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Digital Storytelling Comes to Life on the iPad

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Until such time when Facebook and texting take over their lives, pretend play-acting and storytelling take up most of kids' play time and mental space. At least for my seven-year-old daughter, that's still the case.

So when I was asked to review the Toontastic app for the iPad by one of its creators, Andy Russell, I was happy to oblige. And so was Lucy.

Negotiating the app is as intuitive as could be. A voice takes you through the whole process in creating five different scenes: the setup, conflict, challenge, climax, and resolution, and she explains what each scene means. The setup, for instance, introduces the characters and story setting, the climax helps the main character solve the problem, and the resolution shows that the problem has been settled.

For each scene, the creator can choose from a variety of different backdrops -- everything from a dragon's field with a mysterious nest of golden eggs, to pirate ships, to a castle gate, to a shipwreck.

Now it's time to choose characters. Is your story set in medieval times with a knight clad in armor, a queen, and a set of dungeon keys? Or would you prefer to have a peg-legged, one-eyed sword-wielding pirate with his trusty pet monkey duel a golden-bearded, hook-armed villain? Throw in a blue dragon, a red-headed princess, a pink octopus, a harp, and a scuba diver, and you've got the makings of a gripping play.


But here's the best part: if you don't want any of those choices, you can create your own backdrop and characters on a sketchpad. In the spirit of a true DIY play, anything goes.

Once the character and backdrop are in place, it's time to record the scene. Click on "start animation" and the app records your voice as you narrate the plot while you move your characters around back and forth on the scene.

What's a good story without the right music to set the mood? For each of the five scenes, the storyteller can choose from three different scores. Do you want to create a joyous mood, or one that conveys anger, or fright?

With each of the five scenes, the storyteller goes through the same process -- choosing characters, backdrops, and music -- until the resolution. When you're done, write the movie title, your name as the director, and you're done. You can see the entire story played out, scene after scene, with your own recorded voice and character movement. And if you're ready for the world to see your work, you can upload it to YouTube directly from the app.

Play Put to Work

From the time Lucy got her hands on the app, she was hooked. She played for at least an hour that day, making half a dozen of her own films. And a few weeks later, it's the app she asks to play with the most.

Though I was crushed that her first story told the tale of a princess saved by a knight (what about all our talks about empowered female characters?) each of her stories reflected more of her own quirky personality: "Party it Up,""Monkeys are Funny," "Lulu the Treasure Hunter."

I could see the wheels in her brain turning as she came up with the different plot lines. Her ideas became more sophisticated, the setup of each scene more strategic.

If mobile apps are meant to be quick shots of fun learning tools, Toontastic might be the exception. Lucy has spent a lot of time on this one. That's not to say that she's stopped drawing and creating her own books -- she still does that. But this app is another viable outlet for her artistic expression.

In my next post, Andy Russell will talk about the value of storytelling as a learning tool.

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