STORIES TO SOLVE by George Shannon/Peter Sis

Stories to Solve is a book for family fun around the campfire or on the couch in quarantine. It’s a collection of 15 folktales from around the world which George Shannon has rewritten as puzzles for the readers to solve. It’s fascinating to see where different people’s minds go, and to notice that sometimes the youngest family members have the most innovative solutions. If your family likes this collaborative experience, you’ll be happy to hear there are two other books in the series.


My personal favorite in this collection is The Cleverest Son. The set-up is that an old father is dying and trying to figure out which of his three sons should inherit his cabin and farm. The criterion he lands on, as the title suggests, is creative intelligence. Each son is given 2 coins and told he must buy something that can fill the room. The one who can achieve this goal is the one who will get everything the old man owns. The eldest son buys something and fails. Same for the second son. Then the youngest pulls from his pocket the two things he purchased and succeeds in filling the room. The question is: What did he buy, and with what did he fill the room?

Third graders in the fall are in wildly different places in terms of thinking abstractly about this problem. Some kids will be able to come up with the idea that air or sound are “things” that could fill a room. But then they tend to need help in working out what the two pocket-sized objects could be. This is the point where it becomes a fun party game with people riffing off each others’ ideas. I won’t divulge what the youngest boy bought; I will tell you that I’ve heard an excellent case for a perfume vial and stopper. And every now and then someone is sure he filled the room with love. “Ooh, yes, cool idea! So what might the two things be that he bought?” A pen and a card. (Wouldn’t the Hallmark company be happy!)