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.

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)!

Mindful Mismatching

mindful mismatchingWe’ve created plenty of matching games at story time, but what about an un-matching game? Search under the snow to find 4 leaves for your bird nest. But look carefully – no two leaves can be alike!

We read No Two Alike by Keith Baker (Beach Lane Books, 2011). Two red birds journey through a winter woods, observing everything from snowflakes to animal tracks. Trees, nests, branches, leaves, even patterns on feathers – each thing is different, and that’s something to admire!

You’ll need:

  • 1 small box (mine was 4” x 4” x 4” – a small tissue box works too)
  • Brown and red construction paper
  • 2 toilet paper tubes
  • 2 small feathers, each a different color
  • 2 small triangles of self-adhesive foam
  • 2 pairs of eye stickers
  • 1 un-matching leaf game (more on that below!)
  • Scissors, tape and glue for construction

red birds in nest

We’ll begin with your bird nest! To make the birds, wrap 2 toilet paper tubes with red construction paper. Cut wings from construction paper and attach to the tube. Use triangles of self-adhesive foam for the beaks (or snippets of yellow construction paper). We used eye stickers, but you can also draw the eyes on with marker. In the book, the birds are almost identical (but not quite). So we added two different color feather crests.

two red birdsTo make the nest, cut a box down to 2.5″ and then wrap it with strips of brown construction paper. We used multicultural construction paper, cut into different jagged lengths. Attach the strips to the box with tape or glue.

box nestSet the birds and nest aside for a moment, it’s time for the game! I had some “Fabric Fall Leaves” from Discount School Supply (a pack of 200 costs $6). Katie used a permanent marker to draw 24 sets of leaves. Each set consisted of 4 shapes – a triangle, a rectangle, a circle, and a square.

leaves marked with shapesWe scattered all 96 leaves on top of a brown bed sheet…

leaves on sheetAnd heaped a ton of polyester fill “snow” on top of them.

snow on leaf sheetThe story time kids dug into the snow to find a set of leaves, keeping in mind that the shapes on the leaves could NOT match! I did, however, post drawings of the shapes nearby, so they could remember which shapes they were looking for.

I was worried the game was going to be a crazy digging frenzy but it was actually quite relaxed as kids quietly dug and searched for the leaves to tuck into their nests.

searching for leaves

If you ARE in the mood for matching games, check out our cookie-eating cow,  our shopping spree with a fox, the sweetest little post office ever, and our giant burger relay race!