Digital-Storytime’s Best Books of the Year: Top 25 Picture Book Apps for Ages 2-12

| August 29, 2013

It’s time for‘s 3rd annual Best Books List for 2013!

We’ve combed the iTunes AppStore and selected the following titles for special recognition. These are the most exceptional, innovative and well-crafted storybook apps for kids on the iPad* that we’ve discovered over the past year. We salute the authors, illustrators and talented development teams that created these great apps for young readers.

*Click on images to see full reviews, video demos as well as more detailed information about each title. Many of these apps are also compatible with iPhone and iPod Touch devices (see reviews for details).


Previous “Best of” Lists (2010-2012):


For Android devices, we also have “Best of” listings for:

Kindle Fire:

Nook Color:




And now …

Our top honors

for the best

Children’s Book Apps




1. The Book of Holes

Based on a board book with original collages and a unique theme, this story has been lovingly re-imagined for the tablet. The original title, published in Denmark in 2006, had a physical hole through the entire book. Pages of large black text tell a story about the important holes in our bodies and our world using visual images formed by the words themselves – in circles, wavy lines and even the shape of an eye.

The pages in between this fabulous wordplay are fascinating as well, formed by collages of images that let little fingers experience some of the things described on the previous page. While you can’t put your finger through your screen, you can play with dozens of well-crafted and relevant interactions on nearly every page of this delightful app.

Read more …


2. Mr. Sandman

Not many books get five star reviews on my site, let alone five stars in four or more of my nine rating categories, but this standout title from Hocus Books does this and so much more! Featuring a charming story alongside beautifully crafted animation and unique interactive elements, Mr. Sandman begins with a young boy and his mother at bedtime. The child says he is afraid of the dark. “Don’t worry my darling, I will wind up your music box and leave your light on. The Sandman will be here soon.”

Tap the music box to hear a ‘winding’ sound effect and then a lovely tune that launches a touching tale that is told as much in text as in silhouette, sound and a surprisingly innovative approach to interactivity.

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3. The Artist Mortimer

The Artist Who Stole Bits of The World is an original storybook app with text and artwork by Bo Zaunders. It was created with OCG Studios “Develop Your Own (DYO)” book app creation tool. It is a charming story about an artist who has a unique ability to capture whatever he paints permanently on his canvas. If he paints the ocean, he carries away all the water when he takes his masterpiece home, for instance. Soon everyone insists he stop painting until Mortimer finds a unique solution that will enchant readers age 4 and up.

Overall, this is a beautifully illustrated and well-crafted tale that will appeal to both kids and adults. It’s very short, but sweet and makes a great bedtime read. Light animation and interactivity is polished, and all the enhancements are pitch-perfect for the story.

Also available for Google-Play on Android devices.

Read more …


4. Rounds: Parker Penguin

The Rounds series from Nosy Crow provides an exceptional learning experience for young children that is both engaging and enhanced in a developmentally-appropriate way. The stories are thoughtfully constructed to meet the learning needs of children, who are naturally curious about animals and their life-cycles. Each app contains 100s of facts about the animals in each title, presented in a child-friendly series of interactive speech-bubbles that let the animals talk to the reader in the first-person.

It is enchanting simply to watch a child play with this app, delighting in each new discovery about their natural world. In the first title, Franklin Frog, we meet a series of frogs with names that start with “F” as the amphibians go through their circular life-cycle. In this title, focusing on penguins, we meet Parker and many other “P” named penguins.

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5. Dragon Brush

This story has a distinctly Eastern feel, but is told in a way that is very accessible to a Western audience. The main character is a little rabbit boy named Bing-Wen who loves to paint. But his family is too poor to afford paper and pencils, so Bing-Wen draws in the sand. One day he helps a pedlar woman and as a reward she gives him a magic paintbrush. When Bing-Wen tries it out, he discovers that everything he draws comes to life. When the lazy & arrogant Emperor finds out about Bing-Wen’s magic paintbrush, he orders him to paint a gold statue in his honor. When Bing-Wen refuses, he is thrown in the dungeon until he thinks up an inventive way to foil the Emperor’s plans.

