Why We Love “Guess How Much I Love You” So Much

“Guess How Much I Love You” is a tale about the limitless love between parent and child. But mostly it’s about how awesome we are as parents.

“Guess How Much I Love You,” by Sam McBratney, is a tale about the bonds of love between parent and child. It’s a beautiful exposition of how we perceive that love and its grandeur.  That love seems limitless to us and we can hardly express it.  

But mostly it’s about how awesome we are as parents.

We all love “Guess How Much I Love You” because it describes the golden age of parenting, or, in other words, the time in which we are bigger, better, stronger, and smarter than our kids.  

Guess-how-much-I-love-YouThe story details an evening conversation between Little Nutbrown Hare and his dad (uncle, grandfather, father-figure… we’re assuming here), Big Nutbrown Hare.  Little Nutbrown Hare has just realized how enormous his capacity to love really is and is totally stoked to share that with Big Nutbrown Hare.  So he makes himself vulnerable by asking his parent to “guess how much [Little Nutbrown Hare] loves him.”  Little Nutbrown Hare then stretches out his arms to their full extent and declares this distance to be that of his love for Big Nutbrown Hare.  And what does Big Nutbrown Hare say?

Well, of course, Big Nutbrown Hare stretches his arms out as far as they can go and declares the same thing.  Only Big Nutbrown Hare’s arms are much longer than Little Nutbrown Hare’s because as you grow up your wingspan increases.  That’s an important side lesson.

Anyway, the point is, we are bigger than our kids and that’s awesome.

Little Nutbrown Hare rebuts with the fact that he loves his parent/guardian (?) “as high as [he] can reach.”  Oh, Little Nutbrown Hare… so much to learn.  Again, Big Nutbrown Hare is able to prove his bigness pretty easily, because when you’re bigger than someone else it’s usually pretty much all-encompassing.  As parents we love this rule because we are able to show off our bigness often and in many different ways.

Little Nutbrown Hare comes up with a new idea which he is sure will make him the victor in this whole who-loves-who-more game.  He stands on his hands and leans his feet up against a tree, saying that he loves Big Nutbrown Hare “all the way up to [his] toes.”

But Big Nutbrown Hare comes in with the curveball here by swinging his son into the air and saying that he loves Little Nutbrown Hare all the way to his toes (which is a greater distance now that the rabbit is elongated thusly. 

We parents have lifting abilities that need to be flaunted whenever possible.

So Little Nutbrown Hare is left feeling somewhat Nutbrown bummed and wishing he hadn’t even brought this love thing up in the first place.

He decides to use his athleticism to try and gain some ground here, so he claims he loves Big Nutbrown Hare “as high as he can hop.”  But, as predicted, Big Nutbrown Hare demonstrates his remarkable hopping skills and has us all beaming with pride.

Little Nutbrown Hare, at this point crying out (some may say out of excitement, but I wager it’s just because he’s overcome with rage), says that he loves Big Nutbrown Hare all the way out to a river that happens to be visible to him in that moment.  Big Nutbrown Hare can see farther because when you are taller it’s easier to see over things like trees and rivers.  Another important side lesson. 

(We all love this part because we are reminded of how much better we are than our kids at most stuff.)

Meanwhile Little Nutbrown Hare just wishes Big Nutbrown Hare would shut his Big Nutbrown mouth.

Finally, Little Nutbrown, using his last ounce of willpower, rather inquisitively considers just the sheer hugeness of the sky above.  He whispers that he loves Big Nutbrown Hare “right up to the moon.”  Big Nutbrown Hare just can’t let it go — just cannot lose this game — so he administers the line we all remember most from this book, “I love you right up to the moon and back.”  

We cherish this moment as a perfectly natural one, where parents claim their place of superiority over their kids and all is right with the world.

But at this point, Little Nutbrown Hare is fast asleep, having given up on this stupid game entirely.  And that’s when we realize that, not only is it super cool to flaunt our awesomeness to our kids, it’s also a really great way to piss them off into a slumber.

Way to go, parents.  Keep being badasses.

A “Wild” Parenting Message: “Where the Wild Things Are”

“Where the Wild Things Are” has always been a classic children’s story, well before it hit the big screens in 2009. I think Maurice Sendak is something of the Faulkner of children’s literature;  I mean, the book is basically one long sentence. But even if I didn’t think this about Sendak, “Where the Wild Things Are” would still be one of my all-time favorites.

