“Stories of Water” is an interactive installation intended for public libraries that uses a foundation of shared experience to promote literacy while teaching children concepts of basic ecology in a fun and playful way.
The project consists of familiar objects who are given the ability to share their stories when selected with a “magic” garden hose. The miniature objects–a fish, a bottle, a toilet, and a light bulb–are arranged around a computer screen-based waterfall animation. When a character is selected with the hose, its story is shared in both audio and text: the sound is projected from speakers embedded in the waterfall, accompanied by the text animated on the screen.
Beyond the magical interaction of getting these objects to speak lies the delight of the stories themselves. These narratives aren’t your average reports on water or science text books; they are funny and personal, yet rooted in researched facts. Mr. Fish brings the user into the rivers and streams, where plant and animal life rely on fresh and abundant water to survive. Ms. Light Bulb, powered by hydroelectric energy, worships water as her life blood. Mr. Toilet is thankful that water helps keep him clean. A reusable water bottle shares some of her adventures in her long service as the bearer of tap water. These characters don’t just tell funny stories, they change the way we think about storytelling, reinserting a spark of magic back into the books we read and the stories we share.
Educational Value Proposition and Impact:
“Stories of Water” is a project that doesn’t just empower inanimate objects to speak–it’s a project whose foundation is built on empowering the user to speak–initiated by a flick of their wrist, sustained by curiosity. If I can get that bottle to talk, a child might think, then what else can I do? If that boring thing has a cool story, I wonder what other stories might be out there?
Making the Ordinary Extraordinary
This project is also about a particular story, that of water–a universal story that is at once ordinary and extraordinary. The story of water cycles, energy, and sanitation isn’t the usual content for multimillion dollar films complete with 3-D, but what a surprise to realize that everyday stories can be just as exciting as a flying dragon. Maybe next time, this same child will choose to read a book, in some format, over watch a movie.
Re-imagining the Book
“Stories of Water” introduces a new, hybrid experience of reading to children. Here, oral, visual, and physical methods of storytelling collaborate to produce something altogether enchanting, educational, and yet still text-based. As an artist, educator, and librarian, I believe that the key to the promotion of literacy lies in our ability to make the physical act of reading a magical one. While many people are working on innovative, engaging projects to improve education to this end, few attempt to bridge the physical with the virtual. In today’s classrooms and libraries, books compete with PlayStations; words are lost to symbols; the “ah ha” moment that used to draw kids into novels is so often reserved for the latest 3-D movie or spectacular motion graphics. Not here.
Here, a physical interaction transforms text into the magic.