Discovering stories: from physical spaces to online places

Sally Goldsworthy, Chief Executive, Discover

Discover Children’s Story Centre has collaborated with digital publisher WingedChariot to create an online collection of new short stories for children and their families from 5 – 8 years old. Focusing on the theme of discoveries the stories include flying horses, magic stones, disobedient children, mad aunts, cheating cheetahs, disappearing babies, an angry mouse and a dancing dog.

StoryCloud is an evolving collection of new stories and poems written by much-loved children’s authors and poets including Michael Rosen, Malorie Blackman, David Almond, Philip Ardagh, Jamila Gavin, Debi Gliori and Andy Stanton. It also includes four fantastic original stories told by children and a parent from east London. Twelve top illustrators have been commissioned to create digital pictures in response to the stories; including Guy Parker-Rees, Chris Riddell, David Roberts, David Melling, Deborah Allwright and Sarah McIntyre. To celebrate the fact that StoryCloud is part of the London 2012 Festival a new story will be released each Monday of the festival until 3 September 2012, to encourage children to return to the web app each week, as the library builds.

Children can listen and read along with the author or child telling the story and then play with the illustrations to reveal hidden surprises. Each story includes suggestions to encourage children to create their own stories and drawings in response to the twelve stories. A selection of children’s stories and artwork will be displayed in an online gallery throughout the summer.

StoryCloud is all about the stories. Using new technology to experience the old technology of someone telling you a story, it may be around the PC or an iPad rather than a campfire but the experience of being told a story is timeless and in the case of StoryCloud you listen to Andy Stanton, Malorie Blackman and David Almond telling a brand new story.

Content not gizmos

Our ambition was to create content that encouraged children to slow down, listen and engage with the stories. We did some research and development last summer and found that as soon as the children found the illustration they started playing with it and stopped listening, rushing through all the stories to find the next thing the illustration did. Swapping the structure around so that the story came first made the children actually stop, listen and read before they discovered the picture. Discover and Winged Chariot have an educational focus so a great deal of time and care went into making sure the design was easy to use and as child friendly as possible; for example the font used in the downloadable PDFs is Sassoon Primary by Rosemary Sassoon. This font has been especially developed to help children’s reading skills. Further education research has also show that a blue highlight is easier to read, particularly for children with reading difficulties.

 

Digital Innovation

Discover is a charity dedicated to supporting children, creativity, literacy and imagination. Our core mission to encourage a love of reading and sharing stories and particularly supporting disadvantaged families. Our physical centre is based in Stratford, east London, serving some of the poorest parts of the UK. The challenge we set ourselves was to create something that had the design quality and functionality of an App with the accessibility of the web.  It is important that as many people as possible can access StoryCloud and that families don’t need expensive devices to view it, so whilst it looks beautiful on an iPad it also works really well on home, school and library PCs. It is worth remembering that the majority of children access the internet through PCs not mobile devices, making it free meant that there was no price or subscription barrier. Just as children can get free books from the library they can now access quality free stories from our on-line library.

We deployed HTML5 scripts for audio and picture rather than the usual adobe flash based files. This gave us a new and forward looking base to build on with both webkit based browsers and touchscreen machines like the iPad. Our research showed that children are impatient when using digital technology, if something takes a long time to load they get bored and move onto something else. We used some nifty web streaming service that means the content loads quickly and interaction feels swift and robust. Strong interface and menu choices go  hand in hand with subtle but large screen fonts enveloping the reader in total story experience experience.

Each story also has a beautifully designed PDF of the story, plus author/illustrator biographies and their recommendations for other books that children might like, to encourage children to read. Schools and libraries are printing out the PDFs so that children can take the stories away.

Poet, author and former Children’s Laureate Michael Rosen one of StoryCloud’s contributors said ‘StoryCloud is a fantastic project because it puts stories right where children and their parents and carers can find them really easily. Stories tell us about how people might behave or could behave when faced with dangerous, odd, surprising, scary, funny things. They amuse as they tell us wise things. How good it is to see this project as part of the Cultural Olympiad, bringing children and families together with stories. Love it!’

StoryCloud is Discover’s first step into digital publishing we have been delighted with the way WingedChariot have realised our dream of creating something simple, attractive and easy to use. Hopefully this is the start of a whole new digital journey.

Sally Goldsworthy, Chief Executive, Discover

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