This yearís entries kept pouring in, and rising to the top were some of those top flight developers that continue to turn out best-of-show software every year. Here are this yearís Gold Award-winning programs -- fine additions to the family software library.
Freddie Fish 5 -- The Cave of the Coral Cove, Humongous Entertainment, 2001; $19.99; PC/Mac hybrid; www.Humongous.com, 425-485-1212; ages 4 to 7.
Humongous fans already know this firmís reputation for captivating, friendly and logical childrenís software. Here, Freddie sets out on a thinking journey where she uses clues to solve puzzles and complete a mission. With her friend, Luther, she heads for the grand opening of Coral Cove Park. Freddie must listen, follow instructions, use logic, count and test memory skills to get out of her watery predicament.
Kid Pix Deluxe 3, Broderbund/The Learning Company, 2000; $24.99; PC/Mac hybrid; www.kidpix.com, 319-378-7319; ages 4 and up.
Wacky brushes, realistic art tools, stickers, paper textures, sound art and photography options are all included in this highly visual program that allows kids to draw, paint, color and animate on the computer screen. Everything can be printed and saved. E-mail and Internet connections are embedded in the program. Music, sound effects, outstanding graphics. Highly recommended.
On-Track Software Reading Readiness K-1, School Zone Interactive, 2001; $19.99; PC/Mac hybrid; www.schoolzone.com, 800-253-0564; ages 5 to 8.
The electronic workbook concept is simple: Workbooks based on standardized curriculum elements become interactive via the computer. With the electronic book is a hard-copy workbook that provides visual, step-by-step reinforcement of the academic skills (ABC order, opposites, rhyming words, classifying, following directions, etc.) presented on-screen.
Jump Start Languages, Jump Start Learning System/Knowledge Adventure, 2001; $19.99; PC/Mac hybrid; www.education.com, 800-545-7677; ages 3 to 6.
English, French, Spanish and Japanese are introduced in this program designed to help children establish a foundation for later language development. Friendly characters speak in native languages while
sing-alongs help players retain new sounds. Bilingual households will find it beneficial, as will parents who want to introduce their children to foreign languages.
Thomas and Friends Railway Adventure, Minds Eye Productions, 2001; $39.99; PC/Mac hybrid; www.thomasthetankengine.com, 978-522-0100; ages 3 and up.
OK, so this is a toy. But for kids into hands-on play, this tactile program will rank high on the fun-o-meter. Parents attach a Thomas train engine control panel to the computer keyboard, then players get to drive Thomas! Theyíll shift, steer, whistle, grind and maneuver through train journeys and race to the station in time to save the day.
Reader Rabbit Mis-Cheese-ious Dreamship Adventures, The Learning Company, 2001; $19.99; PC/Mac hybrid; www.learningco.com, 415-382-3287; ages 6 to 8.
The Macaroni Tree Farm, Cheese-Filled Islands and Mt. Cheesemore are all part of this learning program for second-graders that uses "cheesy" concepts to reinforce fundamental math, language arts, life science, art and thinking skills. Those familiar with the Reader Rabbit series will find that the Fondue Falls Vocabulary, Cheese Brick Spelling and Cheddar Cheese Equations are intriguing enough to tempt adults.
Max and the Magician, Tivola Publishing, 2001; $19.99; PC/Mac hybrid; www.Tivola.com; 800-728-4000; ages 3 to 7.
In English, German, French or Spanish, this exploration game offers a magical environment in which to master skills of logic and reason. A witch transforms the magician into a toilet brush! Max must discover the formula to undo the spell. A deep dark forest, magicianís living room and funky broom collection all contribute to this programís very novel mystique. Visually uncommon, Tivola takes software out of the mainstream and into the creative.
Janice White reviews software for United Parenting Publications. She is a high-school teacher who worked at U.S. Computer Systems before establishing her own company developing training and advertising products for software developers.