Crack the Books

App review by
Debbie Gorrell, Common Sense Media
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Impressive interactive science resource, multilevel texts.

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The parents' guide to what's in this app.

Educational Value

Kids can learn about some of Earth's biomes including forests, oceans, grasslands, and freshwater bodies. By exploring the interactive text and graphics, kids will discover unique features of each biome: They can explore the locations, climates, plants, and animals whose adaptations help them survive. Kids can use the interactive glossary to build vocabulary and improve speech and language skills. Immediate feedback for incorrect answers would be helpful for kids as they work through the tests. Overall, however, the myriad features and accessibility of Crack the Books makes this learning tool an exceptional option for readers of many levels.

Ease of Play

Navigation is easy, and a detailed manual explains the layout and features of the textbooks. Some features such as highlighting and note taking require some practice. 

Violence & Scariness
Sexy Stuff
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Crack the Books is a collection of beautifully designed interactive textbooks. One textbook, Pines to Vines, is offered for free. Access to additional titles requires a fee-based subscription or individual books can be purchased separately. These titles are Seashores to Sea Floors, Parched Planet, Blades, and Aquatic Earth. The textbooks cover a variety of topics in great detail with features that support different reading levels and styles such as text to speech, highlighting, and note taking. Five reading levels are available, ranging from first through eighth grade. As they read, kids can change text size, have the text read aloud, and record their own voices while reading vocabulary terms. Each textbook has so much to offer that parents would benefit by spending some time reviewing the manual and using some of the features before sharing the books with kids. The sparse privacy policy doesn't provide much information, especially about nonpersonal information.

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What's it about?

Each interactive textbook covers a different biome, but all the textbooks have the same general layout and offer the same features. There are six options on the home page: Read, Map, Media, Tests, Settings, and Credits. The Read option is where kids will find most of the content. A reading pane with text appears on the left side of the screen, and kids swipe to read text. As various keywords pass through an arrow in the middle of the reading pane, supporting media appear on the right. Kids can tap green keywords to trigger the visual support and purple keywords to see and hear word definitions. They can also highlight text and create notes as they read. In the Map feature, kids can rotate a globe to see the locations of different biomes and can tap icons to learn more. The Media area lets kids access the photos and videos from the books, use the interactive glossary, read the app manual, create notes, and view teacher resources. After reading a book, kids can access chapter tests, create custom tests and can choose a reading level for each test. The subscription version also offers bonus content such as current-event videos and articles, coloring pages, activities, and interactive games.

Is it any good?

This one-stop resource gives kids access to digital textbooks that support a wide variety of learning styles and abilities and provides an engaging platform for science education. Features such as text highlighting, text to speech, note taking, chapter tests, and interactive media create an engaging, well-rounded learning experience; however, interactive elements can be distracting for some kids who might be tempted to scroll through without reading, so if you want to make sure your kid is reading, have her send test scores to your email address. The bonus content is a fun way for kids to extend and apply what they learned. Getting the hang of all the features and downloading the books can take a bit of time, so parents may want to offer plenty of guidance to get kids started. Also, there's no immediate feedback for incorrect test answers, which would be a nice feature. Some may find the annual subscription rate a little steep, so using the free trial textbook, Pines to Vines, is a great way to test out the product -- no strings attached.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the biomes and compare them to the area in which they live.

  • Read together and encourage kids to take notes about concepts they find most interesting.

  • If kids are too tempted by the interactive elements to read first, let them do a "picture walk" first where they tap and explore; then have them go back and read.

App details

  • Device: iPad
  • Subjects: Language & Reading: reading, reading comprehension
    Science: animals, biology, ecosystems and the environment, plants
  • Skills: Thinking & Reasoning: applying information, asking questions, memorization
  • Pricing structure: Free to try, Paid (One trial book; $29.99 per year for full access; Each individual book $9.99)
  • Release date: February 5, 2016
  • Category: Education
  • Size: 81.70 MB
  • Publisher: MES Publishing LLC
  • Version: 1.1.1
  • Minimum software requirements: iOS 8.2 or later
  • Last updated: January 19, 2021

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