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Rough Day at Work? Let Oprah Winfrey Read to Your Kids Tonight

Illustration for article titled Rough Day at Work? Let Oprah Winfrey Read to Your Kids Tonight
Image: Storyline Online

I’ve tossed any pretense of limiting screen time for our kids in our home. Desperate times calls for desperate measures. But lucky for parents, there’s a slew of new, entertaining, and educational videos that can both keep kids occupied and prevent their brains from turning into mush, especially since it looks like school will be closed until the fall (weep).


Time to order or download some books, hand your kid a sketch pad and art supplies and fire up a virtual teacher:

Celebrity Readings

If you need someone to read aloud to your kids with feeling and gusto, who could be better than a Hollywood actor or a TV host?

Oprah Winfrey, for instance, reads the picture book The Hula-Hoopin’ Queen in a 13-minute video produced by Storyline Online, an initiative of the SAG-AFTRA Foundation. The video blends an animation of Vanessa Brantley-Newton’s illustrations with shots of Oprah reading the book from a comfortable recliner, as though we’re sitting at her feet at a kid’s storytime.

The project, who started before the coronavirus pandemic, has recruited close to 60 actors and counting, so there’s plenty of virtual celebrity babysitters who can each buy you about 10 minutes of time: Betty White reads Harry the Dirty Dog, Christian Slater reads The Coal Thief, and Kristen Bell reads Quackenstein Hatches a Family, among many more.


Lunch Doodles

The author and illustrator of Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus, the Elephant & Piggie series, and my personal favorite, Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Tale, Mo Willems lets us into his art studio each day at 1 pm ET for “Lunch Doodles with Mo Willems.”


Willems chats candidly with kids, encourages them to doodle with him, shows them how to draw characters from his books and answers reader questions in the 20 to 30 minute videos. Hosted by the Kennedy Center (Willems is the Kennedy Center Education Artist-in-Residence), the new, free program also includes downloadable activity pages and an opportunity for kids to show off their artwork.


Fart Jokes

Dav Pilkey, the author of the funny, potty humor-filled Dog Man and Captain Underpants series, just began sharing free videos this week. Through a partnership with the Library of Congress, he plans to post new videos every Friday morning, offering drawing lessons and reading aloud.


Authors Everywhere

Susan Tan, author of the Cilla Lee-Jenkins series, created the Authors Everywhere! YouTube channel shortly after the first shelter-in-place orders. It compiles videos of authors reading from their books, sharing the behind-the-scenes of their writing and offering writing prompts, crafts, and other activities inspired by their books.


For instance, Grace Lin, author and illustrator of Where the Mountain Meets the Moon and the new Mulan prequel, Mulan: Before the Sword, shows us how to draw a dragon. Debbi Michiko Florence, author of the Jasmine Toguchi series, reads aloud and shares a writing exercise on creating memorable characters. And Supriya Kelkar, author of American as Paneer Pie, shows us how she creates art collages.

And even more authors

Former teacher and author Kate Messner—my 4-year-old likes her picture book Over and Under the Pond—also compiled a long list of children’s book authors sharing resources and videos for kids of all ages. Carole Lindstrom reads her new picture book, We Are Water Protectors, in this video.


For older kids, Jason Reynolds reads from his novel, Ghost, in this video. Nikki Grimes, author and poet of books such as Bedtime for Sweet Creatures, works with aspiring writers on writing a poem about their favorite food in this video.

Ellen Lee is a freelance writer in the San Francisco Bay Area.