Missouri’s Author’s Book ‘Family Fun and Games’ Lives On

Posted November 29th, 2018

I interviewed Missouri author Ellen Gray Massey in December 2001, about this book, “Family Fun and Games.” Gray spent a lifetime documenting tales of the Ozarks and passed away a few years ago. I am forever grateful for having met her and for learning from her about the importance of family, history and life in the Ozarks. ~BB

When Junior gets his new video game this year from Santa Claus, he might be able to include a cousin or two in front of the screen with him to play it—that is, if you bought enough controllers so the kids can all play “shoot ‘em up” and “zap ‘em down” games on Christmas Day.

It wasn’t so long ago that entire families played games together when they reunited for visits on holidays. A few folks might remember “Mother May I?” or “Simon Says,” but I’ll wager not very many people can even think of games to play with the kids, the type that don’t require gadgets, boards, or big plastic sheets with colored dots.

“Family Fun and Games”

Award-winning author Ellen Gray Massey, a former English teacher who lives and writes in Lebanon, and her sister, Carolyn Gray Thornton, a columnist and author from Nevada, Mo., put their heads together and recorded 100 games for children of all ages to play. The book, which was recently published by Skyward Publishing, is titled “Family Fun and Games.”

Fun Family games book

Massey was editor of the successful “Bittersweet, the Ozark Quarterly” series of books written by students at Lebanon High School in the 1970’s, and she and her sister grew up in a family that played games. Their parents, Chester and Pearl Gray, taught most of the games to them. In fact, the women claim to have played all the games in the book “many, many times.” 

Massey said, “That was the criteria for putting them [the games] in the book. We used only those that have been successful.” She added, “In addition to playing them with our family, we have led them in 4-H Clubs, Scouts, church groups, school groups, women’s clubs, Elderhostel classes and other community groups.”

Ellen Gray Massey

Ellen Gray Massey

According to Massey, the sisters actually had more games than they could squeeze into the pages of the book. Today, they enjoy playing several of these games at family reunions on the farm, “the Wayside,” near Nevada. Massey said more than 80 family members usually return to the farm where “we spend half the time playing games.”

One of her favorite games is called “Go Sheepie Beat It.” Otherwise known as “Run Sheep, Run,” the game is described by Massey as “a complicated hide ‘n seek game using teams with captains.” Massey says that not all participants have to run, so older folks and small children can still play.

A game that Massey and Thornton play with Thornton’s great-granddaughters is called “Hide the Thimble.” Often referred to as “I Spy,” this game begins when players enter a room where a thimble has been hidden. When someone finds the thimble, he says, “I Spy,” and then sits down without giving away the thimble’s location. 

The hider of the thimble tells the participants whether they are close or far away from it, by using “hot” and “cold” descriptions. The first one to spot the thimble is the hider in the next round. The authors suggest pairing little children with an older child or adult to play the game, so that the little ones can play, too. 

Several games in the book might be played in the car on a trip. One game, “I Am Somebody,” calls for creativity and the formulation of questions that can be answered only by a “yes” or “no.” This game might be adapted for the holidays, using Christmas characters, personalities, etc.

Many of the games may be adapted to fit themes. The directions for the games are easy to follow and well described. But, this book is not only for families. Teachers will enjoy having this useful reference book available on days when weather forces antsy children to stay inside at recess time. 

Massey, a literary pioneer in Ozarks folklore, stressed the importance of playing games with our children. She said, “They provide a fun time for parents and children to be together. Each learns more about the other as they work through the games.”

She added that playing games “cements family relationship and provides memories that last a life time.”

This book and other books by Massey and Thornton may be purchased online at Amazon

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