Hoot Owl: Master of Disguise by Sean Taylor and illustrated by Jean Jullien.
Taylor, Sean and Jean Jullien, illustr. and Rick Adamson, narr. Hoot Owl: Master of Disguise. Somerville, MA: Candlewick Press, 2014.
I borrowed the e-book version of Hoot Owl: Master of Disguise via the library borrowing app, Libby. I was intrigued and (pleasantly!?) surprised to find that it is narrated with audio! This is the first time I have experienced a picture book with audio as an e-book. The pages turn themselves, counting down three seconds until readers have had time to look at the illustrations. Because you are looking at only half of the page spread at a time, at least on the mobile version, this renders the comedic timing only ever so slightly out of whack. The story follows a goofy owl determined to catch some prey as food and profess himself as a scary predator (though he is all but in this story). Despite his creative and silly disguises (from carrot to ornamental bird bath), he keeps being foiled, giving readers the opportunity to follow the pattern of the storyline and make predictions. Each time he is out of luck however, the owl persists, proclaiming “nevermind. I am Hoot Owl! I am hungry! (and hungrier and hungrier) And here I come!” Readers and listeners could likely chime in with the chorus on a second read. The book itself has won a couple of awards and, an example of transmedia, was even transformed into a show for children, adapted using puppets, animation, and costume changes around theaters across the UK.
The illustrations are simply drawn digital renderings, with blocks of color outlined in thick black strokes. Bright colors and high contrast will keep kids eyes on the pages as the narrator reads the story. The narrator’s deep voice perfectly conveys the owl’s supposed bravado and kids will revel in the subtle humor of the entire composition. At it’s core, this is a cute and funny story perfectly meeting its purpose of making children laugh at the main character’s dilemma and curious attempts to remedy.
This story is a great read for around Halloween, without being an overt Halloween narrative – ( it is good for classrooms with students who don’t celebrate), students can discuss disguises and what makes things scary or not. Students could invent their own disguises, or write a story about another animal trying to disguise themself as they look for lunch.
Looking for an app to support language learning, specifically Spanish? Check out the app for kids FabuLingua: Kids Learn Spanish Through Stories.
The app features interactive stories, with fantastical and magical storylines that tricks kids into learning the language as they move through the world. The app opens unto a peaceful and colorful scene of trees and mountains and a path leading from the lake to the mountains. With bright colors and a dreamy calming nature soundtrack, the look is reminiscent of the Candyland boardgame. Players (or, er, storytellers?) can click on one of the floating animated characters, from a racoon, to a fairy, to a pirates, or a frog dressed as an explorer, each character then narrating a story where kids take the lead, sort of like a digital and colorful version of choose-your-own adventure stories, in Spanish. They can even record themselves speaking Spanish and track their progress by earning stickers, that can then be used to create their own stories! Using game play, kids navigate various stories featuring mostly magical creatures and animals. As they progress through stories and translations, it becomes more challenging. The app is interactive and readers follow along as it reads aloud in Spanish, highlighting each word as spoken. Earning points as you go, you open up new story paths and threads.
My biggest frustration using this app was that in some stories, many features seem unavailable due to a paywall. Unless you invest in the premium version through subscribing, you will not be able to get the full benefit of the app, including not being able to even finish individual stories. I seem to remember that when I first downloaded it, several months ago, there was a premium version and you could go quite far without paying; now it seems their pay set up has changed to be subscription based. Each of the stories is only available for the first few pages without subscribing. With the immersive and fantastical platform, kids could easily be tricked into subscribing if payment methods are saved on a device. I do like that the app is based on tricking kids into learning, or as the developers call it, invisible learning based in story telling. The app was conceived by a family who wanted an app of its kind. Leslie Omana Begert, along with her husband, based the game on her studies in linguistics, psychology and in her personal bilingual background. Despite the paywall, I can help but agree with the number of awards and recognition this cute and whimsical educational app has received, from being WINNER of the 2021 LaunchPad “Language Education Technology Competition”to being a 2020 winner of the AASL’s best digital tools for teaching and learning.
Commonsense media recommends it for ages four and up on a list of apps to help kids learn languages. You can read the detailed review from Commonsense media here. This language arts app is based in the essence and magic of storytelling, a creative and novel idea that requires self direction from kids as they navigate the stories and even go on to create their own narrative threads.