Alphabet building blocks have no place in my memories of childhood. Can’t recall ever playing with them and certainly no one ever sat on the floor showing me how to spell out words with blocks. Though never a plaything in my home, they were around in other places and a vague scratch of recollection tells me a set of them rested on a table in the children’s section of the local library down on Laurel Street in long ago Baton Rouge.
Sometime around 1690 the English philosopher John Locke made the statement that dice and other playthings with letters on them teach children numbers and alphabet through play, making the business of learning to read a more enjoyable experience. You have to wonder if that’s what illustrator Christian Northeast had in mind when he created his XYZ Blocks for Fred & Friends. As the package insert says, here is a “different perspective on the ABCs of modern life.” A look through the full set of Fred & Friends XYZ Blocks leads one to think they were created with the children of Lady Gaga or Adam Lambert in mind. Apart from the letters of the alphabet and numbers, the Christian Northeast blocks include moods and illustrated words. To take just one example, the block illustrating the letter M also has U, meatloaf, underpants, mustache and uvula.
It’s the kind of Christmas gift you could expect from someone who understands your sense of humor. Word got out somehow that I would be thrilled with a set of the Christian Northeast XYZ Blocks, and I am; thrilled to the tips of my fingers. For sure there are youngsters who would enjoy the puzzle of figuring out labeled images of such as Afro, werewolf, vinyl and outhouse. For my part, the pleasure comes from admiring a modern and cleverly done twist on something that has been around for over a hundred years. After looking at each of the sixteen blocks I put them in a bowl on the coffee table for visitors to puzzle over—if nothing else, a heap of dazzling color in a combination of letters, numbers, words and images.
The photo below shows one side of the full set of sixteen. Going way beyond simple letters of the alphabet, the designer has included emotions, as well as words that at least lead to a degree of cultural literacy. Yard Sale? Graffiti? Corn Dog? Hats off to the designer, Christian Northeast.
Package insert that comes with the XYZ Blocks…