Fun enhancements are pitch perfect for the plot, even when they aren’t entirely story related. The charming illustrations come to life and will win over both young and old readers alike.

Read more …


6. Little Red Riding Hood by Nosy Crow

This rendition of the classic tale of a little girl in a red cape and a wolf trying to fool her into thinking he is her grandmother will captivate readers of all ages. This title takes the genre to a new level, introducing a ‘choose-your-own-adventure’ element along with the usual games presented within the story. These interactive elements, and all the great dialogue, expand the storytelling in a variety of ways, although some kids may become distracted from the storyline in the process. This is hardly a serious issue with such a familiar plot, but worthy of consideration for classroom or bedtime use of this story app.

There are a lot of fairy tale apps available, but anyone close to the market will tell you that the best modern translations of these tales in enhanced form are produced by Nosy Crow.

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7. Up & Down

This beautifully illustrated app by Mr. Garamond shows a split screen with images from ‘a day in the life’ of two children, one in a western setting and the other in an eastern, desert environment. Profits from downloading this application go to Bubisher, a travelling Bus of Books for the children living in Western Saharan refugee camps.

This app is available in Spanish, English, French & Arabic, but unlike most multilingual apps, this one lets you select the language for the narration and text separately, meaning you can listen in English with text in Arabic, for instance. This feature makes for a very unique and educational storybook.

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8. Midnight Feast

Complex and hauntingly beautiful, this story follows the night-time imagination of a young teen who longs to stay up past her bedtime for what she pictures is a vast banquet. Gorgeous illustrations and beautifully paced interactive dialog create an immersive reading experience for readers ages nine and up. Polished production values, thoughtful settings and the inclusion of close reading notes round out this stellar new title.

Tapping is not so much for exploring randomly in this app but an extension of the reading experience. Your fingers absorb part of the story by unlocking it, deepening your understanding of the characters, much as your eyes and ears absorb the text and narration.

Read more …


9. Treasure Kai & the Seven Cities of Gold

In this sequel to Treasure Kai and the Lost Gold of Shark Island, readers are in for a treat! Full of exceptional interactivity that is both story-related and fun, this title surpasses the first book in a way that is rare for a series. The first title was based on a print book with a similar approach to non-linear storytelling, using a series of treasure chests at the bottom of the book (with small toys representing each new page).

In print, this title has been a family favorite in our home to this day. But, in digital, this title really took the storytelling up a notch, with a design that feels tailored to the medium of the touch tablet without losing any of the ingenuity of the original design.

Read more …


10. Who Stole the Moon

Bertie is a little boy who loves staring at the moon and stars through a large window in the ceiling of his bedroom … until one day the moon goes missing. In this enchanting and beautifully illustrated storybook app, readers will find out how Bertie solves this mystery, with the help of some nocturnal friends. Based on a 2010 print title, this app features over a dozen options for translation, perfect for foreign language learners. Who Stole the Moon? is also a ‘must-download’ title for lovers of bedtime book apps in particular.

Ingenious interactive elements include story-related gems as well as lots of unique features, like pages that scroll up and down, alongside more linear arrow page turning. Readers get to move the clouds out of the way, at the end of the title, to demonstrate how the moon can be hidden by something as insubstantial as a bit of fog.

Read more …


11. Dino-Store

Leo and his father are going to the store for a few groceries one day when they decide to get a really BIG box of eggs. On the way home, out hatch twelve dinosaurs – now the adventure really begins!

Charming illustrations by Trade Loeffler bring a touching humor to this short but sweet tale by Roger Sedarat, from BlueMarker Studios. Featuring light but polished animation and interactivity that will surprise and delight both young and old alike, this tale is a must-download for dinosaur lovers.

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12. I Love My Dad

I Love My Dad is a lightly animated and interactive app based on the popular print title, “I Love My Dad” (published in 2009), by Anna Walker. It features lovely narration and lots of fun sound effects. Even the youngest children will enjoy this simple storybook, although adults will also be touched by its short but sweet tale about a young zebra’s paternal affection.

