A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this website.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that this free book-creation tool lets kids create partially animated stories that won't be posted online or otherwise shared with the general public. It's relatively simple to use; kids will choose the basic components of a story from a pre-populated menu and then write in the details on each page. You can save stories and return to them later, but take note: Users automatically agree to let the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh display any content they create for promotional use, according to a home page disclaimer.
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What's it about?
MY STORYMAKER was originally developed in 2007 by Carnegie Mellon University for Pittsburg libraries only; it's now available to everyone with a few upgrades, including new characters and background options. You can create virtual storybooks using more than 35 characters, 23 scenery objects, and more than 20 settings. Kids can print, email, or save stories and view them for up to a month online. The tool is easy to use; you only need an Adobe Flash Player and Adobe Reader. Kids can follow along as a narrator describes how the site works and then use the sidebar to choose settings, characters, and objects. Chosen objects drop from the sky when you add them to the page; characters can fly, kiss, change direction, or otherwise act and interact.
Is it any good?
My StoryMaker doesn't offer many extras; the virtual book-creation tool is its main attraction. But the site's simplicity isn't necessarily a bad thing. A Story Helper character provides helpful suggestions to advance the plot if writers get stuck. Users don't have total creative control -- they supply the text but can't use original images, and content has to be illustrated with art that My StoryMaker provides. The site also has a limited number of action, object, background, and character options, so kids may only want to use it to create a story or two. Kids won't get direct input on their story lines or writing quality; parents will need to review their work to provide guidance and help them improve. But, with some additional input, My StoryMaker can help spur kids' imaginations and provide beneficial writing practice. Just make sure you print, download, or email the finished story to save it -- due to space constraints, the site deletes them after a month.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the safest ways to share things you create online. Ask your kids: Why is it safer to email a friend your finished story instead of posting the story where strangers could see it?
Have your child tell you a story and then turn it into a My StoryMaker book. How do the versions differ?
Talk to your kids about structure and a story's beginning, middle, and end. Can they identify those elements in a few of their own favorite books?