What is the new series you’ve just added to MeeGenius all about?
The concept behind the Problem Solved Readers series is that each book features a group of five friends who are always confronted with a problem that they have to resolve in the story. The problems are things that young children are going to recognize—forgetting a friend’s birthday, taking something that doesn’t belong to you and then having to suffer the consequences, having to deal with hurt feelings. So the story follows these five friends through these problems and at the end the story the child sees that the problem is resolved by using certain character traits or character values like teamwork or perseverance or empathy. They are very beautifully illustrated, the characters are relatable, and the simple stories are told in a rhyming pattern—they all have a great message without talking down to the child.
Do you have a background in children’s literature? How did you become a children’s book publisher?
I spent about 25 years in educational publishing. I worked for some really great education publishers developing classroom materials. In the last several years I worked with both Time For Kids and Weekly Reader, which are very iconic classroom magazines, developing books and really great content. My partner Jeff Dinardo, the creative director, and I decided that we really enjoyed developing all of these books and materials and products, but we wanted to try doing it on our own because we liked seeing the whole process through and we liked being able to have a little bit more control over the quality of the materials we were developing. 3 years ago, what did you and you partner hope to achieve?
We wanted to develop books that would in some way empower young children by helping them make better decisions about eating healthy and staying active, dealing with bullying, being a good friend and knowing the difference from being a good friend and expecting friendship for something. The idea is to really focus on these social and emotional skills that young children need to be strong contributors when they enter school.
What do you think makes a good children’s book?
What we’ve tried to focus on is never to talk down to a child. We want to make them excited to hear the story or read the story on their own—it really helps if it’s a story that engages the child in the reading. Most of books are written with a bit of a humorous angle; we want children to have fun reading the books and hearing the stories read. We also try to be very conscious of the quality of the illustrations in the books. I think you have to have really bright, vibrant, interesting illustrations or photographs.
What made you want to team up with MeeGenius?
We started about a year ago working with MeeGenius, distributing the Funny Bone Readersebooks, and one of the reasons that we love MeeGenius is the on-screen tracking of the words as a story is read aloud—that really helps a young child learn to read. It sounds so simple to an adult, but just figuring out that reading means that you follow the words from left to right is something that you have to learn as a reader.
We also like the fact that it’s just so convenient for parents and grandparents to be able to have ebooks on their digital devices for children to read. It means you can carry a whole library of books around with you everywhere you go and there’s just always a book for a child to read. I think that is very cool.
What do you have in store for the future?
We have our first nonfiction series coming out at the end of the year and that will be an introduction to financial literacy for young children. It’s going to be books about earning, saving, spending and sharing. Those will also be available on MeeGenius, probably after the first of the year.
Hans Wilhelm, award-winning children’s book author and illustrator, is a MeeGenius pioneer. He was the first author to sign-up with us and we currently have 20 of his 200-plus children’s books in a special collection. Go to our Bookstore to check out some of his most popular books like the “Waldo” and “Tell Me” series.
With over 42 million books in print, Wilhelm is one of America’s most beloved children’s book authors and illustrators. Originally from Germany, Wilhelm knocked around the world for many years and many careers before realizing his childhood dream of writing and illustrating books for kids. MeeGenius recently talked to him about what fuels his inspiration and how he creates so many great stories.
You are a prolific and successful children’s book author. What made you want to sign up with MeeGenius?
MeeGenius offered me a wide approach and a big foundation to launch these books on—all of the different kinds of avenues along with the whole range of Android and Apple devices. It just clicked.
How did you start out writing kids’ books?
I started when I was very young and then I became a business man—I was selling computer tapes in South Africa—and then in my 30s I reminded myself of my original childhood dream. I came to America and changed my career and started to make books—it’s become quite and interesting career.
How long ago has it been since your first published children’s book?
Something like 30 years ago—1983 was my first children’s book. It was called Tales from the Land Under My Table and was published by Random House.
What inspired that story?
As a kid I always loved to play under the table where the large tablecloth would hide me completely from the adults. And then, during the three years that I traveled throughout the world, I lived for a long time in the South Pacific, mainly Bali, Tonga, Samoa and Fiji. Here I collected folk tales and myths that I later changed into animal fables. A collection of these little stories became Tales from the Land Under My Table.
Where do you get your inspiration?
Sometimes I get an idea from my publisher and then I have a defined area with which I can create the story around. But often I just use my imagination and what I find from doodling. When I doodle, I doodle from no real intention, I just let it happen and then the creature appears and the creature wants to be put into a story. I like to make up stories; I like to draw and I love to bring wonder, adventure and joy to young children.
