Storyline Online: As Fast As Words Could Fly

Check out the video of Dulé Hill reading As Fast As Words Could Fly at Storyline Online. The book is written by Pamela M. Tuck, illustrated by Eric Velasquez, and published by Lee & Low Books Inc.. The story features Mason Steele, a high school boy who teaches himself to type on a typewriter given to him by his father’s civil rights group. His growing typing skills play out in an important story about prejudice and racial barriers. A thoughtful piece that would be great to talk about with your children. Important for adults too.

For good storytelling, go to Storyline Online

Library Lion.2015From time to time, I revisit a favorite website – Storyline Online – to check out the latest productions of well-known actors reading children’s stories. The book I picked out for today is Library Lion, written by Michelle Knudsen and read by actress Mindy Sterling. If you and your children like libraries and lions, this is the book for you.

Here’s the plotline: “Miss Merriweather, the head librarian, is very particular about rules in the library. No running allowed. And you must be quiet. But when a lion comes to the library one day, no one is sure what to do. There aren’t any rules about lions in the library. And, as it turns out, this lion seems very well suited to library visiting. His big feet are quiet on the library floor. He makes a comfy backrest for the children at story hour. And he never roars in the library, at least not anymore. But when something terrible happens, the lion quickly comes to the rescue in the only way he knows how.”[1]

First off, Mindy Sterling is a reader who exudes warmth. And she skillfully makes up cool voices to bring the characters to life – librarians, children, and lion alike (the latter through some impressive roaring). I especially enjoyed the sound effects and animated illustrations ─ characters dashing across the page, crashing sounds of the librarian’s fall from a step stool, and lion’s tail dusting off book shelves. If I had to choose to read this story to a child in print form (usually my preference) or go online to listen to/watch the video book, I’d choose the latter. This is an entertaining story truly enhanced by the talented reader, and sound and art effects of the video production.

This is my third blog featuring the resources of Storyline Online (see blogs on October 13, 2012; and February 17, 2014). Storyline Online is a program of The Screen Actors Guild (SAG) Foundation. The program is grounded in research that “reading to children has been repeatedly shown to improve their reading, writing and communication skills, logical thinking, concentration and general academic aptitude… as well as inspire a love of reading.” [2] The program records actors reading children’s books accompanied by a graphically dynamic video book. Parents can access the video books any time/anyplace – for free. Many teachers play Storyline Online videos for their students. And, doctors and nurses play these video books for children in hospitals. Since inception of the SAG Foundation’s program, there have been over 50 million views worldwide and millions of views every month.

If you haven’t visited Storyline Online yet, or haven’t been there recently, this is a great website to get your fix of good storytelling, whether you have a child to listen with you or not. My favorites are Elijah Wood reading Me and My Cat, and Betty White reading Harry the Dirty Dog. And now I’m adding Library Lion to the list. Like the lion who likes to go to the library for storytelling, sit back and enjoy some great stories read to you by some great readers.



[2] Information from <> The SAG Foundation’s children’s literacy website, Storyline Online, streams imaginatively produced videos featuring celebrated actors including Rita Moreno, Annette Bening, James Earl Jones, Elijah Wood, Hector Elizondo, and Betty White reading children’s books alongside creatively produced illustrations, helping to inspire a love of reading in children. Storyline Online receives over 4.3 million views every month in more than 211 countries. Storyline Online is available 24 hours a day for children, parents, and educators worldwide. For each book, supplemental curriculum developed by a literacy specialist is provided, aiming to strengthen comprehension and verbal and written skills for English-language learners worldwide.



Lisa Guernsey’s 13 minute TEDx Talk on the impacts of screen time on children

If you’re wondering why there’s growing concern about the impact of “screen time” on children, especially those under three, you may want to devote 13 minutes to watch a TEDx Talks[1]How the iPad affects young children, and what we can do about it (TEDxMidAtlantic, April 27, 214).

The speaker on the stage is Lisa Guernsey, Director of the New America Foundation’s Early Education Initiative. A decade ago she was a technology and education reporter for the New York Times. She also wrote a book on how media affects children (Screen Time: How Electronic Media — From Baby Videos to Educational Software — Affects Your Young Child).

