The American Academy of Pediatrics (aap.org) reports that today’s children are spending an average of seven hours a day on entertainment media, including televisions, computers, phones and other electronic devices. One of the results is a decline in the reading proficiency of children.
The reading decline in the U.S. is an issue that national agencies, such as the Library of Congress, are aware of and looking to remedy. Jeff Sheets, director at the BYU Laycock Center of Creative Collaboration, felt his students could help. “We took a hard look at a real world problem and developed a collaborative effort to achieve a goal to help third to fifth grade kids get excited about reading,” he said.
More than 50 BYU students from advertising, animation, computer science, film, graphic design, music and theater disciplines collaborated to build a digital game called Readers to the Rescue. The game features 36 different adventures with well-known storybook characters and is available to play online for free on the Library of Congress website at read.gov. The game runs on mobile devices as well as desktop computers.
In just two months, the BYU team came up with the format for the game, designed all of the characters and created the 36 mini films. “We combined all our energies and talents and made something that no single person would have been able to make on their own,” said Melissa Manwill, a BYU student and head illustrator on the project.
While the project was a benefit to the students who worked on it, it was also important for them to work on something that would benefit others. “We tried to use the same technology that takes these kids away from reading to bring them back to reading,” said Brother Sheets. “Kids learn morals and values from stories. Reading can change a child’s life for the better.”
Readers to the Rescue can be thought of as a visual choose-your-own adventure story. The plot of the story is that various popular storybook characters, such as Pinocchio, Humpty-Dumpty and Sleeping Beauty have been lost. Users are asked to rescue the characters by filling in the blank spaces of a story. Kids get to choose which storybook characters will perform in each role. The result is one of 36 possible short animated films. At the end of the short video, readers are able to unlock a classic children’s book to read.
Among the 36 books that users can unlock are The Arabian Knights, Dracula, Anne of Green Gables, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, The Secret Garden and The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. For younger readers, there are Rapunzel, Pinocchio, The Three Bears and Snow White, among others.
“I had no idea how wonderful it was going to be,” said John Sayers, Library of Congress communications officer. “Everyone is tickled. I don’t think anything we’ve ever done along these lines ties so directly into reading and does it in such a delightful manner.”
The mission of the BYU Laycock Center is to provide opportunities for the development of the next generation of creative leaders. “This project was an incredible working experience,” said Melissa Manwill. “You are motivated differently when you are working with a real client. I also had to develop problem-solving skills because there were so many different students working on the project. We worked together to form a creative collaborative effort to achieve our goals.”