Came across this NY Times article that lists some of the best apps using sound and animations to guide children through the process of recognizing letters and actually reading. From the piece:
One of the most comprehensive apps for teaching reading is a free iPad app called Learn With Homer. It’s a set of lessons and games presented with bright cartoon graphics and amusing sounds.
The free Kids Reading (Preschool) app on Android is also great option. The app’s first section helps children learn to blend letter sounds into full words. The game animates a tortoise walking along slowly, sounding out each letter in a short word as he moves. A child can click on sneakers to make him move faster, which then sounds the word faster, or click on a skateboard to sound the word in real time.
The $3 Montessori Crosswords is more sophisticated. This app’s main feature is a game in which children drag letters from an alphabet list onto a very simple crossword grid. Each word on the grid is accompanied by a picture hint. Tapping on this makes the app say the word aloud. To keep children interested, getting words right delivers an interactive graphic, like one of shooting stars, that reacts to screen touches.
For children who have learned to recognize words by themselves, and yet would benefit from guided reading experiences, there’s Booksy. This free app, for iOS and Android, is best thought of as a traditional high-quality children’s reading book with added digital powers. For example, as well as displaying a page of text and well-drawn images, it reads the text aloud. Tapping on any word — even in the labels, for example in a drawing of a whale — will make the app say the word clearly. The app can also record a child reading aloud automatically, then e-mail the audio files directly to you so you can keep track of progress. This feature may seem a little creepy, but you can turn it off.