If you’re not clicking right now to the Internet to listen to Lisa, here’s the gist of her remarks. As parents (and she is one), we should pay attention to how children understand the omnipresent screens in their lives─ iPADs, smart phones, computers and television. Lisa calls out some key questions she and others have about screen time: Will it affect children’s’ attention span? How will children come to understand the world around them through screens?

“Children see things a little differently than we do,” Lisa reminds us. She shares some compelling examples of how we know this from the research world. For example, research informs us that young children think that popcorn will come pouring out of a television if you turn it upside down when it’s showing popcorn on the screen. From this and other research we know that children up until about two and a half to three years old react to screen “reality” differently than older folks.[2]

Lisa says there are three “C’s” we should pay attention to in interacting with the screens in our children’s lives: content, context, and the children themselves.

  • There should be good content that children can learn from. The content should contain the same aspects we would seek in a good preschool teacher: 1) focuses on learning and engaging the child, 2) says things more than once (repeats messages) for more effective learning, 3) provides chances for pause to allow the child time to react to what is being said, and 4) contains no violence or aggression because young children often imitate what they see.
  • Context is about how the child is interacting with the media. The parent should engage with the child as the child engages with the media ─ to ask the child questions and explain what’s being presented.
  • Children is about how to interact with your own child, knowing the ways he/she reacts, taking into consideration the particular needs and interests of the child.

Lisa offers us an interesting idea for thought, in addition to her call for attention to the three C’s. What if every family had a media mentor, someone who could talk to our children about what they’re seeing? This could be a preschool teacher, child librarian, childcare provider, or even parent. Her thinking is, even if we follow the three Cs, by the time a child is around nine, screen time is all around them. It seems best then to put serious attention on managing this growing presence ─ to learn from media and apply this learning to the wider world.

While many commentators are calling right now for restricting screen time for children, especially under three years old, Lisa focuses on better managing the child-to-screen relationship to benefit learning. I take heart that a former technology and education news reporter who continues to write and think about media impacts on children’s’ lives – and indeed all our lives – thinks that we have a major force to be reckoned with – the media. And here we are with our own “screen” choices on this topic ─ able to view a free online presentation on a screen through TEDx Talks if your preference is audio/visual; or to read a blog on a website if your preference is reading for information. However we prefer to acquire information and share our thinking, it’s clear that screen time is an important ─ indeed a vital part of our “real” world.

I don’t know at what precise age children realize that popcorn is not going to come out of the television if you turn it upside down when popcorn is depicted on the screen, but it’s clearly our job to help them sort through what is in the screen and what is not. I’m a fan of Lisa’s three Cs: let’s focus on good screen content, the context for using screens well, and adapting to the needs and interests of our children. And if media mentors can help families make best use of the omnipresent screens in our world, I’m all for it.


[1] From TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) is a global set of conferences run by the private non-profit Sapling Foundation, under the slogan “Ideas Worth Spreading.” TED’s early emphasis was technology and design but it has broadened its focus to include talks addressing a wide range of topics within the research and practice of science and culture, often through storytelling. Speakers are given a maximum of 18 minutes to present ideas in the most innovative and engaging ways they can. As of April 2014, over 1,700 talks were freely available on the website; and as of Nov. 2012, TED talks had been watched over one billion times worldwide. TEDx is a program of local, self-organized events that bring people together to share a TED-like experience. At a TEDx event, TEDTalks video and live speakers combine to spark discussion and connection in a small group. These local, self-organized events are branded TEDx, where x = independently organized TED event. The TED Conference provides general guidance for the TEDx program, but individual TEDx events are self-organized though subject to certain rules and regulations.

[2] If you want to learn more about why folks are focusing on birth to 24-30 months in a child’s development, check out my blog from Dec. 27, 2913, “Looking into “screen” time for children ─ impacts on reading at: <>

Why supplement print books with Storyline Online?

