Bestseller

bestseller

The objective? To arrange the books so that the top shelf is perfectly level. But you can only use certain books, in certain orientations, with a minimum of 2 books touching the top shelf at any time. Oh, and leave some room for a little black cat!

Today, I’m reviewing By The Book, a stacking puzzle for ages 8+ (Brainwright, $18). The game consists of 40 challenge cards, 12 wooden books, 2 wooden shelves, 1 plastic cat, and 1 balance level made to look like an adorable red flower pot.

by the book gameTo play, select a challenge card (which are graded as beginner, intermediate, advanced, or expert). The face of the card tells you which books you can use, if they need to be placed horizontally or vertically, or if they can’t touch at all. Sometimes, the card will require the cat to be included on the shelf as well. The back side of the card has the solution. Here are a couple examples of card faces and solutions:

challenge cardsOnce you’ve gathered all the relevant pieces, lay the bottom shelf on a level surface, then try configuring the books to the card’s specifications. Put the top shelf in place when you think you’re done, then place the balance level on top to see if your solution measures up. And remember – a minimum of 2 books much be touching the top shelf at any time.

If your solution passes the level test, flip the card over to see if matches the official solution (and the rules do mention there may be other ways to solve the challenge). Some of the solutions, however, are not what you expect! Look at this creative configuration!

stacked solution

When playing this game, it’s important to work on a level surface. If your work table is tilted, you’ll never reach a solution. So use the level to make doubly sure you’re nice and even before you start playing.

So, what did our kid testers (ages 6, 8, and 10) think of By The Book? They loved it! The game requires analysis, trial & error, testing, and re-testing, but it’s very calm, non-competitive, and you can take as long as you like to reach the solution. By The Book is labeled as a 1 player game, but our kid testers found ways to collaborate. The cat adds a nice touch, and the kid tester found it very satisfying to put the level on the top shelf to see if their clever arranging worked!

testing a solution

By The Book is the best (a “bestseller,” if you will). It’s fun, intelligent, works with a large age range of kids, and the pieces are really nice quality. This would be a terrific classroom chill-out activity, the perfect addition to library game nights, or an awesome gift from that super cool librarian aunt or uncle. Plus, it comes with a CAT! Five out of five stars.

Going Cordless

going cordlessI use hot glue. A lot. And the projects on this blog? 99.9% of them use hot glue in some way, shape, or form. Hot glue is the perfect solution when you don’t have much time, but need something to stick quick. The drawback, of course, is that hot glue guns need to be plugged into an electrical outlet in order to operate.

That’s fine if you’re making a project at your desk. But not so fine when you need to glue projects for 22 kids and their caregivers. During out workshops, kids either have to carry their projects to hot glue stations, or I have to walk around the program area, dragging a cumbersome daisy chain of extension cords behind me.

That was why I was so very, very excited to learn that hot glue guns were going cordless.

Today, I’m reviewing the Imaginisce i●bond cordless hot glue gun. It retails for around $30 and requires 4 AA batteries to operate. I’ll cut to the chase…it doesn’t really work that well. The Imaginisce burns through batteries like crazy. Just one hour of use and the batteries are dead (I tested this twice, with new batteries each time). Also, the batteries just don’t seem to have the same oomph my plug in glue guns have. The glue isn’t as hot, and it dries quicker with less adhesive properties. I tested this with the glue sticks that came with the gun, and with another brand of stick.

Interestingly, Imaginisce added an LED light to the end of their glue gun, presumably to illuminate your work area. But if you’re working in sunlight or with a light on, you can already see your area clearly, right? Unless you like to craft in the dark?

glue gun lightSo the LED light wasn’t very useful. Mostly, it allowed me to take cool pictures like this:

glue gun in vault

I will admit, the cordless aspect of the glue gun was sheer heaven. I could go anywhere! No dragging cords! No knocking things over on my desk! But the trade off was a glue gun that didn’t heat up or last very long. If, however, you have a small job to do in a limited amount of time, the Imaginisce glue gun could work for you. But I since I use my glue guns for heavy construction, this cordless model’s batteries just didn’t produce.