Sendak tells a tale about a boy named Max, who runs around his house in his monster costume and causes a bit of trouble here and there. Then his mother sends him to bed without supper, and instead of just being glum in his bedroom, Max imagines that the room has transformed into a beautiful forest near an ocean. So Max sails off on that ocean through time and to another land where all the inhabitants are big monsters like him (but bigger and more monster-y).

Suddenly Max realizes that these monsters listen to what he says, so he starts to command them to do things like “be still” and “let the wild rumpus start.” He becomes the king of the wild things (of course, because that’s how the progression of power works), but he is not satisfied by that (because being king is never as awesome as everyone says it will be). Even though the monsters love him, they don’t love him most of all, so he decides to leave them and return to his bedroom in his own home.

Max realizes that his family (his mother, more specifically) loves him most of all, which is already a phenomenal lesson. But I am going to suggest that this book says a little more about parenting than just that.

Some will say that the premise of the book (a boy being punished by his mother for causing all kinds of trouble) doesn’t shed the best light on the role of parenting. But, I think the progression of the story actually does something quite different.

See, the book opens with Max playing around in the real world, wearing a silly costume and running around the house. His mother calls him “wild thing,” which appears to put him in the position of being sent to bed without dinner, but also sort of challenges his playtime entirely.

Suddenly, when Max is told that he is a wild thing, he transforms from just a boy in a costume to a member of a whole crew of monsters having exciting adventures. Furthermore, while he was just running around actual rooms in a house before, he is now able to see a huge world of possibilities before him. He looks at his very bland bedroom and is now able to imagine trees and vines growing everywhere and the room becoming an entrance into a new world. And all of this is thanks to a mom who prompted him to expand his imagination beyond what was right there in front of him.

And some will say, “but wait, she was starving him, wasn’t she?” But trust me, that’s not the point of the book at all, and no one is encouraging anyone to withhold food from their kids. The spoiler alert (if you haven’t read it or are just a little foggy on the details) is that she doesn’t actually keep dinner from him (while I know the threat of doing seems a little unnecessary).

In fact, after encouraging him to use his imagination in a more exploratory way (and as a perk to her, without destroying stuff all over the house), she brings dinner right to him.

Now that’s some good service and some good parenting.

The Real Hero of the “Corduroy” Book Is the Mother

Don Freeman’s classic children’s story, “Corduroy” tells the tale of a stuffed bear who travels through a giant mall on the lookout for the button that has gone missing from his green overalls.  On his search, he discovers all of the cool things that department stores have to offer, from escalators to big comfy beds.

The reason that Corduroy goes off looking for his button is because the mother of a child who notices him in the store won’t allow her daughter Lisa to buy the bear.  “I’ve spent too much already,” the mother says, and continues, “Besides, he doesn’t look new.  He’s lost the button to one of his shoulder straps.”

Now initially, we’re thinking that the mother is being a little bit cruel. But we don’t really know the background story here, and how many times have we heard kids tell their mothers that they have been waiting forever for some specific toy?

And how do we know that all that other money spent earlier that day wasn’t also spent on the daughter?  Corduroy could just be one more thing that Lisa is requesting in a long line of new toys.

I mean, let’s be real, as parents we are onto this story, and it doesn’t seem genuine.  Even further, we don’t know that this Corduroy bear isn’t being sold at way too high a price.  Maybe we just can’t afford this bear, ok?  Get off our case!

So, though this mother is coming off as sort of the enemy here, we all know she doesn’t deserve it at all.  We get her.

Then we think about this whole button issue for a second. I mean, even if I had gone to the store for the specific purpose of buying my kid a new bear, and this Corduroy bear was really exactly what my kid wanted, I know I would second-guess myself for at least a minute about spending my hard-earned money on a bear that appears to be used versus buying a new one.

So while we would be quick to think of this mother as the penny-pinching, button-shaming nemesis, maybe we can all just take a second and see a little of her in ourselves.   Because, while we’d like to be on the child’s side in most of these stories, we know that we are all a lot like the mother here.

