Learning to read is a huge leap. This web-based software takes all the fear out of it, with a crew of aliens, quirky machines, and silly robots that tromp kids through a series of sounds and then teach them to put the sounds together to form words. What we like best, is that Headsprout starts with easy words that follow the rules—giving kids a glimpse at success, then moves on to more challenging sections. Each of the animated episodes takes about twenty minutes to complete, and kids get a nice package in the mail with a progress map and six “readers”—thin brochure-like books to save for certain episodes. But beyond all the honking spaceships and floating phonemes, is this: the program is designed so that less than two hours after their first mouse click, kids will be able to read a short book. And for our kid- testers, it worked! (Headsprout, $99 plus $4.95 shipping, for 40 episodes).