Plus Staff's Blog

Recent posts

The Brainzy Song We’re Crazy About

Friday, March 28th, 2014 by

Nothing gets us wanting to be Brainzy quite like a good pirate song. We’re totally in love with this video; not only does the tune remind us of our third-grade music classes, but there’s just something about the ludicrous mix of sight word sailors and old-school sing along that really resonates with us. Dust off your eye patch and learn some sight words with the Brainzy gang! (And PS: Be on the lookout for our favorite part—at 0:34!)

Stuff We Like: WordPlay Shakespeare

Monday, January 13th, 2014 by

Reading through a new-to-you Shakespeare play can be daunting, and even downright confusing. That’s why the staff was so excited to learn about WordPlay Shakespeare. The WordPlay Shakespeare series from The New Book Press puts a full filmed performance of Shakespeare’s plays next to the bard’s text, on a tablet or desktop computer. In a salute to one of Shakespeare’s most famous phrases, the WordPlay Shakespeare slogan states that “Half the page is a Stage.” Guest blogger Alexander Parker writes about this innovative way to experience Shakespeare’s work.


Imagine a friend telling you that there’s an amazing song that you have to hear, or an extremely tasty dish that you need to sample.

Now imagine that your friend hands you some sheet music and a recipe.

You’d probably be disappointed. And if you can’t read music and don’t cook, you’ll be even more disappointed—you might even be frustrated. To experience great music, you need to hear it; and to experience great food, you need to eat it. Sheet music and recipes are like a secret code that allow you to produce the actual sounds and tastes.

In a way, this is the same frustration that millions of middle and high school students and teachers face every year, when they read Shakespeare. That’s because Shakespeare’s plays were not written to be read—they were written to be be seen and heard. In other words, what we read and struggle with today is the ‘recipe’ for the performance. Add in the complexity of language that’s 450 years out of date, and you begin to understand why Shakespeare can be such a struggle.

We at The New Book Press think that if you put Shakespeare’s written word right next to a performance of the text, students and adults will have a much better understanding of Shakespeare’s language and work. The new generation of tablet computers that can show text and film on the same screen, or ‘page,’ allowed us to combine the bard’s writing with videos of actors performing the lines.

WordPlay Shakespeare

Over 500 students and their teachers tried the pilot version of WordPlay Shakespeare, and we confirmed that students from ages 12 and up understood Shakespeare’s words considerably faster than when reading the plays in their traditional format. Even better, students were able to enjoy Shakespeare much more. And teachers were able to spend less time explaining the modern translations of the words, and instead focused on themes and concepts that exercised students’ higher learning skills.

We also showed the books to adults, and we heard the same phrase again and again: “I wish I had had this when I was studying Shakespeare!”

We know that studying Shakespeare builds vocabulary, and improves complex reading and interpreting skills, with the major benefit of introducing us to one of the greatest literary minds of all time. Now, we also know that the process can be far more enjoyable and illuminating  if blossoming Shakespeare fans can see the performance right next to the words. The written words help you understand the performance, and the performance helps you understand the written words. Advanced students make faster progress, struggling students engage immediately, and teachers get to spend class time on more advanced topics. Furthermore, students with all different types of learning styles—like visual, auditory, and logical-mathematical—are all engaged.

As one teacher said to us: “Pretty much every middle and high school student in America has to read two or three of Shakespeare’s plays—this is just a smarter way to do it. This is the future.” We agree!

Thank you to Alexander for the guest post! Learn more about WordPlay Shakespeare, including their versions of Macbeth and A Midsummer Night’s Dream, by clicking through to their website.

Freelancer Spotlight: Lori Fagerholm, Designer

Saturday, December 14th, 2013 by

While the Redwood City office is our official HQ, also employs a large team of freelance writers, designers, artists and photographers from all over the country. In our Freelancer Spotlight series, we pay tribute to our many beloved freelancers.

lori fagerholmLori Fagerholm is what we’d call a veteran designer around this office. She’s been in our pool of freelancers since all the way back in 2010, and once we found her, we never wanted to let her go: she’s a font of ideas, she’s an absolute joy to work with, and her designs rock.

