Schools have a new option in ebooks: Starwalk Kids, a digital streaming service available by subscription, launched October 10 with a curated collection emphasizing nonfiction. The list include 53 titles by Seymour Simon, the award-winning children’s science author, who is a cofounder of StarWalk Kids Media, the new platform’s parent company.
The current catalog of 148 books—expected to grow to 400 by the end of the 2012–2013 school year—is available via the browser-based StarWalk Reader, which works on most any device, including desktop and laptop computers, tablets, smartphones, and interactive whiteboards. It’s anytime access—students with an account can log in from home or anywhere they have an Internet connection. And multiple users, whole classes, can read the same title simultaneously.
While the list includes original ebooks, (eventually 10 to 15 a year, according to StarWalk co-founder and CEO Liz Nealon), StarWalk has a unique focus on revising out-of-print works by well-known authors, such as David Adler, Johanna Hurwitz, Kathleen Krull, Stan Mack, Doreen Rappaport, and Laura Vaccaro Seeger. “There are wonderful books, which, through no fault of their own, have become out of print,” says Simon, who personally approached his author friends about giving new digital life to their work.
The collection, about 60 percent nonfiction and geared for PreK to grade 8, ranges from the Zoo Animals nonfiction series for younger children by Caroline Arnold and the Riverside Kids chapter book series by Johanna Hurwitz to Days of the Dead and Surtsey: The Newest Place On Earth, two photo essay titles by Kathryn Lasky. Newly revised and redesigned, each StarWalk edition is narrated, offering the user a “Read to Me” option.
Designed for classroom use, the books accommodate notetaking and highlighting. Educators can search for books by author, title, keyword, subject, Lexile level, alphabetic reading level, and Common Core (CC) State Standards links. An especially handy feature for younger users is the ability to navigate by thumbnail images of each page, which appear along the bottom of the Reader. “Teaching Links” match each title to relevant CC standards and provide suggested activities.
Subscriptions start at $595 for a single site, which enables a library or school, for example, to access StarWalk’s entire collection, as it grows throughout the school year at no additional cost to the subscriber. For a school population of 400, the cost would be $1.50 per student for the first year, according to the company. Multi-site and district accounts would further reduce that cost.
Nealon, the former creative director of Sesame Street, says “We think this is the future of digital media for schools because it’s device neutral and offers simultaneous access.”