Stanford grads disrupt the children’s book formula with Goodnight News

By Eva Glasrud

When it comes to parenting, it can be the simple things that are most challenging, such as the basic “How was your day?” question being answered with an abrupt-sounding one-word answer. In ways that are both predictable and cliche, many parents regard a short response as a sign of growing distance or a candid indication that their child simply doesn’t want to talk to them. But research—and a bit of common sense—suggests that “How was your day?” is actually really hard for a child to answer.

For however well-intentioned the question may be, its vague and expansive nature can be confounding for kids to consider. Basically, it can pose a much greater command—“Recall, organize, and prioritize everything that happened today, and then tell me the parts that you think are important.” No wonder kids have a hard time responding.

As someone who studied psychology and did research at Stanford’s Bing Nursery School, I have suggested that parents encourage their children to use sequence words: first, next, then, during, while, etc. This helps kids with the “organization” part of expressing the many particulars of their day. Of course, integrating these terms can be a challenge in itself.

With this in mind, I was very excited to speak with local author Andrea Cuadra, and hear about her new (and very outside-the-toy-box) children’s book—Goodnight News. Cuadra and two other Stanford graduate students—Sonia Doshi and Lynn Stechschulte—designed, tested, and published the project as an innovative approach to the children’s book format, encouraging a new take on the “How was your day?” question through an interactive “news report” between child and parent. It works as a reconsideration of a perennial parenting challenge, while also just being a fun way to recount the day.

I caught up with Andrea to discuss the origins of the project and the hurdles of creating a children’s book with a deeper purpose.

What gave you the idea for Goodnight News?

It was actually my master’s project at Stanford. I had an interest in play, and my partner had an interest in figuring out how to find time to relax in this busy world — especially in Silicon Valley.

So we decided the best people for us to design for were single mothers. They have a motivation to be playful, because they have kids, and they want to connect with their kids on a personal and emotional level. But they’re busy.

So we started prototyping. We looked at toy blankets, exercise swings, and playful kitchenware. But our first prototype of Goodnight News was a huge hit, so we decided to develop it to the end, which exceeded the course requirements.

I know the story changes every time, but can you give a basic idea of the plot?

The book is an interactive family newscast that turns parents and their children into reporters. There are three characters in this story that play out in real life: the grown up, the kid, and the news anchor acted by a stuffed animal, toy or older sibling. Parents can share their day with their child while peeking into their child’s world. Children learn how to form questions and express themselves, while bonding with their parent through quality conversation.

What is an “interactive children’s book”? Do you mean like an iPad app?

It’s not digitally interactive. Instead, it’s a paperback book that prompts interactions between readers. That means that even though it’s a paper book, it’s different every time you read it.

It also prompts readers (who are also the characters in the book!) to use their imagination and bring a third character to life, using funny voices and improvised movements.

That sounds great — so it’s also a way to help kids develop fine motor skills?

That depends on your child’s story! If their third character is a sock puppet, they will be using their hands a lot. Some children use stuffed animals as a prop, and that’s great. But we’ve seen kids come up with all kinds of ideas when there aren’t toys around — spoons, cars, necklace holders, and Russian dolls become news anchors.

One thing I find interesting, as a psychologist, is that Goodnight News does an incredible job of teaching important pre-literacy skills, even though that wasn’t your initial goal.

Haha, exactly! In the beginning, we didn’t think that socks and kitchenware would help a child’s reading. It was really about playfulness and emotional connection. But we’ve since realized that it’s much harder to teach children to read books when they don’t love books. It’s great to start giving kids positive attitudes about reading at an early age. Even just holding a book, passing it back and forth with an adult, talking and laughing together, and learning how to share stories verbally can be a big help for them down the road.

Do you have a favorite page or question from the book?

Yes! There are two pages on which you point at clouds with different emotions: happy, sad, angry, or surprised. On one of the pages, the parent asks the child how they felt that day, and when. It’s a great way to see into your child’s mind!

But I also really like when the child asks the adult the same question. It’s a great way for them to realize their parents are humans, like them.

What did you learn from writing this book?

I learned that reading a book isn’t just about passively learning. Reading isn’t just about ingesting content — it can be highly interactive, it can be generative (where readers create the content), and the same book can be different every time.

This was born from an innovation process — none of us were originally authors. But through following the design process and trying to creatively solve a need we had identified, we all became authors!

In fact, if you read the book, you’ll see that it’s not a typical book. And that’s because we weren’t trying to write a book. We were trying to create an experience.

Also — and this surprised me! — but it can also be a great book to read with your partner. It was designed with parents and kids in mind, but it can actually help you connect with any human being.

What’s next for Goodnight News?

We’re interested in scaling its reach, and have started looking at publishers who might be a good fit.

Andrea Cuadra recently completed her master’s at Stanford in product design. In addition to writing Goodnight News, she teaches corporate innovation and creativity. She is currently pursuing a PhD in Information Science at Cornell Tech.

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