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.

Don’t Wake The Giant

don't wake the giant

Besides having exquisite taste in socks, these two clever girls came up with a book project that was much cooler than my book project. It involves giants, snoring, caves, and castles perched in a precarious place. It was for To Be Continued, our story time for 6-8 year-olds.

We read The Rise and Fall of Mount Majestic, written by Jennifer Trafton, and illustrated by Brett Helquist (Puffin, 2010). Persimmony Smudge has lost her hat, and her way, in a woods filled with poison-tongued jumping tortoises and restless mangroves. Little does Persimmony know that she is about to be a part of a much bigger dilemma – one that involves a castle, a bratty king, a mountain that rises and falls according to the time of day, and rumors of a snoring giant under said mountain. And then there’s the revolt at the pepper mill, the prophecy of the Lyre-That-Never-Lies, and the growing indignation of the most terribly polite Leafeaters. Will the island be shaken to pieces by the giant? Or will Persimmony and her friends be able to stop this terrible fate?

In the book, elderly Theodore the Potter makes Giving Pots. Basically, there are pots that give you what you need, not what you want. Persimmony’s pot, for example, gives her a single feather (and it turns out later she really, really, really needs it!). I loved the idea of making Giving Pots, so I brought out a slew of Model Magic. Love this stuff. It’s light, no mess, and it dries beautifully (it makes great mandrakes too).

giving pot

Before the kids started sculpting, I asked them to recall a passage from the book that described the beautiful artwork of the Leafeaters. Here’s the passage:

“The walls were elaborately painted with glorious pictures of trees. There were coconut palms bent sideways from the wind. There were clusters of mangrove trees as they grew at the forest’s edges along the shore. And there were stately willows with boughs drooping to the ground like green waterfalls.

The dome above was painted to look like the sky with the sun and moon and stars. Farther down were hundred of pictures stretching in a circle around the room – pictures of Mount Majestic, of fields ripe for harvest and orchards ripe for picking, of fishing boats on the sea and brown seals on the rocks, of goats and squirrels and pelicans.”

Here are the beautiful nature-influenced Giving Pots the kids created:

When the kids finished their Giving Pots, I dropped a single white duck quill feather into them. Because like Persimmony, you never know when you might need it!

So that was my project. However, two story time attendees were trying to guess what the Mount Majestic book project would be, and decided to send in one of their own! It was a contest to see who could keep the castle on their belly the longest while holding up the Snoring Cave. It’s a perfect match to the book (the giant originates in the Snoring Cave and the castle is located directly above him on Mount Majestic). Awesome.

don't wake the giantDid you recognize the castles from a previous To Be Continued? They were the project for Castle Hangnail. Nice to see them make a triumphant return!

The Game is Afoot

the game is afoot“Check this out!” Katie said to me one morning, holding up her phone. “My friend just posted this to her Instagram!” It was a board game, based on the book Hatchet, designed by Quinn Densmore, a 5th grader in New Mexico.

First of all, wow. Hatchet is a fantastic book. Second of all, WOW! Quinn’s game board was 3-dimensional! Thirdly, what amazing muse inspired him to create a game version of the book? The answer was Kandice Tomanek, his teacher. Clever Ms. Tomanek invited her class to design board games based on their favorite books. I asked if she would be willing to share a few more creations. The whole class voted for their Top 5, which I am delighted to present to you today, in no particular order.


PETER PAN
Designed by Terra Donahue

peter pan designed by terra donahue

Dice rolls move 4 players around the board. Some squares contains a symbol, others a number. If you land on a marked square, you must pick a card with the matching symbol or number and follow its instructions (be they good or bad). The game ends when a player reaches the “Finish Zone,” but the winner is the person who has collected the most gold balls.

I love the way the game board opens into Mermaid Lagoon and Pirate’s Bay. I love that all the famous Neverland landmarks are there. I love the ring of clouds around the top of the tallest mountain. I love the gorgeous compass. And I especially love the upended mermaid tails in the lagoon!


UPSIDE-DOWN MAGIC: STICKS AND STONES
Designed by Ailey Cassidy-Jones

upside down magic stick and stones designed by ailey cassidy-jonesThe goal of this game is to get rid of as many gems as you can before reaching the finish line (i.e. the “Pennies for Potions” square).  No small feat considering that each player starts with 50 gems! As you travel the board, you can either gain or lose gems depending on the space you land on and the cards you draw.

I’m not familiar with the Upside-Down Magic books, but I can absolutely appreciate that the game players are characters from the books (such cool little wooden boxes for each of them!). I also appreciate the math involved as you navigate the board and acquire and lose gems. That and Kitten Ball in the Gymnasium. I need to know what Kitten Ball is!


THE LANDS BEYOND
Designed by Greta Smith

the lands beyond designed by greta smithBased on The Phantom Tollbooth, players begin at the tollbooth but soon encounter the Doldrums. If you roll a 1,3, or 5, you get stuck on the Doldrums. If you roll a 2,4, or 6 you take another path. The game continues to move forward in this quirky fashion, and also includes directional cards that make you stop or allow you to roll again. Waiting at the finish line, of course, are Princesses Rhyme and Reason.

So, how much do you love that beautiful purple tollbooth? And the innovative take on dice roll navigation? As you get close to the Mountains of Ignorance, you’ll notice that the cards change from “Pick a Card” to “Demon Card” as well. So clever. And did you notice the Mathamagician’s pencil?

I can’t resist sneaking a couple Phantom Tollbooth connections in here. Click here to meet the author, and click here to visit Digitopolis, the city of math.


HATCHET
Designed by Quinn Densmore

hatchet designed by quinn densmoreThe object of this game is to get rescued from the wilderness. As you move around the board, you acquire different cards. If you get a fire card you are immune to 1 hypothermia card.  If you get hit by a disaster, you must do what the card instructs (move back, lose a turn, etc.). If you get a rescue card, you are safe from the next attack card. Collect 5 rescue cards, and you win!

Not only is this board a total work of 3-dimesional art, I think Quinn really captured the uncertainty of Brian’s plight in the game play. Because sometimes Brian was just plain unlucky (plane crash, gut cherries, extremely territorial moose). Also, there’s no finish line. You wind your way back and forth through the wilderness until (hopefully) you are rescued. Very cool.


THE HOBOKEN CHICKEN EMERGENCY
Designed by Rebekah Bagwell

hoboken chicken emergency designed by rebekah bagwellI’ve been a Daniel Pinkwater fan since I was 9, so I was thrilled to see this classic book turned into a game. Players race each other to Hokoben City Hall. Along the way, they must follow the directions on each space (if they land on a blank space, they just wait until their turn comes up again). The winner gets to take home a little Henrietta as a pet!

The details on this game are awesome. The players are characters from the book. Rebekah’s labeled the streets, the stores, and locations. There are nods to Bozo, potatoes, the Hoboken Inquirer, and Dr. Hsu Ting Feng. I tip my hat to you, Miss Bagwell.


Many thanks to Ailey, Greta, Quinn, Rebekah, and Terra for sharing their games, and to Kandice Tomanek for organizing the vote and sending the pictures (and just for being an awesome teacher)!