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Kids narrate the tough parts of growing up in cheeky animated videos

Animated cartoons aren’t just for mindless Saturday morning binging. They’re also empowering children to share stories about the toughest moments of their lives.

Children from around the world are recording and submitting their real stories to Storybooth, a digital platform collecting kids’ first-person narratives. The submitted stories are then turned into short animated cartoons narrated by the children who experienced them.

The platform gives these kids a place to tell their stories — and be heard.

Most stories animated by Storybooth cover tough or taboo topics, like relationship violence, menstruation, bullying, and coming out as LGBTQ. These topics, often deemed too risqué for young children, are approached sensitively and effectively in short, three-minute videos.

The platform hopes to support kids who have survived trauma or tough times, while also teaching young people that they’re not alone in their experiences. And for those who can’t directly relate to a particular story, Storybooth hopes to offer them a better understanding of their peers.

"Because YouTube is so authentic, we didn’t want to script something," Marcy Sinel, who cofounded Storybooth with her husband Josh, told Fast Company. "We wanted to actually create a space where [these] voices were the platform. And we simply would take these stories and just elevate them through the animation."

The series was first piloted on YouTube in May 2016, but it’s grown over the past year to debut four new episodes every month. So far, the account has nearly 290,000 subscribers, with the most popular video — an "embarrassing period story" — gaining more than 2.2 million views.

Storybooth has told the stories of about 70 kids since last year, and that number keeps growing. After all, there’s no shortage of children wanting to be heard.

Before production and animation begins on each story, the creators reach a child’s parents to sign a release form. While the child’s identity is kept anonymous from the public, the company works closely with children and families to ensure their stories are accurately depicted.

A child even gives the final OK on the completed animation before it’s published to YouTube and the Storybooth website.

Given that many of the animations cover heavy topics, the Storybooth team monitors YouTube comments and discussion forums on the website, referring individuals in need to more comprehensive services like Crisis Text Line, a text-based helpline for youth experiencing a range of mental health and crisis-related issues.

More than 38,000 young people have submitted to Storybooth since 2016. Though it would be impossible to animate every testimonial, the Storybooth team says they at least listen to each one. They hope that provides some comfort for the thousands of kids brave enough to hit "record" and tell their stories.