SparkNotes

App review by
Amanda Bindel, Common Sense Media
SparkNotes App Poster Image
Detailed study guides a solid supplement to required books.

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A lot or a little?

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

Educational Value

Kids can learn details about works of literature and learn to read more closely for multiple layers of meaning as they refer to SparkNotes' analyses of different titles. Parents may want to make sure teens are fully reading their assignments rather than relying on ideas presented in SparkNotes rather than developing their own or actually understanding the themes of the works. SparkNotes shouldn't be used as a replacement for fully reading literature, but it can certainly be used as a learning supplement.

Ease of Play

The options are clearly labeled and easy to follow. Downloading additional (free) titles for offline access is easy as well.

Violence

Some of the works of literature summarized and analyzed by SparkNotes include violent scenes, which are graphically described.

Sex

Some of the works of literature summarized and analyzed by SparkNotes include sexual themes, including violent sexual acts.

Language

Some of the works of literature summarized and analyzed by SparkNotes include harsh language.

Consumerism

Kids will see clickable banner ads across the bottom of the screen.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Some of the works included feature drinking, drug use, and smoking.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that the SparkNotes app features study guides for lots of required reading books. Their summaries include details from classic literature that may be inappropriate for young kids, though teens should be able to discuss the issues in the contexts of the works. Some works include violent or disturbing themes (such as Night by Elie Wiesel or Beloved by Toni Morrison). Others include sexual themes (Brokeback Mountain by Annie Proulx) or explicit language (such as The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger). As long as you're sure your kids are using SparkNotes as a supplement, not a replacement, it's a great resource for high school-age kids.

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What's it about?

SPARKNOTES, owned by Barnes & Noble, offers free study guides for hundreds of literary works on its website. The app version is preloaded with 50 pieces of literature, including poetry, Shakespearean plays, and novels that frequent high school reading lists, such as 1984, Brave New World, The Canterbury Tales, and The Odyssey. When connected to Wi-Fi, kids also can access all the site's library titles, easily downloading them to their devices for offline access. Each title includes a plot overview, background information about the author and the work, a character list, and analysis, including explorations of themes, motifs, and symbols. Kids can read a detailed chapter-by-chapter summary, explanations of important quotations, and lists of key facts and study questions.

Is it any good?

Though teachers and parents generally frown on kids using study aids such as SparkNotes without reading the full text, used well these particular resources can help teens better understand and analyze the literature after reading it. The SparkNotes library is extensive, with hundreds of titles available, and includes most high school and college reading lists. Parents may appreciate using the app as a way to refresh their memories of the works their kids are currently reading (or to get an idea of the work if they've not read it themselves). If you're concerned about kids using the app instead of reading an assigned book, keep in mind that sometimes, when kids have a preliminary understanding of a text's plot and characters, they're more easily able to understand the original text, especially in cases where the language and text complexity prove to be challenging. Students may even find inspiration in some of the ideas they read, bringing their own insights into class discussions and analytical writing.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about good ways to use study guides -- as a supplement and not as a replacement to reading. What would readers miss out on if they only read summaries and study aids? 

  • You may want to review SparkNotes for your kids' assigned readings to refresh your memory or let you know the basics of what your kids are reading.

App details

Themes & Topics

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For kids who love understanding literature

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