Sunday, July 26, 2009

The Chore Board: A Helping-Around-The-House Game

By Sarah Malarkey and illustrated by J.otto Siebold

Chronicle Books, 2009

$14.99, all ages

Who would have thought a chore board could be as exciting as Candy Land? But when our boys spotted it in the mail, they couldn't ask to play it faster.

Folded out on the refrigerator door, the magnetic game had all three (ages 5, 7 and 10) hopping excitedly and asking to start chores that day. I couldn't help feel like I was in my own fantasy land and wanted to hop along with them.

Siebold's magical mix of primary colors and quirky play pieces, ranging from Dusty (the Pigpen of the group) to Count Von Shopvac baring fangs in his cleaner nozzle, had our chore slackers fixing their beds and folding clothes in record time. In less than two weeks, they'd moved all 29 spaces (each space counts for a chore) without one harumph.

Sure, there are no pictures of gumdrops or lollypops to tantalize, but as the kids wind their play pieces around the serpentining board they find fun challenges they can't resist. Each time the course loops back on itself, players must choose whether to stay on course or jump ahead by doing two chores in an hour to avoid dirty places, such as The Forest of Messy Clothes. (So focused on the challenge, they don't seem to notice that they gain only one space by doing two chores fast and what a delight to watch them scurry around the house getting those two chores done. Our rule is that they have to do quality work -- no wadding up Mom's fine washables -- and it's fascinating to see these fairly messy fellows show such attention to detail.)

Also spread out through the game are three "Answer the Spinks!" spaces, where sit sink faucets with bodies of a lion and the headdresses of a king. To move ahead, players have to correctly answer a question that challenges their brain, anything from a short spelling quiz to a science question that takes a few minutes to figure out. If parents are stumped on what to ask, Malarkey gives a short list of examples in an instruction booklet that comes with the game.

Once 29 chores are completed (26 if all detours are taken), players reach the last space, the "Totally Clean" castle and receive a reward they helped choose before the game began. In our house of boys, the reward each time is a stipend for saving for a Lego. But curiously the reward is only part of what drives them ahead. Unlike the weekday lists we used to tape on their bedroom doors, The Chore Board doesn't feel forced upon them. Everyone works at their own pace, no one goes backward and everyone eventually wins the game -- including parents if they choose to play. When kids see how fast moms and dads move along the board, they realize just how much their folks do around the house. (And the best part: parents help select their own reward, like a quiet hour or two to read in their master bedroom -- no knocking at the door allowed. Now that's decadence.)

Worth every cent, The Chore Board gets kids motivated to do something they hate to do and makes parents giddy in a way only parents can appreciate. This is one publishing gem parents will be excited to share with their friends with kids.

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