Exclusive Interview: Why ‘Bunk!’ May Be the Perfect Book for Kids
Here's entertainment — plus critical thinking and problem solving — in this enticing new story of sleuthing partners Baxter and Berni
It can be difficult to monitor children’s entertainment today. With so much content in every form of media today, it can be tough for parents to find selections that are both beneficial to kids’ minds and free of suggestive or edgy messages.
The new book “Bunk!” — for readers seven and up — may be just the thing. The book follows Baxter and Berni, two cousins who are “debunking partners.” The pair travel the country and expose tricksters looking to scare people with tales of ghosts, space aliens, and monsters.
Baxter uses his knowledge of illusion (he’s also a magician), while Berni uses her common sense (she’s also his assistant onstage) to create an “X-Files”-like team for children.
What’s appealing about the book beyond the catchy story and bright and vibrant illustrations is that the cases are interactive — and require readers to use their problem-solving ideas to figure out clues and cases.
Writers Pete Barnstrom and Jamie Nash consulted with cognitive and problem-based learning professionals to create a book that truly helps children apply critical thinking and deductive reasoning as part of their entertainment.
LifeZette jointly interviewed Barnstrom and Nash by email in order to share an inside look at their new book. Barnstrom is a filmmaker, visual artist, and novelist based in San Antonio, Texas. Nash has written Nickelodeon movies such as “Santa Hunters” and the upcoming “Tiny Christmas,” and lives in Ellicott City, Maryland.
Question: Where did the initial inspiration for “Bunk!” come from?
Answer: We wanted to create a book that was fun and interactive. Kids have so many other fun alternatives on TV and in video games. Both of us are screenwriters and have written for film and television. We wanted to bring that spirit and energy into a book project. But we also wanted to engage the reader’s brain in ways TV or games might not.
At the same time, we’d been talking about various projects about magicians who debunk charlatans and scammers — guys like Houdini. We realized this would be a fresh way to approach “kid detectives” — and “Bunk!” was the result.
There are a lot of children-themed “detective” books out there, but this one asks the reader to use critical thinking and problem-solving along the way.
Q: Do you think there is currently a lack of content for children that is interactive and beneficial to their brains?
A: What’s missing is a book that both entertains and serves as brain food. A lot of books attempt to be educational or exercise the brain, but a lot of times, no matter the good intentions — they feel like work. What we think “Bunk!” offers is true entertainment. It’ll make you laugh and engage you in a story the same way popular best-sellers will.
But it also has that extra layer: The reader is asked to work the case right alongside the heroes. Our intention is to give kids a nice dose of “vegetables” for kids along with all the good “sugar.” But we hope the kids won’t even notice. They’ll be so engaged in the story they’ll enjoy working the case alongside the heroes.
We’re also hearing that kids who typically don’t like to read are really enjoying “Bunk!” We’re thrilled with this. We set out to write an easy-to-read book that was jam-packed with fun and story that could be enjoyed even by kids with low attention spans when it comes to reading — and so far, we’re hearing reports the book is attracting those kids.
“The book is also packed with illustrations. At times the pictures are as important as the words.”
Q: What books or other media were inspirations for this?
A: Certainly we had some inspirations, like the spooky fun of “Scooby-Doo” and the fun characters present in something like “Diary of a Wimpy Kid.” But we also took inspiration from the puzzle-like chapters of the “Encyclopedia Brown” books, or even some of the interactivity of a “Where’s Waldo” book. And at its heart, this is really “X-Files” with kids.
The book is also packed with illustrations. At times the pictures are as important as the words. There are close to 100 illustrations, and the drawings are packed with clues, jokes and fun. Both of us are fans of graphic novels and comic books, and “Bunk!” leans into the illustrations heavily.
Most kids report back that they enjoy coloring the black-and-white illustrations after they finish the stories, which is a whole other interactive aspect of the book. Parents see the book as a two-for-one deal.
Q: Can readers expect more adventures from Baxter and Berni?
A: The door is definitely open, and there’s a hint of it at the end of the book. There’s even been consideration for other forms of media, too. So stay tuned!