Magic Town by Mindshapes is a virtual world inhabited by characters from children’s books, it can be visited via the Magic Town website or via the Magic Town iPad app. When the child visits Magic Town they are welcomed by two guides – Max and Izzy, who show them around and introduce them to Louis the storytelling Lion. Each day that they come back to Magic Town Louis has a new story to share with them. There is a lot of free content in Magic Town- 20 free books and 1 new free story every day. If you subscribe you can access all Magic Town’s content and set up profiles for up to four children, or you can buy extra stories individually. This review is of the full version.
When you enter Magic Town you can see a map of the town – it won’t have this many houses on to start with – they are gradually added. A good place to start is Louis the Lion’s Storytelling Tree where Louis will present the story of the day. Once this story has been read, it will appear in the relevant house in Magic Town, and be available to read anytime. The child can then explore Magic Town – there are some fun interactive elements and lots of houses to visit. Each house represents a particular character or series of stories e.g. the multi-colored house is Elmer the Elephant’s, the helicopter is the Super Fairies Fairycopter and the tortoise contains Aesop’s Fables. When you enter each house you can choose from several books, and play matching games, play spot the difference and do jigsaw puzzles (choosing 6,12 or 20 pieces). As you create individual profiles for your children, which include their age and gender, the app choose different stories to present to each child, and adjusts this over time in response how the child uses Magic Town. You can also browse through the book library and access books there that haven’t yet been presented to your child.
For each story there are four different choices on how to enjoy it: 1) Read Together: an adult or child reads the story themselves, the pictures are animated, there are no interactive elements. 2) Explore: a narrator reads the story with animation, sound effects and interactive tasks and questions. 3) Play- a narrator reads the story, but the child clicks on characters or objects to move the story forward. 4) Watch: a narrator reads the story which is animated, and without interactive elements. In all modes the text is displayed but there is no text highlighting as it is read. At the time of writing the website contains approximately 70 stories, the app has approximately 60 (they will ultimately contain the same number), they plan to keep adding about fifteen new stories a month and have over 200 stories licensed for the Magic Town.
One thing that really stands about Magic Town is the quality of the books, they have teamed up with major publishers to produce create Magic Town including- Penguin, Oxford University Press, Usbourne, Simon & Schuster and many more. My children found many book series they already knew and loved, familiar faces included Elmer, Winnie the Witch and the Boot family from Apple Tree farm, we also found lots of books that were new to us but equally well done. I like having lots of options on how to enjoy the story – it means you can change how you use the app depending on the personality of the child and also the circumstances. Professionals, including some famous names, narrate the books beautifully. It is really well done and will encourage children to become engaged in the books and in reading. The recommended age range is 2-9 years. To access books on the website you need an internet connection, but in the iPad app once you have downloaded the story, you can also access it offline – which is a major bonus for me. I also like the concept of having the books in houses – it makes it easy to find other books by the same author or on the same theme, and the games are a nice extra too. There are a couple of things I would like to see added in the future 1) Text highlighting option 2) A parents guide to tell you what age/ reading level each book or series is aimed at.
My daughter recently had surgery and when she was recuperating she didn’t want to watch TV at all, and was much less interested in the iPad than usual, but the one thing she was really interested in was visiting the Magic Town Website (the app hadn’t yet launched). All three of my children really enjoy visiting Magic Town and discovering the stories here, and I can already see that we will be getting a lot of use from Magic Town for years to come, and with so much high quality content it is something we return to again and again.
Overall, I would highly recommend you and your child take a visit to Magic Town. Mindshapes have teamed up with some of the top names in children’s book publishing to bring you very high quality children’s books, and have done a great job to turn them into a really engaging reading experience. The cost of the subscription is $11.99 for one month, but drops to just over $6 a month if you take out an annual subscription ($79.99), this includes access to both the website and the app. Although it is more expensive than some other subscription book services, I do think the quality of the content justifies the price – I would consider it the Cadillac of Children’s Book apps. I would highly recommend visiting the website and downloading the app – even if you don’t subscribe you will get access to 20 free high quality books and one new story each day. When you first download a book to the iPad it can take a while (depending on the speed of your internet connection) so if you want to get a quick idea of what Magic Town includes you may want to explore the website first via this link, as the books are available there almost instantaneously. I think Magic Town is a place you will want to keep visiting.