And, as it turns out, that isn’t all bad.  Because at the end of the story, while it’s often skimmed over in our readings, we notice that the reason Lisa gets to go to the store and buy Corduroy after all is because her awesome and practical mother said she could if, and only if, she used her own money from her piggy bank.  So Lisa had to pay for the bear herself to purchase it.  Which teaches her to value the bear more because she had to use her earnings to buy him.  Ahem, massive character lesson?  Check.

Of course, we parents get the short end of the stick again here because the mother doesn’t even show up in that last scene to accept her medal as best parent around and firmly reform our image of her.  So it’s easy for us to forget that she ended up being everything we’d hope we are after all.

Man, parenting is so unfair sometimes.

The (Unofficial) Children’s Book Animal Kingdom Power Rankings

Armadillos get no respect in children’s books; they’re at the bottom of the fictional food chain. Where do all the other animals rank? Glad you asked.

There’s a major plot twist at the end of “But NOT the Hippopotamus,” Sandra Boynton’s heart-wrenching tale of exclusion, sorrow and, ultimately, redemption.

It’s the kind of plot twist that comes completely out of left field, like when that random Massachusetts State Police officer/apparent FBI informant (SPOILER ALERT!) kills Leonardo DiCaprio’s character at the end of The Departed.

After pages and pages of being ignored by seemingly every other animal in the kingdom—or at least the ones that like to dine, try on hats, and go for jogs together—the hippopotamus finally gets the (sympathy?) invite to join the rest of the gang. But that’s not the real twist. Any six-month-old could have seen that left turn coming.

No, the real twist comes on the last page, almost as a throwaway. It reads, simply, “But NOT the Armadillo.”

That’s cold. Boynton no doubt intended it for our children’s amusement. It’s just so utterly random and unnecessary. The Armadillo doesn’t appear anywhere in the story until the final page, and gets instantly rejected upon entering the picture. And in a mocking way, too. Like, “Just kidding, Hippo. We’ll begrudgingly invite you into our little jogging/dining/shopping club. I mean….at least you’re no Armadillo!”

What does Boynton have against armadillos? Whatever it is, she’s not alone—at least not among children’s-book authors.

Peggy Rathmann takes a much more subtle shot at armadillos in “Good Night, Gorilla,” a story about a zoo jailbreak that’s light on dialogue but heavy on visual effects. The Armadillo is the last one the Gorilla breaks out of the zoo (after the Elephant, the Lion, the Giraffe, the Hyena and even a damn mouse tasked with carrying the Gorilla’s banana for him!). Adding to the slights, the Armadillo is last in line when all the animals follow Joe Zookeeper single-file all the way home. Even the mouse has the better pole position.

It’s a limited sample size. But clearly, armadillos get no respect in books meant for babies and toddlers. In fact, based on the books I’ve read my 15-month-old 237 times (in the last week), I’d say armadillos are at the very bottom of that fictional food chain, trailing caterpillars, ladybugs, bees and, yes, mice.

Where do all the other animals rank? Glad you asked.

There are 8.74 million animal species on Earth. For the sake of brevity, I’ll limit my list to 25.

8.74 millionth: Armadillos….

25. Rhinos: Hippos and Rhinos are basically the same thing. Both are rotund, leathery, clumsy, easily mocked mammals that live primarily in Africa. In fact, Rhinos are seemingly cooler—at least to a child—because they have horns. But while Hippos are everpresent in your child’s books, Rhinos are scarcely mentioned. Yeah, the Hippo gets ignored in “But NOT the Hippopotamus;” but Rhinos are ignored by virtually every author out there. Of the hundred or so children’s books I’ve read to my child, a Rhino has appeared in exactly one of them: “The Zoo.” And he (actually it’s a she) only appears as part of an ensemble, mixed in with the likes of kangaroos, camels and puffins. Not much of a showing.

24. Kangaroos
23. Llamas/Alpacas
22. Camels
21. Fish (all of them…there’s rarely a distinction)

20. Geese: Geese get plenty of attention in children’s books. But not necessarily by name. And that tends to create confusion. It’s not always clear what’s a goose and what’s a duck. Geese tend to blend into the background of your kid’s books. And when they are mentioned by name, it’s usually only as a means of furthering the plots of more prominent characters like a dog or a horse. Maybe I’m being too nitpicky with the poor geese. All I can tell you is this: When I ask my son, “What does the duck say?” he immediately responds with a “quack!” (or “kack”). When I ask him what a goose says … he gives me a blank look that roughly translates to, “Um…where are those building blocks again?”

