‘Yes & Know’ books with ‘invisible ink’ were what kept kids quiet on car trips before iPhones – Chicago Tribune

These days you hear a lot of kvetching about young kids and phones, concerns about screen time and the like.


At the same time, rare is the parent that hasn’t, at some point, turned into a phone or iPad as a kind of digital pacifier, something to occupy their child and achieve at least a few moments of peace.

This is particularly true in the car, when the parent’s attention cannot be divided between safely occupying a vehicle and successfully occupying a child. It’s tough to blame anyone for trying to do the best they can to balance competing needs.

But … for those who are concerned about reflexively turning to digital devices to occupy their children, I have a potential, book-related solution, the strategy my mom used with me way back in the day, long before the advent of smartphones, and when 8-track cassette players were viewed as the height of onboard technology.

Lee Publications released the first “Yes & Know,” invisible ink/magic pen books in 1971, and it is possible that I was their biggest fan. Billed as being appropriate for people ranging from ages “8 to 88” (or “9 to 99,” etc…) the booklets were filled with a variety of games and activities that used the magic pen to reveal hidden text, promising “HOURS and HOURS of BY-YOURSELF ENJOYMENT.”

Music to any parent’s ears.

Though my mom’s bookstore stocked the “Yes & Know” books, the racks were off-limits unless we were going on a trip, in which case I would be presented with a single volume, the felt-tipped pen shrink-wrapped inside the package .

The games simultaneously had great variety and a resolute similarity. Both “bowling” and “basketball” relied on using the pen to reveal the invisible text in a circle, the result indicating how many pins you knocked down or if your player made a shot.

There was no skill to most of these games. While the trivia questions had definitive answers, and there was a mystery game similar to the board game Clue that required strategy, when it came to any of the sports games, the odds of success were fixed at the moment of printing, your determined success by random chance of what you chose to reveal.

Still, these things were as addictive as Candy Crush. Give me a “Yes & Know” book and you’re not going to hear a peep from me for hours, me trying to hold the pen steady as we bumped along the road, sometimes using the excuse of a bump to partially reveal some text , giving myself a competitive edge.

I don’t know that a “Yes & Know” booklet is any better or worse for childhood development than a game on an iPad. They did have a couple of obvious downsides. For one, it was a hassle to balance a flashlight while trying to play the games during nighttime travel.

For two, unlike a digital device, the number of activities was not endless. A creeping sadness would enter as I would move through the pages, knowing that I was ultimately going to exhaust my hours of by-yourself enjoyment.

Unfortunately for those who would like these analog delights, Lee Publications was sold to an Australian publisher in 2020 and as of yet, the new owners have not produced any new booklets. Some online searching revealed a few caches around the country that could be had for reasonable prices, but the supply is so low that Stuckey’s restaurants, where the booklets were once a staple in the gift shop, No longer stock any copies.

If anyone has a hookup, you know where to reach me.

John Warner is the author of “Why They Can’t Write: Killing the Five-Paragraph Essay and Other Necessities.”

Twitter @biblioracle

Book recommendations from the Biblioracle

John Warner tells you what to read based on the last five books you’ve read

1. “Luster” by Raven Leilani

2. “Little Women” by Louisa May Alcott

3. “Circe” by Madeline Miller

4. “Morning Star (Red Rising 3)” by Pierce Brown

5. “Arcadia” by Lauren Groff

— April P., Durham, North Carolina

Lydia Millet’s “Sweet Lamb of Heaven” messes with your head as the story of a woman fleeing from her abusive husband unfolds, and I think April will appreciate the way Millet shapes and paces her story.

1. “The Pope of Palm Beach” by Tim Dorsey

2. “The Splendid and the Vile” by Erik Larson

3. “Slow Horses” by Mick Herron

4. “Better off Dead” by Lee Child and Andrew Child

5. “Savages” by Don Winslow

— Nick T., Dallas

I have just the pick for Nick that combines mystery and irreverence, and I’m betting it’s not a book he knows because it’s a bit of an underground classic, at least in my book, “The Mystic Arts of Erasing All Signs of Death” by Charlie Huston.

1. “H Is for Hawk” by Helen MacDonald

2. “Hamnet” by Maggie O’Farrell

3. “Grief is a Thing with Feathers” by Max Porter

4. “Go Tell the Bees That I Am Gone (Outlander 9)” by Diana Gabaldon

5. “The Time Traveler’s Wife” by Audrey Niffenegger

Amber R., Chicago

I think the mood and atmospherics of Emily St. John Mandel’s “The Glass Hotel” is a good match for what seems to draw Amber to a book.

Get a reading from the Biblioracle

Send a list of the last five books you’ve read and your hometown to [email protected].

Related Articles

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back to top button