November 21, 2017

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Beyond Pinterest: Arts & Activities | Series Made Simple Fall 2014

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SMS1411-BK-Art

Projects for rainy days, party crafts, classroom activities: the books in this section have got you covered when it’s time to bust out the glue or bake some cupcakes. Crafts build artistic skills and encourage self-expression while giving kids a sense of accomplishment and letting them bond with others. Please pass the scissors! My team of testers appreciate craft books that offer readers both detailed instructions and an idea of what the project should look like; that have a consistent, easy-to-follow layout; and that give them a sense of autonomy. Not all the books here meet those criteria—avoid the heartbreak and frustration of failed crafts by following our advice!

Preschool to Grade 4

Bolte, Mari. Drawing Faces: A Step-by-Step Sketchbook. ISBN 9781491402849.

––––. Drawing Monsters: A Step-by-Step Sketchbook. ISBN 9781491402825.

––––. Drawing Pets: A Step-by-Step Sketchbook. ISBN 9781491402818.

––––. Drawing Vehicles: A Step-by-Step Sketchbook. ISBN 9781491402832.

ea vol: illus. by Lucy Makuc. 24p. (My First Sketchbook). further reading. websites. Capstone. 2014. lib. ed. $24.65.

Gr 2-4 –These adorably designed how-to-draw books guide readers to complete nine pictures per volume. Kids who learn by copying will get good results from these instructions, which take an assembly approach (“Draw a large bell shape. Draw three curved lines across the bell.”). Those who want to learn to draw so that they can create their own pictures will not get much out these books, however. Where other books show young artists how to break a subject down into basic shapes and then fine-tune and add detail, these titles focus on the lines that make up a picture. These are appealing and dynamic works for those seeking quick results, but they’re less than ideal for children looking to hone and develop their artistic skills.

Calver, Paul. Drawing. ISBN 9781477791158.

––––. Painting. ISBN 9781477791196.

Reynolds, Toby. Papercraft. ISBN 9781477791233.

––––. Printing. ISBN 9781477791271.

ea vol: 24p. (Mini Artist). further reading. glossary. illus. index. photos. websites. Windmill. 2014. lib. ed. $25.25.

Gr 1-3 –The authors walk young artists through the steps of creating figures and landscapes through nine very simple projects per volume. In Papercraft, ovals, circles, and triangles are layered to make fish, and in Printing, rectangular erasers press paint onto paper to look like city buildings. Details are added with pen. Photographs effectively show what each stage should look like, but there are no action shots: no hands showing crafters how to hold a brush or apply paint to a potato for printing. Materials used are commonplace, with some inventive reuse of household items (such as printing with bubble wrap). These are fine books to hand to budding artist, but the layering technique used so frequently in these volumes may prove frustrating when wet media is involved—watching paint dry is no joke for young crafters.

Issa, Joanna. I Can Make a Bunch of Flowers. ISBN 9781484604601.

––––. I Can Make a Mask. ISBN 9781 484604618.

––––. I Can Make a Monster. ISBN 9781 484604595.

––––. I Can Make a Truck. ISBN 9781 484604625.

ea vol: 24p. (What Can I Make Today?). further reading. glossary. index. photos. websites. Heinemann-Raintree. 2014. lib. ed. $21.99.

Gr 1-3 –New readers can work back and forth between simple instructional texts and large, detailed action photos as they construct one simple project per volume. Templates help ensure results that look like the picture. Mask and Flowers use common materials (paper, buttons, glue) and are by far more foolproof and more customizable than Truck, which calls for eight bottle tops in addition to straws and two boxes, each a specific size and shape. Monster may require the most adult assistance, as young artists cut and glue felt shapes onto a sock. The crafts are not the point here, though; rather, the emphasis is on little kids learning to read instructions and discover the magic process by which words turn into objects. Solid offerings for first-time crafters.

Laughlin, Kara L. Fun Things to Do with Egg Cartons. ISBN 9781476598963.

––––. Fun Things to Do with Paper Cups and Plates. ISBN 9781476598970.

Ventura, Marne. Fun Things to Do with Cardboard Tubes. ISBN 978-1-4765-9895-6.

––––. Fun Things to Do with Milk Jugs. ISBN 9781476598949.

ea vol: 32p. (10 Things to Do). further reading. photos. websites. Capstone. 2014. lib. ed. $26.65.

