The art of storytelling will never go away and raising children on bedtime fairy tales won’t cease anytime soon either. But as generations of children are being pushed further away from physical books in favour of tablets, new forms of technology will continue to facilitate that tradition of Green Eggs & Ham before bed.
A new wave of Canadian startups is riding this paradigm shift, creating tools for collaborative story telling. Why should children look in from the outside when they can insert themselves into their own bedtime story?
This was brought up about a year ago when Storypanda cofounders James Chutter and Pavel Bains wrote a piece for Fast Company called “To Raise a Generation of Creative Kids, Let Them Make Their Own Stories.” The pair argued that we can change the direction of children’s learning by making them active content creators rather than passive consumers. “Every time I see our kids walk up to the TV and try to swipe through content wishing it to be a giant iPad, I realize that they’re begging to be able to participate and create with media,” they wrote.
According to Storypanda, as kids become their own content creators, society needs to invest in and “help fuel this form of self-expression, creation, and storytelling.” It was clearly a self-interested piece by a business seeking to make money, but it was also correct. Few people will deny that engaging children in the story-telling process from an early age will benefit them later on in some form.
Storypanda is a Vancouver-based startup that publishes interactive children’s books on mobile by connecting thousands of authors and illustrators with millions of young readers. It provides a fun way for families to read by allowing kids to read, create and share stories.
The app is available on iPad and provides a “virtual bookshelf of interactive stories” with new story titles every month. Stories include “Black Cat Big City,” about a subway-riding cat or “The Boy Who Cried Aliens,” about a lollypop-eating alien. Children can swap different characters (in both genders and all races), backgrounds and props, and can engage in choose-you-own-adventure stories.
Another startup tackling this space is Montreal-based Bookata, run by three passionate cofounders (and parents) who work on the project on top of their full-time jobs as librarians and software developers. It was founded in 2009.
Like Storypanda, the company allows their storytellers to adapt to their material through an “explicit, multi-leveled collaboration between the narrators and their audience.” Users can swap in names, characters and other parts of the story.
Cofounder Andrei Kelner said his team developed a web-based engine to cultivate the various titles’ content and illustrations. Thus far the startup has released three titles with more in the pipeline. “We wanted to create stories that are written for the parents and children to be able to change the characters and even the story according to their needs,” said Kelner. “They know better than the publisher what the needs of their children are.”
Bookata explained that society is coming back to the pre-Gutenberg era, to a “pharaonic scribes model.” Then, rich elites would order a hand-written book about whatever they wanted, like a family tradition. “Back then, the reader knew what she/he needed, and had the means to have it. Bookata enables the ‘new elite’, the new dukes and pharaohs (the Internet users!), to order their own incunabulum.”
If children and parents like the story they’ve created, Bookata also offers the option to print the story in either hard-cover or soft backing.
Bookata hasn’t generated as much attention as Storypanda and are still in user acquisition mode. Ideally once more traffic comes, the startup will seek funding.