How great would it be if there was away to make storytime come alive with music, sound effects and more? Children would love reading it. Thoughts of creating a paradigm change in storytelling and reading aloud crossed Matthew Hammersley's mind—the CEO of Novel Effect—during his wife’s baby shower. He asked everyone to bring a children's book for their daughter's library and a friend entertained the guest with a read-aloud complete with dramatic animal sound effects. That's where the idea of starting an interactive storytelling company was born. With the aim to add a bit of magic to old-fashioned storytime, Matt Hammersley brought the idea to Melody Furze. As a teacher at an institution for impaired special students, she would spend hours recording sound effects to coincide with the stories that she would orchestrate at her classes. She was on board immediately! In the past three years, Novel Effect has gained substantial traction from educators who leverage the solution to get their students excited about storytime and excited to read themselves. Novel Effect appeared on Shark Tank, won the Webby award for Best Integrated Mobile Experience, and closed their Series A funding round. Today, Novel Effect's one-of-a-kind platform increases interest and engagement, letting children connect with the story and the storyteller on a deeper level. The company aims to grow by hiring more developers to produce innovative content in the near future. Here's what Melody Furze, the Director of Education of Novel Effect, had to say about the new concept that her company is providing, why it's so popular, and what's in the future for book reading apps.
What does Novel Effect stand for?
Technology is here to stay and we want it to enable teachers’ lives without distracting from learning. Novel Effect unobtrusively introduces technology and allows teachers (and families) to make the read-aloud experience more exciting—with technology enhancing that experience.
What are some of the challenges that the educators are facing today?
One of the main barriers to technology is cost. From a special educator’s standpoint, I have been in situations where students and educators were provided access to technology with very little or, in some cases, no training, making it difficult to correctly integrate it into their classrooms.
The Novel Effect app unobtrusively introduces technology and allows teachers and families to enjoy the real experience with the real audience with technology enhancing that experience
Another challenge is that there are many apps today that claim to be educational but don't provide interactivity that actually helps children learn. Novel Effect hopes to offset some of these challenges first by being a FREE app, second by being very easy to use, and finally by using educational standards to ensure that enhanced audio content is additive to learning and literacy development.
How does your solution work for an educator?
First, an educator downloads our app available on iOS devices. After downloading, they choose a title from our app library—they will need to have a printed or ebook copy of that title in their classroom. In the app, they select “Read Book”, and once the app notes it is “Listening” they start to read the print book aloud. The app will follow along with the educator’s voice adding music, sound effects and character voices along the way.
As I mentioned before, the app is very easy to use with a search feature and curated bookshelves that are seasonally appropriate. Further, we work with major publishers to ensure we have a good content mix and constantly grow our categories—we recently added poetry and are looking at early readers next.
Could you provide us with a case study where you have helped a client in attaining their desired outcomes?
We met poet Janet Wong, at an educator conference and she mentioned how she was a tireless advocate for inspiring the next generation of writers to write poetry. Janet speaks at several conferences and events annually helping teachers and librarians find ways to teach poetry in their curricula. She also created The Poetry Friday Anthology series to aid in that mission. We were inspired by her mission and worked together to create a new content category on the app that Janet curated. We now have over a dozen poems in the app and continue to add new ones regularly. Janet and the other poets included in the app help promote Novel Effect on social media and during their events. And we have found our audience is thrilled to have this new content available for the classroom.
What does the future hold for Novel Effect?
We are a company with many ideas and potential directions that we can go. In the immediate, we are finalizing an Android version of the app, which will launch soon. And we are also looking to open up the in-house studio tool that we use to create soundscapes to a select group of educators this year. Our hope is that we can enable students and educators to use the technology to add effects to their own stories, becoming a great tool for STEAM learning in the classroom that integrates really well into core curriculum.
Everywhere we go, we get requests for new ways to use our technology—from helping to teach other languages to family game night! We love hearing this feedback and are focused on developing partnerships that will expand Novel Effect into a ‘global storytelling experience brand.’