How Mary Steenburgen is Helping Kids Read With the Help of Her Accordion

Mary Steenburgen partnered with the SAG-AFTRA Foundation's children's literacy website Storyline Online to bring everyone's favorite stories to life.

To Mary Steenburgen, “reading is everything.”

Now, the Oscar-winning actress is sharing that love of reading with a new generation.

Steenburgen, 63, has partnered with the SAG-AFTRA Foundation’s children’s literacy website Storyline Online so that children around the world can be read to with just the click of a button.

“Reading is how I became an actor because I didn’t grow up in a house where there was an awareness of film or theater,” Steenburgen tells PEOPLE. “I also grew up in a house full of teachers so reading was big in our world.”

“My family didn’t have money to travel so reading was how I knew about the world,” she continues. “It made me hungry to have more experiences than just what I could possibly experience in Arkansas.”

In the interactive video, Steenburgen brings to life her granddaughter’s “favorite” story Strega Nona by Tomie dePaola—with some help from her accordion.

“Part of the magic of this story was this little song that is sung every time the pasta pot is made to work,” says Steenburgen. “The accordion can sound quite Italian so I just decided, ‘Oh my gosh, instead of just saying the words to that song or just singing, I can play the accordion.’ Children tend to love seeing it.”

Steenburgen started playing the accordion about three years ago and says she loves playing “such a quirky instrument.”

Other videos in the Storyline Online series feature actors like Ed O’Neill, Betty White, Allison Janney, Christian Slater and Kevin Costner reading their favorite children’s classics.

When it comes to reading to her granddaughters, Steenburgen, who is married to actor Ted Danson and has two children, Lilly and Charlie, from her previous marriage to actor Malcolm McDowell, says she tries “to keep it pretty simple.”

“I don’t think they like it when I get too carried away with myself,” she says.

Some of Steenburgen’s other favorites that she read to her kids growing up, and now her grandkids, include Robert McCloskey’s Make Way For Ducklings and Lentil, all of the books in the Roald Dahl series, Astrid Lindgren’s Pippi Longstocking and Margaret Mahy’s The Man Whose Mother Was a Pirate.

“Our culture loves movies and TV which is wonderful, but there’s something a little bit passive sometimes about watching because you’re looking at other people’s imagination at work,” says Steenburgen.

“When you read books, you kind of create that whole world in your mind and you go on a journey with the author of that book. I think that’s really a good thing.”

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