Whoa! We aren’t in Kansas anymore, I say to Toby my little white dog. In David Wiesner’s SPOT, one may, like Dorothy, be transported into other lands. This immersive and wordless interactive storybook launches the reader into five incredibly detailed and beautiful worlds. The idea for the app was conceived years ago and was just a twinkle in the eye of its creator David Wiesner. Working with Houghton Mifflin Harcourt's team extraordinaire once the technology could portray and transition between the worlds, the app was able to come to fruition and make full use of the iPad's capabilities. Each exploration is a unique and individual experience, and that is what makes this app so exceptional. Exploration gives the worlds a 3D effect, and they are set as far away as the stars but as close as the tip of your nose. It only takes a little curiosity and finding the seeds of a trail interconnecting the worlds to see how the world so big can become one so close and accessible. The story changes with every explorer, although there is a theme unifying the worlds of finding a lost alien child (if you choose to tell your story that way).
On opening, by first tapping on the ladybug, then pinching and zooming, one lands into a busy ladybug factory. Here a very industrious crew is making a mechanical ladybug (that we may see in the future and/or past). On their work table is an array of objects that serve as a key. One that if you are aware of can bring you back or take you into another world, just like Dorothy clicking her ruby slippers together. The illustrations are rich, alive, and kids can stay and explore each page for as long as they’d like. It is up to the viewer to decide the direction they wish to take. By using a non-linear format, the app inspires creativity without judgment. It promotes exploration and indirectly reinforces learning through experimentation. Many apps purport to facilitate fine motor development, when in fact other than learning to point or if used with a stylus, rarely do. SPOT with the exploratory means of pinching and zooming stretches the web space between thumb and index finger for future tool use and also promotes hand separation skills. Teachers and therapists may enjoy the fact that use of a stylus and a finger, two fingers, or two styluses promote bilateral skills of using both hands in a cooperative and opposing manner. Sounds are present and give a spatial surround sound effect as if you were in the story itself - if one closes in on a scene or characters the sound gets louder or recedes within your proximity to the source. Wowie! That is truly thinking of everything from a user’s perspective. For educators and parents, there is a downloadable iBook that not only describes the making of SPOT but also includes an extensive guide for using SPOT to support goals in such areas as language and literacy, family and community, executive functioning, etc. in both the classroom and at home. It is well worth the download and gives ideas for writing prompts, discussion, and activities. Check out this free iBook.
The five keys or portals:
- Sandwich: access to Space Terminal
- Chocolate Chip Cookie: access to the Lower Rüg
- Menu Drawing: access to Katzaluna
- Newspaper Photo: access to Oceana Plume
- Blue Pencil: access to Mechanikos, the robot planet
Looking for these keys will keep kids grounded and helps them to direct in telling their own story. The keys are in every world as well as citizens from each world. When first transported, one finds the ladybugs in action – from attending a picnic to sledding down a hill in winter. On closer examination, one discovers a whole new universe in which to discover and play. It’s a riot finding the visitors in vacation mode with sightseeing, taking snapshots, and buying souvenirs.
Let’s explore these wild and strange new worlds and how to get there.
The Space Terminal is accessed through the sandwich. Initially one lands at a ladybug picnic, but on closer examination of the spilled sugar and a travel through time and space students find themselves at a wayward station that also connects them to all the other worlds via the keys. They are not as easy to find as you may think. Tip: Check out the elevator and its entire panel of buttons.
Lower Rüg is a tiny world found beneath a chair and is accessible through the chocolate chip cookie. Crumbs, dust bunnies, and tiny critters are all there, as well as pictures and the denizens of the other worlds. This is where we first see pictures of the lost alien child up close. Who knew what worlds lay beneath the armchair?
Katzluna is to be found through the menu typed photo. On opening, a swarm of mechanical ladybugs fills the air, until zooming down to street level. Here a kitty parade is underway, complete with balloons and sightseers from other lands. You have to love the fish from Oceana Plume being ogled by the
Mechanikos is the robot planet that is hidden within the blue pencil and held within a snowflake of the ladybugs sledding party. There are some pretty cool scenes in Mechanikos, but I don’t know if I could tolerate a stack of gears for breakfast with an ice-cold glass of oil.
Lastly, there is Oceana Plume and it is accessed through the newspaper photo. It opens to ladybugs scurrying about on a rainy day. By moving in closer, one finds the surrealistic world
under the sea. This was one of my favorite worlds, and I loved the play of the cats in the bubble on tour. And look who's here. That laddie sure gets around!
David Wiesner’s SPOT truly treads on innovate ground. It is an outstanding piece of work, and one that children will flock to again and again. It also challenges educators and parents to a new way of teaching through nonlinear means by observing how children think. SPOT is a teaching essential, and a TWA Top Pick.