Gr 3-6 –Castoff packaging and tableware has never looked better. These books are notable for their clean, colorful design and sharp, attractively styled photos, all in a harmonious palette of colors that varies with every project. Ten crafts per volume include lots of interactive objects, such as games (memory, mancala, a marble run) and a few musical instruments (cardboard tube kazoo, paper plate banjo) along with decorative objects, toys, and gifts. Instructions are straightforward, with a low degree of difficulty. Readers are encouraged to customize their projects by experimenting with decoration and color. Since these crafts require no special skills and can be made with on-hand materials, many could be undertaken with little to no advance preparation, making them ideal for rainy days and spur-of-the-moment playdates. Best in this set is Egg Cartons, for the way the porous cardboard can be wetted and reshaped; less fun is Milk Jugs, because paint has trouble adhering to the plastic. Great jumping-off points for creative kids.

Lim, Annalees. 10-Minute Seasonal Crafts for Autumn. ISBN 9781477792148.

––––. 10-Minute Seasonal Crafts for Spring. ISBN 9781477792063.

––––. 10-Minute Seasonal Crafts for Summer. ISBN 9781477792100.

––––. 10-Minute Seasonal Crafts for Winter. ISBN 9781477792186.

ea vol: 24p. (10-Minute Seasonal Crafts). further reading. glossary. index. websites. Windmill. 2014. lib. ed. $25.25.

Gr 3-5 –Turn a dried orange slice into a festive ornament or small drink bottles into penguin bowling pins. Nine art projects, most made with found natural objects such as pine cones, pebbles, and leaves, encourage creativity using techniques that include gluing, printing, and tying twigs together. On the plus side, materials are easily available. On the minus, process photos are hemmed in by twig frames and overly ornamented design, making potentially useful details too small to see. Many of the activities fail to specify size and scale, leaving it up to crafters to experiment via trial and error. While it is true that these projects can be completed in 10 minutes, assembling the materials, cleaning up, and allowing for the projects to dry will stretch that out. These creative attempts fall flat.

McGee, Randel. Fun and Festive Fall Crafts: Leaf Rubbings, Dancing Scarecrows, and Pinecone Turkeys. ISBN 9780766043206. LC 2013039203.

––––. Fun and Festive Spring Crafts: Flower Puppets, Bunny Masks, and Mother’s Day Pop-up Cards. ISBN 9780766043183. LC 2013022079.

––––. Fun and Festive Summer Crafts: Tie-dyed Shirts, Bug Cages, and Sand Castles. ISBN 9780766043190. LC 2013028061.

––––. Fun and Festive Winter Crafts: Snow Globes, Groundhog Puppets, and Fairy Masks. ISBN 9780766043176. LC 2013022080.

ea vol: 48p. (Fun and Festive Crafts for the Seasons). bibliog. chart. further reading. illus. index. photos. Enslow. 2014. lib. ed. $25.27.

Gr 2-4 –Each of these slender volumes is introduced with a story about the season from Chinese, Hawaiian, Abenaki, or Greek tradition, followed by a scientific explanation and some information about holidays and typical activities. Unfortunately, the myth is the best part of the book. There are a few inventive crafts (a snowman rod puppet with a working mouth, baby birds made of modeling clay and clothespins), but most of the eight projects in each volume are old chestnuts (tie-dye, paper masks, pinecone turkey). Materials rely heavily on craft store purchases—craft foam, Styrofoam balls, modeling clay—and instructions, while verbose in places, gloss over details in others (“Sculpt a base for the snow globe from air-drying clay and let it harden.” Young crafters will need help copying and enlarging the templates provided for many projects. Though these crafts are lackluster overall, they might be good for classroom use.

Petelinsek, Kathleen. Crafting with Tissue Paper. ISBN 9781631377792.

––––. Crafting with Washi Tape. ISBN 9781631377785.

––––. Creating Pipe Cleaner Crafts. ISBN 9781631377846.

––––. Learning to Sew. ISBN 9781631377808.

––––. Making Clay Bead Crafts. ISBN 9781631377778.

––––. Making Jewelry with Rubber Bands. ISBN 9781631377815.

