice. This grim world is transformed by five number-named characters that have a dream … to go beyond numbers and create a world that is more expansive … a world defined by an alphabet of 26 letters. Read more …

7. Bartleby’s Book of Buttons Vol. 2: The Button at the Bottom of the Sea

Screen Shot of Bartleby's Book of Buttons Vol. 2: The Button at the Bottom of the Sea

A new game-book adventure with Bartleby!

Bartleby is back! My little one lovedVol. 1: The Faraway Island and was very excited to explore this new title. In the sequel, we find our button-obsessed protagonist heading out on a quest for a button at the bottom of the sea. Bartleby’s lady-friend Sally helps him on his quest, which involves traveling in a submarine to the ocean floor. With light animation and ingenious interactivity, Bartleby Vol. 2 is a book-game hybrid that children (and many adults) will find deeply entertaining. Read more …

8. Roxie’s Doors

Screen Shot of Roxie's Doors

A lift-the-flap book like no other!

Based on Doors, a popular lift-the-flap print book, Roxie’s Doors makes the digital transition so beautifully, it’s hard to believe it wasn’t originally designed for the iPad. There are over “50 flaps to lift & explore”, bringing new discoveries on every page. The illustrations are delightful and so detailed that you notice something new with every re-reading. The talented author/illustrator Roxie Munro brought the print book to children in 2004. I was not surprised to find all 5-Star reviews on for it, too. As a digital title, the book is lightly enhanced with animation, but the interactivity is the real star of this show! Read more …

9. Toy Story Showtime

Screen Shot of Toy Story Showtime!

A tremendous learning app disguised as fun ...

Unless your child lives under a rock, they’ve probably fallen in love with the movie, characters and storyline behind the Toy Story series. This new digital title is based on a new plot not in any of the movies, told originally in a print title published in the summer of 2011. The toys are having a talent show in this tale, and Buzz is hoping to impress Jessie with his performance. But will he think up a talent in time? Read more …

10. Auryn – Van Gogh and the Sunflowers

Screen Shot of Auryn – Van Gogh and the Sunflowers

A classic tale about accepting those that are different.

Van Gogh and the Sunflowers is an extraordinary app with unique interactivity. The characters in this book, based on a gorgeous print title published in 2007, are all in motion. Characters in the story run, work and paint in scenes that can also be viewed (just tap the settings button) with their inner-workings exposed. The book is about a boy named Camille who lives in a village where sunflowers grow wild. One day a strange man arrives in town and begins to paint. Camille’s family befriends the poor traveler, Vincent van Gogh, and watches him paint portraits of the whole family. When Camille shows off the portrait of himself, the children at school tease him and then van Gogh himself is driven out of town. Camille’s father reassures the crushed boy that someday people “will learn to love Vincent’s paintings.” Read more …

11. The Waterhole – Graeme Base

Screen Shot for The Waterhole - Graeme Base

A beautiful book with hidden object games included.

Based on the 2001 print title, this fascinating app brings Graeme Base’s tale about animals gathering at a waterhole to life. Filled with games and an interactive storybook, this app is sure to please young and old alike. It isn’t quite the same as the art-book style print title, but children will pour over this digital version to find the hidden creatures in this stellar counting book all the same. Read more …

12. Cinderella – Nosy Crow animated picture book

Screen Shot of Cinderella – Nosy Crow animated picture book

A Cinderella tale for the modern era ...

Cinderella captivates readers of all ages and brings even more interactivity to the classic tale of a girl, her fairy godmother & a mysterious glass slipper. You can help Cinderella tidy the house, dress the mean step-sisters for the ball, and even pick the pumpkin to be turned into a carriage. Nosy Crow has not forgotten a single detail in this delightful title. You can scroll to see more of each page, with fun activities that include hunting for a cute little bird that hides in every scene. The pages are so touchable, in fact, that a child can play with this book for nearly an hour and still not find every interactive element.  Read more …

13. Richard Scarry’s Busytown HD

Screen Shot for Richard Scarry's Busytown HD

A game based on the Richard Scarry's print books ...

I loved the Richard Scarry books as a child, particularly pouring over their detailed illustrations to see every little funny and creative detail. This app, however, is a much less free form experience, with a game that has the reader look for a specific item in each room’s scene. The game is nicely narrated and very intuitively designed. Overall this is a well-made game app with the timeless appeal of Richard Scarry’s illustrations. Young children are rewarded for paying attention to detail and become more familiar with lots of common objects found in each room. Read more …

14. Crayola – Ruckus Reader

Screen Shot of Crayola: Ruckus Reader

Stories about color engage young readers in digital!

If you haven’t discovered the Ruckus Reader series … you are in for a very big treat! Even with just the free version of all EIGHT of their apps, you will get EIGHT free leveled readers for your child. And these aren’t your average leveled readers … not even close. They are simply the best source for interactive stories designed for specific reading levels on the iPad. Register now for the service and parent info for free for a limited time. Content of this quality will likely not be free indefinitely. Read more …

15. KidsMag – Issues 1 – 3 + Holiday Editions

Screen Shot of KidsMag Issue 2

Learn about space, the human body & more ...

KidsMag is a series of digital activity books from Portegno Apps, with each including a short but cute storybook. With over a dozen pages of activities in every edition, this series of apps is one that will keep a bored kid busy (and learning) for nearly an hour. The story and all activity pages have narration, so even pre-readers can enjoy these apps. With a nice mix of educational and free-play activities, this series is as fun as print activity books and magazines, if not more so. These titles easily get 5-Stars for extras. If you’re looking for a digital activity book for kids, look no further! Read more …

We hope you’ve enjoyed this curated list of recommended book apps for summer fun … please let us know if there are any new apps you think we should consider for our list next year!

Category: All About Apps, Top 10 Lists

About the Author ()

Carisa Kluver is the the editor of, an iPad children's book review site. She has a BA in Anthropology from UC Berkeley and an MSW from the University of Washington. Before starting this project, she was a school counselor, health educator and researcher in child & maternal health.

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