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Tired Parent Needs Inspiration at Storytime? Here's an App for That

Former Marin journalist Rick Polito has designed Shake-N-Tell for the iPhone and wants to raise funds for an Android app.

Your next ghost story around the campfire might actually happen around your iPhone. 

Former features writer and That TV Guy columnist Rick Polito is hoping his Shake-N-Tell app for the iPhone will help bring back storytelling with a digital take on the ancient pastime.

“I call it an improv engine,” Polito says.

The iPhone app should be in the App store next month, but parents and interested storytellers can get a look at it now on Shake-n-Tell's Kickstarter page. Kickstarter, an online funding platform for people with good ideas, supports independently crafted projects and facilitates donations from friends, fans and the general public.

Polito, who worked at the IJ's Novato office for 16 years and now lives in Colorado, hopes to raise money to finish the app and develop it for the Android operating system.

Describing his app as “that little creative nudge” people need to get started, Polito says he understands how storytelling can seem intimidating. 

“I’ve written whole books, but I can still hit a blank spot making up stories for my kids,” Polito says.

The problem is that kids ask for stories at the end of the day when most parents aren’t feeling so creative, he explains.

“The problem with bedtimes stories is that they happen at bedtime," he says.

Polito’s Shake-n-Tell, in development for the iPhone and iPad, will prompt storytellers through an adventure. Users get flashcards with just enough text to move the story along. The rest is up to them. 

"We give you the bones of the story," Polito says. "You flesh it out with details and personality. We tell people 'elaborate, exaggerate, describe."

Polito and his development partners have devised a system that provides not only different endings but an exponential set of variables along the way. The stories are different every time and each 99-cent Story Pack comes with eight adventures. That’s probably a relief for parents on their 500th reading of Goodnight Moon, Polito says.

“The whole bedtime experience can be so much richer,” he explains.

Polito says society has taken storytelling out of our daily lives and given it away to Hollywood, publishers and video games.

“Storytelling used to be how we connected as people,” Polito says. “And it’s an incredible way to connect with kids.”

Parent should share the joy of reading with kids, but once in a while it’s a great idea to put the books away and just launch into a story, Polito says. The child gets to share the creative experience as it’s happening, and Shake-N-Tell jump-starts that experience, Polito says.

“I’d love it if people followed the app through a few prompts and took off on their own.” 

Supporters who pledge on Kickstarter can get rewards that, depending on the pledge, could include a new Story Pack with eight stories every month for life. The top-level pledge is good for a Story Pack written about your kid in your kid's chosen genre with eight stories, 96 endings and 12 trillion permutations.

"That should keep them busy,” Polito says. “You could use the same Story Pack every night for 32 billion years and never get the same exact story twice."

In addition to the attached YouTube clip, you can watch this demonstration as well.

Brent Ainsworth May 01, 2012 at 06:27 PM
Got this from Tad Whitaker, another former IJ reporter: "I recently spent 25 hours each way on a roundtrip spring break train ride with my 4.5-year-old son. We bought several aps along the way, but the only one he kept asking for was Shake 'n Tell. It was the one I liked the most too because we used it together and it never made me feel bad about sticking my kid in front of a 'game.'"
Rick May 28, 2012 at 07:32 PM
Shake-N-Tell went live in the app store this morning! http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/shake-n-tell/id521581160?mt=8

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