Book Review | Once Upon an Alphabet by Oliver Jeffers

I was visiting the library with a writing pal of mine when I saw this alphabet book. There were three things about it that made me want to bring it home, but we’ll get to those in a minute.

9780399167911Once Upon an Alphabet is a different type of alphabet book. Instead of the traditional “A is for Apple” book that gives each letter a page and employs a simple rhyming structure, Oliver Jeffers’ contribution to the genre is a book of flash fiction stories. Being a sucker for flash fiction, I’m predisposed to like this book.

Okay, the three reasons that made me want to bring it home are these:

  • It is a hefty book. It literally stands out among the other books on the shelf because of its size. Once Upon an Alphabet is noticeably larger and thicker than other books. Simply from an economic point of view, you’d get your money’s worth out of it.
  • It is gorgeously illustrated. Jeffers has a simple style that plays well with his short story format. You may recognize the illustration style due to his other, more popular book, The Day the Crayons Quit. Good stuff.
  • It is self-referential. Each story showcases a different letter of the alphabet and most of the stories stand alone, but not all of them. By referencing stories from the early letters in the later letters, Jeffers creates a feeling of being on the inside of an inside joke. Readers who skip ahead to the late letters won’t get it, and that’s the point.

So maybe the next time you are at the library or indie bookstore, you could ask them about Once Upon an Alphabet.


I am out of touch with the cool music scene.

kongos_come_with_me_nowSince the death of Grooveshark, I’ve returned to Pandora. The thing I miss most about Grooveshark is the control I had over my playlist. On the other hand, by listening to Pandora, I am introduced to new and potentially awesome music. That’s just what happened the other day when I heard “Come with Me Now” by Kongos.

Unfortunately, Pandora doesn’t allow you to hit the repeat button on a song if you want to hear it again, so I hopped over to YouTube and searched for the song. I wasn’t sure if I was going to find anything or not. I mean, I just discovered the song, so what were the chances that anyone else had heard the song?

When I saw the number of video views, I discovered just how disconnected I am from pop culture. Something I thought was new already had over 33 million views.

Here’s the video in case you’d like to see it too, but chances are good that you already have.

Thinking back, I wondered if I had ever been on the ground floor of some pop culture movement. I came up with only one instance, and it is rather telling.

Before it blew up, I was one of the first hundred or so people to watch the PBS Mister Rogers Remix.

Does that make me even less cool? Probably to some. But Mister Rogers is still pretty cool in my book.

Friday 5 | Click-worthy Links

Wireless Computer Mouse with Wheel

Here are 5 more places online worth checking out:

  1. I feel like the story of this art thief should be some kind of short film.
  2. I’m traveling next week, and I’m super glad that it is domestically. I’d hate to have to remember all of the international ways to offend people.
  3. In case you were thinking that the Vikings weren’t hardcore enough, here’s some evidence to the contrary.
  4. George Orwell’s book 1984 is one of my favorite books of all time. Here’s another thought provoking piece by Orwell, but this time on beggars. I’m not saying I agree with him, but it certainly makes me think.
  5. This one is a guilty pleasure. One of my jobs at work is stick verses onto inspirational backgrounds for use on social media. I can appreciate that the Bible has a lot of not-friendly bits in it. Maybe we SHOULD be putting those on mugs and on social media too. What do you think?



mosquitoIt is summer. You can tell that in Michigan because there’s construction everywhere and the bugs are merrily biting at any exposed flesh.

As we picked up the kids from Grandma and Grandpa’s house after work the other day, my wife noticed that my eldest daughter had made a few mosquito-related blood donations from her leg. Seeing that such bites garnered our attention and sympathy, the itchiness of the bites increased to where my daughter insisted that we put on some anti-itch cream like Grandma had done. So before heading home, we smeared a bit of cream on the bug bites, and that held things at bay for a while.

Unfortunately, the itchiness returned at bedtime. In this way, the itchiness seemed to be a bit opportunistic, as bedtime would be delayed while we searched our cupboards and medicine cabinets for anti-itch cream like Grandma had. I suspected that the bites weren’t really as itchy as my daughter made them out to be, so I told her about the best itch in the world: Placebo.

“Placebo is the best,” I said.

“For itchy bug bites?” queried my daughter.

“For lots of things,” I responded. “Doctors have been using it to treat all kinds of things for years and years. I think this will help you feel a lot better.”

