March 24, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

Snazzy New Crafts, from Beadmaking to Beekeeping | Series Made Simple

Get the latest SLJ reviews every month, subscribe today and save up to 35%.


Crafts, am I right? Skinny, expensive books that offer yet another set of instructions for decorating yet another pencil cup. Probably not high on your list when making purchasing decisions. But what if you were offered a series of books that identify apps and other programs that kids can use to streamline their creative process and make presentations? How about a set of books featuring crafts specifically aimed at boys? Would you consider a series that shows kids how to create and maintain their own food sources? And not just gardens—we’re talking bees and chickens! Not that this section has fully abandoned glitter and salt dough—my kitchen table bears the hot glue scars of extensive field testing—but you will find some interesting and innovative choices in the 700s section this spring.

Preschool to Grade 4

Colson, Mary. Get Filming! ISBN 9781 410962652; ISBN 9781410962706. LC 2013017425.

––––. Get Inventing! ISBN 9781410962645; ISBN 9781410962690. LC 2013017425.

Guillain, Charlotte. Get Drawing! ISBN 9781410962621; ISBN 9781410962676. LC 2013017422.

––––. Get Writing! ISBN 9781410962638; ISBN 9781410962683. LC 2013017423.

ea vol: 32p. (Dream It, Do It! Series). further reading. glossary. index. photos. websites. Heinemann-Raintree. 2014. lib. ed. $29.32. pap. $7.99.

Gr 2-5 –What does it take to turn a daydream, an idea, or a vision into a tangible creative product? To shake a story or an image out of the brain and get it down on paper? The books in this series give kids realistic and manageable activities and exercises for initiating a project, getting past common creative barriers, and sharing their output with family and friends. Advice is given in clear, simple language, with lots of action prompts: “Try not to use the same words all the time. Write down any great new words you hear in your notebook.” However, the page design, which mimics a scrapbook (torn edges, tape, doodled dots), is cluttered and distracting. Similarly, stock photos and illustrations in a variety of styles make the books look confusing—why is there a picture of Voldemort in a book about student filmmaking? Each book closes with step-by-step instructions for an activity that will send readers on their way inspired.

Doudna, Kelly. Super Simple Ice Projects: Fun and Easy Crafts Inspired by Nature. ISBN 9781624030789; ISBN 9781624019258. LC 2013022900.

––––. Super Simple Leaf Projects: Fun and Easy Crafts Inspired by Nature. ISBN 9781624030796; ISBN 9781624019265. LC 2013022898.

––––. Super Simple Pinecone Projects: Fun and Easy Crafts Inspired by Nature. ISBN 9781624030802; ISBN 9781624019272. LC 2013022899.

––––. Super Simple Pressed Flower Projects: Fun and Easy Crafts Inspired by Nature. ISBN 9781624030819; ISBN 9781624019289. LC 2013022901.

––––. Super Simple Seashell Projects: Fun and Easy Crafts Inspired by Nature. ISBN 9781624030826; ISBN 9781624019296. LC 2013022904.

––––. Super Simple Twig Projects: Fun and Easy Crafts Inspired by Nature. ISBN 9781624030833; ISBN 9781624019302. LC 2013022905.

ea vol: 32p. (Super Simple Nature Crafts Series). glossary. photos. ABDO. 2014. lib. ed. $27.07. ebk. $18.95.

Gr 3-6 –Each volume of this attractive series features seven to nine projects, some of them familiar (twig picture frame, seashell mobile) and some unexpected (tea light holders made of ice). A design that incorporates lots of white space and an earthy palette makes the simple instructions in these books easy to read and follow. Some trial and error may be necessary with projects such as the hollow lantern from Ice Projects, but luckily the materials needed in these crafts are readily available. Many of the books in this series teach a basic technique or two (flower pressing, preserving leaves with glycerin) and then build several crafts based on that technique. Variations and embellishments are suggested, encouraging readers to experiment with their own ideas. The Ice, Pinecone, and Leaf books are the best in this series, while the others, though good looking and simple to use, offer nothing essentially new.