What do you think makes a really good children’s book?
There needs to be something that fascinates the kids—something the kids want to read or listen to on their own. Mostly I think it’s important to make kids feel secure again. Being a child is a very trying period. We forget that. We romanticize childhood but I think that it’s a very difficult time, so anything encouraging and uplifting and joyful is a helpful way to deal with young children. It’s important to help them to struggle through, to explore this world. When it’s all new to them it’s frightening, it’s scary.
How do you think kids’ books can help them get through those tough years?
Children’s books can put these feelings into a little bit of order. Like in the old fairy tales, the main purpose was basically to affirm that there was order in the system—there are good things, there is something to hold onto. And I think a good story has that component as well. It can bring order to the confusion and chaos of a child’s world.
For Mother’s Day we spoke with stay-at-home mom and MeeGenius fan Kristi Sessions from Palm Bay, Florida. She has a jam-packed schedule homeschooling and taking care of her twin 4-year-old boys, Sebastian and Maximilian, but uses MeeGenius to painlessly squeeze quality reading time in during the day. Kristi and her husband, Chad, a computer scientist, met at the University of Alabama over 16 years ago and she gives back to her community as the president of a local Mothers of Multiples group.
What is your favorite thing about MeeGenius?
I really like that it’s one app and all of the books are within in one app. There are two or three book apps out there and you have to buy each book separately—one book is one app. The MeeGenius interface is so easy to use. I like that it reads too them and highlights the words as they are reading.
How has the MeeGenius format helped your sons’ reading skills?
It’s nice to have it so they can hear the books, see the words highlighted as it’s being read, turns the pages for them. They can sight read about 20 words right now—they are early, early readers.
What are their favorite MeeGenius titles?
They like the fairytales—they read those so much. One of the first books we got was Rapunzel and now we have about 16 MeeGenius books. We have Pinocchio, The Three Billy Goats Gruff, and The Little Red Hen. One of the things I’ve noticed is how much the stories get incorporated into their lives. After they read a story, they often reenact it on the playground. The other day they were climbing on the playground and one of them ended up on the high part and the one on the ground yelled up, “Rapunzel, Rapunzel, let down your hair!”
We just downloaded Green Goo for free this weekend and they now seem to have a ritual every time we get a new book—they each read it at least three times and giggle a lot and then go back and reread all of the other books.
What are some of your kids’ favorite books?
They read almost any that they can get ahold of, but they read a lot of Dr. Seuss—they call them the “cat” books because of the picture of the Cat in the Hat. They also love anything about space. They like reading just about the planets. We’ve got two or three that are just naming the planets. Dinosaur books are big—they like the Dinosaur stereobook by Dennis Schatz. It’s has all kinds of noises—what the dinosaurs might’ve sounded like—that I can play back while I read it to them.
Any special plans for Mother’s Day?
Our families are in different states, so we’ll end up at a friend of mine’s house to celebrate with her and her mom. She has twin girls that are 4; that worked out well! We’ll fix dinner and have some cake—there will be a lot of eating!
As far back as I can remember, I have always loved writing stories. By the time I was about 9 years old, I aspired to be a professional writer.
I was very fortunate, as my parents always encouraged me to follow my dreams. By chance, my mother met Lord Ted Willis, a professional writer, who had written a very popular English television series called “Dixon of Dock Green.” She asked him if he would mind meeting me to talk to me about how to succeed as a writer. It was quite an honor, as he invited me to join him for tea at the House of Lords. However, I was very disappointed when he told me that I was far too young to write well, as I was only a child. He told me that the best writers use real life experience to create their characters and plots and that I had no experience of life yet. I learned as an adult that he was correct.
Silly Daddy was created based on real life experience with some of the silly daddies in my own life, including my own father, my husband and the fathers and husbands of some of my friends.
The Silly Daddy series was written originally to entertain my own five children, but I soon discovered that their friends were enjoying the stories too and asking for more stories about Silly Daddy. I was reading the stories to their classes at school and my friends were reading them to their kids too and asking me to send them more.
I have found that using humor is a great way to reach children, for teaching them lessons as well as purely for entertainment. The best reward for me in writing these books is in bringing smiles to their faces.
Chelsea Lane is an illustrator and designer living in Boston, Massachusetts. She started her career in California, showing in numerous galleries and studying art at Sacramento State University. After moving to Boston to attend the Art Institute of Boston, she has contributed work to children’s educational websites, band promotional posters, and advertisements. Currently she works as a project manager at a publishing company, in addition to volunteering with her local nonprofit energy conservation organization designing and illustrating educational materials.