Are you a busy working parent? Do you sometimes get home too late to read your kids a bedtime story? Are you occasionally travelling away from home and missing out on valuable family time?
A husband and wife team have created a literacy website, www.Readmeastory.co.uk, that allows you to send an email to a family member of you reading one of their favourite stories. It’s an ingenious idea which took off after the couple hit 50 and decided they wanted to do something they could be proud of. “We wanted to use our professional experience to make a difference,” says Riz Rabbani who started the website with his wife Jo.
Riz and Jo know what it’s like being busy. They have four children aged 17, 15 and 11-year-old twins. Jo works in HR and Riz’s background is in technology. They had been reading a lot about literacy. At the time Riz was working for a Swedish mobile internet consultancy and was often missing his children’s bedtime. “I was doing a lot of commuting. I felt I might as well get home throw the money through the door and go back to work. Missing bedtime was quite an emotive subject,” he says. At the time there was a lot of talk about kids being constantly on screens. Riz thought there must be a way to fight technology with technology, to use it to re-engage children with the world of the imagination and books since technology was something they were very comfortable with.
The idea for the website and app ticked all the boxes. They started by finding developers in the Far East to work with them. Their aim was not commercial. It took a while to develop the website since they were doing it around their other jobs. About a year ago when they had nearly got it finished they started talking to publishers. “We talked about creating the next generation of Harry Potter writers, getting kids to fall in love with literature,” says Riz. The publishers loved the idea, but didn’t want to give their books over to Riz and Jo. “Without books it could have died,” says Riz. They spoke to the National Literacy Trust who suggested they go for out of copyright classic fairytales. They found an English professor who rewrote the tales for different age groups at a low cost. Through People Per Hour they got an illustrator.
Since they started they have been stunned by the number of potential groups their project could reach – for instance, absent grandparents, divorced fathers, prisoners, those in the Armed Forces, family members who live abroad. “We are not experts in literacy. What interests us is the emotional connection between adults and children through reading,” says Riz.
The adult, say a grandparent, selects a book on the site and then records themselves reading it on their computer. They can then email their version of the book to their grandchild. The child then reads it on their laptop or tablet and a video of their grandparent reading it appears in a corner. The video and reading is synchronised with the page being read. The book then resides on the child’s ‘book shelf’ and the child can read it as often as they like.
Riz, who gave up his job to work full time on the app about a year ago, has also been talking to teachers who say it could be a great tool for them to ensure kids get books read to them at home so they develop a thirst for literature. It could also be used to encourage people to write and record themselves reading their own stories.
“So far people are very engaged,” says Riz. “It’s taken up three years of our lives so I would like to do it for a living,” he adds. “I love the idea of connecting people and also promoting a love of reading.”
*Read me a Story is launching initially to groups such as the armed forces to gain feedback before a full launch. They are starting with an offer to let users decide how much to pay to send a story.