By Amy L. Hatch
Ever wonder who came up with the clever concept behind your or your child’s favorite game?
One of those inventors might just be your next door neighbor if you live close to Gina Manola, a Champaign-Urbana mom who is the creator of several children’s games, most recently Notable Novelists, which will be featured this Saturday, May 12 at Art Mart Toys’ “Meet the Inventor” event.
We sat down with Manola, who is also the owner of CALICO, an award-winning,design studio located in Urbana.
Formerly the creative director of Galison and Mudpuppy Press, Manola developed successful products for the specialty and mass markets working with the leading children’s book illustrators, museums and licensed brands in the world — and her work has been honored by “100 Best Children’s Products” and “10 Best Socially Responsible Products.”
Q: Where did you get the idea to invent a card game? That’s a pretty creative and unique idea! What inspired you?
I’ve been developing and designing gifts, games and educational materials for kids since 1995 and thought it would be fun to try my hand at self-publishing. A card game is a relatively safe way to get into publishing because you aren’t dealing with complicated manufacturing materials and processes.
As a kid, I’d played “The Game of Authors” first developed in 1861 by Anne Abbott. When my son turned 8, I wanted to introduce the game to him. I was surprised when I found that it hadn’t been updated since I played it as a kid, and thought it was high time for a new literary based card game that focused on 20th century novelists. So I set out to create Notable Novelists with help from my husband, Nick Rudd and son, Christopher Townes Durbin.
Q: Have you always been interested in games?
I’ve always been invested in the value of play. Games create an alternative reality in which to explore new ways of thinking and experiencing life. They bring people together and create memories.
As a kid I played “Mystery Date”, “Sorry”, “Candy Land”, “Life”—pretty much all of the classic board games. I loved playing “Pit,” a game based on trading and bidding commodities. What I learned recently about Pit is that it was invented by Edgar Cayce, one of the most famous psychics of the 20th century. Game inventors come from all walks of life—Uno, probably one of the most popular card games of all time, was invented by a barber from Joliet, Ill.!
Q: Tell us about your games. How would you describe them to someone who has never seen them before?
“Notable Novelists”(for ages 12 and up) is a literary-based card game anyone can play. It’s a great way to familiarize yourself and your family with 20th century novelists while having fun. I like to say that you don’t have to be “book smart” to enjoy the game because the game play is simple and strategy based.
“Feed The Woozle” (for ages 3-6 ) and “Race To The Treasure” (ages 5 and up), published by Peaceable Kingdom, are both cooperative games where players work together against a common obstacle.
In a cooperative games, no one feels left out and everyone has fun. Learning how to work together and be respectful of each other is a really valuable activity for young children. They experience shared decision-making, they build self-esteem, they learn to share, to feel compassion, and to work as a team.
I’ve also launched an entire creative play brand that I’m really excited about called playPlay™ due in stores this June/July. The motto for these games is “Play • Create • Collaborate”.
playPlay™ is a unique line of creative play games designed to encourage creative and imaginative thinking in children ages 5 and up.You can visit the playPlay™ Facebook page to get a sneak peak at these games.
Q: You mentioned that your son, who is 11, helped you with Notable Novelists. How did the two of you collaborate?
Christopher would play test the game with me and give me feedback to the illustrations and packaging as they were being developed. When the giant semi-truck dropped off two huge palettes of finished games to our doorstep, Christopher helped with organizing the boxes and would prepare shipments to be sent out to specialty book and gift stores around the country. He was 9 at the time and he set up his own box-making business in the house and kept a tally of how many boxes he had made and a running tally of what his profits were. He’s always had an entrepreneurial streak!
Q: Why should families play games?
Spending time together playing, being creative, enjoying each other’s company while having fun—what’s not to love? Games provide a variety of opportunities and ways to do that. Many parents will share the very toys and games they loved as children with their own children.
Research has shown how developmentally important games are to children and learning and that play is critical to developing imagination. We all need to prioritize more time for play—both structured and unstructured in our lives, and our children’s lives.
Manola’s Notable Novelists is available at www.notablenovelists.com and locally at Wind, Water & Light Gallery and Art Mart and retails for $10.95 ”Feed The Woozle” and “Race To The Treasure” are available at www.peaceablekingdom.com and Art Mart and retails for $19.99 and $15.99. Don’t forget to stop by and see her at Art Mart from 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. on Saturday, May 12!
playPlay™ Games, available July 2012 from www.briarpatch.com and will retail for $19.99