19. Snakes
18. Whales
17. Deer
16. Frogs

15. Pigs: You would think these guys would be higher up on the list. Perhaps studies have shown that the pig noses and oinking sounds parents inevitably make when reading about swine actually frighten children. I could see that. Or maybe pigs are such filthy animals that they were deemed too unsavory for babies’ and toddlers’ eyes. Whatever the reason, “Babe” is the rare farm animal that doesn’t get a ton of ink in children’s books.

14. Ducks (dragged down by their association with geese)
13. Rabbits/Bunnies/Hares (though you could make the argument that “Bunny Rabbits” rank higher)
12. Zebras (the stripes are appealing to baby, but “Z’s” can be hard to say)
11. Giraffes (even harder to say)

10. Horses: “Neigh” doesn’t roll off the tongue the way “moo,” “woof” or “roar” do. And I’ve yet to encounter a children’s book in which a horse was the main character. But horses are everywhere, if not always fully noticed.

9. Elephants (the trunks are a big hit)
8. Cows (what pigs aspire to be)
7. Cats (my kid said “cat” before he said “Mama” or “Dada”)
6. Dogs (baby’s best friend)

5. Monkeys: Like fish, this is an all-encompassing term. Monkeys, gorillas, chimps, apes, orangutans—they’re all the same in children’s books. “Five Little Monkeys Jumping On the Bed” gets my kid going just as easily as “Good Night, Gorilla” and the chimps in “The Zoo.” You know why? Because monkeys embody every characteristic he holds dear: complete disregard for the rules, an unquenchable thirst for mischief, a knack for unintentionally inflicting bodily harm on himself and others, and an insatiable appetite for bananas.

4. Hippos (the muse of many a children’s-book author … the Edie Sedgwick to their Andy Warhol)

3. Lions (and…)
2. Tigers (and…)

…1. Bears: Oh my!

Yep, lions are not the King of the children’s-book jungle. Bears are far more deified. Authors contemplate what Brown Bears see and what Polar Bears hear, and devote an entire book (“Your Are My I Love You”) to examining the Papa Bear-Baby Bear relationship.

In “Each Peach Pear Plum,” three bears are portrayed as lovable protagonists despite “accidentally” firing their hunting rifles (twice!), including once in the general direction of a baby! In “The Big Hungry Bear,” the bear never actually appears on the page, and instead serves as a manipulative omnipresent narrator, bullying a poor mouse into sharing his hard-earned strawberry with him after having a near panic attack from the bear’s scare tactics. Bears will eat all your blueberries and blackberries (in “Jamberry”) and your sandwich (in, you guessed it, “The Bear Ate Your Sandwich”) without any handwringing or repercussions. It’s like they’re mob bosses, ruling by instilling fear rather than inspiring love. Even the authors are too scared to fuck with them.

That said, it makes sense that bears rule the animal kingdom in our children’s books. Their portly appearance makes them perfect for snuggling in a crib (after all, there are no Teddy Lions or Teddy Tigers). And that extra heft makes them more relatable to kids who still haven’t shed their baby fat. The authors may be honoring them out of fear, but to a 2-year-old, bears are soft, non-threatening, lovable creatures.

Being loved will get you a lot of attention in children’s books. Even more than being mocked.

*Note: I have not read every children’s book in existence. If I have left your kid’s favorite animal out of the rankings, I apologize. Maybe next year.

The best book for exploring and sharing nature with kids

My very favorite book for exploring and sharing nature with kids is “This Book Was a Tree: Ideas, Adventures, and Inspiration for Rediscovering the Natural World” by Marcie Chambers Cuff. It’s both a hands-on book of crafts and activities and a book of principles and ideas for reconnecting with the natural world.

My very favorite book for exploring and sharing nature with kids is “This Book Was a Tree: Ideas, Adventures, and Inspiration for Rediscovering the Natural World by Marcie Chambers Cuff.

It’s both a hands-on book of crafts and activities, as well as a book of principles and ideas for reconnecting with the natural world. It’s a book for budding scientists, before they even know what science is.