––––. Making Sock Puppets. ISBN 9781631377822.

––––. Modeling Clay Creations. ISBN 9781631377839.

ea vol: 32p. (How-To Library). further reading. glossary. index. websites. Cherry Lake. 2014. lib. ed. $28.50.

Gr 3-6 –Each of these charming books starts with some history and definitions, a page of information about materials, and, where applicable, instructions for making supplies (washi tape, modeling clay). Decorative or gift items make up the bulk of the six to eight projects per volume, with a few puppets and jewelry items for good measure. Directions are clearly written but illustrated with drawings, not photos, which will make it harder for crafters to check their progress against the images and may lead to some subpar results. Sidebars encourage experimentation, and a page at the end suggests ways to continue crafting or extend the projects from the book. Learning to Sew, Tissue Paper, and Modeling Clay include solid suggestions for developing skills that kids can use in further projects. The rest of the set, while attractive, bring little to the craft table.

Grades 5 & Up

Besel, Jen. Baking Bliss!: Baked Desserts to Make and Devour. ISBN 9781491408599.

––––. Sugarcoat It!: Desserts to Design, Decorate, and Devour. ISBN 9781491408612.

––––. Sweet Tooth!: No-Bake Desserts to Make and Devour. ISBN 9781491408605.

ea vol: 48p. (Custom Confections). further reading. glossary. photos. websites. Capstone. 2014. lib. ed. $31.32.

Gr 6 Up –Frozen pastry, prepared pie crusts, cake mixes, and melting candy are employed in projects (more than a dozen per volume) that emphasize craft over cooking. Some of these projects are incredibly easy (dip pretzel rods or cookies into melting candy, then decorate with sprinkles), while some require a high degree of artistic skill along with patience and a steady hand (layered cakes covered with rolled and cut fondant, homemade gel cake decorations). Beautifully designed, with mouthwatering images of finished projects and process photos where needed, these books are like real-world Pinterest boards. Some kids will like this skip-to-the-fun-part approach, but others will find the reliance on prepared or semi-prepared foods irksome—and, in truth, the finished desserts don’t taste as good as they would have had they been made from scratch.

Braun, Eric. Plan a Holiday Party. ISBN 9781467738347; ISBN 9781467747233. LC 2013041692.

––––. Plan an Outdoor Party. ISBN 9781467738330; ISBN 9781467747257. LC 2013041261.

Watson, Stephanie. Plan a Birthday Party. ISBN 9781467738354; ISBN 9781467747226. LC 2013041261.

––––. Plan a Sleepover Party. ISBN 9781467738323; ISBN 9781467747240. LC 2013037669.

ea vol: 32p. (Party Time!). ebook available. further reading. index. notes. photos. websites. Lerner. 2014. lib. ed. $26.00.

Gr 6-8 –Some kids would throw a party every weekend if they could, while others dread the very idea. Both types will get something out of this series: there are fresh themes, recipes, and activities for the veteran party animal and planning and scheduling checklists to reassure the more timid host. These authors have thought of everything for disaster-proofing a special occasion, from citronella candles for outdoor parties to a quiet room for early-to-bed types at sleepovers. And put that excitable dog in the basement! Parents will appreciate the emphasis on manners and consideration: each book includes advice on putting together a guest list and making sure nobody feels left out, as well as party rules, cleanup, and thank-you notes. Energetic design with lots of photos of diverse kids ensures wide appeal, and while super-duper-mega-exuberant language may have some kids stifling giggles, hey, it’s a party!

Kuskowski, Alex. Cool Crocheting for Kids: A Fun and Creative Introduction to Fiber Art. ISBN 9781624033063; ISBN 9781629683829.

––––. Cool Embroidery for Kids: A Fun and Creative Introduction to Fiber Art. ISBN 9781624033070; ISBN 9781629683836.

––––. Cool Knitting for Kids: A Fun and Creative Introduction to Fiber Art. ISBN 9781624033087; ISBN 9781629683843.

––––. Cool Needle Felting for Kids: A Fun and Creative Introduction to Fiber Art. ISBN 9781624033094; ISBN 9781629683850.

––––. Cool Punch Needle for Kids: A Fun and Creative Introduction to Fiber Art. ISBN 9781624033100; ISBN 9781629683867.

