Category Archives: puzzles

Brain Candy: Fun Factoid Books

Is your copy of The Guinness Book of World Records falling apart from overuse?  Does the photograph of the Largest Forehead Inflation (wha?) fail to impress you because you’ve seen it so many times?  Have you read Ripley’s Believe It or Not so much, it has become all too easy to believe?  If so, here are some other middle-school friendly books that don’t need to be read cover-to-cover to be relished and enjoyed.

Pick Me Up by DK Publishing.  This one is new to our library, so I have only had a chance to peruse it lightly, but from what I can see, it is chock full of facts about just about everything, presented with loads of fun illustrations and engaging bits of text.  Entries include cross-referential links to other articles in the text, and part of the fun of reading this book is jumping from one place to another via these links.  (To write this blurb, I started reading through the book again, and I swear, I could spend all day with it and not get bored!  I did not know that there are 99 million sheep in Australia!  Or that the average American eats 230 sandwiches a year!  Or that Albert Einstein’s brain was 15% wider than the average human’s!)

Show Off: How to Do Absolutely Everything. One Step at a Time by Sarah Hines Stephens and Bethany Mann.  I would love to go back in time to when I was 10 and get this book for my birthday.  Instead, I’m going to have to buy it for my kid and get her to do the activities with me, which I suspect will be met with plenty of enthusiasm.  Show Off is full of step-by-step instructions for doing a wide variety of random things, such as:  mess with a computer (e.g., put opaque tape on the mouse censor); read palms; blow a nose bubble; fake a cheek piercing; make an exploding volcano; weave a friendship bracelet; make friends with a cat or dog; make fortune cookies; tailwhip a scooter; moonwalk; and tons of other fun stuff.

Do Not Open by John Farndon.  Full of mysteries, codes, illusions, interesting stories and anecdotes (some on the macabre side), all conveyed with a lively combination of text, charts, and a variety of colorful illustrations, this is just the sort of book to dive into on a rainy Saturday.  Like in Pick Me Up,  many entries include “links” to other, related parts of the text.  Students in my library have really enjoyed this one.

Other browsable titles to look for . . .

The Wicked History of the World by Terry Deary and Martin Brown and The Stunning Science of Everything: Science with the Squishy Bits Left In! by Nick Arnold and Tony De Saulles.  Our library copies of both of these titles are well worn.  Both are full of cartoon illustrations and all the gross facts and details behind the stories or facts.  Note:  These titles are not for the faint of heart; the descriptions of torture techniques in Wicked History truly made my stomach turn.  (Also note: I think the Wicked History one has been republished as Horrible History, but it appears to be the same book.)

For Girls Only: Everything Great about Being a Girl by Laura Dower and For Boys Only: The Biggest, Baddest Book Ever by Marc Aronson.  I will confess that I am not always keen on books that label themselves as for girls or for boys.  Why reinforce gender stereotypes like that?  But the truth is, many kids love these books (including my own, who recently spent an entire weekend immersed in For Girls Only), and these two are pretty good examples.  Both are full of trivia, advice, puzzles, facts, activities, etc., all conveyed with humor and wit.

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Fun for Future Engineers

Remember those marble run toys, where you put track segments together in various ways to create interesting paths for the marble?  Cuboro Webkit 2.0 is a fun web version of those toys.  I’ve only played with it a little so far, but I can see kids (and adults!) spending hours exploring the possibilities.  You can even create an account (for free) and save/share your tracks.

I recommend looking at some of the samples in the Track Gallery to get inspiration and/or if you need help figuring out how it works.

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The Mysterious Benedict Society: Mr. Benedict’s Book of Perplexing Puzzles, Elusive Enigmas, and Curious Conundrums by Trenton Lee Stewart

The Mysterious Benedict Society books by Trenton Lee Stewart have been a huge hit in my library for the last several years (at one point, a group of sixth grade girls even created their own “society” in honor of their love for the books), so I was excited to see this new book of puzzles arrive in our latest book shipment and immediately grabbed it to peruse.  I was not disappointed!  Mr. Benedict’s Book of Perplexing Puzzles, Elusive Enigmas, and Curious Conundrums is FUN!

The MBS series follows a small group of genius children through trials, tribulations, and some fabulous puzzle solving as they attempt to defeat the forces of evil.  One wonderful feature of the novels is that we, as readers, get to try to solve the brain teasers along with the kids, and the challenges often involve thinking outside the box.  When I introduced the first book to classes years ago, I started off each class by putting the chess problem (see * below!) up on the board and having them try to solve it.  From there, it was easy to get them excited about reading the book.  I can easily think of a number of kids off the top of my head who would love this slim book devoted almost entirely to brain teasers.

One thing I really appreciate about this book is that, while some of the puzzles are more challenging than others, and I had to peek at the solutions in the back a few times, they are all solvable and understandable for kids.  The wonderful illustrations by Diana Sudyka and descriptions of characters from the novels add some humor and whimsy as well.  My plan for my 5th grade classes this week is to give them some of the challenges to solve, and I suspect it will be a lot of fun for them, and for me!  I also suspect I will get a lot of holds on the book!

*From The Mysterious Benedict Society:  “The next page showed a picture of a chessboard, upon which all the pieces and pawns rested in their starting positions, except for a black pawn, which had advanced two spaces.  The question read: ‘According to the rules of chess, is this position possible?’  Reynie studied the board a moment, scratched his head, and wrote down his answer: YES.”  Reynie is correct.  Can you figure out why/how?

P.S.  I am also going to possibly give out this old challenge that I remember doing when I was a kid of about middle school age!

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