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From Page to Screen

By Linda Lee

The importance of reading as a key skill for the 21st Century is a message that has been delivered to every parent who has a child in school these days. However, as many parents find, the process of helping a child learn to read is often a difficult, traumatic and rocky road. Once a child has begun to have reading problems, the most difficult job is to reinforce their self-image and to restore their self-confidence. To do so, children who are struggling or reluctant readers must be “turned on” to books and derive enough satisfaction from reading to become independent readers.

According to Lucy McCormick Calkins, who has been called by many “the Moses of reading and writing education,” the rocky road to reading must first begin by helping children to fall in love with books. To grow successful readers, “kids must be taught to reach for books and carry books with them and value books … this is best accomplished by giving kids stories they love to read.” Helping a child want to learn to read must first and always begin with the book itself – a book that is entertaining, engaging and interesting.

For over 50 years, Weston Woods Studios has been translating outstanding children’s literature into the audiovisual medium. Our videos, DVDs and audios are faithful reflections of the books on which they are based and have been designed to help children discover the riches that are trapped between the covers of the books in such a way as to motivate them to want to read for themselves.

We do this by scouring the marketplace for picture books deemed the best in children’s literature. With more than 5,000 children’s picture books published each year, book selection is the most daunting – but important – task we undertake. To find them, we comb reviews in respected trade publications and study books that have received special recognition such as the esteemed Caldecott Medal, given by the American Library Association to the Best Children’s Picture Book of the Year, or books designated Parents’ Choice Award winners. Teachers and librarians from all around the country let us know which books they like, and most importantly, which books children respond to. Books such as Make Way for Ducklings by Robert McCloskey, Strega Nona by Tomie dePaola, and Doctor De Soto by William Steig, are also chosen based on the universality, timelessness and value of their underlying message.

Once a book is chosen, our production team works hand-in-hand with the author and/or illustrator of the book itself. We brainstorm together to develop a storyboard that enhances and brings vividly to life the original message and intent of the story. And most importantly we work to make sure each production is a word-for-word adaptation of the original book, or consult with the creator(s) if changes must be made to original text. It is most important that each finished adaptation becomes as much as possible a “mirror image” of the book itself. We then also brainstorm with the book creator(s) in selecting the narrator and composer.

So one might now ask, “Why would a children’s book author/illustrator want one of his/her stories to be made into a video in the first place? Isn’t a video the complete antithesis of a book? Wouldn’t a video detract from the book itself?” On the contrary, using a video that is a faithful reflection the original book has been proven to succeed in whetting a child’s appetite for the book on which the video is based. Children return to the book again and again after seeing the video. This is not so hard to understand when you consider the fact that an author and illustrator of a children’s picture book typically have just about 32 pages to get his/her message across. Each and every word and picture must be carefully chosen and rendered. Videos and DVDs allow each of these words and pictures to be brought to life in such a way as to engage all of a child’s senses so that the child is able to experience more fully the story itself.

Take for example, the word “blustery.” If used in the text, a picture of tree leaves blowing in the wind might accompany the word. But in a video, the true meaning of that word is vividly illustrated in just a few seconds of action and indelibly etched in a child’s consciousness, especially if accompanied by “airy” music, a “breathy” voice and natural sound effects that enhance what is happening in the video. It is this opportunity to “bring to life” the experience of the book that authors and illustrators look forward to when working with us to have their books adapted.

Click, Clack Moo: Cows that TypeAuthors such as Doreen Cronin (Click, Clack Moo: Cows That Type, Diary of a Worm) have told us, “Videos (can)…act as a springboard for the books. They show children…what your imagination can do – that the book is really just the beginning…where it takes you is up to you.” In illustrator Betsy Lewin’s (Giggle, Giggle, Quack; Duck for President) words, “(A video can) support the reading experience in that it extends the story for a child and brings even a little more to the story visually than they see in the book. Because it follows the story so closely, the child harks back to the book after he’s seen the video so it doesn’t become a separate thing.” Author/illustrator Jerry Pinkney (The Ugly Duckling, Noah’s Ark) has told us that videos can “frame a book in such a way and with the drama of music, narration…(the) book (becomes) much richer and much deeper and certainly much more interesting.”

