Thursday, January 30, 2014

Review: Axel's Chain Reaction -- Discover how a fidgety kid learns to control his impulses

Axel2 4half stars

Bottom Line: An app book with a theme many kids can relate to — it’s hard to control impulses! Designed for kids ages 6-9, the lesson makes this e-book worth downloading. It's been updated since the original review, and is now a TOP PICK app! Check out the improved interface with a new free lite version, too!

If you'd like to download Axel's Chain Reaction (iPad/iPhone, $2.99, FREE Lite Version), please use this link to show Smart Apps for Kids some love:
FREE Lite version                Full version, $2.99
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External links to provide more information about three kinetic artists, behind a parental gate.

Axel’s Chain Reaction is an e-book app developed by Cubic Jigsaw  and written by Allison Pomenta, especially for the wiggly, fidgety, awkward and impulsive kids we all know and love. Axel is the third-grade boy in this story, and he is depicted with great illustrations and a great story. In the story, he struggles with controlling impulses, impacting his classroom performance and peer relationships.

Axel’s class is given an assignment to create kinetic art, using junk and other items around their homes. Axel jumps right into the project, and the book explains his triumphs as he creates, followed by his struggles when things go wrong.

Spoiler alert: a chain reaction causes a classroom catastrophe on the day the projects are due that Axel subsequently turns into something wonderful. Axel isn’t turned into a kid who can control his impulses and be totally aware of his body in space. Instead, he finds a way to express his creativity in spite of his impulsiveness.

The story really is sweet, and the graphics are great. The interactions interspersed throughout the pages are creative and unique. Some of them are actually required to make the story advance, and all of them are cued by a sparkly green prompt.

Axel3There are some great extension activities included in the app, too. Visual tutorials give instructions on how to make a double-sided kinetic sculpture, a rolling optical illusion, and twirling circles. Each activity also has a short video showing the sculpture in action. There will soon be a game, too (a domino effect creation game).
A page index is available, to be able to quickly jump to a different page, and the story narration can be turned off, as can the sound. These features are much appreciated! The text is in a small space of the screen, with red arrows indicating the need to scroll down, and it can also be tapped to increase the size. I also liked the glossary section in the extras area.

The interface for Axel’s Chain Reaction has been improved since my initial review, which is what made this app go from 4 stars to 4 ½ stars. The story format often requires a user tap to start another element (starting a chain reaction in the story!) and they were previously sometimes a little difficult to see. But now they're more clearly marked, making it easy to tell when to tap and when to turn the page, even on the small screen of the iPhone.

The parental gate questions were also simplified a bit, but are  still a little harder than average. Now instead of algebra, they require figuring percentages. However, Axel4 even when the right answer was entered, the video about kinetic artist Alexander Calder did not open correctly in YouTube, pulling up the home page of YouTube instead of the specific video. Parents are probably better off to search for a similar video and screen it first.
Overall, the story is absolutely wonderful for kids like Axel. My 9-year-old is one of them, and he often struggles with getting down on himself when chain reactions happen to him. Reading a book with such a positive spin on Axel, as well as learning about chain reactions, provides encouragement for kids to keep trying, even when it gets hard.

Heather H. has to admit she’s prone to chain reactions in her life, too. Like that one time when she set the glass down on top of a wobbly stack of dishes . . . was paid a priority review fee to complete this review in an expedited manner.

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