- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 29, 2003

Children who are read to three or more times a week are nearly twice as likely as other children to show skills associated with emerging literacy such as recognizing sounds associated with letters and understanding that print in books has meaning, according to reports compiled by the National Center for Family Literacy in Louisville, Ky.

That means as parents bond with their children through literature, the youngsters are gaining valuable skills that can be used in school.

One group offers celebrity firepower to assist families in the fun of reading out loud. With a mission that believes children must be exposed to the magic of books to develop a love of reading, BookPALS has set up shop in numerous cities and online to deliver the message in an interactive way.

Storyline Online

Site address: www.bookpals.net/storyline/

Creator: Created in 1984 and based in Los Angeles, the SAG Foundation is the charitable arm of the Screen Actors Guild. The foundation developed Storyline Online in June 2002 to build on the work of BookPALS, a program that has professional actors read books to children in schools.

Creator quotable: “We created this site to expose and motivate children to the wonderful world of children’s literature,” says Ellen Nathan, BookPALS national director. “Storyline Online is an innovative literacy tool for children, parents and teachers. Having actors who are highly visible performers encourages children to read and introduces them to quality literature. This formula has proven to be very successful.”

Word from the Webwise: Through colorful, comic book-like backgrounds and lettering, Storyline Online offers an online buddy that will read books to children. It also could create an uncomfortable situation for parents who do not read to their children, as junior may wonder why dad or mom doesn’t take the time to mimic what the celebrities are doing onscreen.

The opening page leads to video presentations of 10 books, including “Brave Irene” by William Steig, “Me and My Cat?” by Satoshi Kitamura and “The Night I Followed a Dog” by Nina Laden, read by folks ranging from former Vice President Al Gore to actor Elijah Wood to young actress Amanda Bynes. Each story is embellished with numerous informational nuggets for both educator and spectator to enjoy.

One of my favorite segments features actor Sean Astin, who plays Sam Gamgee in “The Lord of the Rings” films. Mr. Astin obviously reads to his young daughter based on his enthusiastic interpretation of author David Shannon’s “A Bad Case of Stripes.” The book relays the tale of Camilla Cream who loves lima beans, but is afraid to eat them around her friends for fear she will be ridiculed. Unfortunately, the lack of limas in her diet has caused her to develop striped skin, and, worse yet, she begins to transform into other objects.

The roughly 10-minute reading is embellished by large illustrations that pop up over Mr. Astin’s prose as he uses props, music and a wonderful array of voices. After watching the 26 megabyte presentation, visitors can read his or the author’s biography, try some related activities away from the computer or download a lesson plan as a PDF or text document.

Ease of use: This site requires Windows Media Player, Real Player or Quicktime to view the stories, which can be seen in small, medium or large format, depending on the user’s connection speed.

Don’t miss: Visitors can click on the Bookfinder and Book Lists areas to see an incredible selection of texts divided into seven age groups from pre-kindergarten to sixth grade. Links to barnesandnoble.com are available to purchase each of the more than 1,000 selections, and a portion of the sales price goes to BookPALS.

Family activity: A list of related activities accompanies all of the video presentations and allows the whole clan to get involved. Besides reading a book, they include making a photograph montage, writing about the qualities that make a good friend and researching the customs surrounding new births in different cultures.

Cybersitter synopsis: This perfect online pal, easy to enjoy and perfectly executed, will connect with young visitors and may inspire them to read a wide variety of literature as they grow.

Overall grade: A

Remember: The information on the Internet is constantly changing. Please verify the advice on the sites before you act to be sure it’s accurate and updated. Health sites, for example, should be discussed with your own physician.

Have a cool site for the family? Write to Joseph Szadkowski at Webwise, The Washington Times, 3600 New York Ave. NE, Washington, D.C. 20002; call 202/636-3016; or send an e-mail message ([email protected]).


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