I recently received an announcement at my email address about the release of the 25th Storyline Online video: I Need My Monster written by Amanda Noll, illustrated by Howard McWilliam and read by actress Rita Moreno. This is an entertaining story about a boy who discovers that the monster that usually lives under his bed has gone fishing ─ and several new monsters come forward then to try to fit the bill, so to speak …

As an adult who enjoys being read to, I thoroughly enjoyed listening to Rita Moreno read me this story the other night. I especially enjoyed the way the production folks brought the story to life ─  monster claws scraping across the screen, grimacing toothy monster faces, and green slime oozing out beneath the boy’s bed frame! These are surely rich supplements to reading the book in print form only.

That got me questioning whether there are advantages to reading a book to the children in your life by visiting a site like Storyline Online. Usually I would say, there’s no replacement for reading print books with your children. But I decided to open up a book at Storyline Online that I purchased recently as a new children’s author just to check out the art work and the words ─Pete the Cat: I Love My White Shoes. After I read the book in “print” version, I decided this was not one I thought my son when he was a young reader would have put at the top of his favorite list. But when I listened to it at Storyline Online, it really came alive because a chorus of children’s voices popped up throughout the reading … to sing what amounts to verses in the story each time the cat’s new white shoes turn a different color as the cat steps into various piles of … strawberries, blueberries, mud, and finally water to turn them white again. The book I purchased from Amazon did not come with a CD but it looks like some books do come with a CD. From reviews of this book at Amazon, I learned that Pete the Cat: I Love my White Shoes is indeed a very popular story with kids. But some reviewers noted that the audio format that came with the book could not be read on whatever machine they had at home and the bookstores did not make it clear what “system” was needed to hear the audio, and the CD with book was more expensive than they wished for a short book.

This tells me that there are parents trying to find rich reading experiences for their kids ─that include audio features ─ but it’s a challenge. So here’s a low-cost option if you have a computer. Check out the book from the public library, go to Storyline Online on your computer, have the print book in front of you with your children ─ and then enjoy what amounts to being read ─and in some cases sung to ─ as you’re turning the pages. This is a pretty rich, robust reading experience and something I think my son would have enjoyed when he was young. And it teaches a valuable lesson about supplementing learning from multiple sources in our increasingly digital world.

A bit more about Storyline Online. I first blogged about the online resource on October 13, 2012,  looking for reading resources to help parents too tired after working all day to read to their kids, or who have kids of different ages with the challenge of how to read to all of them given the realities of time.  At Storyline Online, a program of the Screen Actors Guild, actors read the story and the book’s artwork comes alive through video production. My favorites still are Elijah Wood reading Me and My Cat, and Betty White reading Harry the Dirty Dog.

Consider supplementing print books you check out from the library or have at home with Storyline Online to hear the enhanced audio components in stories like Pete the Cat: I Love My White Shoes. If you don’t get the CD with the book or it doesn’t work on your home system, you can get the audio (and video) this way.

And the cool thing: Storyline Online can be accessed 24/7 and it’s free:

As Pete the Cat would say: “it’s all good.”

Learning from Amanda Ripley about the smartest kids in the world

I like to bend back the corners of pages in books to make it easier to find memorable passages later on. There are eight bent-back pages in my copy of Amanda Ripley’s recent book, “The Smartest Kids in the World–and How They Got That Way.” So, what’s on those eight pages that are so memorable?

Before I get to the eight passages, a few words about the book overall. The title tells us almost everything we need to know. There are smarter kids in the world than ours ─ and there are some specific ways they got smarter.

First we learn the about the nations that have the smartest kids ─ Finland, South Korea, and Poland. And it’s not just some of the kids in these nations that are smarter ─ it’s virtually all of them. So we deduct from this that their schools ─and likely their parents and communities – are all doing something to contribute to their smarter children.

Then we learn what “smart” is in this context. Smart is the ability to think critically and solve new problems in reading, math, and science.