Additional settings to adjust the audio, for silent reading, would be nice, but the animation & interactive elements are seamlessly integrated into the storytelling in this well-produced digital publication.

Read more …


13. Shout Science!

Shout Science! by teacher, Scott Dubois, is a cool new app that engages kids in scientific discovery in a fun and engaging format. Shout Science! is a wonderful tool for teachers to educate kids about the scientific revolution, which took place in Europe beginning in the 1500’s. But – Heads Up, this app offers many features that could be applied to other subject areas so don’t let the title limit you!

Geography, reading, math, and the arts, are all incorporated into the three narrative biographies of some of the earliest scientists. Shout Science! is the type of app that any teacher will love to illustrate an array of different ideas and skills.

Read more …


14. Little Critter – The Trip

Based on Mercer Mayer’s original illustrations of the “Critter” family on a road trip, The Trip: Little Critter Reading Adventure, is truly just that – a reading adventure. While adults delight in the familiar characters and storyline, a whole new generation of Little Critter fans is virtually guaranteed with engaging apps like this one, created by Silver Dolphin Books.

Mayer originally wrote “The Trip” as an ABC style book in 1988 before its more familiar edition in 1997 that edited it down significantly. This app is based on the later edition, with wonderful enhancements that take young readers ages 2-6 on more than just a figurative adventure, by using a map and game-like approach. It also includes the ABC elements of the original title, using a series of alphabet flash cards that kids can collect by tapping on pictures within the illustrations.

Read more …


15. Dr. Seuss Short Story Collection

An exceptional new app for young readers (with eight books in one) is now available from Oceanhouse Media! It includes the following digital titles:

The Big Brag, Gertrude McFuzz, I Can Lick 30 Tigers Today!, King Looie Katz, The Glunk that got Thunk, Too Many Daves, The Zax and What Was I Scared Of?

In print, these short stories have been favorites of parents, teachers & young readers for several generations. Like the other titles from Oceanhouse Media, this app also has an eye on educational enhancements.

Read more …


16. The Very Hungry Bear

This delightful storybook app is a sequel to Nick Bland’s 2008 print title, The Very Cranky Bear, about a zebra, moose, lion and sheep who just want to find a nice, dry place to hang out on a rainy day. In this book, each animal once again tries to placate the angry (and hungry) bear in hopes of sharing his cave.

In the end, it is the humble sheep who has the most brilliant idea. The others try to ingratiate themselves into the bear’s good graces but Sheep is generous in a way that gives of himself. Light interactivity and perfectly timed animated elements create a wonderful storytelling experience in digital.

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17. The Chicken & the Egg

This absolutely adorable storybook app by Allan Plenderleith stars a cute little chicken who cannot seem to lay her very own egg like all the other chickens on the farm. When a stone rolls into her nest after a hard rain, everything changes. Told with well paced narration and exceptionally polished animation and interactivity, this simple story will enchant the youngest readers and anyone young at heart.

This is one of those books that children and adults will enjoy reading over and over. The storyline and artwork are pitch perfect, with an ending that will surprise and delight.

Read more …


18. On Beyond Bugs: All About Insects

(Cat-in-the-Hat Learning Library Series)

With ten titles and more coming, the Cat-in-the-Hat Learning Library books are moving from print to digital with the help of Oceanhouse Media.

Each book explores a non-fiction science topic, ranging from the pre-historic to outer-space. This non-fiction title, published first in print in 1999, gives young kids the chance to explore the fascinating world of insects with a familiar tour guide, The Cat in the Hat.

Along with light animation/interactivity, great background music and sound effects, this book offering is exceptional for young learners. Not many non-fiction titles can engage such early readers, but The Cat in the Hat’s Learning Library stands out.

Read more …


19. Timbuktu Magazine – Stories and games for parents and kids.

Are you looking for a digital activity book app for kids 6-10+? Timbuktu has an exceptional offering for your tablet, full of thoughtful, polished content that has been beautifully designed and curated for elementary school aged children. Educational, easy to navigate and most importantly, fun for kids.

