November 17, 2017

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Take a Look in a Digital Book with Reading Rainbow Skybrary School | Reference Online

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Reference-Skybrary-School-skyReading Rainbow Skybrary School’s large selection of digital titles give primary students a wide variety of independent and lesson-related reading choices, enhanced by video “field trips” that introduce them to topics related to the books’ content. Classroom use will help primary students learn about their world and improve reading skills.

Reading Rainbow Skybrary School

Grade Level K-Gr 3

Cost Single classroom use is $179 per year. Whole-school (up to 350 students) access is $1,450 per year. Additional pricing options are available.

Content The Skybrary database is affiliated with PBS’s Reading Rainbow (the refrain “I can go anywhere” rings out at the beginning of many of the videos and some books) and features Rainbow host LeVar Burton. The resource’s more than 500 books are well suited to primary students, with a mix of contemporary and classic stories and nonfiction. Users will find books about diverse families, communities, and people, as well as folktales such as “Little Red Riding Hood” and “Paul Bunyan.” Nonfiction subjects include nature and animals, careers, government, and science.
Most of the books have reading levels within the grade range, but some are “adult directed” titles, which have more complex text or offer learning opportunities, such as A Very Improbable Story, which introduces the mathematical concept of probability and would require some additional teacher explanation. The site’s organizational format allows students to choose their own books independently from one of seven “islands” (“Action Adventurers and Magical Tales,” “Animal Kingdom,” “Awesome People,” “Genius Academy,” “My Friends My Family,” “Music Mountain,” and “National Geographic Kids”) floating on the bright blue “sky” of the home screen. Students can read the books themselves or listen to narrated versions (numerous readers lend their voices).
The site also includes more than 200 short video “field trips” that run from three to six minutes in length and cover topics that will appeal to elementary students, such as animals, sports, games, and hobbies. These selections provide educational background or answer questions (for instance, “How To Poop in Space”). Most of the videos are hosted by Burton, and some are billed as “classics” from the Reading Rainbow series. The National Geographic videos combine traditional documentary clips with those that take a different approach, such as “Zooville” animal videos, which feature an animated narrator, and “Are We There Yet?: World Adventures,” which send a diverge group of young children to interesting places around the world. New content will be added on a regular basis.

Reference-Skybrary-May-Jun2016Ease of Use Students can visit one of the islands, watch an introductory video clip, and then use arrows to view and choose the books and videos that capture their interest. An animated character named Austin, the designated “book buddy,” offers directions and suggestions on how to select and access titles. Students and teachers can also search the site by reading level, specific topics, and more.
When a student chooses a book, it goes into the “backpack,” which holds a maximum of five selections. Books default to the narrated version. Text is highlighted as it is read, and large arrows allow students to advance pages at their own pace, even in narrated titles.
A simple tool bar allows children to manage their backpacks, return to the islands, or play games. Clicking within many of the books launches average-quality animation, such as buzzing and flying bees, and sound effects.
Users can select and view any video field trip from each island’s extensive group of choices. Classroom subscriptions include log-ins that give students at-home access as well.
The process of adding books to backpacks is relatively simple, but educators will need to show younger students how to manage their titles, given the limit of five per backpack.
Classroom management is simple and allows teachers to upload student data files. Educators can see the number of books read and videos watched by both individual students and entire classes.

Visual appeal The site is attractive, with brightly colored backgrounds and graphics and a variety of sound effects. Text is easy to read, and the illustrations and photos are detailed. The animations in the illustrations will encourage readers to linger over illustrative content, while the videos are clear and move quickly.
Books are well formatted, which will be useful for those aiming to use this resource through computer projectors or smart boards for full class use.

Teacher Resources There are also 40 comprehensive lesson plans; educators will find 20 plans aimed at kindergarteners through first graders and 20 for second and third graders. Plans include a “launch” book and corresponding field trip, five “assigned” books related to the lesson theme, two “extra” books, and a concluding title and field trip. Those targeted at kindergarteners and first graders focus on seasons, holidays, and animals, while the lessons for first and second graders reflect student growth in comprehension and interests and concentrate on famous and important people, civics, science, animals, sports, and the arts.
The plans list all necessary materials, offer basic scripts for teachers, and have activity suggestions and worksheets.

Verdict The strength of this site is the classroom feature, which allows all the students in a class to read the same book at the same time—a tool that will facilitate discussion and create a shared reading experience. Content is varied and rich. Students have a wide selection of books that are instantly available to them at home and at school. Overall, this is a solid purchase to give primary students the chance to “go anywhere” through books and improve their reading skills as they make the journey.

Mary Mueller, Rolla Public Schools, MO

This article was published in School Library Journal's June 2016 issue. Subscribe today and save up to 35% off the regular subscription rate.

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