There are other more practical reasons for sharing a video based on a book with your child. In a report entitled “Becoming a Nation of Readers,” it was stated that, “The single most important activity for building the knowledge required for eventual success in reading is reading aloud to children.” When a child has the opportunity to easily hear the text of a book over and over again, a process begins whereby a reading scaffold is built – vocabularies are easily broadened, attention spans stretched and thinking skills flexed. Additionally with the use of inspiring narrators, such as Meryl Streep in Chrysanthemum, or John Lithgow in Sylvester and the Magic Pebble, children are exposed to appropriate phrasing and intonation, which provides a model of fluent reading. The use of specially composed music and/or songs such as in There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly narrated and sung by Cyndi Lauper, also helps a child with the cadence and flow of the text. Every time a child hears a story repeated, he or she picks up something new.

Although no one disputes the fact that beginning, reluctant and struggling readers can be motivated to want to read by being read to often, in the times of larger and larger classroom sizes and where parents often have to work two jobs to make ends meet, finding the time to read aloud to a child is often easier said than done. Videos, DVDs and audio adaptations created to be as close as possible to the book itself, become a useful supplemental tool for parents trying to expose their children to books and reading.

In addition, hearing and seeing a story at the same time also allows a child to experience a story well beyond their independent reading levels and helps them to comprehend more complex literature. For example, a three or four year old can fall in love with Corduroy by Don Freeman or Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak, long before he/she is able to read the story by him/herself. When he/she finally reaches Kindergarten or First Grade and finds these books on the recommended reading list, he/she will be eager to learn to read these favorite stories.

Where the Wild Things AreWhile nothing is better for a child than sitting with a parent, teacher or caregiver who is reading aloud to them, a video, DVD or audio that is true to the nature and spirit of the original book on which it is based, is an inspiring tool to help children enter the world of reading and literature. It is always recommended that whenever possible, audiovisual adaptations of children’s picture books are shared in conjunction with the book itself. However, when used judiciously, a well-produced video, DVD or audio adaptation of a good book can open up the magical world of literature and foster a love of reading in all children, regardless of their learning style, by exposing them to high-interest, time-tested stories, engaging them in the story with all their senses stimulated and by offering them the opportunity to hear and experience their favorite stories over and over again.


Weston Woods Studios, a leading producer of audiovisual adaptations of picture books, provides schools and libraries with videos, DVD's, and book/read-along audio packages of award-winning children's stories. Weston Woods materials are used as supplemental resources in more than 50,000 schools and libraries nationwide and can be found in the retail market under the SCHOLASTIC VIDEO COLLECTION brand, available wherever videos and DVDs are sold.

About the Author:
Linda Lee has over 16 years experience in the educational multimedia arena. She began at Weston Woods Studios in 1989 as an assistant to founder Morton Schindel, whom she considers to this day her mentor and champion. Over the years she has also worked for Churchill Media and Clearvue/SVE and returned to Weston Woods in 1997 after the company was purchased by Scholastic Inc. She currently serves as Weston Woods’ Vice-President and General Manager primarily focusing her efforts on sales and marketing and new business and new product development. In her spare time, she also serves on the Board of Directors of the Weston Woods Institute, a non-profit foundation devoted to enriching the world of Children’s Literature.

Broadway Bound Books
By reading aloud, children develop their reading, language, and vocabulary skills and learn to express emotion as they portray the roles of characters in a book. This experience is further enhanced when they adapt one of their favorite stories into a play.

Make Way for Ducklings Strega Nona Strega Nona There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly Sylvester and the Magic Pebble

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