“Throughout history, people all over the world have invented stories to answer the profound questions of life.” These are the opening words of this interactive book for the iPad. It’s also available in hardback and audiobook, but the authors have also chosen to utilise the iPad platform to bring the book to life, and provide engaging audio, video and interactive tasks to help make the ideas easily accessible.
“The Magic of Reality for iPad presents the real story of the world around us,” say the authors, and they present their work with the exquisite attention to detail worthy of the scribes of old. Let’s take a closer look.
What’s it about?
Authors Richard Dawkins and Dave McKean have joined forces to write and illustrate a delightful book on the nature — the magic — of reality. Using twelve straightforward questions such as “When and how did everything begin?” “What are things made of?” and “Why do bad things happen?” the authors present clear explanations of the stories and myths that have grown up around these questions, and the truth and facts that science has enlightened us with. Designed with the younger reader in mind, the app is very easy to navigate, looks delightful and has quite a few interactive pieces to play with that assist with understanding the key ideas.
How do I get around?
To get around the app you swipe from right to left to advance through the text, swipe from left to right to go back through the text, and pressing two figures into the screen and gesturing down reveals the overview menu. In this view, the top two-thirds can be swiped left and right also to rapidly advance through the chapters in the book (top third) or the pages in the chapter (middle third). Tapping on any one of the pages in the center third takes you directly to that page, full-screen.
If you want to jump straight to an interactive piece, they appear as small red squares with an audio or hand symbol at the top of the middle navigation pane as you scroll.
What can I do?
One of the first interactive pieces is a game named Frogs vs Snake. In this, you have to selectively choose to breed the next generation of frogs based on their leg length. After five generations of selection, a snake will try and attack the frogs. Depending on your choices, will your frogs survive or be eaten by the snake?
As well as the help that is found underneath the “i” button in the top left corner, Richard Dawkins narrates the instructions the moment each interactive element starts. This is a superb addition to the playability of the app, and you really do feel carried along by the author.
In a mini-game reminiscent of the Nintendo DS “blow the mic to do something” mode of playing, there is an excellent “blow the iguanas home” piece. Various whirlwinds start up and disappear and you have to, somehow, blow the iguanas past these perils to safety. Once again, when you complete the task, Richard Dawkins speaks to you about survivors, natural selection and the explanation of how the mini-game relates to what you’ve just been reading.
As well as utilising the microphone for this mini-game, the interactive piece “States of matter” uses the gyroscopic tilt of the iPad, as well as the touchscreen, to show you explanations of tilt and pressure with liquids and solids. A good balance is made between reading sections of text, on-page animations, additional narration and the set mini-game pieces to keep the whole book flowing and interesting for a longer reading session.
If you persevere with the mini-games and reach a satisfactory outcome, the audio commentary changes accordingly. This enhances the feel of the dynamic and interactive nature of the book. There’s a familiarity to one of the games that deals with gravity; If you liked Angry Birds Space, then you’ll love “Fire Newton’s Canon.” In this mini-game, the length of your stroke determines the velocity of your cannonball, and the angle of the canon its trajectory. You can get extra mileage out of these mini-games by trying to get all cannonballs launched in the fewest attempts.
Listen, Play and Learn
It is very important to note that the audio of Richard Dawkins narration is exceptionally clear, very well put together and is available both through the mini-games and also dotted throughout the book in helpful places, adding explanation or instruction as you read, or at the end of a game to highlight a lesson to be learnt. In some games or interactive pieces, such as “The size of stars,” the narration continues regardless of what you do in the interactive element. If you miss something, each audio segment is accessible form the drop-down menu in grey at the top-left of the app.
Throughout the book, science and the scientific method of testing evidence, is paramount. It is one thing to ask the question “What is a rainbow,” but quite another to play with accurate physical models of prisms and spilt white light into corresponding colours, filtering further just one colour or another.
The care with which the app has been put together is evident, and it makes for a very enjoyable and absorbing read. This attention to detail is also seen in the body of the text, too. You will notice that as you read that there are topical themed images, some animated and some that scroll slowly like distant backgrounds.
Each chapter begins by summarising popular myths and explanations to the chapter’s question. This is followed by the truth that science brings, and as you explore this truth through the text and interactions you really do have to agree with the authors: “The truth is more magical than any myth or made-up mystery or miracle. Science has its own magic.” So does this terrific app.