Inspiration

Many of us grew up hearing expressions like these:

Do not count your chickens before they are hatched. The boy who cried wolf. Lion’s share. Sour grapes.

The classic Aesop’s Fables educate and entertain through animal stories that teach life lessons about kindness, honesty, common sense, boastfulness and flattery. Now parents can impart the same lessons using Alexa.

A few Aesop's Fables skills already exist, but I thought I could make a better version that was not only educational but also entertaining enough that children will want to listen to it again and again.

What it does

The Fabulous Fables skill reads a different Aesop's fable every day. The narrations are pre-recorded and enhanced with sound effects. For instance, The Milkmaid and Her Pail has the sounds of a cow mooing, butter churning, chicks chirping, a pail falling and milk spilling plus background noise from a county fair. The Crow and the Pitcher has sounds of a crow, its beak hitting a pitcher, pebbles being dropped into water, and an animal drinking.

When the story ends, Alexa asks the child to guess the moral of the story and gives two choices. If the child answers correctly, Alexa gives positive reinforcement. If the child guesses wrong, Alexa pretends that she herself also guessed wrong.

To encourage daily use, the skill gives a brief description of the next day's fable.

How I built it

I used pre-recorded narrations from Librivox, available for free. For each fable, I searched for the right sound clips to enhance it and used Audacity to combine the narration and sound clips. I tried to use authentic sounds whenever possible.

The fables are public domain. The version used in the narrations is The Aesop for Children with illustrations by Milo Winter. Since the illustrations are also public domain, I added skill cards with a picture, fable title and moral of the story.

I resisted the urge to include the entire text of the story in the card, adhering to the recommendation in Best Practices for Skill Card Design to not use long passages of text.

Challenges I ran into

It's very time-consuming to find the right sound effects and add them to a fable. I found myself doing a lot of tweaking -- getting the timing right for the sound effects, getting the right volume, doing everything over again because it wasn't good enough, etc. Completing a single fable with just one or two sound effects can take a couple of hours, including testing.

Another difficulty is that I limited myself to audio files that are free and preferably Creative Commons 0 because I didn't want to end up with a long list of attributions in the skill description.

Also, Alexa audio files are limited to 90 seconds. However, some of the fables are over 90 seconds long. For now, I'm skipping those fables, although I have some idea of how I want to implement them.

Accomplishments that I'm proud of

I think the enhanced narrations sound better than the originals found here: https://librivox.org/the-aesop-for-children-by-aesop

What I learned

Some of the Aesop's fables are pretty violent even though I'm using the version for children! Here's how the story about a flying tortoise ends:

But as he opened his mouth to say these foolish words he lost his hold on the stick, and down he fell to the ground, where he was dashed to pieces on a rock.

:-o

What's next for Fabulous Fables

Add the longer fables.

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