Lou Reed once told us a perfect day was drinking sangria in the park, feeding animals in the zoo and going to the movies. He may be right. But I’d say that my perfect teaching day would have to include Onilo as well.
If you haven’t heard of Onilo yet then that’s probably because it’s only just moved into the area and is just getting to know everyone. I can see straight away though that it is going to have no trouble at all settling in and becoming a very popular member and key part of the educational community. If you are a subject leader for literacy then grab yourself a coffee and listen carefully.

Onilo is an online portal (it means happy in Finnish) and provides teachers with attention-grabbing, animated and digitalised editions of children’s picture books called Boardstories. Now before you say that there is nothing new in that actually there is. Okay animated stories have been around for a while but not necessarily in one place. What we have here then is a first because Onilo is an animated library with plenty of added value. 
What Boardstories aim to do is to spark a thirst for literacy in primary pupils by building a channel tunnel between the digital world and the traditional printed world so they are both more accessible. It’s ambitious and that’s why I like it. Onilo has my attention because this type of resource has huge potential to reduce barriers to learning and it is inclusive depending on the reading material chosen of course. 

At the moment the library is fairly small with just 48 titles to choose from but it is ever-expanding and more shelves are being stacked in January 2014. For now you’ll find well-known titles such as Day Monkey, Night Monkey by Julia Donaldson and The Rainbow Fish by Marcus Pfister. Other top stories include a retelling of Alice in Wonderland and an interactive Three Billy Goats Gruff. The books have really been brought to life although not in an over the top way. These are partial animations and so I think Onilo have digitised them at the right level without compromising the importance of the text. 

The available titles cover a variety of themes and topics to interest readers of all ages, abilities and interests from adventure and animals to weather and witches. I think they will be especially useful for children reluctant to read and for children with special needs as well as for those learning English as an additional language. If I was giving out stickers to this resource then I’d give it a ‘Well Done’ for being a cross-curricular star.  Many stories also come with cliffhanger versions which is a nice touch. 

Accessing the Boardstories couldn’t be simpler and you are able to leave your comments and feedback on each one after you have used them. It’s a very honest system but also very subjective too so take star ratings with a pinch of salt and get your children to help you decide. 

The text within the stories is large enough and perfectly adequate and some texts have audio. But I think I would like to see audio on all the texts and the words highlighted as they are read as this is fairly common practice in many animated books these days. The books that do have audio are read at a good steady pace and are read by professionals so they have some gravitas.

One of the best features for me is the inclusion of pre-made ready to go resources that accompany the books. These are worth their weight in gold but only if they are well written and well though through. It’s a relief to see that they are and include workbooks, higher order thinking questions, activity sheets, guided reading plans, comprehension activities, word cards, flipcharts and notebooks. You can of course edit the resources to suit your own needs but the structure is there to tinker with should you need to and of course, you will. Activities on offer include those for group and partner work as well as for the less able and more able. If you have developed your own materials based on one of the stories then you can upload them onto the site too. 

Onilo successfully adds another dimension to your reading options and strategies and can’t fail to engage children via the interactive whiteboard or computer. This gets my ‘Excellent’ sticker for creating home-school links. Basically after pupils have read a story in class then you can give them a code to take home which they use to access the same Boardstory again from a computer at home for a week without the bank of mum and dad having to raid their piggy banks. This makes a nice reward for everyone and can be used to encourage further reading beyond the classroom.   

Although Onilo is a new kid on the block it has wasted no time in getting CPD-certified so would be ideal for staff training purposes and for your own development. It is also a member of the National Association for Special Education Needs (NASEN) and works with The National Literacy Trust.

From a web of trust point of view I cannot see any issues regarding the integrity and security of the website but its trustworthiness and child safety haven’t really been tested yet because its new. I can’t see any problems.
Things to improve? Well, I’d love to see text in different languages to help engage the many learners with a multitude of backgrounds that make up our classrooms today. There are just three titles available in German although sadly not narrated but that’s a start. Think about what else could be included. I’d certainly include Urdu, Bengali, Punjabi, and Polish in here. Let’s not forget that there are 240 schools in England and Wales where English is not the first language.  I’d like to hear Boardstories read by children and not just adults as this is more user-friendly and probably more motivating. What I definitely want to see is books beyond Year 3 and plenty of challenging titles thrown in. At the moment, books are geared towards KS1. Anything else? I’d really like the option for my class to create their own Boardstory for downloading and sharing. 

I know what you are thinking…how much? Well, there are different options available from Single Boardstory Pass at £9.99 to Whole School Boardstory Pass at £550 (incl VAT) Prices therefore range from floor to ceiling. I think its value for money but its success will depend on how well it can expand its stock and get more heavyweight titles and authors on board ship. I definitely want to see more challenging texts too.

Our Verdict


Innovative, fresh, and unique, Onilo has indeed made me happy because I know I’ll use it and use it often. It’s the sort of resource that makes my whiteboard smile. Of course the biggest test is with the children. After I used it with a class today, a couple of children said to me before going home, ‘’Can we read some more of those stories again tomorrow. They were fun.” I think I’m onto a winner. I think to celebrate we’ll read Cow Party and paint ourselves in words and be as bright as we can be.

It’s worth knowing that for a limited period only Onilo are offering free CPD training. What are you waiting for?

Pie Corbett