This article was originally posted 6 March by Elisa Steele on the Skype’s Big Blog. View a related video.

I love to read and I love stories. I was called a bookworm as a kid, because once I cracked open a book, I just couldn’t put it down until it was done! And, now, I watch with delight when my 12 year old daughter does the same. The hairy feet of a Hobbit. The magical wizarding world of Harry Potter. The journey, joy and hardships of Laura Ingalls’ life across the American prairie. The determined Winnie-the-Pooh finding Eeyore’s perpetually lost tail. Personal memorable moments, the images in our heads and the cherished characters we carry with us are all made possible by the incredible world of books.

Everyone in the world – especially our children – should have a chance to experience the moments in literature that make us laugh, cry, sigh or even shiver with a bit of fear. Stories let us experience great and wonderful things, take us to faraway places, and even allow us to travel through time.

That’s why we’re proud to celebrate World Read Aloud Day. We love that our Skype in the classroom initiative creates new opportunities for youth around the world. As part of Microsoft YouthSpark– our company-wide initiative to empower 300 million youth through opportunities in education, employment, and entrepreneurship – Skype in the classroom lets young people deepen their educational experience through face-to-face connections with other countries and cultures. They get to experience first-hand what life is like in places they might not be able to personally visit. Just like a great book, Skype in the classroom allows students to engage with new ideas and new ways of thinking, breaking down traditional barriers to communication. That’s why we are now offering all teachers who are members of Skype in the classroom to use Skype Group Video Calling – a feature normally available only to our paid Skype Premium subscribers – completely for free. If you’re already a member of Skype in the classroom, you can enable free Group Video Calling now by following these instructions.

We know that by adding free Group Video Calling for registered teachers, we will continue to help support innovation in classrooms around the world and enable students to take part in extraordinary learning experiences. Students in Quebec can practice their Spanish by talking with classes in Madrid and Mexico City; science classes in San Francisco, California, Chicago, Illinois, and Burlington, Vermont, can share their projects with each other live; students in Fort Worth, Texas, can interview a Park Ranger about wildlife conservation together with a pen-pal class in the UK. The possibilities are truly endless.

I am thrilled to also announce a number of well-known authors, celebrities and inspirational business leaders who have agreed to join Tony Bates, President of the Skype Division of Microsoft, and me in the Skype Read Aloud movement. We are working together to have more people read aloud and inspire a love of learning among children of all ages every day. Some of the leaders who have already committed to read a story aloud to classrooms via Skype video calls before the end of this calendar year include Jennifer Aaker, General Atlantic Professor of Marketing at Stanford Graduate School of Business; celebrity stylist Phillip Bloch; Barbara Bush, daughter of President George W. Bush and co-founder and CEO of Global Health Corps, a public health-focused non-profit; Peggy Conlon, President & CEO of the Ad Council; actress Amy Davidson; Jennie Finch, former US Olympic softball player, ESPN color analyst and mom of three; Peace One Day founder Jeremy Gilley; Jeff Goodby, Co-Chairman and Creative Director of Goodby, Silverstein & Partners; Today Show anchor Natalie Morales; Holly Robinson Peete, actor, author, advocate and mom of four; music personality and TV host Matt Pinfield; Jeff Probst, host of “Survivor” and author of “Stranded,” a New York Times best-selling kids adventure book; Lesley Jane Seymour, editor-in-chief of More magazine; actress, author, designer and mommy of 4, Tori Spelling; Barbara Warrington-Murphy, CEO of the Girl Scouts of Greater New York; LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner; Grammy Award-winning conductor Eric Whitacre; and British explorer Mark Wood, with others to be announced soon.

Additionally, as an extension of our Skype in the classroom partners program, we are excited to bring aboard two more fantastic organizations, Hot Key Books and Pan Macmillan. Along with our existing publishing partners Penguin Books and Random House, all four companies will be making select authors available to read stories aloud to students via Skype. To see which authors are available and set up a session for your classroom, please click here.

To sign up for Skype in the classroom or for more information, please visit https://education.skype.com.

Happy Reading!