We learn too how educational assessment folks have determined which nations’ kids are smarter, and by implication, which educational systems are the best.The test is the PISA (Program for International Student Assessment), first given to a few hundred thousand teenagers in 43 countries in 2000. It’s a two hour test that aims to measure the ‘kind of advanced thinking and communications skills that people need to thrive in the modern world.’ (page 15)

The lion share of the book follows three American teenagers who spend a year living in Finland, South Korea and Poland. We meet their friends, school teachers, parents and host parents ─ and learn about each of these nation’s efforts to build and sustain strong educational systems.There are numerous insights for parents and educators about American students and schools ─ and how we compare to students and schools in other countries.This is a book worth reading.

Here are the eight passages culled from bent-back pages in my copy of the book that carry messages that really resonate with me:

  1. Importance of  early consistent reading to children: ‘Parents who read to their children almost every day when they were young have kids who performed much better in reading, all around the world, by the time they were 15 years old.’ (page 108)
  2. Both academic and character skills are key to later success: ‘When it comes to predicting which kids grew up to be adults who succeeded in life and in their jobs, academic skills only went so far ─ other skill sets were important too ─motivation, empathy, self-control, persistence. And different communities and cultures differed in what they did (or did not do) to promote these traits in their children.’ (page 120)
  3. American classrooms by and large don’t teach math effectively – we need common standards and in-depth content:American textbooks tend to be too long, covering and repeating too many topics in too little depth. Internationally, the average 8th grade math textbook is 225 pages compared to the average American 8th grade math textbook of 800 pages. Teachers can’t get through all this information so they pick and choose what they cover, and different kids as a result get different content covered because we don’t have common curricular standards in the U.S.[1]  (page 74)
  4. Outcomes testing is a big part of the educational systems in high-performing countries, and these tests are high-stakes: ‘The countries with the best education outcomes all had tests at the end of high school. Many determine where they would likely go to college.Teenagers from countries with these kinds of tests performed over 16 points higher on PISA than those in countries without them.The U.S. had a surplus of tests, few of which had meaningful effects on kids’ lives.’ (pages 155-156)
  5. In high-performing countries, whole communities (schools, parents, businesses, government, students) support a culture of accountability for learning: ‘Finland had required a matriculation test for 160 years; it was a way to motivate kids and teachers toward a common goal, and it made a high school diploma  mean something. Korea rerouted air traffic for their graduation test. Polish kids studied for their tests on nights and weekend, and they arrived for the exam wearing suits, ties and dresses. In America, however, many people still believed in a different standard …students who passed the required classes and came to school the required number of days should receive their diplomas, regardless of what they had learned or what would happen to them when they tried to get a job…’  (page 185)
  6. Countries that have had to improve their lot have learned that educational rigor is key: ‘There was consensus in Finland, Korea, and Poland that all children had to learn higher-order thinking in order to thrive in the world. In every case, that agreement had been born out of crisis: economic imperatives that had focused the national mind in a way that good intentions never would. That consensus about rigor had then changed everything else. High school in Finland, Korea, and Poland had a purpose…their teachers were more serious….highly educated, well-trained, and carefully chosen.They had enough autonomy to do serious work, that meant they had a better chance of adapting and changing along with their students and the economy. The students had independence too, which made school more bearable and cultivated more driven, self-sufficient high school graduates.’ (page 191)
  7. There is no consensus around academic rigor for American kids:  ‘Most American kids hadn’t needed a very rigorous education, and they hadn’t gotten it. Wealth had made rigor optional in America. But everything had changed. In an automated, global economy, kids needed to be driven; they need to know how to adapt, since they would be doing it all their lives.They needed a culture of rigor.’ (page 192)
  8. If other nations can do it, America can too: ‘The stories of Finland, Korea, and Poland … reveal what is possible. All children must learn rigorous higher-order thinking to thrive in the modern world. The only way to do that is by creating a serious intellectual culture in schools, one that kids can sense is real and true.’ (page 199)

Ripley’s book brings a lot of lessons home. While no country has the be-all, end-all educational system (that’s another blog), America can clearly do better. As a community let’s demand greater academic rigor in both our schools and parenting. And while we’re working on that, let’s follow one of the simpler, more do-able prescriptions for smarter kids on page 108: read to kids most every day when they’re young.

[1] Common Core State Standards (CCSS) are on their way in most states in the U.S., so hopefully this problem will get better.