Axel’s Chain Reaction by Laura Allison Pomenta Badolato blew me away with its features, and it’s no surprise why. According to the iTunes Preview, the storybook app has won several awards such as The Parent’s Choice Golden Award and the App Circus Online Competition, and it is recommended by the National Science Teachers Association.
Axel is a third grader who exhibits quirky behavior, suggesting he struggles with emotional development. He is very active and often has random or incomplete thoughts. Sometimes Axel unintentionally shares these incomplete thoughts with others which makes him the target of teasing. But Axel also has a very creative side that he desperately wants to show others. The perfect opportunity to share his creativity arrives when his teacher announces an upcoming student talent exhibition. Inspired by the work of kinetic artists Alexander Calder, Alejandro Otero, and Theo Jansen, Axel decides to create a giant moving insect for the student talent exhibition. As is apt to happen with over-excited and easily frustrated children, Axel’s plan does not exactly turn out the way he envisioned it. But the process brings new experiences and opportunities to Axel, his classmates, and the app’s user.
Axel’s Chain Reactions has several features that will fascinate children. Perhaps the neatest feature I found was an embedded video that describes the work of kinetic artist Alejandro Ortero. Tapping the Play button seamlessly plays the video inside the app itself as opposed to playing it in a web browser or the YouTube app, saving children from having to navigate from one iPad app back to the book app. Children will undoubtedly be amused as the video explains how Ortero designed this sculpture to interact with the wind.
The app itself is also kinetic as several pages encourage children to shake the iPad to make things happen. In the following picture, children shake the iPad to “empty” Axel’s bag.
Children can also explore ways to make insect out of common objects and save images of their creations by pressing the camera icon. This was my attempt to make a praying mantis using the items provided:
One feature I found particularly interesting is the section that provides biographical information about three kinetic artists. Alexander Calder’s bio provides an outside link to a YouTube video of a wire Circus, and Dutch artist Theo Jansen’s bio has a link to a website that explains how his Strandbeests sculptures work. To protect children, the link prompts an adult to provide an answer to a math problem. (At this time, the YouTube link doesn’t go directly to Calder’s Circus video. I have contacted the app’s creator who stated the link must have been moved and the issue will be resolved in a future app update.)
The app includes three hands-on activities that show children how to create their own moving art. Children can choose to make a kinetic sculpture, a rolling optical illusion, or twirling circles. Each activity includes a detailed list of supplies, step-by-step instructions, and a quick video demonstrating the finished product.
Other cool features include a couple of scenes using parallax scrolling, allowing children to explore hidden areas of Axel’s classroom. In addition, the app has a built-in camera which children can use to take a picture of themselves as they enjoy the story. Finally, the glossary included in the app explains some of the terms used when discussing Kinetic art.
In summary, Axel’s Chain Reaction is unique because it has a whole lot of punch in one app. It deals with the daily struggles of many children – emotional development, teasing, and wanting to be accepted. It brings the world of art to life for children through its hands-on activities. It engages children with interactive portions of the story. It educates children about Kinetic art and artists. Axel’s Chain Reaction is definitely worth the investment for parents, special education teachers, classroom teachers, and especially art teachers.
Recommended for children ages 6 through 9, Axel’s Chain Reaction works on both the iPhone and the iPad. It is available on iTunes for $2.99. There is also a lite version of the app if you want to try it out before purchasing the full version. Or even better, watch the app’s official trailer on YouTube.
Disclosure: I received a promo code for Axel’s Chain Reaction.