Looks like I’ll remain tethered for the time being.

This Is My Story

this-is-my-storyYou love books. You think it’s a clever idea. You’ve picked it up while shopping and mused over it a dozen time. But each time you put it back, thinking…do those make your own book mail-in kits really deliver the goods? Well, ponder no more! Today, we’re reviewing the IlluStory Make Your Own Book kit by Lulu Jr.

illustory-kitThe kit retails for around $20 – $30. It includes 10 washable markers, 20 blank book pages, 2 blank cover pages, a mailing envelope, and detailed instructions. It also has multiple prompt sheets to get young writers going (including – and I really liked this – nonfiction stories and biographies). The kit price includes the production of your book and shipping costs from, and back to, your house (USA only). The final product is a 7.25″ x 9.25″ hardcover book with an illustrated story that is a maximum of 18 pages long.

illustory-kit-contentsGetting started, you have two creation options with this kit: 1) Draw the book by hand; or 2) Design it online using templates, backgrounds, and digital stickers (you can also upload drawings and photos). We went as low tech as possible and chose to create the book by hand. The 8.5″ x 11″ story pages have a big box for illustrations, and 5 lines for text. Since your story can’t be over 18 pages, there are a couple of extra pages, just in case you mess up.

Marissa bravely agreed to write and illustrate a story she titled Arnold’s Birthday Party. She reports that the markers were “awesome.” IlluStory recommends using dark pencil or pen. Marissa used ballpoint pen for her illustrations and text, which worked just fine.

page-of-storyWhen the book was finished, we turned to the order form. Here, we were presented with two options: 1) Produce the book using your handwritten text; or 2) Have the company convert your handwritten words to type (but there is a 20 word per page limit, and they don’t correct spelling or edit). We went with hand lettering.

Make sure you read the kit instructions and the order form carefully! Because otherwise you might miss that you need to number the pages, in pencil, on the back of each page (otherwise, they’ll just print them in the order received). You need to write “Cover” on the back of your cover page. And you definitely don’t was to miss the free options to add a dedication page, or author photo and bio on the back of the book!

Ready to send it off? You have two options: 1) Send it via snail mail in the prepaid envelope; or 2) Upload scans of your cover and story pages to the IlluStory website. We stayed low-tech and went with snail mail.

illustory-mailing-setIlluStory say the books are printed less than 2 weeks from the date received, and ship 3-5 days after printing. They were right on the money. In just under 3 weeks, Marissa’s book was back. It looked fantastic.

2-page-spread-of-storyI was worried that the binding might look cheap. Nope. This is a real, honest-to-goodness book. Glossy white cover, crisp printing, text well clear of the binding margins. The author photo we sent was reproduced nicely. They even put the title and author’s name down the book’s spine! There’s a title page too. It looks really cute:

title-page-of-bookYou also have the option to purchase additional copies and send them to your adoring fans (copies of our book, for example are $14.99). You can order multiple copies in advance, or use the info printed on the back of the book to order copies later.

Beware, however. The production on this kit is quite literal. If you did what I did, and fill out the dedication and author bio in ALL CAPS on the order form, the production team will put those in ALL CAPS IN YOUR BOOK. Also, remember to write the title on the cover of your book. They don’t do that for you. Marissa’s book cover is missing a title, but it sort of adds to the mystery of the big package, doesn’t it? What’s in that big package anyway?*

cover-of-bookIn summary, the IlluStory Make Your Own Book kit is terrific! It’s easy to put together with really nice, professional-looking results. Make sure to read all the instructions and fine print and remember – what you send is exactly what is printed. If you know an aspiring author or illustrator, or are looking to create something special for someone, this kit is a sure bet.


*Spoiler alert. Inside the present is a colossal spider – a gift from an eccentric aunt. The spider runs rampant through the town, swatting helicopters, before Arnold shuts it down with bug spray.