Programs bring new life to storytelling

October 26, 1992|By Todd Copilevitz | Todd Copilevitz,Dallas Morning News

Don't you miss the simple pleasures of coloring books? Remember the great smell of that newsprint and a freshly opened box of crayons?

It's the '90s: The crayons are now washable markers, and the coloring books are now interactive computer programs.

I'm not sure if this is a good thing. But it is interesting.

Actually, these are not just computerized coloring books. It wouldn't really be worth it if they were. Both programs combine pictures your child draws with words and sounds to create a living story.

If used properly, either could be a tremendous way for parents and children to spend time at the computer without getting totally bored. Unlike a lot of other programs that aim to help children with specific skills -- such as math -- these two really are whatever you make of them.

"Kid Works 2" lets your kids draw pictures, write a story, illustrate their story or just get goofy. The core of the program is a playroom where kids decide what they want to do next.

Obviously there's plenty of room for parents to be involved. But there also are settings that allow the kids to work alone. Using the options, the computer is essentially locked except for Kid Works. They can't even quit the program without your help.

The box boasts that the program will read your child's story aloud, even if you don't have a sound card. Sure enough, it does, although the distinctly mechanical voice sounds like something from a 1970s sci-fi film.

Just a warning, however: The computer reads ANYTHING your kid types. So be forewarned if your child has been picking up some adult phrases.

The stories in Kid Works are single-panel. The illustrations can be either originals by your child or selected from a coloring book and painted by computer.

The neatest thing is in the writing. You get big lines, just like the tablets we all had in grade school, where you can type words or select words in the form of icons from bins.

The end result is a story that has small icons mixed with the typed words. It's a variation of the old flash-card method of teaching words. In a high-tech twist, the computer can switch between showing the words or the icons.

"Story Book Weaver" is the newer of the two programs, but it comes from a company with strong roots in this field. MECC is the same educational group that created the "Oregon Trail" and the "Muncher" series.

Here they combine a little multimedia magic to let you spin your own fairy tales. The interface is somewhat awkward, so parents might want to take some time to learn it themselves before they try showing off for the kids.

In a nutshell, you start with the blank cover of a book. Give it a title, an author's name and a brief explanation, and you're off. On each page, you select from hundreds of pre-drawn pictures to create the storyboard.

The icons are grouped as people of folklore, people of various cultures, animals (realistic or make-believe), environments, vehicles (such as canoes or carts), buildings and things that people use.

The scenery offers fewer choices, although you can mix landscapes with horizons to get desert wastelands leading into a lush forest.

One tool lets you dictate what time of day it is: dawn, noon, dusk or night. The effects are neat when a brilliant sunset illuminates the scene.

Some parents and children may find it frustrating that they can't really draw the picture.

Of course, there are lots of sounds. Quite frankly, I found the collection a bit annoying. But having seen the delight kids take in strange sounds, this ought to be a big hit.

"Kid Works 2." Davidson, Mac (any model that supports color) and IBM. Ages 4 to 10. Recommended retail $59.95.

"Story Book Weaver." MECC, Mac or IBM. Ages 6 to 14. Recommended retail $49.95.

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