Karen Bartlett’s “Mostly Kids’ Guides” to Southwest Florida Are Fun Learning, Delightfully Disguised as Fun Reading for the Whole Family.
More than 20 years ago, writer and photographer Karen Bartlett found herself relocated to Naples with two young children in tow. At the time, there were far fewer educational, entertaining and just plain fun things to do with kids in Southwest Florida. But times have changed, and our growing communities are vibrant with children here, there and everywhere — while our coast becomes an ideal family vacation destination. So Bartlett set out to do what she wished someone had done for her family when they were young: create a fact-filled, fun-filled, quizzical, colorful and (don’t tell the kids) educational guide to living, playing and visiting in Southwest Florida.
They’re called Mostly Kids’ Guides and currently, two reside on the shelves: A (Mostly) Kids’ Guide to Naples, Marco Island and the Everglades and a second title recently released, A (Mostly) Kids Guide to Sanibel & Captiva Islands and the Fort Myers Coast. “What I want to accomplish is what I hoped I would’ve had when we moved here: a guide to the inside scoop on the cool stuff that’s off the beaten path, what’s it like to really live here and be a native or a visitor with great local knowledge — all from a slightly kid-skewed point of view.”
As “Adventurer in Chief” of the Mostly Kids’ Guides, Bartlett digs deep into the history, geography, environment, nature, attractions, entertainment and yes, even the quirks of each region. Using colorfully illustrated wildlife, pirates, Calusa Indians and various other characters to assist as narrators of sort, Bartlett has created quick-read guides that are packed with images, facts and fun.
“My goal was to make books as enjoyable for grandparents, parents and teachers as they are for kids,” she says. “Far from storybooks, the guides are designed to entertain, challenge and educate. And if they don’t laugh out loud every few pages, I’ve failed miserably.”
That they certainly will, while putting a smile on your face. For instance, did you know which marine creature bears the head of a donkey, the belly of a kangaroo and the tail of a monkey (it’s a sea horse)? Or that some historians claim that Thomas Edison once served cooked shoe leather to dinner guests (as a practical joke) who had complained about the lack of tenderness of a previous meal? Or that Ponce de Leon not only explored our shores, but was also shot by a Calusa arrow just north of Fort Myers? Or how pirates may have used sea grape leaves to pass secret messages? Well, now you do — and there’s a lot more to enjoy page after page of the Mostly Kids Guides, which can be found in local book and gift stores, attractions, resort destinations, museums, art galleries, Barnes and Noble and (of course) online.
For the record, Karen Bartlett is no novice when it comes to storytelling about travel. After a successful stint in public relations as president of her own firm, Bartlett served 15 years as the travel editor of Gulfshore Life magazine, visiting destinations around the U.S. and the world. She authored and photographed a variety of hard-cover destination guides. But it wasn’t until she lucked into an assignment doing a kid’s guide to Chicago — she “had a blast” and it sold very well — that the proverbial light went on.
Each book has proven to be an approximate two-year labor of love, and next up will be a Mostly Kids’ Guide to her hometown of Savannah, Georgia.
“I love my job! I get to color outside the lines so to speak, write about whatever I want, and channel my inner kid while providing a valuable, educational, entertaining resource for parents and kids,” she says.
Indeed. What’s not to love?
By John Sprecher | Photography by Milissa Sprecher