So my wife went into the other room and squirted a little hand lotion into her palm. Once the lotion was administered, it was time for bed.

Would you like to guess how effective it was? We haven’t had to reapply it since.

Nanoblock Review | The Micro Machines of the Lego World

Back in the days of my youth, I collected and played with Micro Machines. They are some of the few toys (aside from my Lego collection) that I retained into adulthood. For those who don’t know what I’m talking about, Micro Machines are miniaturized versions of popular vehicles about as big as your thumbnail, much smaller than Hot Wheels or Matchbox cars which are scale models about as big as your thumb.

But I’m not here to talk about Micro Machines. I’m going to talk about Nanoblocks. I was just setting up the comparison to say that Nanoblocks are to Micro Machines what Nanoblocks are to Lego.nanoblock_space_shuttle

Super teeny tiny.

Anyway, a couple of weeks ago my dad called me up to ask for my opinion. He runs a hobby shop in Grand Rapids, Michigan and he was curious whether he should stock Nanoblocks or not. So he handed me this set and asked me to put it together.

On a side note, ever since seeing the film “Big” with Tom Hanks, I have harbored a dream of being a toy tester. I jumped at the opportunity. (Not literally; I’m not an attractive jumper.)

Here are my thoughts:

In comparing it to Lego sets of comparable box size and price, Nanoblock sets have about 10 times more pieces. That is both a blessing and a curse. It is awesome because the more pieces you have, the more options for customization you have. So once you’ve built the set once, you can take it apart and build a bunch of other stuff from your imagination from the same set of pieces.

The downside is that if you drop a piece, you may not find it. Never attempt to build a set on a thick carpet. You might as well just open the package and dump the little pieces into your vacuum cleaner.

The sets take a bit more desk space while building, but less when the set is finished. When you set out to build, it is a good idea to clear about two square feet for sorting little pieces. When you open the box, the pieces are contained within several bags. Sadly, the bags are not split in a logical way between steps or sections (e.g. the space shuttle, the booster rockets, the launch pad), so you end up opening all of the bags and then you have to keep track of 500 little pieces.

They take time to assemble, especially if you have fat, sausage fingers like me. To give you an idea of how long it can take to build one of these sets, I spent about an hour or so in building the shuttle, tank, and booster rockets over the course of three lunch hours. I haven’t even started on the launch pad yet. People with more nimble fingers than mine would probably have an easier time of it, however. If you aren’t able to finish a set in one sitting, be sure to invest in a resealable bag to store the pieces.

The instructions are less of a step-by-step guide and more of an exploded view of the different layers of each model part. This took me a while to figure out because I am used to the Lego instruction books that dedicate a page each to adding one or two pieces at a time. The Nanoblock instructions take up less room, and though it was an adjustment, it didn’t take long to figure out.

They make good desk art. Where Lego sets are primarily aimed at a younger audience (I recognize that in spite of my love for them, I am not their target), Nanoblocks seem to be aiming at an older crowd. In fact, I’d be willing to bet that most of these sets will end up on some professional’s desk instead of in a youngster’s toy box, that is, if they don’t end up in the vacuum cleaner first.

The overall score:

On a scale of 1 to 10 where 1 is stepping a Lego and 10 is completing the coolest Lego set ever, I’d rate the Nanoblock experience as a 7. It was a challenge and rewarding to build. I’m happy to have the completed set on my desk. And if I ever want to break down my set, I know that I could build a number of other things with the 500+ pieces (instead of limited number of things that you can build from a single Lego set).

This is part of the set I built in comparison to a penny.

This is part of the set I built in comparison to a penny.

Friday 5 | Click-worthy Links

Wireless Computer Mouse with Wheel

Here are 5 more places online worth checking out:

  1. Will your self-driving car be programmed to kill you? This is a great article on a classic ethical dilemma that plays out in real-life situations.
  2. Someday, I’m going to take my family camping. When that happens, I’m going to want to refer back to this link.
  3. Neil Gaiman’s American Gods is coming to the small screen.
  4. Lego is looking into cleaning up their production process. I don’t know how I feel about biodegradable Lego bricks, but I guess it is good for the Earth, so I guess that’s good for me since I live here.
  5. It would be nice to think that decisions could be made based on what is best for the majority of the people instead of well-connected lobbyists, but that’s just my two cents about it.