14 Arts & Activities Series for Makerspaces, Clubs, & Classrooms

Librarians selecting activity series should always seek out coherent instructions bolstered by visual information where needed, and laid out in such a way that young people are never left searching for the next step.

Present kids with a box of craft and activity books—as I do twice a year when I’m working on this Series Made Simple section—and watch what they gravitate toward. Builders and coders will notice any book with their favorite logo on the cover, whether it’s LEGO, Scratch, or K’nex. And then there are the seasoned makers, the crafters who pick up a title because it highlights a skill they haven’t mastered yet, be it crochet or robotics. But whether students are looking for something familiar or a new challenge, if the cover sucks them in with the promise of success, the instructions inside better give them a fighting chance at achieving it. Librarians selecting activity series should always seek out coherent instructions bolstered by visual information where needed, and laid out in such a way that young people are never left searching for the next step.

Elementary

Alkire, Jessie. Code It!: Programming and Keyboards You Can Create Yourself. ISBN 9781532112508.

––––. Construct It!: Architecture You Can Build, Break, and Build Again. ISBN 9781532112522.

Olson, Elsie. Connect It!: Circuits You Can Squish, Bend, and Twist. ISBN 9781532112515.

––––. Robotify It!: Robots You Can Make Yourself. ISBN 9781532112553.

Schneider, Christa. Light It!: Creations That Glow, Shine, and Blink. ISBN 9781532112539.

––––. Move It!: Projects You Can Drive, Fly, and Roll. ISBN 9781532112546.

ea vol: 32p. (Cool Makerspace Gadgets & Gizmos). glossary. index. photos. websites. ABDO. Dec. 2017. lib. ed. $28.50.

Gr 3-6 –Has your school invested in Snap Circuits, Cubelets, or littleBits? If so, the projects in each of these books are just the ticket. They start simple (a coding bracelet made of beads that spell out the wearer’s name in binary) and increase in complexity until students are building a model elevator or a door alarm. In each volume there are lots of process photos that show the hands of kids carrying out the steps. These augment the clear instructions, which are laid out in a vertical, easy-to-follow format. There’s some overlap with Capstone’s “Junior Makers 4D” (also reviewed here). (Construct It! uses more durable materials than Building Projects for Beginners, but Coding in Scratch for Beginners beats Code It! owing to the online tutorials.) VERDICT Pick and choose titles based on local interest and collection gaps.

Barnhart, Norm. Abracadabra! Tricks for Rookie Magicians: 4D A Magical Augmented Reading Experience. ISBN 9781543505689.

––––. Alakazam! Tricks for Veteran Magicians: 4D A Magical Augmented Reading Experience. ISBN 9781543505719.

––––. Hocus Pocus! Tricks for Amateur Magicians: 4D A Magical Augmented Reading Experience. ISBN 9781543505696.

––––. Presto Chango! Tricks for Skilled Magicians: 4D A Magical Augmented Reading Experience. ISBN 9781543505702.

ea vol: 32p. (Amazing Magic Tricks 4D!). further reading. glossary. index. photos. websites. Capstone. Jan. 2018. lib. ed. $29.32.

Gr 2-5 –These books start with tricks that rely on the most basic sleight of hand skills and gradually increase in difficulty. Each volume teaches a couple of new techniques—the ditch, the palm, forcing a card—and provides step-by-step instruction for creating props that enable junior Houdinis to levitate objects, conjure things out of a hat, or make them disappear. No specialty magic shop items are needed to perform the 10 tricks in each book. They are instead accomplished with household materials, such as paper bags, small toys, office supplies, balloons, and thread. Each step has a corresponding photo, but the highlight here is the online videos (accessed via the Capstone 4D app): two per trick, one performance video and one showing how the illusion is accomplished. VERDICT The added video tutorials enhance this rich, well-designed series. A win wherever magic is popular.

Borgert-Spaniol, Megan. Super Simple Christmas Activities: Fun and Easy Holiday Projects for Kids. ISBN 9781532112430.

––––. Super Simple Earth Day Activities: Fun and Easy Holiday Projects for Kids. ISBN 9781532112447.

––––. Super Simple Halloween Activities: Fun and Easy Holiday Projects for Kids. ISBN 9781532112454.