Lori’s a match made in heaven with Her worksheets are always age-appropriate for each grade, but never go overboard on cute. She’s always willing to try her hand at an assignment, no matter what it is, and takes on every project with an incredible enthusiasm. Her latest feat is a performing arts-themed workbook, coming this month to our workbook selection.

Name: Lori Fagerholm

I’m an: Illustrator, designer, occasional writer

I live in: Berkeley, California

When I was a kid, I wanted to be a (fill in the blank) when I grew up. I was a Renaissance kid. At nine, I wanted to be a pop singer; at 14, I thought I’d become a children’s speech therapist; at 16, I decided to be a writer. Almost every occupation involving creativity and curiosity caught my fancy at one time or another.

How I became interested in illustration and design: I wrote and illustrated my first “book” around age seven; it consisted of several pages of construction paper, messily stapled together. I guess you could say that was the beginning of my illustration and design career.

My favorite thing to design is: Plants and animals—the odder, the better! I’m delighted when I get to draw, for example, coloring pages of rare wild animals. There’s such variety in nature, I don’t think I could ever tire of drawing animals and plants.

My favorite children’s book: The Bee-Man of Orn by Frank R. Stockton, illustrated by P.J. Lynch. It’s a and wild and wonderful story, and the illustrations are masterful.

My favorite thing about working for is: I get to use all of my creative skills. I do illustration, layout, and even some writing—sometimes, all on the same project!

Why I love design: I love to learn, and every time I work on a printable or workbook, I get to learn about a whole new subject.

Find out more about Lori’s design work at

Stuff We Like: Dinovember!

Monday, November 18th, 2013 by


What? How are we,, only JUST NOW finding out about Dinovember?

We discovered this post on about Dinovember (click through for clarification on what that is — we don’t want to spoil it!), and we instantly fell in love with the idea and the message it promotes: ”In a time when the answers to all the world’s questions are a web-search away, we want our kids to experience a little mystery…Childhood is fleeting, so let’s make sure it’s fun while it lasts.”

We know not all moms and dads have time to stage such elaborate productions for their kids, but if you do, we’d like to encourage you to try something similar with your kids. It doesn’t even have to be dinosaurs: Use something that’s symbolic of whatever they’re into, be it fairy princesses, construction vehicles, or 18th-century history. Refe is right: every kid deserves to wonder a little while longer.

Related Content:

Plan a Treasure Hunt!

Dinosaur Coloring Pages

What Was Your Best Halloween Costume?

Wednesday, October 30th, 2013 by

Everyone who has ever suited up on October 31st has a favorite Halloween costume, or at least one that makes for a good story. Wondering what the big kids at wore on Halloweens past? Here’s a look at the staff’s best Halloween costumes from their childhoods.

Power Ranger
jody-croppedIn third grade, I was a Power Ranger. My mom was one of, like, 1% of moms at my school who knew how to sew, and she usually made my costumes. She found a pattern for the Power Rangers suit at the fabric store and made it for me … out of felt. I don’t begrudge her being sensible by buying cheap fabric, but man … felt does not breathe. At all. And this was a full, head-to-ankle suit. I wore that thing all day. I also brought a toy dagger with me and it got taken away at after-school care because it too closely resembled a real weapon. –Jody

Rubik’s Cube
The Rubik’s Cube came out when I was in elementary school. I must have been about 9 years old. It became my obsession and I decided it would be my Halloween costume. My mother and I found a cardboard box. We cut a hole in it for my head and cut colored construction paper into perfect squares and pasted them on the box. The paper was pasted on randomly to resemble a Rubik’s Cube in the process of being solved. I was proud of our creation and walked to school with my head high, full of confidence. That pride quickly dissipated when I got to school and realized another kid had the same idea, but his Rubik’s Cube was store-bought. Suddenly, my beautiful creation became a messy collection of muted colored squares slapped onto a floppy brown box. His Cube was vibrant, colorful and it may have even worked. –Todd

Johanna-croppedThe Hunchback of Notre Dame
See the dark form with the faux-dirty face and black skull cap, smack dab between the teal fairy and the poodle skirt? That’s me playing the Hunchback of Notre Dame in third grade. I guess none of my girlfriends knew that Halloween costumes are supposed to be SCARY! –Johanna

