Westport mother Andrea Bergstein's says her house is cleaner without all the paper. Stacks of it seemed to be in every room, filled with developing stories and artwork by her two daughters.
Tori, 11, is a creative writer who was putting pen to paper non-stop. Rachel, 8, has been a budding artist since preschool, when she started filling up paper with her drawings, and now enjoys writing, too
The paper has disappeared since Bergstein launched Scribblit.com -- a website that lets kids write, illustrate and publish their own stories and comic books.
"I just thought, there's got to be a better way to do this, to help them out," said Bergstein, the former director of marketing at Mattel Toys.
Children can write stories directly into page templates, load their scanned artwork and use a pick-and-click illustration tool if they want more professional-looking art to go along with their text. They can use tools such as Story Starters to help generate ideas and as well as Scribblitt's planning tool for tips on key areas of the story structure.
"It's like having their own desk with their own files," Bergstein said. And when a child's book or comic is complete, she or he can share it by posting it to the "library."
Stories can be published online at no cost, but if a child wants a hard cover, bound book that can join Dr. Seuss on the bookshelf, a parent can order one for $24.99.
Bergstein says she didn't start Scrbblitt with the goal of making money. In fact, she won't accept ads on the site because she thinks children already are bombarded by too much commercialism.
Rather, she just wanted to fulfill her daughters' desire to get their stuff published. Creating a professional-looking book, Bergstein said, gives a child a "great sense of accomplishment."
"They can choose to keep it, share it, or give it to their grandparents as a gift," she said.
The site poses various questions to children to guide them through the process: What is the main idea? What's the source of conflict? What's going to be the resolution?
"It helps you map it out -- the beginning, middle and the end," Bergstein said. The pick-and-click illustration tool lets young authors choose from myriad background environments, place one or numerous characters or animals in a scene and accessorize characters with bikes, skateboards, guitars and more.
While Bergstein had a high-ranking position at Mattel and was vice president of marketing for the animation studio Nelvana Ltd., working to make characters such as Babar the Elephant into global lifestyle brands, she is equally proud, if not more so, for having launched Scribblitt.
"I have never had a website," she said. "I had no idea how to do it. But I had a vision, and it is such a great sense of accomplishment to turn that vision into reality."
She has the pride of ownership, too. "This is my own," she said. "In the past, I was always working for someone else. But this is my vision, my dream."
Scribblitt also includes word games and writing contests. The current contest welcomes summer-themed stories.
While with Mattel before she had children, Bergstein lived and worked in three different countries. Scribblitt, which she hopes in the long run can be a money-maker, allows her a "balance of life that I couldn't have in the corporate world."
Now that Scribblitt has launched and now that her daughters can publish books, Bergstein's goal is to see Scrbblitt used in schools nationwide. She's taken her first step toward that goal, as Scribblitt will be used in a continuing education class this fall at Long Lots Elementary School.
The creative writing class will meet on Thursday afternoons, led by Barbara Eilertsen, a library media specialist at Long Lots. An educator in Westport for 24 years -- 19 as a teacher -- Eilertsen said Scribblitt is very engaging.
"It's enticing for young children for developing their writing skills," she said, "And you can't start doing that young enough."
Eilertsen added Scribblitt is very "kid-friendly" and "easy to navigate."
"This is creative writing," she said. "It's thoughtful, planful writing, and that's part of their cognitive development, putting their thoughts down in an organized and interesting way."
Eilertsen can't wait for the fall after-school class.
"It's new, it's exciting and we want to take it out for a run," he said. "I feel like it's a horse at the gate, and we want to see what it can do."
Bergstein has gotten a lot of positive feedback from parents who have discovered the site, she said.
"I love seeing that kids who are naturally drawn to the computer are using it for an educational purpose and for creativity," she said. "To them, it's just another computer game, but they're enjoying the freedom to create. And without knowing it, they're enjoying the tools to help them write."