Other Choices: Start with a Book, ReadytoLearnReading.org, You Are What You Read
Education: The online storybooks help kids develop listening, language, and reading skills.
Synopsis: Exciting storybook world keeps kids engaged in reading.
Common Sense Rates It:
Parents need to know
Parents need to know that it's free to use the site, but you'll need to register with your email or sign in through Facebook. (Parents are supposed to register kids 13 and under; you can sign up to four kids up for the site.) A paid subscription, which offers unlimited access to the stories, books, and games, is also available for about $12 a month.
- Families can talk about making reading part of kids' play time -- when do you like to read? What kinds of books do you like best?
- How many times a week do you read something as a family, compared to how many hours you watch TV together? How could you mix things up to make more time for reading?
- What kind of books do your kids read in school? Have they discovered any new favorites this year that might inspire them to read other books? Talk about different genres and types of book - -such as picture books and mysteries -- and which ones your kids really enjoy reading.
What's the story?
The virtual MAGIC TOWN world includes dozens of animated children's books -- some of which can only be viewed with a paid subscription -- that help kids practice and learn reading skills. Kids can opt to read along or have books read to them; very young kids who haven't learned to read yet can also follow along using an option that includes narration and automatically turned pages. Literary offerings include books about animals, witches, and other zany characters that center on positive topics like being self-confident, optimistic, and modest.
Is it any good?
Just a few months after its May 2012 launch, MAGIC TOWN had an impressive amount of reading material for kids to check out: The site started out with 20 free books (an additional 50 were available to paid subscribers), and more are added each month. But this is no ordinary literature site. Kids aren't just slowly clicking through pages -- they can access stories through the library or by bopping around the virtual world and encountering lively, animated characters. And, as an added bonus, because kids can opt to read along with a narrator, read at their own pace, or be read to, even very young kids can participate. Magic Town offers parents a safe, fun way to encourage kids to use their online time in a constructive way. As each story unfolds, kids will be able to build on their reading comprehension and language skills -- and learn happily ever after.
The Good Stuff
Messages: Many of the books stress being self-confident, overcoming your fears, and similar upbeat themes.
Educational Value: The online storybooks help kids develop listening, language, and reading skills.
What to watch out for
Violence & scariness: Not an issue
Sexy stuff: Not an issue
Language: Not an issue
Consumerism: Subscriptions, which are handled through PayPal, cost $11.99 per month, $59.99 for six months, or $74.99 a year as a one-time payment -- but kids can play for free without one. The site doesn't have any ads.
Drinking, drugs & smoking: Not an issue