Peterson, Megan Cooley. Kid Style: Boss Backpacks for You! ISBN 9781476539690. LC 2013035762.

––––. Kid Style: Cool Clothes for You! ISBN 9781476539713. LC 2013035764.

––––. Kid Style: Sweet Shoes for You! ISBN 9781476539683. LC 2013035765.

––––. Kid Style: Rockin’ Bedrooms for You! ISBN 9781476539706. LC 2013035762.

ea vol: ed. by Gail Saunders-Smith. 24p. (Make It Mine Series). ebook available. further reading. glossary. index. photos. websites. Capstone. 2014. lib. ed. $24.65.

Gr 1-3 –Very young crafters get the opportunity to express themselves with the projects in these books, each of which features five or six simple activities and one more complicated one. Whether they are drizzling paint on a backpack or creating custom shoelaces out of an old T-shirt, kids will be experimenting with materials and techniques, with lots of room for personalization. Extra-large photographs of a diverse group of children working on their crafts and modeling the finished products lend credibility and emphasize the attainability of the results. Instructions are easy to follow and are flexible enough that occasional spills or slipups can be incorporated or camouflaged. Most materials will be readily available at home, although projects that involve decorating an existing object (pillowcase, switchplate, pair of shoes, etc.) may prompt a quick trip to the store. Satisfying crafts that emphasize creativity over complicated process.

Riggs, Kate. Drums. ISBN 9781608183661. LC 2013009493.

––––. Flute. ISBN 9781608183678. LC 2013009494.

––––. Guitar. ISBN 9781608183685. LC 2013009495.

––––. Piano. ISBN 9781608183692. LC 2013009498.

––––. Trumpet. ISBN 9781608183708. LC 2013009499.

––––. Violin. ISBN 9781608183715. LC 2013009500.

ea vol: 24p. (Making Music Series). bibliog. further reading. glossary. illus. index. photos. websites. Creative Company. 2014. lib. ed. $18.95.

Gr 1-5 –Everything about these books, each highlighting a single type of instrument, is beautiful. Poetic language describes the imagery each instrument’s sound evokes (“Rumbling thunder. Waves crashing against rocks.”), while well-composed photographs of details or performers take up the entirety of every facing page. Simple, declarative sentences place the instrument within its family, describe its physical aspects, and break down the parts of the instrument. Readers will learn the mechanism by which the instrument is played and creates sound and meet a musician (e.g., Elton John in Piano, David Gilmour in Guitar). A page of history highlights a precursor or early example, such as the dizi, a bamboo flute from China, or an early European instrument such as the pianoforte. Brief but well-edited back matter (e.g., a YouTube video of James Galway demonstrating embouchure in Flute) provides fascinating further exploration.

Rosenberg, Pam. Baseball Jokes. ISBN 9781623239930. LC 2013947274.

––––. Bug Jokes. ISBN 9781623239947. LC 2013947269.

––––. Dinosaur Jokes. ISBN 9781623239954. LC 2013947276.

––––. Gross-Out Jokes. ISBN 9781623239961. LC 2013947275.

––––. Knock-Knock Jokes. ISBN 9781623239978. LC 2013947277.

––––. Monster Jokes. ISBN 9781623239985. LC 2013947278.

––––. School Jokes. ISBN 9781623239992. LC 2013947279.

––––. Tongue Twisters. ISBN 9781626870000. LC 2013947280.

ea vol: illus. by Bob Ostrom. 24p. (Laughing Matters Series). The Child’s World. 2014. lib. ed. $25.64.

Gr 3-5 –Q: What’s better than a third grader who knows a new joke? A: A third grader who knows 560 new jokes. This series contains eight books, each of which has 23 pages of jokes, with one to six jokes per page. That’s a lot of jokes, including puns (“What do bees chew? Bumblegum”) gross jokes (“Two cannibals are eating a clown and one says, ‘Does this taste funny to you?’”), and jokes so old they might predate recorded history (“What makes more noise than a dinosaur? Two dinosaurs.”) In other words, there’s something for everyone here. Six of these books are subject specific (e.g., School, Baseball), but two, Tongue Twisters and Knock-Knock Jokes, offer a veritable smorgasbord of these classic forms. A clean design that relies upon simple shapes, funky bright colors, and understated texture gives this series an up-to-date look, while abundant sharp, silly illustrations by veteran cartoonist Ostrom reinforce some of the more visual jokes.