––––. Cool Sewing for Kids: A Fun and Creative Introduction to Fiber Art. ISBN 9781624033117; ISBN 9781629683874.

ea vol: 32p. (Cool Fiber Art). glossary. index. photos. websites. ABDO. 2014. lib. ed. $28.50. ebk. $28.50.

Gr 4-8 –Attractive projects and a clean, colorful page design will tempt readers to try out these traditional skills, which are making a comeback. While fiber arts do require an initial investment in tools and materials, those who master them will have gained the ability to apply what they have learned to other projects. However, skilled adult assistance will be needed, as techniques such as crochet, knitting, and sewing have a steep initial learning curve, and most of the projects are illustrated with just a few process photos and no diagrams. Those who already know the basics will enjoy making needle-felted sushi magnets and embroidered bookmarks, but libraries may wish to stock books with more detailed instructions for novices.

Owen, Ruth. Desert Animals. ISBN 9781 615339082.

––––. Grassland Animals. ISBN 9781 477792537.

––––. Jungle Animals. ISBN 9781477792384.

––––. Mountain Animals. ISBN 9781 477792575.

––––. Ocean Animals. ISBN 9781477792490.

––––. Polar Animals. ISBN 9781477792452.

ea vol: 32p. (Origami Safari). further reading. glossary. index. photos. websites. Windmill. 2014. lib. ed. $26.50.

Gr 4-6 –Even novice folders can achieve origami success as long as they pay close attention to the detailed steps in these books, which offer six critters per volume, ranging from the simple (tropical fish, parrot) to the challenging (lobster, panda). Additional information on the animals (where they live, what they eat, etc.) is included. Unobtrusive design with subtle textured backgrounds and thematic lower borders leaves lots of room for numerous photos of the work in progress, augmented with arrows and dotted fold lines. Close-ups of tricky folds help guide budding origamists through written instructions that eschew traditional origami jargon for simpler language. Some folds are used more than once with just the finishing details changed (fox and panda are the same). Within half an hour, a couple of industrious kids can populate a worktable with a paper zoo. Solid additions.

Turnbull, Stephanie. Cool Stuff to Bake. ISBN 9781625881861. LC 2013047510.

––––. Cool Stuff to Collect. ISBN 9781625881878. LC 2014002623.

––––. Cool Stuff to Grow. ISBN 9781625881885. LC 2013047371.

––––. Cool Stuff to Make with Paper. ISBN 9781625881892. LC 2013047372.

––––. Cool Stuff to Photograph. ISBN 9781625881908. LC 2013047370.

––––. Cool Stuff to Sew. ISBN 9781625881915. LC 2013050751.

ea vol: 32p. (Cool Stuff). Black Rabbit/Smart Apple Media. 2014. lib. ed. $28.50.

Gr 4-8 –Packed with useful tips and interesting projects, these attractive books introduce readers to new pastimes and take experienced hobbyists to the next level. Activities range from neat tricks to try on a whim, such as sprouting a sweet potato in a glass of water, to more involved projects, like creating a covered bulletin board to display a collection. Project instructions are thoughtfully illustrated using a mix of photos and diagrams. One chart shows crafters exactly how thread goes in and out of fabric in Cool Stuff to Sew, while a photo lets them assess whether their bread dough has been kneaded enough in Cool Stuff to Bake. The large images dominate busy but uncluttered page layouts in vibrant colors. Sidebars offer fun facts about science, art, and even history. Appealing and informative, these books are winners.


Refreshingly, publishers seem to have gotten the memo about the types of kids who like to do crafts—none of the books in this article betray even a subtle gender slant. Boys like making rubber-band bracelets just as much as girls do, and girls draw monsters as well as horses. Most of the books here are secondary purchases at best (see previous issues of Series Made Simple for some real prize-winners in this category). There are some exceptions: Lerner’s “Partytime” may fill a gap, as lots of kids crave guidance when throwing a party. If your collection is low on origami books, Windmill’s “Origami Safari” titles are perfectly serviceable. But the real stand-out is Black Rabbit/Smart Apple Media’s “Cool Stuff,” especially Photograph, Grow, and Make With Paper, which hit every mark.

This article was published in School Library Journal's November 2014 issue. Subscribe today and save up to 35% off the regular subscription rate.

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