Monday, December 29, 2008

Review: Alphabet Alley

A couple of years ago, my children were invited to a birthday party for a boy whose family we're not particularly close with. I have the feeling that this family would like to be in what we shall refer to as the Circle of Trust. You know ... my kids sleep over at your house, yours are comfortable enough at my place to go digging through the fridge looking for their own snacks. That's the Suburban Circle of Trust, folks.

However, some of the decisions I've seen said family make over the years have left me pretty well aware of the fact that I'd eat bees before I ever left one of my children in their care. And this is a pretty serious assertion, guys, because bee stings put me in a lovely state of anaphylactic shock. So you can see how not into this family I am.

But this family is Christian. I've heard them profess, I've seen them make overtures and really, I think they're doing the best that they can muster under their own power. They believe. They're just losing something in the translation, if you know what I mean.

I've taken different tracks with this family over the years. While I wish sometimes that I could write them off, I know that that's not what Jesus has in mind. I believe that the Lord calls us to build up our brothers and sisters in Christ, and I've tried to do that. But, being wise as a serpent, I have finagled to leave my little ones out of it. The relationship is strictly between the adults. And that's the way I like it.

Then this birthday invitation came around.

And I was flummoxed. What to get this little boy? The little bit that I knew about him didn't lend itself to the kinds of gifts I'd get for my own children. I cast around for something we had in common, finally landing on a common thread: faith.

O.k. Faith. But how do you give a child a faith-centered gift? You go to a Christian bookstore or website, of course. And this was how I originally stumbled on Alphabet Alley. I'll be honest with you: I am not a huge fan of mega-stores/mega-sites. But hey, a consumer has to do what a consumer has to do from time to time. The best that conscious purchasers can do from time to time when utilizing a box store is to at least support a mom and pop operation in the process. And that's essentially what Alphabet Alley is: a family business that markets products through larger chain stores.

There are lots and lots of Christian-themed products out there, and the majority of them are not anything I'd really want to bring home. Is it just me, or does it seem like slapping a cartoon version of Noah on a retread game or toy is supposed to make it more palatable to Christians? Unfortunately, Alphabet Alley does plenty of this, too. But at least their products stand up to wear and tear. The workmanship and quality of materials is by far among the best I've seen on the shelves of our local Christian outfitter, which plies more than its share of plastic, dollar-store worthy Noah's Ark playthings.

Personally, I think the best of Alphabet Alley's offerings are aimed at the preschool set. The card games are a special favorite; the cards are large enough for little hands and not printed in those jarring, playschool colors that make your eyes hurt. As noted, they haven't disintegrated under constant use, either.

Are you wondering what I got for that boy I mentioned earlier? A Memory-style game. Yeah, I know he probably had four of them already, but frankly, it was a Veggie Tales movie year and Larry and Bob were chasing me out of the store. Not that I have a problem with Larry and Bob ...

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