Active kids are happy kids. And Odd Dot, a new imprint of Macmillan Children’s Publishing Group, is keeping kids engaged and learning through play with its line of TinkerActive Workbooks. The workbooks explore core curriculum through interactive exercises and STEM activities that foster problem-solving, critical-thinking, and experimentation skills.

The books feature a cast of fuzzy and friendly cartoon characters called the MotMots, citizens of TinkerTown who engage with young readers and guide them through various educational activities. The series currently includes six titles: a math workbook and a science workbook each for kindergartners, first graders, and second graders. Odd Dot plans to expand the series to include other subjects, such as English language arts for fall 2019.

Nathalie Le Du, Odd Dot editorial director and creator of TinkerActive Workbooks, describes the series as “a world-class educational brand that offers hands-on learning experiences in the most crucial subjects—and makes it outrageously fun.”

Le Du conceived of the books after reading an alarming statistic about how, in math and science, American students are trailing behind their peers in other industrialized nations. Le Du felt called to action, with the goal, she says, of “inspiring a generation of fearless learners, makers, and problem solvers.”

Most of the books that Odd Dot publishes are created in-house, and the TinkerActive books were no exception. Le Du and her team aimed to break the workbook mold with the series—and to provide a learning experience that builds and expands on the one kids have in school. Le Du says she approached the project “with total openness,” hoping to create workbooks that would challenge, educate, and gratify kids in new and exciting ways. “Once we had the architecture in place,” she says, “we assembled an incredible crew of experts, educators, writers, and visual artists to create something truly bespoke for the kids of today.”

With projects that appeal to auditory, visual, and kinesthetic learners, the books aim to be inclusive. And by actively exploring new ideas in a real-world context, Le Du says, “the concepts really stick.” In addition to providing readers with satisfying results, the projects are designed to be open-ended, encouraging kids to ask questions and explore possibilities. “We embolden children’s innate curiosity and creativity, as well as foster their love of learning,” Le Du says, adding that, unlike in many craft books, the projects in the TinkerActive Workbooks are inexpensive and rely on common household materials—one task asks readers to craft a sundial from found objects, for instance, so that kids from a range of socioeconomic backgrounds can take part.

As kids tackle projects in each workbook, they receive encouragement and ongoing positive feedback from the MotMots, as well as with colorful stickers. Le Du also wanted to acknowledge readers’ successful completion of each workbook, so she included merit badges—similar to those kids earn in Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts—at the conclusion of each workbook. In working with the Odd Dot designers, Le Du made achieving merit badges a tactile experience, similar to the joy of unboxing a surprise gift or finding a Cracker Jack prize. After finishing each workbook, readers are invited to poke their pencils through the back covers, then trace around and pop out their magnetic merit badges.

Le Du believes that the lessons kids take away from the books will benefit them for a lifetime. “The workbooks inspire kids to play, explore, create, and problem-solve,” she says. “In so doing, they also foster critical thinking, innovation, and iteration—because one of life’s most important lessons is that you need to try and try again!”