Cool Creations in 35 Pieces, by Sean Kenney (Henry Holt, Sept. 10, 2013), is exactly what the title (and subtitle) promise--it's a how-to book of Lego models you can build with (wait for it) just 35 pieces. The same pieces, used over and over, can make robots, spacecraft (I like the Space Shark), buildings, furniture and household objects (included in this category is the Iridium Q-45 Space Modulator, which made me smile--I think I need one), and more.
Sean Kenney is a Lego Master--he is a professional Lego artist who owns nearly 2 million pieces of Lego, makes ginormous Lego art, and has published several other Lego books for kids. So he knows whereof he speaks, design-wise, and the creations he illustrates in the book demonstrate this.
This book is both useful and inspiring. I don't think I'm alone in having a ginormous box of Lego bits, that are mostly unused. It's not that my boys don't still play with Lego, because they do; it's just that they mostly move the minifigures, engaged in epic fantasy adventures, through a blasted wasteland of Lego bits.
Sample of playroom floor, with bonus Walrus:
And this is just fine, but they don't spend much time thinking critically and creatively about what they can build. So this morning we tried this book.
The first, and most exciting, challenge, was to find the requisite 35 pieces (happily the book has a handy page with pictures of them all).
My son assured me that if we kept digging, we could find them all.
The interior of our Lego box, thousands of pieces not shown:
Lots of scrabbling and matching pieces to pictures later (which was rather fun), we had a complete set.
And my thirteen year old built one of the robots, and enjoyed doing so:
I am glad he was willing to play along, because his opinion as a nine-year veteran of Lego building is useful. He felt that the book was not just for beginners. Although the title suggests that it's an introduction to building with Lego, and it is just fine as such, in fact there aren't explicit instructions for every single thing in the book. So it offers a bit more of a challenge than one might think. That being said, the creations are not extraodinarily complicated, and of course only use, at most, 35 pieces...
My ten-year-old opined on the cuteness of many of the Lego robots and
animals, and was inspired by them to make a robot turtle, which he
declined to share.
Note: unless you are a long-time amasser of Legos, you might well not have the exact 35 pieces used in the book. If you are giving this book to a kid who is particular about having exactly what he or she is supposed to have, it might be wise to make sure the specific pieces will be available. You can order them individually, if you want to spend an extra bit of money just to be sure, and then you have a very nice present indeed.
On the other hand, you don't have to stick to the particular 35 pieces the author uses--if I were doing this for a Lego group at a library, I'd just give each kid 35 pieces of randomness, pass the book around for inspiration, and challenge them to see what they can do.
In short, I think this is a nice one for both the young entrant into the world of Lego, and one that sparks new creativity in the experienced builder. Don't make the mistake of thinking it's just for boys--although some boy favorites, like vehicles, are included, girls like making spaceships and aliens just fine, and, though it does feel a bit like falling into gender stereotypes, the section on household furnishings might well have appealed to young girl me lots.
At Sean Kenney's website, there's a gallery where kids can share photos of their own creations (for free). There's nothing there yet (since I'm writing this before the book has been published), but I bet it will be another handy source of inspiration.
Final answer: My boys don't want me to pass the book on to the library.
disclaimer: review copy received from the publisher.
This week's Non-fiction Monday is hosted by A Mom's Spare Time.