Full disclosure (A disclaimer even before I start writing? Intriguing, isn’t it?): I work for Speakaboos as one of their freelance writers. Luckily, the company has been an absolute joy to work with so I couldn’t think of anything negative to say about them if I tried. Noelle Millholt and fellow WiCMino Amy Kraft were kind enough to sit down with our writers group and tell us all about this innovative new company.
So here’s how Speakaboos works. The company’s mission is to inspire a love of reading through digital storytelling. ‘Nuff said. What? Oh you’re wondering how! Basically, parents subscribe to Speakaboos. For a modest monthly subscription fee (say $5) you get access to the entire Speakaboos library of interactive books on any device (phone, iPad, computer, tricorder, whatever…).
It’s a better value than going to iTunes and paying a couple of bucks per story AND you get the added bonus of getting to try out the site before committing to subscribing. Don’t like a story? No problem, download another one without having to pay per story. Brilliant! The Speakaboos audience is 3 to 5 year olds and there are three different modes of interactivity so you can tailor your experience to your child’s needs. There’s autoplay sort of like a storybook movie with text being read by a narrator and animation, read with me which has a narrator and page interactions that you can click on and play with (that’s my favorite) and read it myself where you, well, read it yourself.
So for the modes with interactivity the main text of the page is read (for example, “One, two buckle my shoe”) and then the reader can click on characters and things in the illustrations to get interactions. The interactions range from being bonus dialogue that supports the text to little games where maybe you can indeed help the character buckle his or her shoe.
Each story is kid tested to make sure it’s understandable, relatable, engaging and that it lends itself to interactivity. The interactive moments are also tested as well as any games that may be in the story. The challenges of writing these stories are really keeping in mind the three modes. You can’t rely on the interactions to do the heavy lifting of the story since a kid could be reading the story without the interactions. You also have to keep in mind that kids aren’t going to click on things in any particular order. They may have started with the buckling my shoe game so then it wouldn’t make sense if you clicked on the kid and she said “Oh no, I have to buckle my shoe!” We already did that! There’s a time travel analogy to be made here but I can’t think of it. Basically, you have to contemplate all the “ifs” and the interactions have to be engaging whether the kid clicks around the page like a madperson or clicks on one thing and turns to the next page.
Speakaboos content is made up of public domain stories revamped for an original twist (basketball playing Cinderella anyone?), licensed content and content from IP owners. For example, Speakaboos is partnering with Henson to create stories based on some of their preschool properties.
Check it out at http://www.speakaboos.com/
Main Takeaway: In terms of writing, interactive storytelling opens up a whole new set of challenges and opportunities to enhance and explore beyond the text. Ever wonder what this little piggy was going to market for? With the interactive storybook you can click on the pig and find out AND help him pick out what he needs from his shopping list. Cool.
Personal Takeaway: Ha ha! Personally? All I got is, I love my job. The team at Speakaboos has some brilliant minds behind it and they are not only embracing new technology, they are taking it by the horns.
Inappropriate Takeaway: Noelle and Amy used the “Buckle my Shoe” story as an example and as soon as I started thinking about the rhyme it turned into the kids’ chant from “A Nightmare on Elm Street.”
One, two buckle my shoe
Three, four shut the door
Five, six pick up sticks
Seven, eight gonna stay up late
Nine, ten never sleep again
Hold on, that’s not right. The same thing happens when I try to recite “Twas the Night Before Christmas” and it turns into “The Raven.”