- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 17, 2008

VTech’s Disney Create-A-Story early reading system ($49.99 requires two AA batteries) is another product in the growing stable of edutainment systems that places the power of reading in young hands.

While an electronic reader can never take the place of sitting with a parent to explore a new book, it is a great assistant that can be carried into the car or taken to the family couch for some early independent action.

This interactive story system uses books, a tethered pen and cartridges for children 3 years old and older to become engaged in adventures, and lets their natural curiosity have them playing word games, clicking on hot spots and learning new skills that will build their reading proficiency.

It’s a much clunkier operation than LeapFrog’s Tag Reading System (a wireless pen and online downloads with the books), but has the advantage of attaching to a television screen for enhanced interaction.

Of course, at the core of every successful reading tool are stories that inspire. In this package, readers receive two styles of books based on Winnie the Pooh mythology - the Read-A-Story “Tigger’s Shadow of a Doubt” and the “My Friends Tigger & Pooh” Create-A-Story.

In Read-A-Story, the tale places super-sleuths Tigger, Pooh and Darby in the middle of the great mystery of the disappearance of Tigger’s shadow. This narrative allows for a variety of discovery-style games.

Challenges progress as the pages are turned. Common game themes are finding words using “Sleuthing Sounds” for vowel, consonant and syllable recognition.

A standout is “Word Maker” where children swap out the beginning letter to change three-letter words. For example, transforming “tan” to “ran” or “map” to “tap.” Another favorite is “Like, Not Alike” where children find a word that’s the opposite of one on the screen, such as “fast” and “slow.”

In Create-A-Story mode, the VTech system becomes a much richer experience when connected to a computer or television monitor with the enclosed AV cables. It’s a simple maneuver, but will require parental assistance. (Neither book mode must be connected to the television, both can be used as a stand-alone reading system.)

In the Create mode, owners can assemble five simple stories, some continuing the Read-A-Story theme of being a super sleuth.

For example, the first story option has the child choose a place, friends, the objects and actions. Children also select one of four scenarios from four story arc sections and click the “Play My Story” button to hear the results.

Another, “My Very Own Story,” teaches the concept that every tale has a beginning, middle and end, a great lesson that leads to enhanced comprehension skills in later reading.

The standout in this group, “Create A Story Together,” allows two players to each choose a friend, an activity, “what happened” and the reaction.

Other obvious benefits from either book mode are language and vocabulary development as children, with the touch of the pen-stylus, simply listen to narrated stories, while following along with the words in the book.

My major complaint about the system is the miserable, pixilated graphics displayed when it is connected to televisions with larger screens. VTech must develop toward today’s technology.

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