Those of us of a certain generation may be old enough to have owned a record player as a child. I did. My prized albums were various children's stories, like Walt Disney's Mickey and the Beanstalk or Tale Spinners for Children's The Ugly Duckling and The Pied Piper. These were the ones that came with a story book in which you turned the page when you heard the chime. The best part was hearing how well the professional voice actors told the story along with my imagination and a sound effect or two. It felt like an adventure every time I listened, which I did over and over again.
Fun and Exciting Audiobooks
Fun and exciting audiobooks for kids were probably widely available when cassette tapes and CDs came along too, but by that time, so had Gameboys and other digital entertainment, so maybe they lost some of their magic. Tales Untold, the namesake app from Tales Untold Media, is a new digital experience that aims to bring back that magic from childhood, and introduce it to your children.
Seasons of Stories
Tales Untold is a free mobile app featuring original, episodic stories for children—and maybe even parents too. The app itself provides access to a number of stories ("tales") that are broken up into short episodes of about 10 minutes each, though some are shorter and some are longer. The first episode of each tale is free. More are provided via in-app purchase, either by the episode, or by the season. Purchasing the season gets you all the episodes—about 10 each. And the library is growing. Tales Untold Media will continue to add new seasons for existing tales, as well as brand new tales on a regular basis.
Adventure, Mystery, Real Life
The tales that are currently available are: Radbert, A Little About a Lot, Inspector 9, Trunk Show, and Trouble with Wishes. They're about adventure, mystery, and even real life. Inspector 9 takes the listener on a bedknobs-and-broomsticks-ish adventure with the titular Inspector and a magical bunk bed that transports the passenger to places only imagined. The story engages your child through riddles and puzzles, along with funny reactions from the Inspector. For example, one particular piece of a puzzle was "the opposite of standing, rhymes with wit." The Professor's bumbling responses—"Lying down? Napping??"—were entertaining while pulling kids in with the right answer. There are also sillier moments, such as discussing names for a pet iguana, including "Little Booger." Yep, that would get a response from my kids.
A Little About a Lot
Sure, Tales Untold is targeted for younger kids, but that doesn't mean that parents can't enjoy them too. My favorite series was A Little About a Lot. Each episode in A Little About a Lot is a self-contained dive into a fascinating area of non-fiction about the world, helping you answer all the whys and hows your curious child wants to know. For example, you can learn about Lewis & Clark, Amelia Earhart, or how a caterpillar becomes a butterfly. Yes, everybody knows that it spins a cocoon (or, more technically, a chrysalis, as Tales Untold teaches) and in a few weeks a butterfly comes out, but what actually happens inside the chrysalis during the metamorphosis? The episode tells you all about it. I won't spoil it for you, but I will tell you that I will never think of "soup" in quite the same way again.
Outstanding Voice Acting and Sound
A Little About a Lot teaches subjects like history and science—yes, what some kids might call dull or boring—but it's neither dull nor boring. The narrator is eminently listenable, varying his pitch, tone, and cadence appropriately. He pays special attention to advanced concepts, and finds ways to relate them to kids' experiences so that they can understand and relate to them better. For example, the Wolves episode compares and contrasts wolves (which kids have hopefully never seen up close) to dogs, which are probably very familiar: eyes are yellow, instead of blue or brown, heads and paws are bigger, and they both howl. In Let's Talk, the episode about how people communicate, sound effects play for the various older technologies like Morse code and rotary telephones, providing a way for kids to relate to them.
For Your Ears Only
The production values of Tales Untold are obviously high, from the charming cover art, to the professionally voiced narration, to the sound effects. All of these help draw the child into the world of Tales Untold. All in all, Tales Untold is almost entirely an aural experience. That's not a bad thing—imagination is a powerful tool, and video can be a crutch, but for those looking for something to watch will be disappointed. Also, there are no words to follow the story along with. Tales Untold is for listening pleasure only, though Tales Untold Media does provide a free coloring book on their website that you can print. Kids may enjoy coloring the characters while listening, thereby engaging in tactile and aural stimulation at the same time.
The last thing I'll tell you about Tales Untold is the last thing you hear in each episode: the jingle. It's so catchy with its acoustic guitar and whimsical lyrics. It's only a few seconds long, but if you're like me, you'll find yourself singing it at dinnertime. And then maybe you'll want another helping of Tales Untold.
Tales Untold is available for iOS (iPad and iPhone). You can download it from iTunes and the Apple App Store. An Android version is in the works. (This review is based on the iPad version, though the experience should be very much the same on any compatible device.)