Ruckus Reader: A Bookshelf For iPad Children’s Books

| In-Depth Review

Ruckus Reader is a bookshelf of children’s book apps from different publishers aggregated into a an iPad Newstand interface for kids. That’s about the closest analogy I can think of, but it really doesn’t do it justice. While Newstand holds a bunch of non-connected magazines, Ruckus Reader connects its content and regardless of the publisher or title, it provides valuable statistics on how much time a child is spending on a book. There is somewhat less valuable basic information aligned with national educational standards for preschool through second grade education in weekly progress reports that can be sent to up to four email addresses. One account can handle up to four children. 

The Welcome Screen For Any Ruckus App

There are a few bookshelf-for-kids apps out now and more will be coming. It was inevitable that one-off children’s book apps would eventually get lost in the shuffle, and the next step was to create a department store or, if you will, a Walmartization of the children’s book field. Ruckus Reader does some things well and some things poorly as can be expected when dealing with the intellectual property of a number of disparate providers.

 

The My Little Pony Bookshelf

There is no Ruckus Reader app per se. To get the system, you download one of a number of free apps that give you the bookshelf and highlight the brand of the book you downloaded. The current partnering brands are Hasbro that provides book collections featuring “My Little Pony”, “Transformers” and “Chuck and Friends” along with books from Crayola, Sea World, The Wiggles, Cyberchase and Dino Dan. Other partners include media from the Rabbit Ears Library providing videos and books of classic stories narrated by celebrities such as Denzel Washington, Robin Williams and Meryl Streep. Scholastic Books is also represented.

 

Pecos Bill from the Rabbit Ears Collection with Narration by Robin Williams on the Video

Each Hasbro Brand or publishing company has its own bookshelf, and here it becomes a bit schizophrenic and complex. The content from each publisher is very different. Some are interactive books, some contain games, some (like the Rabbit Ears collection) are half hour videos along with a book that the child can read to him or herself since they are nothing more than digitized books.

 

With All The Brands It Can Get Confusing

Each brands’ collection can be bought for US$5.99 which puts a brand icon on the iPad. So, for the price, you can get four video and books from Rabbit Ears, or buy each book for $1.99 after the first book which is free. The same goes for My Little Pony at $5.99 for two additional books or $3.99 each, and the same goes for the other Hasbro titles along with Crayola. Ruckus Classics are again $5.99 for the set or $1.99 for additional books. Then there are premium books such as the Curious George and Gideon line that sell for $3.99 with no bundle pricing.

 

Non-Membership Report

Buying according to this plan gives parents a weekly slimmed down report of how much time is being spent in each brand.

 

Membership Report Format

Or you can go for plan B. Paying $24.95 bi-annually gives the child access to the entire library and offers more detailed reporting dealing with comprehension, which book was read, for what period of time and more. For the price you can give up to four children their own accounts and have progress emails sent to up to four email addresses. 

The quality of the content varies greatly. For example, there is no continuity between the Hasbro and the Rabbit Ears titles. And because of this, the reports that parents receive are suspect because if you can’t collect data, you can’t report anything other than how much time was spent with a book. The Rabbit Ears content is video and non-interactive books. There is no, non-time related data to collect. The Curious George and Scholastic titles have the same problem. These are print versions of the books that can be scrolled sideways in landscape mode. Nothing was done toward interactivity of any sort. There isn’t even an option to have it read. In fact there are no options at all. 

Nothing But a Digitized Book Without Narration or Interaction

On the other hand, the Hasbro produced titles have gone to great extremes to be iPad ready and educationally viable. A button on the first page gives a parent the learning objectives of the series as well as the learning level rating; from one for emergent readers to three for independent readers. They offer narration and words that are highlighted when read, along with activities appropriate to the story and reading level. 

 

Learning Objectives in a Transformers Book

The activities are nicely done, well designed and the child’s success or failure can be collected and reported in the weekly progress reports. In the free Chuck and Friends book there’s animation and lots to do, like word matching, mazes, spot the difference and more. One problem for some kids going over the books a good number of times is that the activities from one Hasbro title are very similar to another. 

Chuck Main Screen 

The Seaworld book on sharks has some nice video and pictures with one activity at the end. You can share the picture which creates an email with the picture and sends it to the email addresses attached to the child’s account. However, I found that the shared picture wouldn’t display on either my iPad or Mac. The activities in the Crayola Picture Day book were quite repetitive. 

Seaworld Activity

Ruckus Reader is a great idea, but the execution is only as good as the content provided by the intellectual property partners. Sometimes it just gets confusing since a reader can be sent to a partners site. For example when looking at a Rabbit Ears title, you can easily be sent to the Rabbit Ears site by tapping on a logo, where over 60 book and DVD sets are available for purchase but only a handful have been turned into apps at this point, and the apps aren’t mentioned on the landing page which has a lot of information that goes against the initial Ruckus set-up, like browsing by ages four-seven+ and having nothing to do with levels one-three.

The overall result is too disjointed for my taste. I can see the virtue of one-stop-shopping for books, and I’m impressed with the quality of some of the content. But promises in reporting that are made just cannot be kept due to a lack of data collection from some of the publishers. Plus, outside of the bookshelf, there is no cohesive feel to the system. Instead of a Ruckus Reader app, you’ll get separate apps for each brand which tend to take quite a bit of screen space when one app with in-app purchases instead of brand apps with in-app purchases would be more appropriate. 

It’s great for what it is, and the game is still early. I’m sure that these sort of apps will improve over time and that others will enter the market and consistency will develop. Ruckus needs a focused approach instead of licensing intellectual property in a scattershot approach regardless of the quality.

It does make me believe that the days of the one-off publishers are coming to an end and I wouldn’t be at all surprised if such content rich firms such as OceanHouse started hammering bookshelves together. 

 

Product: Ruckus Reader

Company: Ruckus Media

List Price: Free to US$24.99 bi-annually

Pros:

Reporting that give parents some idea of their children’s progress, brands can be found in one place, some of the content is excellent. 

Cons:

Overly complex bundling, membership and purchasing options, overstating educational significance of reports since data can can only be collected on some brands, non-competitive pricing between brands, a great potential for confusion if the larger picture isn’t understood, too many icons littering the iPad’s screen.

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