My best Halloween costume as a kid was a robot costume my dad made me out of tin foil-covered cardboard boxes, some kind of collapsible tubing (for the arms and legs) and leftover electronics parts for facial features and buttons and knobs. It looked so cool! –Kat

Minnie Mouse
A lot of my Halloween costumes when I was a kid were princess outfits. This was before Disney started telling stories about Pocahontas, Mulan and girls of the Scottish Highlands, so they were pretty typical frilly, sparkly princess dresses. But my fave costume was probably Minnie Mouse. I went through a phase as a kid where I was all about her. She wore polka dots, she liked the color red, she laughed a lot — we had a lot in common. It was a store-bought costume with mouse ears and hair bow. Quintessentially cute and perfectly Minnie. Candice

My sister and I were Cinderellas for Halloween, and our triplet siblings were pumpkins. My dad pushed the two Cinderellas in a buggy that served as our carriage. I loved being pushed in the carriage even though I was well beyond the age of needing a stroller. –Ashley

As soon as autumn descended, and when she wasn’t otherwise occupied, you’d find my mom hunched over her sewing machine, carefully constructing elaborate costumes for me and my sisters. In third grade I decided to be a skunk. The finished product, thanks to Mom’s mad skills, was a masterpiece. And the best part, by far, was the ridiculously poofy tail. My friends were dumbfounded and I was laughed at all day long. As they haughtily paraded around in fairy wings and South Park masks, I was mentally spraying all over their unwarranted contempt. –Katherine

When I was in first grade, Disney’s most fantastic movie ever, Beauty and the Beast, had been out for almost a year by the time Halloween rolled around. So I, like every other elementary-age girl at the time, was Belle for Halloween. But my Belle was by far the best Belle of all Halloween Belles because my awesome grandma, who could sew a perfectly tailored grown man’s three-piece suit out of three tufts of sheep shavings because she was of a generation where that was part of every grandma’s Rolodex of skills, made my Belle costume. My grandma sewed the bejeezus out of that dress. It fit me to a T, moved like the water, draped and gathered intricately and in all the right places, and sparkled and glowed a gilded yellow that seemed to radiate even when I was completely still. I was on Cloud 9 when I was wearing that dress (and believe me, I did not just wear it for Halloween), and at school, I put all those other dress-in-a-bag imposter Belles to SHAME. And they knew it, too. To top it off, I had a pair of matching gloves, my mom did my hair just like Belle’s (I had the curls already down pat), and the best part was that my Gram let me wear one of her prized pieces of costume jewelry from her younger days — a crystal-encrusted necklace that made me feel like a real princess. –Carlee

In first grade I was a pumpkin. It was impossible to use the restroom. –Andrea

I didn’t care much about Halloween as a kid. So, naturally, my best costume was one I had no hand in choosing. In kindergarten, my mom had me wear a simple fireman’s outfit with shiny rain boots and a gigantic red plastic hat. People went crazy for it while I acted like it was just any other day. –David

Freelancer Spotlight: Corey Fields, Illustrator

Friday, October 11th, 2013 by

While the Redwood City office is our official HQ, also employs a large team of freelance writers, designers, artists and photographers from all over the country. In our Freelancer Spotlight series, we pay tribute to our many beloved freelancers. 

Halloween starts early at While most people are figuring out where they’re going to watch fireworks for the 4th, we’re over here at our Redwood City HQ, helping Corey FieldsHalloween spider decorations and werewolf masks happen in time for All Hallow’s Eve.

Our go-to illustrator for all things spooky is Corey Fields. Corey came to us about a year ago and quickly impressed us with his ability to create cute illustrations that burst at the seams with kid-appeal, but still retain a cool, stylish vibe. Once we found out about his love of monsters and science fiction, we couldn’t help handing over the bulk of our Halloween worksheet needs to him.

Though scary is his specialty, Corey is a versatile illustrator who can do it all: He’s amazing with faces, which helps him handle a lot of social studies content, and has a firm grasp on pop culture, which was most evident in the smash-hit Spy Math workbook. Since Halloween is fast approaching, we talked to Corey about his experiences at and his life as an illustrator.

