Magazine article Technology & Learning

CD-ROM Storybooks Revisited

Magazine article Technology & Learning

CD-ROM Storybooks Revisited

Article excerpt

Some of the best and most entertaining software titles ever developed have been electronic adaptations of popular children's literature. The numerous delightful animations, rich screens, and appealing characters found in titles such as Just Grandma and Me (Broderbund's early offering, considered by many a standard-setter) made them great favorites with children, and the undemanding way in which they invited kids to become active readers was appealing to adults.

The good news is that this popular genre is not only here to stay, but continues to expand, with new players in the market, new titles from old players, and dramatic improvements in quality since our first close look at some of the best original offerings a few years back (see "CD-ROM Storybooks: New Ways to Enjoy Children's Literature," Jan. '93 T&L). Today's electronic books all offer superb graphics and life-like narrative voices. Extensive animation and a range of language choices are also common, and options that let kids record and listen to their own readings of a story have added a new interactive dimension. Now, the greater speed of computers and CD-ROMs has made turning pages and other operating mechanics less of a distraction, as well. And though the playful nature of these titles has made them an ideal choice for the home, publishers have moved to provide a range of features that make them equally appealing to educators.

Here is a sampling of what some of the best new titles have to offer.

I Learn

(Sanctuary Woods)

Sanctuary Woods has become a strong presence in the electronic storybook market with Sitting on the Farm (see "Technology & Learning Software Awards," Nov./Dec. '94 T&L) and The Cat Came Back, the first two entries in the I Learn series. Included are listen-, read-, sing-, and write-along modes, as well as an array of teacher-pleasing features to reinforce early language skills.

The Cat Came Back is based on the children's song about Mr. Johnson's unsuccessful attempts to get rid of his cat. Bill Slavin's illustrations depict appealing and humorous scenes of the cat wearing sunglasses, lounging around the house, and so forth. Youngsters can record and listen to themselves reading the story, or play with an array of features to aid comprehension. Highlighting a word lets it be read aloud and in many cases reveals a picture definition; animations demonstrate verbs; and a vocabulary icon leads to a search for nouns. Each page also features a bird which poses thoughtful comprehension questions.

The children who tested this program were charmed by its musical emphasis. Not only are users treated to an enthusiastic rendering of the theme song, but they can record and listen to themselves singing it; experiment with varying the musical beat; or even hear renditions by a piano, violin, saxophone, or any of five other instruments.

The software offers opportunities to write original versions of the story, create diary entries, or solve mysteries requiring the completion of rhymes, though student testers found the other activities in the program more appealing. Additional options let kids hear the story in English, French, or Spanish, and have directions spoken aloud.

As good as this program is, students expecting the playful hotspots found in titles by Broderbund and other publishers are likely to be disappointed with the more limited and purposeful use of buttons in The Cat Came Back. They teach more, but you laugh less. Despite these minor criticisms, however, this program, which ships with an excellent printed teacher's guide, is a wonderful example of how well educational and entertainment goals can be combined.

Interactive Storybooks

(Harper/Collins Interactive)

Harper/Collins makes a promising debut with George Shrinks (William Joyce). This is a captivating and beautifully illustrated tale of the adventures of a young boy, who wakes to find himself a few inches tall, but who still wants to follow a list of instructions left by his parents. …

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