Developed amidst the 2020 COVID lockdown, StoryKids is a storytelling podcast for children, by children. Each story is selected from young authors nationwide, with a commitment to showcasing a diverse range of backgrounds, voices, and experiences. The brainchild of performers and educators Amelia Christo and Verity Hunt-Ballard, the podcasts are narrated by some of Australia’s best and brightest talents – actors, comedians, writers, artists, sportspeople, and more.
“Particularly at this really bizarre time, when there’s so much to process and there’s so much change, and particularly in Melbourne… This just gives them an outlet to express themselves,” said Verity of creating the podcast. “And in a modern age of digital technology, we’re not just getting them to write a story and read it out in front of the class – there’s lots of ways technologically that we can make this really fun.”
The use of technology was catapulted forward last year, with students worldwide forced to shift to remote learning amidst the COVID-19 induced school closures. On the digital format, Verity said that those sceptical should give the podcast a chance. “I think parents are kind of lumping technology into one basket, which includes all of the stuff that’s good. Educational technology is wonderful. This is carefully crafted so that it’s not too long, it’s interactive, it’s aural rather than visual, and it’s Australian. It’s just learning, hearing something, learning things in an Australian dialect as opposed to overseas. It makes you closer and more connected to where you are.”
Verity is no stranger to children’s stories, best known for her award-winning performance as Mary Poppins in the titular musical. Alongside her impressive resume of leading roles on both the stage and screen, she is a passionate champion and educator of the Performing Arts, teaching voice, acting, and movement throughout Australia.
She recently flew to Sydney to assist in recording part of StoryKids’ 3rd season – “The Night Sky Restaurant”, a story by Indulkana ‘sister cousins’ Imogen, Nadine, and Chloe. The story has an introduction in their Indigenous language, and is read by footballer Adam Goodes and actress Shari Sebbens. She is thrilled that StoryKids is able to bring stories written by First Nations children to a wider audience.
“They wrote this awesome story and sent it through to us. And we wanted to have it read by Indigenous people. So Adam and Shari came into a studio in Sydney, I flew down, and then we managed to get the girls in South Australia zooming in to meet Adam and Shari. They were just so excited, so articulate, so passionate about this story. They wanted to workshop movie ideas with Adam.”
The opportunity for children to meet their idols through the development process has been a major highlight for Verity. “Adam and Shari was so generous and such incredible mentors. It was quite emotional, actually, just seeing a very small idea that Amelia and I had grow and turn into something that is, hopefully, contributing and helping kids around Australia. It was pretty beautiful to see these incredible role models bring their stories to life.”
StoryKids partnered with the Australian Literacy and Numeracy Foundation from their second season onwards, allowing their terrific tales to reach an even larger audience. The ALNF is a national charity dedicated to improving the literacy, language, and numeracy standards across the country, and have a particular focus on Indigenous, refugee, and marginalised communities.
“The great part about our partnership with the Australian Literacy and Numeracy Foundation is that they predominantly work in Indigenous communities, so they have access to these incredible teachers who can facilitate sourcing stories from kids that we just wouldn’t usually have access to, or that it would be a very hard process to try and get stories from. It’s very easy for us to get inner-city stories of privileged kids, to be honest. And that’s not what it’s about. It’s about us amplifying the voices of kids right around Australia from all walks of life and different backgrounds, and trying to unify that so that that kids can be helped to know that everyone’s story is important.”
Representation is crucial to Verity and the StoryKids team, with all seasons of StoryKids including a wide variety of voices from both their writers and narrators.
We put a lot of energy into being diverse generally, not just in the Indigenous space. We try to represent everyone in Australia. So we have non-neurotypical kids, kids and artists with disability, people from refugee backgrounds, from a lower socio-economic background. We’re trying to go “Hey, this is Australia. Whatever your situation is, your story is important.”
StoryKids is available for streaming on all major platforms.
For more information and to listen to the podcast, visit www.storykids.com.au