Name: Corey Fields

I’m an: Illustrator

I live in: Lexington, Kentucky

When I was a kid, I wanted to be a (fill in the blank) when I grew up. Animator. I was obsessed with cartoons. I watched them every minute that I could. Saturday mornings were the best. I loved the hour-long block of Looney Tunes. Watching these shows made me fall in love with the idea of creating characters and bringing them to life through animation, but really, deep down, it all came back to creating the characters through drawing. Once I started drawing, I couldn’t stop.

How I became interested in illustration: There were a lot of factors. Some of the biggest influences in my life were my mom and dad. My dad would sketch from time to time when I was a kid and I was in awe of it all — I wanted so badly to draw as well as him. There was also my mom, who would always tell my pictures were amazing (even when they really weren’t). Another big factor was my kindergarten art teacher, Mrs. Scott. She loved art and helped ignite a passion for it in me as well. It’s stuck with me my entire life and eventually led to me going to art school and studying illustration.

My favorite thing to illustrate is: Creepy characters. Not necessarily always scary, but I love creating odd and funny characters that have, well, a great deal of character to them. I love starting off with an odd shape and seeing what kind of character I can create out of it. Scary ones are also fun to create. I always try to throw a little humor in there as well. I also love the other side of the spectrum and creating cute and funny little characters. Animals are always a blast to create.

My favorite children’s book: Harold and the Purple Crayon by Crockett Johnson. That was the first book I checked out of the school library in elementary school and I would return it, only to check it out again that very same day. The fact that Harold was drawing everything made me want to draw even more. I also liked that Harold was using his imagination to create the world around him, and the simple, clean art style was also very appealing to me. All of those things really stuck with me and still influence my art today.

My favorite thing about working for is: My favorite things about working for are the editors and the freedom they give us to really see our visions through. They also know when to pull us in a little and get things back on track. The fact that there is actually a relationship besides just telling us what to draw and where is really refreshing for an artist.

Why I love illustration: I love illustration because it allows me to use my imagination. That’s all I’ve ever really wanted to do. You have a million ideas in your head and you get to create those ideas as a job. What’s not to love about that?

See more of Corey’s work for and some personal samples below, and see more of his own work at Corey Fields Art. Corey also has a Kickstarter for a card game that’s currently running — check it out here.

What Was Your Favorite Field Trip?

Thursday, October 3rd, 2013 by

field tripIllustration by Lisa Nguyen

The school year isn’t complete without a quality field trip. Getting out of the classroom and into the world is an experience full of educational potential and lifelong memories. Read on for some of the most precious field trip memories from the editors.

Stick a fork in it
To make history a little more tangible, my fifth grade class voyaged to Angel Island for a Civil War-era reenactment sleepover of sorts. For me, the highlight of the trip was the night watch. My allotted time was 0200-0400. While the other kids were melting chocolate, I was roasting plastic forks, one at a time, over an open flame. It was fascinating to watch the tines curl up, recoiling from the heat. Out of all the forks I melted, only once did the tines spiral just right, creating what resembled a tiny, thumbless fist. Thus my love of crafting was born. –Katherine

Bog on our brain
Favorite field trip: the town bog. Weeks of lecturing from our seventh grade science teacher about this fragile ecosystem (“Don’t touch ANYTHING!”) culminated when my buddy Pat performed a running cannonball straight into the bog. It remains the most valiant affront to authority I have ever seen. –Johanna

I was lucky enough to go on lots of great class trips organized by my school; I can’t emphasize that enough. But for this post I’m sticking with Mom. Once every year or two my mom made it a point to take me and my siblings out from school for a day to go to a museum or out in nature. “Ditching” school to go to a museum? It was one way to instill a love of learning. Pretty sneaky, Mom. –Candice

Where the elephant seals play
When I was in the fourth grade, my class went on a field trip to see our local elephant seals during mating season at Año Nuevo State Park. We spent a rainy day at the beach walking along paths and watching elephant seal males fight. On the bus ride home, we sang “The Elephant Seal Song”: How would it feel/To be an elephant seal/With a great big blubbery body?/How would you feel/If an elephant seal/Asked you to be its blubber buddy? –Blythe