Turnbull, Stephanie. Easy Card Tricks. ISBN 9781625880062. LC 2012051807.

––––. Easy Coin Tricks. ISBN 9781625880079. LC 2012051824.

––––. Easy Dinner Table Tricks. ISBN 9781625880109. LC 2012051827.

––––. Easy Mind and Body Tricks. ISBN 9781625880116. LC 2012051828.

––––. Easy Pen and Paper Tricks. ISBN 9781625880093. LC 2012051826.

––––. Easy Scarf and Rope Tricks. ISBN 9781625880086. LC 2012051825.

ea vol: 24p. (Beginner Magic Series). diag. further reading. glossary. illus. index. photos. websites. Smart Apple Media. 2014. lib. ed. $25.65.

Gr 2-5 –Math tricks, sleight of hand, and the old stretchy thumb trick introduce a new generation of little show-offs to the art of magic. Clear, abundant line drawings illustrate the sometimes complicated steps involved in creating illusions involving scarves, coins, string, and, of course, playing cards. Eight tricks per volume will give your junior magicians many starting points to choose from, including at least one confidence-boosting trick that is practically foolproof. The books emphasize practice as an essential element of successful presentation and require no special props; all trick items are easily gathered from home or classroom. Be prepared for levitating forks at the lunch table and coins coming out your ears if you add this set to your collection.

Wagner, Lisa. Cool Backyard Grilling: Beyond the Basics for Kids Who Cook. ISBN 9781624030857.

––––. Cool Best-Ever Brunches: Beyond the Basics for Kids Who Cook. ISBN 9781624030864.

––––. Cool Cooking up Chili: Beyond the Basics for Kids Who Cook. ISBN 9781624030871.

––––. Cool Game Day Parties: Beyond the Basics for Kids Who Cook. ISBN 9781624030888.

ea vol: 32p. (Cool Young Chefs Series). glossary. index. photos. ABDO. 2013. lib. ed. $28.50.

Gr 3-6 –What’s a game day party without hot dogs two ways? Wouldn’t you like a recipe for an impressive make-ahead brunch casserole that feeds a crowd? The recipes in these books (nine per volume) hit the sweet spot between basic but bland and impressive but intimidating. Harmonious design with a retro country look (kraft paper and faux hand-drawn block letters) keeps this series looking gender-neutral. Pictures of diverse children and families appear in the front matter, where readers learn about planning, organization, and presentation, but only hands appear in the two or three process photos that accompany the recipes. An unusually good cookbook series for kids who already know the difference between simmer and boil.

Young, Rae. Drawing Appaloosas and Other Handsome Horses. ISBN 9781476540016. LC 2013035800.

––––. Drawing Arabians and Other Amazing Horses. ISBN 9781476539959. LC 2013035801.

––––. Drawing Barrel Racers and Other Speedy Horses. ISBN 9781476539942. LC 2013035802.

––––. Drawing Friesians and Other Beautiful Horses. ISBN 9781476539966. LC 2013031805.

––––. Drawing Mustangs and Other Wild Horses. ISBN 9781476540023. LC 2013035802.

––––. Drawing Thoroughbreds and Other Elegant Horses. ISBN 9781476539935. LC 2013035799.

ea vol: 32p. (Drawing Horses Series). ebook available. illus. websites. Capstone. 2014. lib. ed. $27.32.

