Software Review: For little computer whizzes

"How Mitzvah Giraffe Got His Long, Long Neck" and "Alef Bet Trainer Musical Puzzle."

By
February 5, 2010 19:20
4 minute read.
'Alef Bet Music Puzzle.'

alef bet 311. (photo credit: Screenshot)

How Mitzvah Giraffe Got His Long, Long Neck, a DVD-ROM in English by Davka Corporation (www.davka.com), sold via the Web site or the company’s Israel representative, Alan Rosenbaum, Dekel Software, (02) 991-2718 or alanr@netvision.net.il, for PCs with Windows 2000/XP/Vista/7 or Mac with OS X 10.2 or better, for ages four through seven, $24.95 or shekel equivalent.

Rating: ***

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There may be nothing sadder in the animal world than a giraffe with such a short neck that a tie wouldn’t fit between its head and its shoulders. But that is the predicament of Mopey Giraffe, the star of this animated Judaica Press storybook of the same name by David Sokoloff. Aimed at religious children who are encouraged to do good deeds, it it suitable for any young kid, as long as he or she knows what kvetch and a few other Yiddish words mean.

The poor giraffe is in a chronic bad mood because of his nonstandard neck and always complaining about aches, pains and being ignored by those around him. He is advised by Mrs. Duck to go to the forest and visit the wise Old Goat, who suggests that if he spends his energy gladdening the heart of others, he will forget his own problems.

Then one day, he sees a tree on fire, and three little birds whose mother had flown away for a while are trapped. Without thinking about himself, Mopey Giraffe stretches to bring the top of his head close to the chicks, who slide down his neck and safely reach the ground. The chicks, their mother who arrives to see his good deed and all the other animals literally sing his praises. “I feel so much better,” says the now-long-necked mammal who is renamed Mitzvah (good deed) Giraffe.

The story covers 22 short pages with English text and appears in two versions – one tells the story without any intervention by the player, and the other needs clicking of “hot spots” on the screen to make animals or objects move or signs to be displayed. The first version is really not fully animated, as only parts of animals or objects are mobile.

There are three other activities, none of them exciting or innovative. Scenes from the book in black-and-white lines can be printed out for coloring in by young children. When birds fall from the tree, the giraffe on the bottom of the screen and controlled by the cursor has to “catch” them by moving below them. The final activity is picking out a slightly different picture among several: One part may be a different color than the other or missing.

The DVD-ROM is not “hilarious” and does not contain “great activities,” but it is cute and may keep very young children busy for a few hours. The package says it is suited for “age four to adult,” but it clearly would not interest anyone who is beyond third grade. It is mainly aimed at a Diaspora, native-English-speaking audience. Yet Israeli children who are not native speakers and  could understand the English are likely to be older and find the content boring, not to mention relatively expensive.

Alef Bet Trainer Musical Puzzle, a DVD-ROM in English from TES (www.jewishsoftware.com), for children aged three to seven, special reduced price $7.95 or shekel equivalent.

Rating: ****

Young children in the Diaspora (and even in Israel) who like puzzles and want to learn the Hebrew alphabet will like this inexpensive computer game that combines the two. Clearly meant for an observant audience with its optional traditional background music (although one can choose silence instead), the game enables one to turn colorful graphic “posters” of each of the 22 letters – plus all the final letters (making a total of more than 30) – into puzzles whose parts can be “grabbed,” moved around and set down with the computer mouse.


Thus graphic shapes, rather than just linear structures, are used to teach Hebrew letters. Dyslexic children will surely find it easier to learn the letters using this technique than by memorizing. TES actually tested the game on such youngsters and found that those who had difficulty recognizing letters suddenly were fast learners.

The pieces may be in the form of cubes or odd-shaped puzzle pieces. With a stroke of the cursor, the puzzle can be designed with two to 60 pieces, depending on age and desired level of play. Every time you play the same letter image, the puzzle is different.

You can compete against the clock and track your completion time, with the game also listing the top 10 players if used by more than one child. A “beat the high score” feature adds more competition. Finally, the completed image can be printed out when the child finishes (or gives up).


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