“You don’t need expensive new equipment and supplies to get to know the world; you need only to have an open mind that asks good questions.” – Marcie Chambers Cuff in “This Book Was a Tree”

Through the lens of nature, “This Book Was a Tree” encourages kids to “touch, collect, document, sketch, decode, analyze, experiment, unravel, interpret, compare, and reflect.” Each project is designed to spark an insight, illuminate a scientific principal, or teach a positive behavior.

Sample activities include making a pinhole camera, sketching maps, creating different types of terrariums, inspirations for what to look for when wandering, creating sundials (and using them to schedule a day of exploration), tips for getting dirty, building card-based eco-calendars, measuring natural patterns like tree rings, making natural bug lotions, building nests, creating habitats, guerrilla gardening and so much more.

“All life is an experiment. The more you make the better.” – Emerson


While this book is about nature, it isn’t anti-technology:

A funny thing happened on the way to the twenty-first century. In between uploading , replying to texts, friending and unfriending, listening to podcasts, and Googling, we all drifted off the trail. It’s a complicated story, since, in many ways, our complex networked lives have mostly been improved with high-tech devices and gadgets. But, in the end , technology has displaced our exposure to the natural world. 

I love how this book identifies kids as modern pioneers:

And now you— yes, you—are the modern pioneer. Not a leathery, backwoods deerskin-wearing salt pork and hominy sort of pioneer, or a lab-coat-wearing research type, but a strong-minded, clever, crafty, mudpie-making, fort-building pioneer.

“This Book Was a Tree” isn’t overtly a book about “saving” nature; rather, it’s about experiencing and learning about nature.

However, the truth is that we’ve never been more disconnected from nature, or more divorced from our surroundings. Around the earth, ecosystems are being converted into wastelands. Rather than preach or panic, “This Book Was a Tree” simplifies this reality into a practical coda:

“Just do the best you can with what you’ve been given and don’t try to do everything at once. Look around and identify a problem that needs solving, pick a few things to get done, and experiment with ecological alternatives. Every little bit helps.” – This Book Was A Tree

It’s more critical than ever that kids get outside, explore and learn about nature when they’re young. As “This Book Was a Tree” makes clear, authentic reconnection with the natural world comes via the most human pursuits of all: exploring, imagining, making and thinking.

This is a book to own. Get it on Amazon or Powell’s. Marcie shows you how to make seed bombs.

Author and sociologist Dalton Conley: You can’t recreate the feral childhood

Dalton Conley is a professor and sociologist at New York University and author of several books, including his most recent, “Parentology: Everything You Wanted to Know About the Science of Raising Kids But Were too Exhausted to Ask.” Freakonomics also posted a great Q&A between parents and Dalton, which you can read here.

Parent: Dalton Conley

Kids: daughter, E, 17; son, Yo, 15

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Parent Co: How do you describe the notion of “parentology?”

Dalton Conley: I guess I would say that it’s this idea of improvisational yet scientifically informed decisions in terms of parenting strategies. In other words, not relying on a single formula or tradition, like an ethnic or cultural or family tradition, and it’s not Doctor Spock “go with your gut,” necessarily. It’s the idea of being flexible and being adaptive to each kid and the specific issues that come up, but to do that by going to the science or literature and figuring out what it says that you should do.

Who was the first generation of parents to do it this way?

That’s a good question. Noone’s asked me that. So, let’s see, I don’t know. I think that always parents are just trying to figure out what to do, and what they’re told by parenting books has changed dramatically over the last hundred years. I think it reflects the time – I think there’s a reason why the 1960s produced Dr. Spock’s guide to parenting, which was trust your gut, everything will be okay, kids naturally develop just fine and you’re not going to screw them up forever. That’s the 60s ‘everything’s cool, let’s just be’ kind of ethos.

So maybe it’s that now we’re in the information age, and the age of Google Scholar, and science at anyone’s fingertips, the democratization of information, that a book like mine should come along and say, ‘no, that’s just too hippy-dippy to trust your gut on everything. There’s information and there are, for our particular time and place, better and worse answers and you should try to uncover those.’

I think I say in the book, I’m advocating this for particular outcomes, for a group of people who are very anxious about the future of their kids in a knowledge economy, where they see inequality rising and the competition increasing and the need for high-tech and intellectual skills really ratcheting up. It’s all meant to be a little bit humorous and laughing at myself, kind of thing, but I think that there’s a real, rational parental anxiety under all that given the way the economy is evolving and has been evolving.

