Classic Computer Magazine Archive COMPUTE! ISSUE 163 / APRIL 1994 / PAGE 74

The New Kid on the Block. (Broderbund Software's CD-ROM book of poems for children) (Multimedia Spotlight) (Software Review) (Evaluation)
by Richard O. Mann

Jack Prelutsky's brilliant volume of homorous poems, The New Kid on the Block, adds a new dimension to Broderbund's award-winning Living Books series of kids' books on CD-ROM. Mom and Dad will get as big a kick out of this one as the kids. At the same time, Broderbund's sparkling adaptation of the poems to the multimedia screen adds a new dimension to the printed book.

You're going to like this one. I love it, my kids love it, and you'll love it. One warning, though: The CD-ROM and the printed book that comes with it include only 18 peoms, a small fraction of the printed book's pages. You won't be able to help yourself--you'll have to rush out and buy the book, too, to get the rest of these great poems.

Prelutsky writes whimsically funny verse for kids of all ages. His acute sense of the musical sound of words and his masterful use of rhythm and rhyme make his poems cry out to be read aloud--as they are on this CD-ROM. If that were all, it would be a fine product, but, of course, that's not all.

This is a Living Book, one that starts with pages from a book and then adds voice, animation, music, and color. The printed book features engagingly simple illustrations by James Stevenson. Starting with these black-and-white line drawings and four lines of verse per screen, the poems come to life. A reader--Prelutsky himself on four of the poems--reads the words with appropriate expression while the drawing becomes animated to illustrate the words. In "When Tillie Ate the Chili," you see dragonlike flames coming out of Tillie's mouth, smoke coming from her nostrils, and steam coming out of her ears as the lines are read. These animations add judicious bits of color, sound effects, and music.

There's more than that to this Living Book, however. They call it interactive poetry. You can have the poems read to you, or you can play in the poems. In this latter mode, the reader performs the lines onscreen, and then you can explore. Clicking on objects onscreen usually brings out some brief but interesting or funny action. Clicking on the words in the text gets you the word spoken by the reader and often some new animated action in the illustration.

For example, let's consider the poem titled "The Diatonic Dittymunch," about a wacky creature that plucks music from the air and eats it. It swallows symphonies, sonatas, and cantatas. It makes ballads into salads and consumes them note by note. It eats marches, mazurkas, rhapsodies, reels, minuets, tarantellas, and even a three-act opera.

Click on the word rhapsody, and it floats onto the screen in a large, flowery script, accompanied by a few bars of an unmistakable musical rhapsody. The diatonic dittymunch manages to swallow the drifting word and the accompanying music, of course. In "Forty Performing Bananas," I learned the musical differences of cha-chas, fandangos, tangos, mambos, sambas, and waltzes. I'm not sure the antics of the 40 bananas will help you later distinguish between a samba and a cha-cha, but they're sure fun to watch.

There are hours of fun here, hearing and enjoying the poems and listening to Prelutsky sing one of his poems, "Alligators Are Unfriendly." He sings to entertain you if you take too long deciding which poem you want to hear next. As with any masterwork, every element of this program is consistent with the whole. The credits even roll to animations and an original piece of music.

The New Kid on the Block is available for MPC/Windows and CD-ROM--equipped Macintosh computers. It requires at least 4MB of RAM, but even on my local-bus 66-MHz 486DX2 with 8MB of RAM and a double-speed CD-ROM drive, it takes several seconds to move from page to page, even when only the four lines of text change. On slower equipment, the lack of speed might be a problem.

Although it runs under Windows 3.1, New Kid isn't a typical Windows program. The manual cautions you not to run other tasks simultaneously--New Kid needs all the resources. Once the programs starts, it doesn't use the Windows interface at all. Its own full-screen, mouse-based interface is simple, but not totally without frustrations. You have to read the little manual to find out how to exit a poem and go back to the initial screen (click on the page number or hit the space bar), for example.

There are only three kinds of people: Prelutsky fans, those who will be Prelutsky fans when they are exposed to him, and people with no sense of humor at all. Unless you're unfortunate enough to be in the last group, get yourself down to the software store and buy this CD-ROM.