Penguin Random House creates an app that syncs with parents’ voices to add sounds to storytime

Living Stories aims to make reading a multisensorial experience for children

Published On
Apr 18, 2024
Reading a book with a phone light

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As schools still struggle with issues brought on by the pandemic and book titles come under attack across the country, children are facing a dangerous decline in their reading abilities.

Only 14% of students affirm that they read for fun every day, according to a 2023 study from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) in the U.S. Reading scores across the globe have dropped critically by 10 points from 2018 to 2022, which equates to losing over half a year of learning, according to a study from the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD)

In response to the growing reading gap in the country, Penguin Random House Canada and creative agency Rethink launched “Living Stories,” a web app that synchronizes with the voices of caregivers reading books to bring stories to life with smart lights and sound effects. 

To launch the campaign, Penguin Random House released an online video ad that features real families reading real bedtime stories while using the Living Stories app. 


The web app, released on early access last week, is compatible with five bestselling children’s books: “Bubbles”; “Blankie”; “The Good Little Mermaid’s Guide to Bedtime”; “Sharon”; “Lois and Bram’s Skinnamarink”; and “The Darkest Dark” by astronaut Chris Hadfield.

“Reading is so important for learning and to build empathy and awareness about the world around us—any way we can get kids reading and engaging with stories, especially by such beloved children’s authors and illustrators, is absolutely essential,” said Beth Lockley, VP of marketing and communications at Penguin Random House Canada, in a statement. 

“Living Stories” is meant to “bring a fun, and interactive element to the cherished bedtime story experience kids love so much,” she added.

To develop the app, Rethink and Penguin Random House consulted with Sarah Labbé, a special education teacher with nearly ten years of experience in the field. 

“She informed us that sounds and lights are great tools, so we focused on those elements, which we knew we could bring to life with smart home technology, when building the app,” said Xavier Blais, partner and executive creative director at Rethink.


While currently functional with the Philips Hue Bridge and over 20 smart bulb and speaker brands, Penguin Random House plans to expand both the list of compatible smart home technology and books as it develops the app further.

With the app, Penguin Random House hopes to make reading a multisensorial experience.