The iExplore series from Carlton Books is a set of non-fiction, life science picture books fusing old technology with the new; each book is paired with an AR app that brings to life the animals or elements learned about in each book. For this review, I read four iExplore books: Predators, Micro Monsters, The Brain, and Extinct Animals. The books are $11.30 with the free app included, but the apps on their own are free (or $1.99 for additional features).
The combination of print materials with digital engagement is very clever, receiving approval both from traditionalists and those seeking more innovative, multimedia approaches to learning. I found that the app and physical book complemented each other nicely, providing different information and experiences that could be enjoyed independently or collaboratively between children or between children and their parents. The ability to interact with the AR subjects and move them around the room makes it really feel possible to bring to life the subjects of a book.
I liked that everything about the experience, from the language to the graphics, emphasized that this experience was an exciting one. Building excitement about learning is really important, because that enthusiasm increases engagement in both the printed word and the digital learning taking place. Inspiring disgust or awe at how high fleas can jump or a lioness’ roar makes learning anything but a drag.
The app includes little quizzes users can take to test their knowledge as well. This is a nice way to check and see if objectives have been reached.
While the quality of the AR is typically quite good, it still had its glitchy moments. I found that if I ever waved my hand in front of the camera, the AR image would completely disappear, and I’d have to relocate the target to bring my subject back. Additionally, every time I took a photo in the Predators of Extinct Animals app, I’d lose my subject. Some updates or improvements in AR reliability would be welcome.
While I loved the creatures in three of the books, I was most underwhelmed by The Brain. While this book has the tagline "Venture inside your head with augmented reality," relatively few of the activities actually involved AR. There were games to play that demonstrated and applied concepts learned in the book, but these could have been played in any digital format. They weren’t bad games, but they felt more distantly related to the book than the AR illustrations, and it was disappointing to not spend more time engaging with virtual systems and phenomena inside the human body.
The concept of the iExplore series is a real winner; I would have loved having these books as a kid, and will definitely be recommending them to parents and elementary school teachers I know. Both when it comes to educational and entertainment value, this series is most definitely worth investing in.Image: by Melanie Hering