––––. Super Simple Presidents’ Day Activities: Fun and Easy Holiday Projects for Kids. ISBN 9781532112461.

––––. Super Simple Thanksgiving Activities: Fun and Easy Holiday Projects for Kids. ISBN 9781532112478.

––––. Super Simple Valentine’s Day Activities: Fun and Easy Holiday Projects for Kids. ISBN 9781532112485.

ea vol: 32p. (Super Simple Holidays). glossary. photos. ABDO. Dec. 2017. lib. ed. $27.07.

Gr 2-4 –The projects in each of these crafting guides combine skills young people already possess (cutting, gluing) and talents requiring a bit more precision (measuring, tracing). The necessary materials in each title are mostly common classroom items: construction paper, tape, yarn, glue—and a few special supplies such as air-dry clay or a battery-powered candle. Most of the end results are decorative (wreaths, garlands, ornaments, and mobiles), but kids will also find a number of games, costume items, cards, and edible crafts. Many can be adapted to fit other themes: the patriotic wreath craft in Presidents’ Day would work any time of year, as could the “star-spangled wind sock.” Thomas Jefferson’s wig, made of cotton balls glued to a paper bag, is sure to elicit laughs. Occasional photos of real kids in action add credence to the achievability of these endeavors. VERDICT This series contains a bevy of workhorse activities and is an excellent addition to maker spaces.

Brooks, Susie. Art with Everyday Things. ISBN 9781538322192.

––––. Art with Your Hands and Feet. ISBN 9781538322215.

––––. Printing and Stamping Art. ISBN 9781538322239.

––––. Scrap Paper Art. ISBN 9781538322253.

ea vol: 32p. (Let’s Make Art). glossary. photos. PowerKids. Jan. 2018. lib. ed. $27.50.

Gr 2-5 –The two-to-four-step art projects in these titles introduce cool techniques most kids will benefit from—printing with plastic wrap or adding soap or salt to vary texture. The suggestion to use templates, collage, and cut-and-assemble shapes relieves some of the pressure that can come with free-form drawing and painting. Printing and Stamping is a standout selection for the way it encourages users to examine familiar objects and experiment with the impressions each one might make. Scrap Paper reveals the artistic potential in patterned paper—a cognitive shift that can be a minor revelation for young people. Likewise, Hands trains readers to extrapolate meaning or see abstract shapes as building blocks to representational content. Cheerful colors and a vibrant graphic border tie the titles together visually. VERDICT Encourage budding artists to look at shapes and materials in new ways with this great series.

Buckingham, Marie. Air Shark! Novice-Level Paper Airplanes: 4D An Augmented Reading Paper-Folding Experience. ISBN 9781543507966.

––––. Needle Nose! Advanced-Level Paper Airplanes: 4D An Augmented Reading Paper-Folding Experience. ISBN 9781543507959.

––––. Space Bomber! Expert-Level Paper Airplanes: 4D An Augmented Reading Paper-Folding Experience. ISBN 9781543507942.

––––. Spinning Blimp! Beginning-Level Paper Airplanes: 4D An Augmented Reading Paper-Folding Experience. ISBN 9781543507973.

ea vol: 32p. (Paper Airplanes with a Side of Science 4D). further reading. photos. websites. Capstone. Jan. 2018. lib. ed. $29.32.

Gr 1-5 –Paper folding, with its reliance on intricate hand movements, benefits mightily from the additional content located on the Capstone 4D app. (Kids already use YouTube and other online sources to learn skills, whether it’s clearing a dungeon in Minecraft or perfecting their foul shot.) In addition to being an ideal medium for demonstrating techniques, the videos on the app train readers to go back and forth between the text and the video. The video content is super granular, with as many as 16 steps per plane. Sidebars contribute aviation engineering facts and concepts, and a photo—but no video—shows the optimal grasp for launching each plane on its best, longest flight. Graph paper–patterned background gives the books a technical visual style, but steps laid out in a meandering order (likely meant to reinforce print concepts by requiring readers to follow a path of dotted lines) will be maddeningly counterintuitive to some folks. VERDICT The combination of text, photos, and videos make these projects nearly foolproof. A fine choice, especially if students can easily access the related app.

Dahl, Michael. Laugh-Out-Loud Jokes To Tell Your Friends. ISBN 9781543503425.

