What began as a digital platform for teens to share their personal stories with their peers—and without judgement—has paved the way for the subsequent release of a hardcover book that will enable more voices to be heard. Storybooth, which debuted seven years ago as an online storytelling program, is now available as an illustrated book featuring old and new anonymous tales from kids all over the world.

Co-founded by Marcy Kaye and Joshua Sinel, the initial Storybooth project was prompted by their desire to help kids express themselves freely online. The duo harnessed their professional backgrounds—Kaye as an educational consultant who worked with AOL, Sesame Workshop, and other brands, and Sinel as a writer and storyteller—to create a platform that would combat the issues teens face from online overexposure. “With social media becoming so prevalent in young people’s lives, always on and consuming, we were concerned that this Wild West digital world would impact their social emotional well-being—and disconnect rather than connect,” they told PW. “With the masks teens layer on through social media and in school, we were driven to create a digital space that was just the opposite.”

Teens who wish to have their original work published must first register through the Storybook site record themselves reading their story, and submit it for consideration. Kaye and Sinel then review each entry, likening their vetting process to a blending of art and science. “We aren’t looking for the perfect storyteller, story arc, or voice,” they explained. We are looking for stories that are relatable, that will truly resonate with our audience and make a real impact.” While writing ability is not a determining factor in their final decision, honesty and bravery in the storytellers’ words provides a competitive edge. Writers of the selected stories are notified, with a request for parental permission for those under the age of 18. Stories are then developed into short animated videos and posted to Storybooth’s YouTube and digital channels.

Among the 500,000 submissions received so far, social media mishaps, friendship dramas, self-esteem struggles, bullying, and racial intolerance represent the most common themes. Reviewing each selection not only gives Kaye and Sinel insight into kids’ everyday struggles, but offers them perspective on how young people are navigating these experiences in real time. “Whether listening to a heavier story on themes such as bullying or abuse, of the trials and tribulations of just being a teen—acne, heartbreak, middle school drama—it’s the vulnerability of each storyteller that sticks with us the most,” they said.

Advocating Anonymity

With Storybooth’s storytellers identified only by their first name, the privacy aspect has been a tremendous draw for its five million subscribers. The growing fan base will also have access to additional content in the new book, an idea that has been in the pipeline from the start. Marketed with the tagline, “The True & Amazing & Heartbreaking & Inspiring stories of real people. Written for you. Written by you,” Storybooth consists of both previously published user favorites and never-before-seen stories. A resource guide for those seeking advice on a variety of issues is also included.

While Storybooth is a useful tool for teens, Kaye and Sinel believe that the book will also provide adults with greater insight into kids’ feelings and concerns. After learning that educators had been using Storybooth videos to support social-emotional learning programs in the classroom, they conducted a pilot program in schools this past spring. Sara Steinweiss, educator and founder of Conflict Resolution Systems, said, "I use Storybooth videos with students in all of my workshops across all ages from elementary, middle school through high school, and every single time the students are hooked. For young people, there's nothing like the authenticity of peers sharing their truths. Storybooth provides incredible openings to explore important, timely, and real topics. The value that Storybooth brings to social emotional learning is timely, necessary and extremely useful."

As a result of such feedback from educators, the Storybooth team is developing a new platform exclusively for use in schools. Kaye and Sinel said of this next chapter, “Marrying the videos with social-emotional learning content created by a team of Storybooth educators is very exciting.”