Aardman, Puffin and Huawei launch StarSign reading app for deaf children with help of Spot the Dog

Aardman has animated a new AI avatar that through Huawei's technology will guide deaf children through storytime titles like Puffin's Where's Spot? through sign language.
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Puffin Picture Books, a longstanding imprint of Penguin, has partnered with the global tech firm Huawei in its launch of StorySign, an app that helps enrich story time for deaf children and their parents.

The partnership sees Puffin bring its popular Spot the Dog children’s book character to the platform with the Where’s Spot? title and aligning itself and the Spot brand with the campaign that helps deaf children enjoy reading through AR technology.

The StorySign app first launched with a film by Academy Award-winning director Chris Overton. One pioneered by Huawei and now launched in the UK, StorySign features the popular children’s book and has been developed with an undertanding of sign syntax to ensure a seamless translation and user experience.

StorySign aims to open the world of books to deaf children and their families. Users can hold their phone up to the words on the page and avatar Star will sign the story as the printed words are highlighted.

This will help parents and children to learn to read together at their own pace.

“At Huawei, we believe in the power of AI and that technology can make a positive difference in the world,” said Andrew Garrihy, CMO Huawei Western Europe. “We created StorySign to help make it possible for families with deaf children to enjoy an enriched story time.

“We hope that by raising awareness of deaf literacy issues, people will be encouraged to donate to or support one of the fantastic charity partners we are working with across Europe.”

Executive director of the European Union of the Deaf, Mark Wheatley, added: “With StorySign, Huawei is using the power of its AI and innovative technology in a meaningful way. We are very hopeful that it will make a significant impact in the deaf community, helping more deaf children learn how to read at the same level as hearing children.

“We also hope the launch of StorySign will support a wider conversation about ensuring equality in every aspect of their lives for deaf people across Europe.”

To celebrate the launch of the app, Huawei has treated deaf children and their families to a trip to the winter wonderland of Lapland where it created an accessible Christmas experience for children, with activities such as festive storytelling and gingerbread making.

Huawei worked with local charities affiliated with the European Union of the Deaf including the British Deaf Association, publishing partner Penguin and animation specialists Aardman to develop the app.

“When creating Star, the character for StorySign, we first had to immerse ourselves in the world of sign language,” said Neil Pymer, interactive creative director, Aardman. ‘The complexity we found is overwhelming so we needed to make sure that we created a character that not only resonated with the audience, but also fulfilled its main job of teaching children to read.

“For example, we learned that facial expressions play a critical role in sign language, so we created a character to embody that expressivity. At the same tie, Star was designed to seem like an older sibling, somebody who will guide you through the book. Seeing the reactions of children when realising that Star signs the words in the book is something very special indeed.”

Joe Marriott. Commissioning editor, Puffin Picture Books, concluded: “At Puffin, we believe in the transformative power of stories. And, as part of our mission for greater inclusivity in our publishing, we are delighted to partner with Huawei in this innovative and progressive app to bring stories to life and promote shared reading in the deaf community.

“We couldn’t think of a better book for the launch than Eric Hill’s beloved Where’s Spot?, one of the world’s favourite first picture books.

“This is a truly international collaboration and we have worked with trusted partners in Europe to ensure that a classic book will be available in ten countries ready for launch.” 

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