Should you and your kids snuggle up with a good Web site? Definitely, says Maria Salvadore, a children's book expert who was formerly coordinator of children's services for the Washington, DC, public library system. "I like the Web both as a way to find out about books and as a link to activities that bring books to life," Salvadore says.
Before you cozy up in front of the computer, keep two things in mind: First, it's a good idea to preview book sites by yourself. Some of them are too text-heavy for restless kids; others require plug-ins such as Shockwave that you should install in advance (they can take forever to download). Second, remember that unlike wandering through the children's library, surfing the Internet requires adult supervision. "I wouldn't set young children in front of the TV without being sure what they were watching," says Salvadore, herself the mother of a 7-year-old. "The Internet is another medium that should be a shared adventure." Here are five worthwhile book-related sites where you and your child can click, play, and read together:
The Arthur Site
www.pbs.org/wgbh/arthur (ages 4 to 8)
What it's like: The site is organized around the characters from Marc Brown's popular Arthur the Aardvark books and television show.Main attractions: Kids will love sending e-postcards, writing poems for Fern's poetry club, and playing Francine's "un-matching game" (pick the word that doesn't fit). Moms and dads will like the Parents' Corner, with tips for reading with children and a guide for planning an Arthur birthday party, including printable party hats and thank-you notes for kids to color.Keep in mind: Would your child get a kick out of having D.W. grinning at her from the computer desktop? Help her install Muffy's Wallpaper, a program that lets kids choose from various Arthur screen savers.
Dr. Seuss's Seussville
www.randomhouse.com/seussville (ages 3 to 7)What it's like: The Cat in the Hat plays host in this bright mix of games, contests, and merchandise.Main attractions: You'll find instructions for making egg-carton critters, a monthly Dr. Seuss trivia contest, and the "Ask the Cat" section, which answers some of kids' burning questions (Will Horton the Elephant ever hatch another egg?). The game names -- such as "Sylvester McBean's Sneetch Belly Game" -- will guarantee giggles. And don't miss the recipe for green eggs and ham!Keep in mind: Unfortunately, this site is somewhat commercial, with promotions for books and Seusswear for Kids.
Jan Brett's Home Page www.janbrett.com (ages 4 to 9)What it's like: From the author-illustrator of such gentle tales as Hedgie's Surprise, this site is loaded with crafts and projects.Main attractions: Children who adore Brett's intricate illustrations will love printing out projects to color, like animal masks, calendars, personalized award certificates, and much more (such as iron-on T-shirt decals, which require special transfer paper). A nice extra touch is the blue "fairy dust" effect when you scroll over links. Keep in mind: use the helpful site map to get oriented.
Berenstain Bear Country www.berenstainbears.com (ages 3 to 9)What it's like: This folksy tour of Bear Country has stops at the local school, post office, library, Barn Theater, and of course, the Bears' tree house.Main attractions: The site mixes high-tech fun (an interactive storybook and a video about how Stan and Jan Berenstain create their books) with homespun activities (paper dolls and a cross-stitch pattern). Plus, kids can exchange e-mails with Papa, Mama, Brother, or Sister. Keep in mind: Several activities that your kids will want to click on right away -- such as the Barn Theater videos -- will require time-consuming downloads.
Audrey Wood's Clubhouse www.audreywood.com (ages 4 to 10)What it's like: Author-illustrators Audrey and Don Wood offer games and insights about their books, like Elbert's Bad Word and The Napping House.Main attractions: Budding writers and artists can get an inside peek at how these professionals work, as well as subscribe to Smart Piggy's e-mail newsletter, which includes contests, drawing tips, and the Woods' book-tour schedule.Keep in mind: The detailed descriptions of the Woods' work are best for older kids.
Copyright © 2001. Reprinted with permission from the November 2001 issue of Child magazine.