Kids + Teens, News

25th Anniversary in the Archives: Playing Things Differently

Today, I want to take you beyond the story—where the library expands beyond the book, to interact, to show and to play. While last month I focused on books that call on readers to look deeper, to find their own stories in visual storytelling, these take it one step further—they are the kits and games that bring entertainment to life in a different way.

While some familiar stories are often retold, in this format, the story of Cinderella can be reenacted:

Cinderella by Keri Smith (2001)

A concise package that contains a wealth of playability, this little box contains a book with the story of Cinderella and also paper dolls, two changing background scenes, and multiple, easily removable outfits for Cinderella. It’s a toy and a story in one, allowing for infinite variations on the retellings—and maybe the opportunity for the mouse to be transformed into the princess next time.

As a frequent forgetter of constellations (except Orion’s belt—I have that one down pat), my pensive peering into the night sky is often comprised of thoughts like are those two stars supposed to be hair or a sea monster? Which one is the big dipper and which one is the dog? Sometimes, these things must be shown—and I would have greatly benefitted from a kit like this:

Seeing Stars by Charles Hobson (2001)

Again, this small package belies the wealth of content inside. The package contains a small but powerful flashlight, cards with the constellations cut out, and a guidebook to both the constellations and the stories behind them.

Beautiful widows in Ancient Greece always had it rough.

Some of our oldest stories are told in the stars—and while the credibility of three stars clearly showing a man wielding both sword and disembodied gorgon head may be questionable, these constellations are still the ones we refer to today, familiar characters from an unfamiliar time.

Looking up into the stars is just one way to ponder life’s greatest mysteries—such as is this really a “no”? But I really do want to finish my blog post on time!

Or what does it mean for my psyche when all I can see are kidneys?

Or what exactly is this thing called besides “OH THAT THING, I LOVE THOSE THINGS!”?

Turns out it’s “cootie catcher.” Or “paper fortune teller” for the more technically minded.

These and many other universal mysteries can also be answered with Ask Babalouie, created by Dale Gottlieb and Jane Burns (1999). This is the game with all the answers—from the horoscope-style predictions of the “Wonder Wheel of Animal Magnetism,” to the Rorschachian “Think Blots,” to the “Weather or Not” wheel that combines eerie glow-in-the-dark with the mystic power of a crush’s initials for maximum predictive powers, to the simple yes-or-no spinner of Babalouie himself and much more, there is no conundrum this kit cannot conquer. There is even a clearing station at the bottom for wiping your psychic slate clean before conducting your reading.

Chanting with Babalouie is sure to clear away your worries about that math test on Tuesday: hum baba baba hum…

As we see with all of the examples so far, the best kits are the ones that don’t require extras—there is nothing worse than ripping open the packaging on a new toy only to find “batteries not included”—and there’s a bonus if you can learn to do something good for nature at the same time. Sprout Your Own Leafy Wonders is a complete kit for growing three different plants—the sensitive plant, the polka-dot plant, and the Lamb’s Ear plant.

As a perennial plant-killer, I appreciate the lack of extra investment needed to grow the plants in this kit. It contains all the necessary components—even peat to plant them in—as well as an instruction manual and planters that, in a small way, also go a little further toward bettering our earth once you’ve finished using them down the road.

And finally in our look beyond the book—sometimes a format’s beauty is in its simplicity. And sometimes the beauty of building a Frankenstein’s-monster-style animal is in the simple majesty of the portmanteau.

Kangodile by Janet Landay (2006) is an accordion-style book that allows a myriad of animal hybrids to come to life—all while wearing the same fabulous red sweater—with a simple gather-and-fold technique. It is even double-sided, for twice the animal-creations!

Some called the animal-hybridization process a niche scientific venture…

I say it is no more niche than the study of quarks and other elementary matter…

And our research has proven incontrovertibly that while the walrus-yak hybrid can neither walk nor swim, its name alone makes it a worthwhile endeavor for science.

Over the years, the Chronicle Kids format list has expanded to include a wide array of kits, toys, games and miscellany—and the only common feature between them is how much of a joy they are to play with. Whether in reenacting stories, educating and instructing, matching, lacing, drawing, puzzling, fortune telling, or simply trying to decide which is funnier, shurtle or plail, these formats bring the element of play into the daily routine and remind us—children and adults—not to forget to have a little fun.

And they still look like kidneys.

Julia Patrick
Sales Materials Coordinator

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Julia Patrick

Assistant Editor in the Entertainment department at Chronicle Books. Part-time archivist, full-time hobbyist, real-life best friends with R2-D2.
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