Review by Leslie Crenna, Common Sense Education | Updated March 2013
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No-frills e-library lacks high-quality literature

Subjects & skills
  • English Language Arts

  • Communication & Collaboration
Grades This grade range is based on learning appropriateness and doesn't take into account privacy. It's determined by Common Sense Education, not the product's publisher.
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Pros: The variety of genres, Spanish stories, and colorful design may interest young pre-readers.

Cons: In addition to a lack of engaging stories, the reading level doesn't match the stated age range, and stories have long download times.

Bottom Line: iStoryBooks narrates free, colorful books, but the simplistic literature and problematic interface detract.

With this original but not exceptional tool, you could teach vocabulary, some reading comprehension skills, elements of storytelling, and some Spanish. Nonfiction titles offer science and social studies concepts. However, many of you will be left hungering for higher-quality literature and cutting-edge art, and the occasional misspelling and editing errors will have you cringing.

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In this collection of nonfiction, biography, and folk tales, narrator Maya Ray reads to preschool and elementary-age kids stories about transportation, dinosaurs, important people, and sea animals. Stories are also in full-page, read-to-me format.

At the myLibrary main menu, kids tap the cover of their desired title. After it downloads, stories advance automatically in Movie Mode or are read clearly in Read to Me mode. On Android devices, the back button navigates from stories to myLibrary; on iOS devices, you tap the screen and use the Library arrow. A plus sign is supposed to give adults access to new titles. Among the 25 free titles are "A to Z Fruits and Vegetables," "Three Little Pigs," "El Zorro Azul," a West African (Gambian) tale called "The Fish Snatcher," "The Amazing Life of Helen Keller," "Sea Animals," and "Things That Go."

Unfortunately, for many stories the reading level is too high for the targeted ages. Some titles have nearly 40 words per page at a seventh-grade level per Flesch-Kincaid scores. Download times can be lengthy, and iStoryBooks has a few small bugs. The in-app purchase of additional titles (a $.99/month subscription) is protected by a multidigit addition password, but some precocious first-graders could figure it out. During our review, the option to purchase additional titles (by tapping the plus sign) didn't work on iOS devices.

Modern photos fill the screen with crisp colors, and cartoon quality is comparatively good. The printed text matches the narration, so readers can try to follow along; however, there are no highlighted words or other interactive features, so kids can't participate with the text in any way. There's also no pause button, which would really be nice, especially since mode changes and library deletions can only be made within titles.

Overall Rating

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

Art is good quality and design is clean, but iStoryBooks would really benefit from interactivity that supports each story, as well as higher-quality fiction.

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

Kids listen to stories about transportation, animals, and people. Printed text matches each narration, so young readers can try to follow along, but with no highlighted words or interactive features they may not be interested.

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

The app is OK without a help section, but some small on-screen buttons, the option to pause, and better navigation would improve the interface.

Teacher Reviews

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Featured review by
Cynthia S. , Media specialist/librarian
Media specialist/librarian
Fremont Public Schools
Fremont, United States
iStoryBooks: Storybooks on Core Subjects - Little Interactive Content
Overall, this is a nice resource even though it is not as interactive as some other story resources. It would serve students who struggle with reading or are in an ELL environment.
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