How Story Reader Works

Parents dearly hope their children learn to read well. They also hope their children learn to read quickly and easily, so that they're ready for the demands put on them by school and the world.

Kids want to learn how to read, but they also crave entertainment, whether it's quiet and passive or dynamic and interactive. The aims of the Story Reader line of electronic books are to entertain children and to introduce them to the process of learning how to read in a gentle and enjoyable way. In this article, we'll show you how Story Reader works and if it accomplishes that goal.

Toy Image Gallery

Story Reader is the original electronic book.
Story Reader is the original electronic book. See more toy pictures.

Story Reader is a compact, roughly 12-inch-by-12-inch plastic case (with a carrying handle) that opens to reveal an actual book that fits snugly into the Reader itself. Story Reader's core feature is that it "reads" the book aloud to a child as he follows along. The child turns the pages when prompted by the Story Reader or at his own pace.

Books have both text and illustrations. The electronic book responds to the child's wishes. The Story Reader speaks the text for the current page. If the child turns back a few pages, the Reader recognizes that page and reads it again. Kids react well to this interactivity because it instills a sense of control over the story.

There are three Story Reader products:
The basic Story Reader, introduced in 2003, is as described above and is intended for kids three years of age and older. Each book has a small companion cartridge that slides into a port on the case and contains the audio encoded into its memory for the story.

The device has a volume control but no on/off switch -- a deliberate choice so kids can simply open it up and begin reading. It takes four AAA batteries (or operates on household current with an optional adaptor) and retails for around $20. Find out more information about the more than 60 titles at the end of this article or at the Story Reader website.

Early in 2006, Publications International, Ltd. -- Story Reader's publisher -- introduced My First Story Reader, designed for newborns to kids up to age three. As with the original, a narrator reads the story aloud, this time from a 12-page book made from a heavier paperstock that includes sound effects and music to enliven the experience.

My First Story Reader features two play modes, one with narration, the other that asks questions about the images on each page. The child can press any of three buttons to answer basic questions about shapes and colors. The last two pages of each My First Story Reader book features a sing-along rhyming melody. My First Story Reader retails for about $20.

My First Story Reader includes a sing-along rhyming melody.
My First Story Reader includes a sing-along rhyming melody.

Late in 2006, Publications International introduced a video version of Story Reader called Story Reader Video Plus for kids up to the age of seven. Retailing for about $35, it combines a stand-alone Story Reader with an "Animated Story Mode" that plays through your television and includes a "Learning Game Mode."

The Animated Story Mode works just as it sounds -- when you connect it to your television through color-coded cables, the story appears on screen and changes as your child turns the pages. Kids get to the Learning Game Mode by turning to the last page of the book. There, they can choose from five educational games. While it depends on the story, generally there are pattern games, memory games, and platform games. Similar to Nintendo games like Super Mario Brothers, in a platform game the child uses the included controller to guide him through the environment and conquer obstacles.

Story Reader Video Plus includes five educational games.
Story Reader Video Plus includes five educational games.

Story Reader Video Plus isn't a video game, technically, and Publications International bills the Story Reader line more as electronic books than toys. This reassures many parents, and it's why Story Reader is sold in bookstores and in the book section of major retailers.

What about the educational underpinnings of Story Reader? In the next section, we'll study its virtues.

Read-At-Home Night
Studies show an alarming decline in reading rates among all age groups in America, especially among the young. Children are bombarded on a daily basis with multiple forms of entertainment that compete with traditional learning.

Kids naturally emulate the adults in their lives, and seeing their parents and other family members enjoy reading is a powerful motivator. Establishing and keeping a Read-At-Home Night helps families spend time together and helps form lifelong reading habits in children.

Here's how you do it:
  • Set aside one night a week in your household and call it "Read-At-Home Hour" -- or anything you prefer. Establish a time allotment that works for your family; for example, 30 minutes or an hour.
  • Minimize interruptions from the TV, computer, and video games -- and turn on the telephone answering machine.
  • Choose one book for the entire family to read aloud together, or encourage individual family members to choose their own books to read quietly. Electronic books can work in this context, as well.
  • Finally, sit down, relax, and read.