App Review: Amelia and Terror of the Night

Whine, the monster

Amelia and the Terror of the Night is a beautifully illustrated, highly interactive book app for children. Its plot is a fairly simple one, in which the “brave and clever” Amelia must rescue her friend from an ghoulish monster called Whine. (More on the story in a minute.) The tale unfolds over the course of about 40 gorgeously illustrated pages (screens), alternating between full-screen interactive scenes and smaller framed illustrations that serve to simply move the story along. The story is told by a narrator (whose voice can be turned off), but in each of the primary scenes, the reader can also click the characters to have them speak dialog that further supports (but is not essential to) the story.

Other interactive elements serve to draw the reader into the story. In one scene, the reader can help Amelia prepare for her quest by choosing various equipment and protective gear. In another, one can then help Amelia use her flashlight to search for Whine in a darkened scene. These activities help keep the reader engaged and heighten the tension of the story. In neither case do the reader’s actions impact the storyline in any way, but this fact is only disappointing the second or third time through the story, when he or she realizes that the text and animations are the same regardless.

Each of the scene pages also features a number of automatically animated details (bubbles, fireflies, etc.), but most of the animations are triggered by the reader. It seems that almost every nook and cranny of the highly detailed illustrations has some bit of clever animation waiting to be revealed (most of which are amusing but not related to the story itself). Some of these clickable areas are highlighted, but many are not. Some are only revealed by tilting the device to pan the screen left or right. The illustrations are 3D, so this panning gives the scenes added depth as well as width.

The interactivity of the app is further enhanced with a number of game play features. There are a few actual games built in, including a cutely animated tic-tac-toe and another pattern-memory game, patterned after SIMON(TM) and animated with croaking frogs. The latter would have been more fun if the instructions had not been so misleading. Perhaps I’ve spent too much time playing Rosetta Stone games, but after being told to “Listen how we croak, remember and repeat,” I was literally croaking at the screen—hilarious in hindsight, but not much fun at that moment. Throughout the story, there are stars hidden in the various animations and illustration details. Capturing 60 of these stars unlocks another scene and additional games, but I admit that I was never able to find all 60.

All of this animation and interactivity is highly appealing and incredibly well-executed, and the illustrations are wonderful, but what about the story itself? This is where Amelia and Terror of the Night narrows its audience considerably: In the beginning of the story, Whine actually steals the soul of Amelia’s tortoise friend, Pencil. A few pages later, we see poor Pencil’s lifeless body lying in a wooden casket beside a freshly dug grave (screen shot below). Amelia and her companions saying their goodbyes and about to put the lid on Pencil’s casket when she has the idea to rescue his soul from Whine. The story is clearly intended to be a spooky one, and the concept of the soul as separate from the body is one that older children can understand. However, the story is very short (42 pages, with only one or two sentences per page) and the plot is very straightforward and not-at-all clever. It left me wondering what age range of children would be old enough to understand the abstract concept of the soul being stolen without being quickly bored by the simplicity and shortness of the story. Certainly there is such an age for most children, but it might be a narrow window and it will vary considerably from one child to the next.

What do you think? At what age(s) do you think children can understand (and enjoy) an interactive, animated picture book about soul-stealing? Let us know in the comments below!

Amelia and her friends hold a "funeral" for Pencil.
Amelia and her friends hold a “funeral” for Pencil.

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