Classic Computer Magazine Archive COMPUTE! ISSUE 150 / MARCH 1993 / PAGE 92

Storybook Weaver. (educational software) (Software Review) (Evaluation)
by David Sears

Unleash your child's creative energies with Storybook Weaver. Thanks to the program's sumptuous graphics, legions of personalities, and suites of sound effects and music, your budding Nobel laureate will be encouraged to create imaginative tales to share with family and friends.

No one could doubt the value of the hands-on creative process; perhaps more significant is the appeal of creating something tangible to show friends, parents, and siblings that declares, "I'm smart," "I'm funny," or "Let me entertain you." Parents love to see children learning to spell as they grapple with language, stimulating their imaginations. MECC has made the experience even more appealing by making it digital, replacing ink and processed pulpwood with your child's new best friend and tutor, your PC.

Young authors have decisions to make right away as they create their title pages. Will they include gingerbread borders or have no borders at all? Using the mouse to point and click through these choices, kids are rewarded with instant pop-up graphics low in resolution but highly colorful.

Next, writers click on empty text blocks to name their stories, type their own names, and comment on their stories if they please. Already, kids have some idea of what direction their work will take--and they haven't even reached page 1 yet! To move forward, authors simply need to click on the page-turning arrows that are located at the bottom of the screen. But before making that step, they'll probably want to add some music--Storybook Weaver will play music at the beginning and the end of a story if the author commands it.

The program automatically adds pages as kids write, up to the program limit of 50. Each page consists of either text and graphics or only text. In the case of text-and-graphics pages, children select everything from the skyline to the foreground; an open block for words waits at the bottom of the page, ready for input at any time.

To select a background, kids just click on the appropriate image in the tool palette, in this case, Scenery. A new row of thumbnail pictures appears below the composition space; selections range from meadows to mountains, forests to ravines. Storybook Weaver even provides lighting effects: dusk, dawn, day, and night. If nothing seems appropriate for the story in mind, your child can choose from a range of colors to provide the desired background. With a set stage, the plot can really begin to thicken. From the tool palette once more, aspiring scribes simply click wherever their hearts take them, from mythical beasts to everyday people and objects. Under the auspices of nature, kids will discover lighting bolts and beaver dams, blazing fires and gusting winds. Clover, cabbages, fields of corn, fruit trees--a whole world of special effects and environmental props stands ready to help tell a new story.

A search through the realworld people brings kids face to face with a cross-cultural melting pot: Asians, Native Americans, Nordic men in Alpine dress--all performing various activities such as climbing, walking, and sleeping. Boys and girls fill the ranks too; kids will have plenty of virtual friends to identify with here.

Where shall all these people live? How about a sinister castle or a gingerbread house? Maybe Baba Yaga would enjoy the move from a dancing hut on chicken legs to an ornate pagoda. Would that lighten her mood? Possibly, and if that thought occurs to your child, then Storybook Weaver does more than just act as palette; it interacts, provoking thought.

What's more, Storybook Weaver introduces children to Russian folklore and Native American mythology, among other, often previously unexplored, realms. And the fantastic creatures that MECC threw into the mix here will set young minds racing and perhaps a few future copy editors or history professors running to the encyclopedias to do some research.

Storybook Weaver allows as many as 50 objects on a single page--more than enough to obscure even the most lavish backgrounds. Giants, already towering over normal men, meet their match in babies that grow a dozen times over. Authors can manipulate object characteristics with ease from the tool palette. They need only click on an object to select it and then choose from shrink and expand options, flip (to flip the object horizontally), color (to change skin or clothing hues), and sounds (to add sound effects). Sound effects range from clangs to whistles, car horns and screeching tires to bird calls and footsteps. To move objects around the screen, the visual artist just clicks, holds, and drags.

Every computist encounters a menu bar at some point in life, and Storybook Weaver makes the experience simple for first-timers. Authors can click once to activate a menu and then click twice on an option to activate it. Here, they may alter the story text from plain to bold or italic; open, close, or save files; or request help on any aspect of the program.

Under the Goodies menu, kids find more ways to change object attributes (should an object the reader clicks on always cover other objects it touches?) and the way to insert and delete story pages. The choices that are available from the menu bar are neither numerous enough to intimidate a youthful novice nor in the least bit obscure: Everything works exactly as its label implies. Best of all, if your kids run into trouble spelling the name of an object, Storybook Weaver will actually, drop the word's correct spelling into the text of the story. Budding writers can find everything they need to pull together perfect fictions in a single package.

And for those children who want to give their stories to grandparents and others, Storybook Weaver supports a gamut of printers. Output is understandably a bit hazy on standard, noncolor printouts; the best dithering remains only gray scale, after all. Thoughtfully provided markers make the difference though. And after completing a story, kids can print it and then bind it just as in the old days--with string and staples.

What has MECC left out here? Unless your friends own a copy of Storybook Weaver, your children can't swap stories on disk. Each saved file requires only a few thousand bytes of hard drive space; the images and music files already reside on the drive so the actual story file can be quite brief. Also, kids might want to compose their own melodies or draw their own dragons. At present, the program limits them to the data on file--a prodigious amount of data, to be sure, but ultimately finite. Suggestions? Well, how about some inexpensive expansion sets?

In the meantime, your kids probably won't complain as they add wings to babies and put giraffes in pickup trucks. Every image complements every other image here, and even after spending weeks with Storybook Weaver, young writers will still mix and match with surprising results.