Timbuktu sets the standard high for a digital children’s magazine worthy of the 21st century young reader. The set up for this app is simple, letting kids use the free version for a single issue that is packed with a ton of content. Included in each issue are educational games, stories and activities that will keep children learning and happy for hours.

Note: Contains In-App Purchases for Full Content

Read more …


20. Barefoot World Atlas

Barefoot Books has transformed its World Atlas into a phenomenal learning tool! This interactive atlas is the result of a year-long partnership between award-winning children’s publisher Barefoot Books and Touch Press.

Geography has been put on the back burner in some schools, while all the focus has been given to Math, Science, and English Language Arts. Teachers and parents of younger learners needing a more interactive hands-on way to explore and absorb important knowledge about the world around them will find everything they need with this one app.

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21. Moomin, Mymble & Little My

Featuring the classic illustrations of Tove Jansson, this app takes the original “Moomin” storybook and enhances it in ways that will bring fans to their knees. And for those uninitiated to the fandom of the Moomin, Mymble & My phenomena … be prepared for a storytelling experience that is unique and quirky, but well worth the time spent getting to know these unusual Swedish cartoon characters.

The app presents an introduction that is lightly enhanced with nice interactive and animated elements, but not staged to impress with features alone.

Read more …


22. Piccadilly’s Circus

It’s storybook apps like Piccadilly’s Circus, by Developer Ink Robin, that make the job of reviewing apps fun!  I absolutely loved this story that is about one of my favorite subjects – the circus.  Mr. Piccadilly is the ringmaster of the circus troupe that includes a lion, bear, acrobats, tigers, etc.  One day, Mr. Piccadilly wasn’t feeling well and he couldn’t perform so they had to do the show without him.

Each of the animals and performers wanted to have this important job of being the ringmaster but who should do the job for the night? Each person thought they should be the ringmaster and showed why their job was the hardest of the bunch.  For example, the dancing bear on the striped ball announces to all listening that HIS job was the most difficult!

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23. Ranger Rick’s Tree House

Ranger Rick is a tried and true magazine subscription for kids in print (and now in digital). The interactive app includes a free sample issue and subscription service. It is filled with activities, stories and games about wildlife, for kids ages 7-12.

With a well-crafted and intuitive design, Ranger Rick’s Treehouse is an interactive version of the traditional magazine that parents and children have come to love. Educational enhancements are thoughtful and relevant for reading comprehension in this lovely new app.

Read more …


24. Lola and Lucy’s Big Adventure – A Fingerprint Network App

Lola and Lucy leave the comforts of the Baxter home only to return realizing that they have always had an important job there.

With options for both picture book or chapter book, they’ve got the reading levels covered so that it’s great fun for the whole family. These two puckish English bulldogs embark on an exciting adventure across the USA looking to find their purpose in life. Lucy is the smart one and Lola – ah well, she is just crazy! We witnessed first hand how much fun this app is, as the kids return to it again and again. They simply can’t get enough of these two endearing characters! The story also exposes children to the geography of the United Sates with an interactive map highlighting different destinations.

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25. Grendel’s Great Escape

This adorable book app will enchant young readers with a hilarious tale about a young boy who brings his ferret to school. Created by Blue Piper Imprints, this is a perfectly enhanced book app with beautiful, story-related interactivity and lots of polished animation. Grendel explores the school in this humorous tale, taking young readers into all the familiar locations an escaped pet might hide.

Educational touches include text that highlights line by line with the expressive narration. There are also no links at all that leave the app, a nice feature in an app for young kids. Short but sweet, Grendel’s Great Escape is a tale children will want to reread often.

Read more …


Congratulations to the talented writers, artists and programmers who created these wonderful apps … we’ll be keeping our eye out next year for even more great reading opportunities for kids!

Did we miss YOUR favorite book app from the past year? Let us know all about it in the comments!

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.