For all those parents whose voices have grown hoarse sounding out the rhymes in their child's favorite picture book "just one more time," some reinforcements have arrived.
One More Story is a new online library where children can choose a book - complete with narration, highlighted text, and the book's original illustrations - and listen as they read along on the computer.
Creators Carl Teitelbaum and Rona Roth see it as an opportunity to bring literature to an electronically inundated generation. Aimed at the home rather than the educational sphere, it's the first website to deliver popular children's books along with music and sound effects, says Jim Eber, a spokesman for One More Story (www.onemorestory.com).
Yet such products create some ripples of reservation: Might they leave children isolated, entering the world of literature with only a virtual narrator as guide?
Some people may see the subscription-based website as a way for parents to renege on their reading duties. But "if a parent sees it as a crutch, it's probably someone who wasn't reading much in the first place," Ms. Roth says.
"There's nothing like the one-on-one relationship with interactions, questions and answers, and filling in the blanks," Mr. Teitelbaum adds. The website is not meant to replace this parental role, he says, but the advantage is that "the narrator will always read the story with the same enthusiasm. That's the only aspect that might outdo a person who's read the same story for the 500th time."
The $40 annual subscription provides families with unlimited access to the site and to several dozen books for children ages 2 to 9. The company plans to unveil the complete 108-book library next year. "They're beautifully illustrated with interesting stories that hold a child's attention," Teitelbaum says. "The original illustrations with text and 3-D figures reinforce that this is a book, not a video game or TV. We want kids to feel inspired to go from reading the screen to reading the hard copy."
While not designed as a reading instruction program, One More Story does have features for emerging readers, such as the "I can read it" function, in which the words will be read aloud only when the child clicks the mouse there. By highlighting narrated words, the site can help children make the link between written and spoken language, Roth says.
Timothy Shanahan, a professor of reading education at the University of Illinois, is also encouraged by this feature, having witnessed a seventh-grade English- language learner develop skills after watching closed-captioned television. He says he has good reason to believe that One More Story will have similar benefits.
This technology parallels educational television in many respects, Dr. Shanahan says, because the best results in both cases come when an adult watches with children and interacts with them. He says older children would respond to the books independently, but the books' reading level would fail to build their language skills.
"If a parent refuses to read to a kid, that's a big mistake," he says. "If a parent can't read well [because of] a language difficulty, [One More Story] has the possibility to get youngsters connected to literature. In any event, the big payoff requires interaction."
A sample of books narrated for children at www.onemorestory.com:
Whistle for Willie
Sidney Won't Swim
The Three Billy Goats Gruff
The Snowy Day*
* These will be online by September.