Video editing contribution Xavier Smith
Fairytale witches are known for their wicked and villainous ways, irrevocable spells and broomstick flying skills, but not Heckerty.
Heckerty is a 409 year-old, green-faced witch who bumbles through life with her inept magic skills, generally flies upside down, and spends the majority of her time trying to undo her spells through her adventures in Spellbound.
Co-author of the educational Heckerty book and mobile app series, Jan Ziff, has released her latest creation, Heckerty Spells. To date, she now has seven books paired with interactive mobile apps all designed to help young children learn to read and enhance their vocabulary.
“[Kids] are little sponges. We try to teach them words that they’ll use as they get older,” Ziff said.
The story of Heckerty was created about 45 years ago by Ziff’s mother, who is an internationally known storyteller and taught children to enjoy and learn classical music through stories, and her late stepfather, who was a well-known American conductor.
“Through traditional stories and folk tales, the witch is always evil. My mother created a witch who was funny and got everything wrong. Heckerty’s face turns green when she does her spells wrong – her green face never goes away.” Aside from learning vocabulary words, each book takes children through Heckerty’s adventures paired with a positive message.
When Ziff acquired the Heckerty property, she began to digitize the story into a multisensory experience.
The interactive apps allow the child to choose between a narrated story or read and play experience. The fun part of the story is when words and characters come alive and creatures are seen running around the page when a particular part of the page is pressed.
As for building up the vocabulary skills, a child can press on a word then hear it pronounced by Heckerty and see it pop out in a speech bubble.
The apps are translated into 15 different languages and have been downloaded in 170 countries from as far as Mongolia.
“It’s absolutely amazing to see Saudi Arabia come up on our list of countries. Someone there is learning about Heckerty – something that was created in Scottsdale, Arizona, it’s just magic,” Ziff said.
The Heckerty series has also been used by the Austim Speaks organization to educate children with special needs. “We’ve received a phenomenal response. It’s wonderful that [Heckerty] appeals to kids on the spectrum. The apps are not frightening, not noisy or has bright colors, and the result is that it’s not overpowering and they can learn on their own time,” Ziff said.
The Heckerty series also offer parent/teach guides, activities, coloring pages and lesson plans for a more enriching experience.
Ziff’s plan is to continue writing stories, building apps and looks to take Heckerty to the screen. “I’d like her to become a 3D cartoon character-my great vision is Heckerty the movie,” Ziff said.
The best part of Ziff’s day is waking up and finding a way to make children laugh at Heckerty.
“Many years ago, I was a correspondent for the Middle East for the BBC and saw some pretty terrible things. It was awful to see kids growing up in fear. What I love about Heckerty is that every morning I get up and think ‘what can heckerty do today to make them laugh and what can we teach them.’ What would I see if I was seven and looking at Heckerty,” she said. “I’d far rather kids were learning about broomsticks, lizard stew and wriggly worms. The most fun is that I get to be permanently seven.”
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