Gr 3-6 –Short on technique but long on pretty digital drawings of horses, this series is for the artist who is looking for an abundance of reference images. Breeds from Appaloosas to Welsh ponies are represented, along with all types of tack and other accessories associated with equestrian sports. Each drawing is built up in a series of four to seven steps, starting from a flowing line sketch. Only one drawing style is employed, but a variety of tools are suggested in a two-page introduction that is repeated in each book. There is some overlap among books; the same two pages on paint horses appear in both Appaloosas and Friesians, and Lippizaners appear in both Friesians and Thoroughbreds. Where interest in police horses, pack horses, rodeo, dressage, hunters, jumpers, draft horses, miniature horses, and even mules is high, this may be a first purchase. Otherwise, Lee J. Ames’s Draw 50 Horses: The Step-by-Step Way to Draw Broncos, Arabians, Thoroughbreds, Dancers, Prancers, and Many More… (Turtleback, 2012) is a more economical and instructive choice.

Grades 5 & Up

Chong, Susan Burns. Community Gardens: Grow Your Own Vegetables and Herbs. ISBN 9781477717776. LC 2013014170.

Hanson-Harding, Alexandra. Beekeeping: Turn Food into Rich Soil. ISBN 9781477717783. LC 2013017443.

Hanson-Harding, Brian. Composting: Turn Food Waste into Rich Soil. ISBN 9781477717813. LC 2013019267.

Heos, Bridget. Jarring and Canning: Make Your Own Jams, Jellies, Pickles, and More. ISBN 9781477717806. LC 2013014170.

––––. Raising Chickens: Harvest Your Own Fresh Eggs. ISBN 9781477717790. LC 2013018676.

ea vol: 64p. (Urban Gardening and Farming for Teens Series). bibliog. ebook available. further reading. glossary. photos. websites. Rosen Young Adult. 2014. lib. ed. $33.25.

Gr 6 Up –Tasty tomatoes, sweet honey, the freshest eggs, and crunchy pickles: Is there anything that motivates a teenager like food? These five books strike a terrific balance between the why and how of homegrown food production, addressing issues such as ethical farming practices, fertilizer runoff, urban blight, food deserts, and more. Kids will learn how to set up a worm bin, make jelly, raise chicks, harvest honey, and look for grant money and donations to start a community garden. That’s a lot of content, but, luckily for readers, the texts are studded with sidebars on exciting subjects like Africanized honeybees and chicken crime-scene analysis (chickens have lots of predators), as well as examples of teenagers who have started successful charitable or business projects. High-quality color pictures of kids working or clowning around in school or community gardens provide credibility and lighten the mood. These books emphasize environmental, social, and health awareness in a fully modern context and will provide inspiration and research leads for school projects as well as home or community activities.

Greek, Joe. Writing Term Papers with Cool New Digital Tools. ISBN 9781477718353.

Hagler, Gina. Creating Book Reports with Cool New Digital Tools. ISBN 9781477718346.

Henneberg, Susan. Creating Science Fair Projects with Cool New Digital Tools. ISBN 9781477718360.

Hollander, Barbara Gottfried. Participating in Plays, Skits, and Debates with Cool New Digital Tools. ISBN 9781477718384.

Meyer, Susan. Performing and Creating Speeches, Demonstrations, and Collaborative Learning Experiences with Cool New Digital Tools. ISBN 9781477718377.

ea vol: 48p. (Way Beyond PowerPoint: Making 21st-Century Presentations Series). bibliog. ebk. available. further reading. glossary. index. websites. Rosen Young Adult. 2014. lib. ed. $29.95.

Gr 6 Up –Maybe you and your students are familiar with apps like Evernote, SlideShare, Voki, and Dropbox. But how about Jing? Stupeflix? Cacoo, anyone? This up-to-the-minute series identifies and discusses dozens of new and evolving tools for developing, sharing, and presenting ideas. Polling apps and phone-based teleprompters give debaters a leg up on their opponents; web-based reaction timers make data collection easier during science experiments; and citation software organizes sources and formats a writer’s bibliography automatically. These books excel in identifying apps and information sources but stop short of critiquing strengths and weaknesses, possibly because new digital tools are frequently updated and enhanced, meaning that any detailed review would quickly become obsolete. The books are also intensely text heavy, which seems at odds with their subject. A few screenshots are used as illustrations in each volume along with stock photos of teens in classrooms and adults making presentations. Not perfect, but a welcome addition.

