Bottom line: A humorous ebook for school age children that's filled with beeping and honking sound effects and an extremely embarassed pre-teen. Sound familiar?
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Mum's Cronky Car from UK developer Digital Leaf is a humorous digital book for ages 4+ which features the lamenting of a young girl who is embarrassed to have to go everywhere in the family's old broken-down car. The book is yet another title from Anita Pouroulus and it's illustrated by Jon Lycett-Smith. It's similar in style to her other works, Pancake Pandemonium and Oh, What a Tangle but lacks some of the whimsy of those efforts.
With its bumper bar held on with a bit of rope, a bent antennae and mismatching colours, the Cronky car is visually not up to scratch. It also refuses to start without a mighty push and tends to leave bits behind it as it haphazardly takes its trip to drop the children to school. With much clunking and backfiring, the Cronky car gets overtaken and rudely beeped at by other vehicles while the girl passenger daydreams about travelling to school by a different vehicle – an elephant, an ostrich or maybe even a hippopotamus. But this daydream is rudely interrupted by an overtaking honking truck and she slinks back down in her seat. Finally, probably fed up with the girl's perpetual whining and the other cars overtaking and beeping rudely at it, the Cronky car suddenly takes to the skies. This is a much better way to travel it seems, except for dad, who, it appears, doesn't like heights.
The app is set up as a narrated story with enough animation to keep it interesting and to tie into the story, but not so much that it overwhelms it. The real stars of the story are the great noisy high energy sound effects and the brightly coloured pictures – there is an awful lot of humour in the pictures and the animation which the text somehow fails to capture. There is a choice of two narrators – an adult or a child (teen) version. I preferred the adult narration as the teen one paused just a little too long at the end of each rhyme which makes it clunky. The adult narration is also really much more interestingly dramatised. She does an excellent job at managing to make the sometimes stilted rhyming flow reasonably smoothly.
The text is highlighted as it is narrated and the pace is a good speed for reading along with. There is a 'continue from where you left off' option if you re-enter the app after having left the story halfway through. This is handy as it's a reasonably long story. The interface is simple and easy to use with uncluttered navigation – there're no confusing pop-up menus with minigames and 16 different options.
Players can find a spanner (wrench for those of us who don't speak the Queen's English) on every page to unlock a bonus game. I'm still looking for all those darn spanners so I don't know what the bonus game is yet, but I'm determined to find out. The home page has a little cog which holds all the extra info – settings where you can turn the narration on or off and choose a narrator, instructions, other apps, all the usual external links, and the credits. As this ebook is not aimed at really little children I can't imagine the external links proving to be an issue in this case.
The app didn't really catch the attention of my almost 4 year old daughter but she enjoyed some of the animations, especially putting the bits of the car back together when it dramatically falls apart in the middle of the traffic intersection. She's not really the target audience though as it's for ages 4+ and I'd suggest that it would be more interesting and age-appropriate for aged 7-10 readers. I also appreciated the fact that the main character is a young girl but the content and context is not girly. This is a valuable find in a culture that continues to try to pigeonhole girls into pink frills and boys into blue trucks.
Overall, the concept and execution are good but the story tends to drag on with several pages of text belonging to each picture and the story not really going anywhere until the car suddenly takes off into the sky. Some of the pictures are repeated which combined with the extended load time for each page, also adds to the feel of not going anywhere. Kind of like the old Cronky car itself. With that aside, the book will be enjoyed by both girls and boys who love a funny app filled with honking sound effects.
Eleanor Holland remembers her own version of the Cronky car from growing up. It was small and canary yellow and had cracked vinyl seats. It always got us from A to B with a minimum of clunking.
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