By Bhaktivedanta Manor
This year’s Janmashtami festival at Bhaktivedanta Manor will launch the first literacy program in the world to incorporate both whole language and phonics systems. It is the first and only Learning to Read program in the world where the books can be heard in 25 languages by touching each page. It is also the first professional literacy program where the children’s books depict many adventures of Lord Krishna and other stories.
“We use a system called MagicPEN, which is used by only a handful of publishers,” said Dr. Edith E. Best, an educator with more than 30 years of experience in both primary and secondary education and teacher training. “You touch each page with a computerized pen that has a speaker built into it, and it picks up an invisible bar code and reads the page out to you with the voice of a real person.”
English isn’t the only language to listen in. By touching parts of the book with the MagicPEN, you can hear each page in no less than twenty-five languages, including Hindi, Bengali, Gujarati, Russian, Italian, Spanish, French, Afrikaans, Thai, Japanese, and Chinese. As well as allowing children for whom English is a second language to hear the stories in their own tongue, this feature also gives all children exposure to a wide range of languages.
That’s still not all the MagicPEN is capable of. Readers can also hunt for hidden audio in the illustrations to hear the characters speak in human voices. They also include music, song and sound effects!
“You can record your own voice into the characters, without interfering with the original audio,” Dr Best added. “So one child can record over the audio for one character, while another records over another one, and they can use the books as if they were a puppet show or drama. It makes the stories really come alive.”
The series of 42 full colour books and 41 activity books–83 books in all– includes vibrant, colorful illustration by top artists including New Zealand illustrator Lyn Kriegler—whose work appears in seventy-five books published by Penguin and Scholastic—and a number of professional animators based in China.
Most of the books cover subjects including ecology and traditional stories from India, allowing traditional cultures to be presented in their own merit as part of an initiative to teach children multiculturalism.
A test printing of just six books are already being used for multi-cultural instruction in government schools in the UK. “They should be useful and exciting to any of the general public that are interested in Indian culture, Eastern spirituality, or yoga and reincarnation,” Dr Best explained. “For example, we have one book promoting vegetarianism, which you wouldn’t find in existing children’s readers. Most other readers out there all have very materialistic themes and present a middle-class suburban lifestyle where God and spirituality are completely absent.”