A Charlie Brown Christmas for iPad is stellar

Loud Crow Interactive has released A Charlie Brown Christmas for iPad and iPhone ($6.99, universal), and it’s a shining example the power, fun and intimacy of the iPad. This contemporary presentation of Charles Schultz’s 1965 classic includes original audio from the show, gorgeous artwork, rewards and all the charm of pop-up books that I loved in the 70’s. It’s even (optionally) narrated by Peter Robbins, the original voice of Charlie Brown! There’s nothing to loathe and everything to love about this charming app.

And that’s coming from a person who dislikes children’s books on the iPad.

Books As Toys

I spent eight years working as a teacher. In the early 90’s, “interactive books” were popular. Some featured a strip of sound effects buttons and a story that prompted kids to press them as they read. I despised those books because the students treated them as toys with books attached. Some even pulled the buttons off, disregarded the book and walked about making random sound effects.

Living Books by Brøderbund were also big back then. They shipped on CD and featured read-along animations based on popular titles like Arthur and Dr. Seuss. I still have that damn Just Grandma and Me memorized, right down to Little Critter’s inflection. The problem with Living Books was that nearly every object did something; click a crab to make it snap its claws or a bus to make its engine rumble. They were toys masquerading as books.

The “book as toy” phenomenon migrated to the iPad with digital children’s books. I’ve purchased a few for my own children (ages 8 and 6) and found the experience disappointing. Instead of listening to the story, my kids only want to “see what it does,” randomly tapping, swiping and flicking every image on the screen. When they succeed in finding an interactive element, they go nuts, swiping or tapping or flicking it repeatedly. At that point, we aren’t reading. We’re playing a video game.

Loud Crow Succeeds

iPad books are a relatively new concept. Some developers succumb to the romantic notion of what a digital book should be and pack in many gee-whiz features. Fortunately, the devlopers at Loud Crow resisted temptation. A Charlie Brown Christmas gets the balance right; there’s plenty to do, but not so much that it detracts from the reading.

Seriously, how beautiful is this?

UI

Nostalgia? You’re soaking in it. A Charlie Brown Christmas begins with a scene to warm any Gen-Xer’s heart: a vintage record player plays a 45 of “A Charlie Brown Christmas” (complete with warp!) as the album jacket and hardcover book rest beside it. Christmas lights blink in the corner. I’m not talking about those politically correct LCD doohickeys we have today. No, these are the big-as-a-baby’s-hand, cone-shaped lights that heat up to about 30 thousand degrees. Yeah, baby.

"Lights, please."

There are two options on the home screen: toggle the narration on/off and a volume slider for the music (provided by Vince Guaraldi, of course). Inside, the images appear to have been created on textured watercolor paper. Each page features several lines of dialog presented on tabbed boxes. The most charming part is that as you move from page to page, the elements slide in and out of view, just as they would in a physical pop-up book.

Moving between pages is simple and obvious. Plus, an ever-present bookmark offers immediate access to any page.

Use

To begin reading, tap the book to reveal the title page. Note that you can “decorate” the tree. More on that later. Flip the page to turn to page one and begin the story. The narration begins as snow falls on the ice-skating Peanuts gang. Tap the replay button to hear that page’s dialog again or tap a skater to hear a “hmm” or other brief, ponderous sound.

"You need involvement."

That’s what won me over. Yes, you can tap the kids on every page. No, they don’t burst into summersaults or pirouettes or Cirque du Soleil-style acrobatics when you do. Each “hmm” is a simple acknowledgement of what’s happenning in the scene. My kids soon discovered that, while cute and charming, the little “hmm’s” weren’t compelling enough to draw them away from the story. They sat. They listened. They laughed.

Dad smiled.

That’s not to say there aren’t any visual goodies. Most of them are availabe after the last line on a page has been read, which is great.

Additional Fun Features

Remember that tree on the title page? You can decorate it, but only a few ornaments are availble initially. You must perform certain actions to unlock all of them (hint: everyone likes to ice skate). Once that’s done, you can participate in the big Lights And Display Contest and see the prize.

Additionally, don’t miss the cast listing on the last page. Tap each cast member’s head to hear a classic line from the show.

Conclusion

Is this worth seven dollars? Good grief, yes! It’s nostalgic for me, delightful to my kids and not a game disguised as a book. Yes, there are “interactive” elements but not at a level that detracts from the experience. Congratulations to everyone who had anything to do with this app.

Sparky would have loved it.