About the journey
In first grade, my class went to the San Francisco Symphony. The music didn’t do much for me, but I’ll never forget leaving the subway and ascending onto windy, bustling Market Street for the first time. In the midst of downtown mayhem, the trenchcoated business folk dashing by the blanketed street people, the chaotic mix of sounds echoing off imposing brick buildings, was a single-file line of enthralled children from a different world. –David

I don’t know about the best, but I remember the worst: the San Francisco Bay Model. The Bay Model is a working model of the San Francisco Bay that was used by scientists to study its tidal patterns. While it has the potential to be really cool, I remember it as being in a poorly lit, uninviting warehouse, with some very dry docents who didn’t really know how to talk to kids. I also remember being disappointed that, even though the model is huge and bright blue and covered in miniature bridges that are just begging to have toy cars driven over them, we weren’t allowed to touch it. –Jody

Got a good field trip story? Tell us about it by commenting below! Hits 3 Million Members!

Monday, September 30th, 2013 by

3 million members square

At 8:32 am PST today,’s 3 millionth member signed up for the site. Three million! That’s a lot of people. Like proud parents, our staff is absolutely beaming, and we want to take a moment to thank each and every member for taking part in our community.

Every person who joins our site is another individual taking steps to instill a love of learning in kids, whether it be in a single child or an entire school. From all of us at, thank you for being one of those people.

For more information about what we’re up to next, check’s Facebook page.

Halloween Costume Ideas with Estella

Wednesday, September 25th, 2013 by


The staff at loves Halloween costumes! To get ready for All Hallow’s Eve, we interviewed the people at Estella, a children’s clothing company that sells and manufactures elegant and sustainable products, about Halloween costume ideas and more.

Estella 1

1. What Halloween costumes are you most excited about this season? Tell us about popular Halloween costumes for little girls and boys.

This season we are really into reinvented classic costumes. Siaomimi Play’s costumes are truly works of art. The line’s designer Hilda Yim has a talent for taking classic costumes with unique and detailed pieces that are a treat to wear and a fun way for kids to unleash their creative sides.

Estella 2

2. What are your favorite Halloween accessories for kids?

For those children who want a simple alternative to elaborate costumes, there are loads of fun masks, clever hats, and beautiful hair accessories that add the perfect amount of fantasy without requiring a full costume.

Estella 3

3. What is the secret to making a good homemade Halloween costume?

The secret to making a good homemade Halloween costumes is to keep it as simple as possible! More often than not, your kids have the makings for a great costume hidden inside their closets, and they only need a few additions to construct a costume that’s unique, creative, and economical. These fast and fun DIY costume pieces are easy for you and your little one to make together, and you probably have most of the required materials in your personal craft supplies.

Thank you to the people at Estella for interviewing with us! Feeling inspired to make your own costume? Check out some great DIY Halloween costumes from below.

Freelancer Spotlight: Brian Chang, Illustrator

Tuesday, September 10th, 2013 by

While the Redwood City office is our official HQ, also employs a large team of freelance writers, designers, artists and photographers from all over the country. In our Freelancer Spotlight series, we pay tribute to our many beloved freelancers. 

Brian Chang

Brian Chang‘s name is known far and wide around the offices. Brian started out adding his vivid, pop-off-the-page illustrations to our worksheets, but when we began production on Brainzy, his addition to the art team there was a — pardon the pun — no-brainer. Brian’s illustrations are almost tangible: bright and beautiful and filled with fantasy, but always with a whiff of the very real past.

Name: Brian Chang

I’m a: freelance illustrator hoping to have my own series of children’s books one day.

I live in: I am originally from San Carlos, California, but am currently living in Cleveland with my wonderful wife.

When I was a kid, I wanted to be a (fill in the blank) when I grew up. When I was a kid, I wanted to be a professional baseball player. Unfortunately my best baseball days peaked in Little League. I knew it was time to hang up the cleats when I managed to hit four batters in one game!