Review by Patricia Monticello Kievlan, Common Sense Education | Updated February 2014
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Gutenberg Literature

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Ereader with impressive access marred by buggy, limited features

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Teachers say (2 Reviews)
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Grades
9-12 This grade range is a recommendation by Common Sense Education and not the developer/publisher.
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Pros: Simple interface offers extensive access to Project Gutenberg's vast resources.

Cons: Bare-bones, buggy features add little value to the texts on offer.

Bottom Line: Users get an extraordinary number of texts, but the app doesn't offer meaningful tools to engage with them.

Teachers might use Gutenberg Literature as a supplement to in-class activities and shorter homework assignments. Project Gutenberg's archives include primary source documents and literary texts spanning thousands of years, and the app can offer students surprising access to high-quality digital scans of rare books. This is a great opportunity to explore what classic literature looked like to its first readers. Unfortunately, the app lacks key ereader features like bookmarking, annotation, and highlighting, so it might be better suited to in-class discussions of shorter works rather than concentrated reading of novels and short stories.

With so little support and stability, Gutenberg Literature might be a risky choice for a teacher's classroom. Other ereaders may offer better workarounds for accessing the wealth of resources amassed by Project Gutenberg.

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Project Gutenberg is an ambitious project to digitize and catalog great works of literature from around the world. Since the project's inception in the early 1970s, Project Gutenberg has created a database that includes tens of thousands of public domain texts, all available online for free download and use.

The Gutenberg Literature app has nothing to do with these people. To be fair, the app's developers are up front about this. This app is transparently a viewer that helps translate that immense library into a format that's more approachable for the iOS. With Gutenberg Literature, users can search the entire Project Gutenberg database and download texts directly to the device. Texts can be saved for offline viewing, so the user can peruse the complete works of William Shakespeare or Sir Arthur Conan Doyle at will. The books available are impressive: Readers can choose to read Plato and Tolstoy in translation or Joyce and Whitman in their original English. Users can search for texts by typing in their exact titles or by browsing extensive categories (which include everything from African American Writers to Witchcraft). Users can also bring up a "random" book from the project's more than 44,000 current entries.

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The best thing about this app is that it offers a convenient, visually simple way to search the wealth of resources available through Project Gutenberg. Unfortunately, its utility seems to end there. Options to resize, move, and invert the color of the text don't toggle back and forth and instead lock immediately after being selected. You have to reload in order to reset any changes made. The app is especially buggy with the iOS's built-in accessibility tools: It's difficult to select text to use the "Speak Selection" tool, and once in use it is nearly impossible to select text to stop the speech function.

In addition, it's not clear that Gutenberg Literature is a priority for its developers. The app repeatedly prompts users to upgrade to paid version of the app. You can pay $.99, a dialog box suggests, or give the app a five-star review on the Apple app store in order to receive it for free. (This may explain the app's many five-star reviews.) The last updates to the app's FAQ page are from 2012, and the questions and answers don't stray far beyond describing how to search for texts and mark some as favorites. Also, the app's page on the App Store features a screenshot that boasts the app is "Completely Legal" and "Completely Free," and that it features "Quality Litrature" [sic]. This may not inspire confidence in teachers or students.

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Overall Rating
2

Engagement Is the product stimulating, entertaining, and engrossing? Will kids want to return?
2

The scale of this app is staggering: It offers almost every public domain book there is. Unfortunately, readers can't do much with the texts after they've been downloaded.

Pedagogy Is learning content seamlessly baked-in, and do kids build conceptual understanding? Is the product adaptable and empowering? Will skills transfer?
1

While there are extraordinary texts available, there's almost no way for readers to interact with the text in a way that promotes critical thinking or analysis.

Support Does the product take into account learners of varying abilities, skill levels, and learning styles? Does it address both struggling and advanced students?
1

There's little in-app or online support. The app doesn't work well with the iOS's built-in accessibility tools that speak text, and the built-in capabilities to resize text and invert color are buggy at best.


Common Sense Reviewer
Patricia Monticello Kievlan Foundation/nonprofit member

Teacher Reviews

4
(See all 2 reviews) (2 reviews) Write a review
Featured review by
Thomas F. , Classroom teacher
Classroom teacher
South Fayette High School
Mcdonald, PA
4
Appropriate for pleasure reading, but limited as a teaching tool.

As I start to move more toward e-texts, I'm always looking for ways for students to access the classics we read in class on their devices. This app offers a literary buffet of public domain works, which is tempting. To start, I downloaded Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, which surprisingly offered images of illustrations and pages from an early edition of the novel. Very pretty. However, it is lacking a basic function I use all the time when I use etexts to teach: a search function. If, for example, I wanted to find every instance of the word "river" in the text, I couldn't do so with this app (as far as could see). Also, when I tried to get rid of the (very annoying) ads by upgrading to pro, the app crashed. Boo. Overall, I'm not blown away.

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