Review by Patricia Monticello Kievlan, Common Sense Education | Updated August 2015
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War Horse Featuring Michael Morpurgo

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Exceptional interactive features bring historical fiction to life

Subjects & skills
Skills
  • Character & SEL
  • Critical Thinking

Subjects
  • English Language Arts
  • Social Studies
Grades This grade range is a recommendation by Common Sense Education and not the developer/publisher.
3-6
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Pros: Best-in-class design, cool videos, and a detailed timeline make this a great read and an even better learning experience.

Cons: Steep price tag and gigantic size might be barriers for some teachers and students.

Bottom Line: An exceptional way to explore historical fiction and go behind the story.

This app would work equally well in an ELA class or a social studies class. For a whole-class activity, project your iPad on a screen and have kids explore the timeline and experts' videos. If your whole class has the app, encourage kids to read and explore on their own. Have kids read the book chapter by chapter and discuss. Talk about how you can explore those themes in greater detail. What new information have you learned? Where could you look to learn more? Talk about how you might create some of these interactive elements in other books you read in class. What kind of timeline would be helpful for other historical fiction you've read? What facts would help extend the reading experience in other stories?

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War Horse featuring Michael Morpurgo is an interactive book that features the novel of the same name plus extensive background information on the novel, its plot, and World War I. From the menu screen, you can choose Novel and Audiobook (to read the book itself), Timeline (to explore an interactive timeline of World War I), and Insights (to watch videos from historians, artists, and the author himself). A sharing button on the menu screen lets users share out a basic message via email or social media ("I'm exploring the War Horse app!") or leave feedback for the developers.

In the Novel and Audiobook, kids can browse chapters by choosing a chapter from one of 24 tiles on the main screen or start the book from the beginning. Tap the sound icon to turn narration on; you'll hear author Michael Morpurgo reading his novel. From within the Audiobook, you can reveal a timeline of events from World War I that align with the story's events. Each timeline event is tagged with a theme for easy browsing and searching (like "Western Front" and "Soldiers"); users can tap the tags to read all the entries on that theme. Entries also sport a red badge icon to note which entries are photo collections, quotes from historical figures (with optional audio), or explanatory text provided by the developers.

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The Audiobook is terrific on its own. The narration is expressively read by its author, and the highlighting feature helps kids follow along as he reads. What makes this app special is how well it layers the history into historical fiction. It's astonishing to tap the "Timeline" button and see entries that align with the novel's events; kids can toggle back and forth between the events of the story and the real-life events that inspired it. Each element deepens the impact of the others. The story's made more meaningful with a heightened sense of the context, and the historical content gains richer texture from the personalization of knowing a character. That historical content is excellent, too: There's info about weapons, animal advocacy, the novel itself, and the production of the Steven Spielberg film based on the book, and there's truly something for everyone. More opportunities to personalize the experience -- by making notes or bookmarking favorite elements -- would make this excellent experience even richer. Overall, though, this app is a remarkable way to bring history to life.

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Overall Rating

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

With so much to tap, watch, and explore, kids can dive deep into the story at their own pace and on their own terms.

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

There's tons to read and research, and kids will love being able to immerse themselves in the world of the story.

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

Audio features and captions can be toggled on and off, making this a good fit for students with a wide range of abilities. Navigation is simple and flexible; there are lots of ways to read, watch, and explore.


Common Sense Reviewer
Patricia Monticello Kievlan Foundation/nonprofit member

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