Kenny, Karen Latchana. Boho Fashion. ISBN 9781467714709; ISBN 9781467725262. LC 2013011590.

––––. Hipster Fashion. ISBN 9781467714723; ISBN 9781467725286. LC 2013018712.

––––. Preppy Fashion. ISBN 9781467714693; ISBN 9781467725293. LC 2013022643.

St. John, Amanda. Edgy Fashion. ISBN 9781467714686; ISBN 9781467725279. LC 2013013595.

Watson, Stephanie. Streetwear Fashion. ISBN 9781467714716; ISBN 9781467725309. LC 2013017734.

ea vol: illus. by Ashley Newsome Kubley. 48p. (What’s Your Style? Series). further reading. glossary. illus. index. notes. photos. Lerner. 2014. lib. ed. $30.60. ebk. $22.95.

Gr 4-8 –These books, nominally about exploring fashion identities, will fly off library shelves due to the superabundance of celebrity photos. Readers can compare their taste in clothes with those of public figures: Malia and Sasha Obama are preppy, while Kristen Stewart is identified as edgy, and noted three-piece suit enthusiast Ryan Gosling is picked as a hipster poster boy. Editorial, candid, and runway photos illustrate sections that break down the history and elements of each style and offer how-to advice. Accessories, hair and makeup are not overlooked, which brings up the point that despite photos of male fashion exemplars like Jay-Z, Shaun White, and Justin Bieber, these books are aimed at girls and at those who wish to style them. Three simple DIY projects, such as a decorated baseball hat or canvas shoes, are included in each volume. Pictured celebs seem to be chosen in part for their durability—Taylor Swift and Solange Knowles are likely to be well known for a while—giving these books a fighting chance of remaining relevant for a few years or until their bindings wear out.

Owen, Ruth. The Halloween Gross-Out Guide. ISBN 9781477762905.

––––. Pranks, Tricks, and Practical Jokes. ISBN 9781477762943.

––––. Ready, Aim, Fire! ISBN 9781477762868.

––––. Roughing It. ISBN 9781477762783.

––––. Speed Machines. ISBN 9781477762745.

––––. The Superspy Handbook. ISBN 9781477762820.

ea vol: 32p. (DIY for Boys Series). further reading. glossary. index. websites. PowerKids. 2014. lib. ed. $26.50.

Gr 3-6 –It is a fact universally acknowledged that craft books often come with gender baggage. And while it would be nice to have an entire craft library full of gender-neutral titles, items such as cupcake cookbooks and jewelry craft books will be perceived as “girly” no matter how they are titled and designed. This series, full of instructions for making weapons, vehicles, and practical jokes, gives the boys their own collection of crafts (although plenty of girls will enjoy making slime and invisible ink). Six projects per volume range from foolproof (invisible ink made of lemon juice) to time-consuming and difficult (secret-compartment book). Many of these crafts will require some trial and error in order to achieve a successful outcome, and two (fake wounds made of flour and water dough, Jell-O worms) stymied even veteran craft testers. This somewhat flawed series fills a gap but is probably a secondary purchase at best.

Craft books are expensive and don’t always fit with curriculum subjects, so it can be hard to justify their purchase. There are, however, a few series in this section that are definitely worth the investment. The tricks in “Beginner Magic” are so achievable due to the meticulous process illustrations; if there is interest in your library, this is the place to start. “Super Simple Nature Crafts” is notable particularly for the innovative ice projects but also because the books encourage variation and creativity on the part of the crafter. “Cool Young Chefs” will appeal to kids who have developed their skills beyond simple chopping and mixing; they will be eager to impress family and friends by preparing recipes like chicken chili and caramel French toast (yes, please!). Perhaps the most fascinating books in this section are the ones in the “Urban Gardening” series. Beekeeping, worm composting, and chicken culture have never looked more appealing. Lastly, “Way Beyond PowerPoint” is a must; even if readers just skim through the text to find helpful apps and content sites, the books are invaluable collections of resources. Here’s hoping you and your readers find some winners, too!

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