Absolutely. So this is a method that you’re putting forth that parents can learn and follow in order to help produce children who will be competitive in the knowledge economy?

I wouldn’t say ‘learn and follow,’ maybe ‘learn from.’ At least to feel like they’re not alone in their anxieties and they’re not crazy when they don’t agree with 1970s-style parenting. That there’s this new backlash to, say, ‘oh, just give your kids Kool-Aid and send them out for the whole summer and let them do whatever they want.’ Whenever I hear (the argument) ‘we were feral kids, we turned out okay,’ I say, well, it’s not the 70s anymore.

We turned out okay in a much less globally competitive environment. We turned out okay in (a different) social environment of childhood. If you left your kids in the 1970s, maybe they’d play with matches, maybe they’d get into some trouble, there were definitely perils. It was more crime ridden, they were probably more likely to be killed or abducted or hit by a car, but the actual activities they would be doing – there was one TV in the house. My mom used to sometimes literally take the knob off the TV, so I had no choice. If I didn’t have TV, I had to read a book or make a fort or get into some other trouble.

But today, literally the landscape of technology is that kids’ default would be, if you let them do whatever they want, they would be on their computer all the time consuming video images and playing games. I think that most parents probably think that is not ideal for their kids, I certainly don’t. So you can’t recreate the feral childhood.

Maybe if you move to Vermont, like you did, and you cut off internet access and all that kind of stuff and send your kids out without a phone, but most parents aren’t doing that. And it’s pretty hard to do that. So I think that parents should go easy on themselves given the state of the technological landscape and the economy and so forth and say, ‘look, my desire for an academically gifted kid is totally rational, and more parental involvement is not crazy or irrational, it’s actually a very rational response.’

But I read somewhere that you also advise against the idea of the helicopter parent?

Well, I’m definitely more of a helicopter parent. There are certain things I’m totally intense about and all over and in their business, and certain things that I’m pretty relaxed about.

I’m way too focused on academic achievement and not enough involved in things like developing good non-academic work habits, like enforcing rules about chores and stuff like that. I really focused more on the academics at the expense of other things.

I’m really curious about that because, being a sociologist, you understand people and how they work. So if you’re not teaching them, do you expect that your kids will learn those skills elsewhere or that they’ll just be okay without them?

No, I’m at this point praying that they’re learning them elsewhere because I regret that I was so anxious about academics; that I was happier to be like their personal slave and do all the dishes and chores and everything so that I’d free up more time for them to do their homework or extra math or whatever. I think I went overboard.

The book is not meant to be a prescription, it’s meant to be more of a fun read, so I hope people see that – that I’m a little bit aware of how extreme or crazy my approach is. But that they still can see some things that they can take away from it.

Do you believe in family rituals of any kind – just normal practices that keep you close? I think that would be particularly tricky with two teenagers who probably have full lives outside of your family.

Close to my kids you mean? Well, I think Jennifer Senior’s book, “All Joy and No Fun,” really tackles this issue. She basically makes the argument that adolescence is difficult for the kids, sure, but it’s actually more difficult for the parents – especially this generation of parents.

Because we go from being totally involved in helicopter-y type ways to being pushed away. And that’s normal, but it feels like late adolescence is like going through a break-up or something.

So we’re experiencing the empty nest feeling way earlier than our parents did?

I don’t  know how much they experienced it because they weren’t as focused on their kids; it wasn’t as central a social bond. Back then parents talked about how ‘I love my kids, but I have to devote time to my marriage or to my friends or to my cousins – whoever.’

But now kids have so become the number one, two, and three priorities in parents’ lives that when the kids actually do, inevitably, need to carve out some freedom and push their parents away, which is, as we know, completely developmentally normal, it’s a really difficult experience for the parents.

The book kind of ends in early adolescence, so I’d have to write a whole separate book about teenagers. but I’m not sure if I could write it. I need to read one rather than write it.

I usually ask parents if they have any wisdom they’d like to share with other parents, but I think you already did that in your book. Maybe I could just ask if there’s an overriding theme to parenthood that’s presented itself to you in your own experience?

