Curious George Learns Phonics may be in a digital format, but it has the same gently rendered pastel artwork and whimsical characters that made H.A. Rey’s classic children’s books so popular. This CD-ROM takes kids under the big top, where they can master letter sounds, word parts, and reading comprehension with clowns, musical seals, and acrobatic elephants. Phonics is the focus here, so most of the six activities have to do with matching word parts. Match a clown holding a picture of a log with another clown holding a picture of the letter L, and the clowns team up and tell a joke of the “Why do hummingbirds hum? Because they don’t know the words!” variety. Match the right pictures with the vowels under Sammy the Musical Seal’s horns, and he will honk out a little tune. Build words in the fun house by grabbing the correct letter when a clown dangles it out the window.
One of the most entertaining activities is Thea’s Story Theater. Thea is a redhead in a purple dress with a flair for storytelling. Kids can read along with each of Thea’s 10 stories, watch actors perform them, and answer the questions about the text that Thea occasionally asks. This activity shines because it works on so many different levels: kids learn how words behave in context, strengthen reading comprehension skills, and are entertained by some great stories that surpass the generic dross that occasionally gets banged out by software developers. Since this program’s only focus is phonics, it isn’t as multilayered as some other Curious George titles. And we were curious about what the heck happened to Curious George: We didn’t see enough of him under the big top. Also, we think the lower end of the recommended age range is either the product of a delusional parent, or one that has a genius preschooler on his or her hands. (Ages 3 to 7) –Anne Erickson