InsideStory's Cats & Dogs flashcards.

InsideStory Flashcards, the Seattle-based company founded in 2006 by mother/daughter team Kande Underwood and Shauna Simon, is creatively changing the way children learn and remember words. “Our flashcards make vocabulary words unforgettable,” says the banner on the company’s Web site, and the color photographs and unique definitions, captions, and pronunciation on each card buttress this claim. Simon, a teacher and tutor, says that the flashcards were “inspired by necessity. There was nothing else like them on the market with this level of vocabulary. If kids are told stories, they’re much more likely to remember words because they become more meaningful.”

The age level of the cards is given as 12 and up, though Simon believes that younger children are also using them because they’re fascinated by big words as well.

InsideStory cards are lead-free, printed in Seattle, and sold returnable. Display units include a free deck of sample cards on a ring. “Seventy percent of our customers are independent booksellers,” Simon says. “We like being tied to communities and selling useful things of value.”

InsideStory currently sells three differently themed decks that contain 52 cards each. Cats & Dogs ($14.50)includes humorous of pets in various situations. The card for the word “infraction,” defined as a violation of a law, depicts a Boxer dog looking at the camera while sitting behind the wheel of a car. The caption reads, “No, officer, I had no idea I was going 560 in dog miles.”

Images of exotic creatures in their natural habitat are featured in the Animals deck ($16.50). One of its flashcards shows a poison arrow frog to illustrate the word “potent,” defined as “having powerful effects.” The descriptive caption says, “Poison arrow frogs are named for the toxins they release through their skins. Some species carry toxins so potent that even holding the frogs can be dangerous.” Other animals in the deck include the Victoria crowned pigeon, a Gentoo pigeon and a family of meerkats.

Seattle ($16.50) contains vintage black-and-white images of the city culled from historical archives. The word “harrowing” is illustrated by a photo of coal miners emerging from the darkness of a mine. Defined as “extremely distressing,” the flashcard says, “Coal mining would be harrowing for even the toughest of Washington’s miners... a single spark could ignite the gas and coal dust that surrounded them.”

Forgoing the use of a distributor or reps, InsideStory sells directly to independent bookstores via its Web site and telemarketing. Underwood, a former librarian who handles sales for the company, says that the flashcards are now represented in 19 states. “In the future I think a distributor would be a good idea, but we need more product to make that happen,” she says. Simon, who serves as creative director, says that three additional items are in development, making the switch a likely option at some point.

Sue Kowalski, a bookseller at The Book Store in Glen Ellyn, Ill., has reordered from InsideStory several times since first buying the flashcards a year ago. “I especially love Cats and Dogs because they’re so funny,” she says. “I’m selling them as stocking stuffers this Christmas for both kids and adults. The photos and captions make them unique, different from any other vocabulary cards on the market.”

Ann Seaton, manager of Hicklebee’s Children’s Books in San Jose. Calif., says, “The photos really help bring home the point, and it makes them fun. They have a great price point and charge us very little for shipping. [The cards] just work on so many levels.”

The American Library Association named InsideStory one of its “exceptional Web sites for children” this year. Users can download and print a selection of flashcards free of charge and choose from a range of “easy” to “hard” vocabulary levels.