I guess I would say maybe it’s “trust but verify,” in the famous words of Ronald Reagan… Which is part Doctor Spock and part Mr. Spock. Trust your gut and know each kid is different – even two different siblings in the same family are going to have very different reactions and needs to different things you do. But you should also verify with observation and reading about the science of childhood development and so forth, and then be not afraid to revise your hypothesis and do a 180.

…There are answers out there in science, but there’s not a single answer. Part of the work is sifting through the various answers and coming together with a nuanced approach.

Review of UNBORED Games: Serious Fun for Everyone

UNBORED Games: Serious Fun for Everyone is more than an awesome activity book. It’s also a guidebook to creativity, adventure, and learning. It’s one of my very favorite books for kids and families.

One of the persistent (and often annoying) questions parents hear from our kids is “What should I do?” This book amply answers that question.

UNBORED Games is the second book in a series that began with UNBORED: The Essential Field Guide to Serious Fun (reviewed here). It’s described as the “best games book” ever, and I have to agree. There are more than seventy games featured in the book (including 50 new ones). 

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Read the UNBORED Games Manifesto

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Games are divided into four sections, each featuring a mix of high and low tech games, as well as active and sedentary games. The sections are:

PWNAGE, with clapping games, Highland games, Secret rules games, more.

Home Games, with game night games, board game hacks, apps to play with grownups, backyard games and more.

Game Changers, which encourage cooperation, team building and even activism.

Adventure Games, based around exploration, role-playing, and experimentation.

UNBORED Games has three levels of utility: it curates the best games around, it presents brand-new games, and it’s guided by an ethos.

That ethos is: “gaming is a whole culture for kids to explore.” To that end, UNBORED Games explains how kids can hack, extend and reinvent games for themselves. Fun, yes, but also increasingly critical skills in our culture and economy. It’s the only games book I know of with this point of view.

A bit of a confession: I’m never excited about family game night until we’re actually playing a game together. Then, of course, I love it. So, even though I love this book,  I’m not naturally a huge “games book” person. When I confessed this to authors Joshua and Elizabeth,  Josh had a brilliant suggestion: get snacks. Go for the snacks, stay for the game. It totally works.

This book is written for kids to read. In fact it has sections telling kids how to involve their parents and grandparents in games. But parents will really want to read it, too.



Joshua Glenn is cofounder of the influential web sites Significant Objects, Hilobrow, and Semionaut. He has authored and edited a number of books. He lives in Boston and has two sons. Follow Joshua on Twitter (as Hilobrow).

Elizabeth Foy Larsen was a member of the team that launched the awesome magazine Sassy.  Her writing on families has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Mother Jones, Daily Beast, and elsewhere. She lives in Minneapolis with two sons and a daughter.  Follow Elizabeth on Twitter.


For more information on UNBORED Games as well as the original UNBORED Book, visit Unbored.netConnect on Facebook at Facebook.com/unboredguide.

Look inside the book on Amazon.com. Get it there or direct from Bloomsbury Publishing.


Unbored: An Essential Guide to Serious Fun

From a series about our favorite books for parents.

Unbored: The Essential Field Guide to Serious Fun is billed as “the guide and activity book every modern kid needs.” It’s a fantastic resource, full of instructions, DIY advice and creative how-to guides designed to spark engagement with the wider world.

The book also goes beyond instruction, presenting activities in the context of history or culture. It includes trivia, lists, and interviews with leading thinkers.

Not all of the activities are strictly educational, or even strictly safe. In that way, “Unbored” has a welcome rebel spirit.

This book seems best suited for 9 – 12 year olds. Many of its activities are a bit advanced for my six year old, though she loves hearing about them. (Browsing the activities make great bedtime reading with younger kids.) Even for older kids, the book encourages grownups to participate.

The book looks and feels fantastic. It has bold typography and illustrations on every page. It’s divided into four big sections: You, Home, Society and (my fav) Adventure.

Activities include green chemistry experiments, classic science experiments, kitchen experiments, crafts and upcycling, board game hacking, spycraft, code-cracking, geocaching, skateboard repair, how to yarn bombing, stop-action movie-making and much more.

Check out the book’s awesome website, which is full of great activities, links and resources for further adventures. Here is the book’s Twitter page.

We’re looking forward to checking out the next book in the series “UNBORED Games: Serious Fun for Everyone