A decade ago, teacher and parent Nicole Brownlee was volunteering in her daughter’s classroom when the children were shown a video of a story being read out loud by an actor. The kids were engaged, but Nicole felt disappointed that the reader was an American actor reading an American book.
Having studied Children’s Literature as part of her teaching degree, Nicole hit upon the notion of creating an Australian equivalent – a way to showcase local talent and bring home-grown books to life. The result is Story Box Library, a storytelling website where you’ll find well-known figures reading books that showcase the best Australian literature for kids.
“When my children were starting school, there was a real lack of local quality digital resources for use in a classroom,” says Nicole. “That’s what drove me to develop the idea.”
The site now features more than 480 stories, with easy ways to filter for age group, theme and other categories. Each also comes with tailored ‘classroom ideas’ and/or ‘activity time’ designed to meet the Australian Curriculum and connect students to the themes of each story.
Nicole is also committed to providing a diverse and inclusive library. The ‘First Nations Stories’ series now features more than 40 titles written, illustrated and read by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander presenters, with plans for these to make up 10% of the library’s content ongoing.
“The power of storytelling to develop cultural understanding and engagement is significant.”
Storytellers include Dan Sultan, Adam Briggs, Isaiah Firebrace, Bianca Hunt, and Steph Tisdell; and Indigenous content includes works by Sally Morgan, Bruce Pascoe, Kirli Saunders, Jasmine Seymour, Dub Leffler, and Aunty Joy Murphy.
“The power of storytelling to develop cultural understanding and engagement is significant,” says Nicole. “One of our main priorities is to champion stories and storytellers who represent the voices and experiences of people who have long been missing from children’s literature.”
She says the Auslan versions of their book readings have also been popular. They try to add around 10 to 12 Auslan versions each year, available to all school subscribers. “We work closely with Auslan Consultancy to ensure we choose the most appropriate titles for this series.”
More personally, the success of Story Box Library has allowed Nicole to indulge a few teenage dreams, with musician Nick Cave recording a suitably dark version of classic Australian tale, The Bunyip of Berkeley’s Creek by Jenny Wagner.
Story Box Library, which is a subscription service, has recently integrated with popular school library system Oliver V5. They have also launched a new companion resource called Story Tools – a series of video lessons designed to give students tools and tips for building a great piece of creative writing. Each video is accompanied by teaching resources to model techniques, and support students to develop their writing skills.
Featuring 36 tutorials aimed at upper primary/lower secondary students, Nicole says her team has worked hard to produce “high-quality content that is a lot of fun and designed to capture and hold students’ attention, presented by Australia’s most visionary and popular children’s book creators.”
During the past couple of years, Story Box Library has also been offering free professional development sessions for educators. Past events have looked at ‘Creating a Diverse Library’ and ‘Sharing First Nations Stories in the Classroom’.
“The popularity of these events means that we are in the process of making them a regular fixture,” Nicole says. “We invite experts to speak, and they are a great vehicle for showcasing what we and others in our community can offer educators.”
Schools are using the site to help facilitate discussions in the classroom, complement story-time, or support the read-aloud model. No matter the reason, the feedback has been overwhelmingly positive, says Nicole. “There is a lot of love out there for Story Box Library.”