During the summer of 2005, Steve J. Van Wagenen (BA ’96, MBA ’98) hurt his back. But, his sons still wanted to play with their dad. The easy solution was to build with Legos. However, VanWagenen wanted to do more than build randomly; he wanted to depict something. He thought of the Book of Mormon.
“Our first scene was to show Nephi retrieving the brass plates. My sons made Laban a man with an eye-patch. The original idea was to make a stop-motion movie, but time made it impractical,” Van Wagenen says.
After that an idea emerged: the Van Wagenen family identified 26 spiritual stories from the Book of Mormon. They illustrated each scene with Legos and created a book, including scripture verses to teach the spiritual principles.
It wasn’t always easy. “While creating the Tree of Life story, we had to figure out how to build a great and spacious building without a foundation,” he says. “We crafted it and attached it on top of a staircase.”
The family would talk about the stories as they built them. “My biggest concern is that somebody would think that we were making light of the scriptures. That is the furthest thing from what I want to do,” he says. “This could be something my sons could remember because we built these stories.”
Brick of Mormon Stories was published in 2008 after Van Wagenen self-edited the project. He also constructed the website (brickofmormon.com) and located a publisher. The entire enterprise was family-driven. Now, all proceeds of the book go to the sons’ missionary funds. Taylor Van Wagenen (the oldest) is preparing mission papers and will have his entire mission paid by book.
“Some people have emailed to talk about their experiences. Some families have had a really hard time doing scripture study, but because it was Lego-themed, the children would give it a chance. We have especially heard back from parents whose children have special needs, but have been able to study scriptures for the first time because this was relatable. Looking back, it was an inspiration to do this.”
Some Van Wagenen boys were too young to work on the original. In 2014, they published The Brick of Mormon Church History, a Lego-illustrated early Latter-day Saint history. This involved the four oldest: Taylor, Matthew, Caden, and Spencer.
This book expanded on the concept, still featuring Lego scenes and text, but added discussion questions for families and “character building blocks,” or Christ-like characteristics demonstrated within the story.
“My favorite part is the story about how the Van Wagenens became part of the Church. I hope that because my sons built it, they remember their own heritage,” he says.
In the end, Brick of Mormon was about likening the scriptures unto themselves. “How do you accomplish this? It has be something to which you already relate. If I have the scriptures and Legos as the medium, then I am likening the scriptures to me.”
Editor’s Note: To see the books for yourself, visit the website at www.BrickofMormon.com