––––. Puzzling Riddles To Stump Your Friends. ISBN 9781543503395.

Sullivan, Alesha. Funny Tricks and Practical Jokes To Play on Your Friends. ISBN 9781543503401.

––––. Wacky Word Games To Play with Your Friends. ISBN 9781543503388.

ea vol: 32p. (Jokes, Tricks, and Other Funny Stuff). further reading. photos. websites. Capstone. Jan. 2018. lib. ed. $26.65.

Gr 2-5 –This series, designed for reluctant readers, is perfect for aspiring class clowns. Jokes and Riddles follow the vaudeville maxim of “more is more,” and with the amount of content included in each book, something is bound to get a laugh. In Word Games, kids can try tongue twisters, solve spoonerisms, and have fun with homophones. The gotchas in Tricks are a little unwieldy, with a couple of insect and food pranks that could land badly. The use of bold and bright colors in big splashy shapes throughout the set adds shelf appeal. ­VERDICT Peppy updates to joke book sections.

Enz, Tammy. 3D Pen Projects for Beginners: 4D An Augmented Reading Experience. ISBN 9781515794899.

––––. Building Projects for Beginners: 4D An Augmented Reading Experience. ISBN 9781515794882.

––––. Electronics Projects for Beginners: 4D An Augmented Reading Experience. ISBN 9781515794912.

Ziter, Rachel. Coding in Scratch for Beginners: 4D An Augmented Reading Experience. ISBN 9781515794905.

ea vol: illus. by Dario Brizuela. 48p. (Junior Makers 4D). further reading. glossary. index. photos. websites. Capstone. Jan. 2018. lib. ed. $31.99.

Gr 2-4 –Here’s a STEM series that takes advantage of new technology and encourages even young children to solder, code, and employ trial and error to achieve results. About 10 projects per volume demonstrate science principles such as pressure, conductivity, friction, and logic. The activities in each book are of uneven difficulty—the flimsy materials used in Building will lead to impressive collapses, and projects in 3D Pen have up to 22 steps. The app content is also inconsistent; the included videos range from demonstrations of steps or finished projects to archival footage to animated diagrams. Scratch is a standout for its color-coded instructions, photos, and screen recordings of each project’s entire coding process. Numbered images show what the projects should look like at crucial stages. Overall the series has an uncluttered and cheerful design. VERDICT Above-average STEM activity books; select titles (and projects) carefully.

Manlapig, Leslie. Explore the World with Cardboard and Duct Tape: 4D An Augmented Reading Cardboard Experience. ISBN 9781515793137.

––––. Put on a Show with Cardboard and Duct Tape: 4D An Augmented Reading Cardboard Experience. ISBN 9781515793120.

––––. Travel Through Time with Cardboard and Duct Tape: 4D An Augmented Reading Cardboard Experience. ISBN 9781515793144.

ea vol: 32p. (Epic Cardboard Adventures 4D). further reading. photos. websites. Capstone. Jan. 2018. lib. ed. $29.32.

Gr 1-5 –Anyone who has ever helped children make a time machine out of a cardboard box will recognize the inspired improvisation that powers this series. Cans, bottle caps, yarn, and pipe cleaners are pressed into service to make and decorate costumes, props, and toys that are as much fun to make as to play with. The projects in each book (about 11) rely on a lot of eyeballing and not much measuring, although there are a few templates involved. This keeps the process flowing quickly but does allow a fairly hefty possibility of a pterodactyl head coming out looking more like a cow’s. Nor is there much, if any, factual content—readers aren’t sent online to look at sarcophagus decorations or heraldry designs for the shield. Good process photos show hands cutting, twisting, and taping. VERDICT This is an unconventional, energetic series that prioritizes construction creativity over process and content. Robust collections may want to consider.

Shores, Erika L. How To Make Bubbles: A 4D Book. ISBN 9781543509472.

Shores, Lori. How To Build a Fizzy Rocket: A 4D Book. ISBN 9781543509434.

––––. How To Build a Tornado in a Bottle: A 4D Book. ISBN 9781543509441.

––––. How To Make a Liquid Rainbow: A 4D Book. ISBN 9781543509465.

––––. How To Make a Mystery Smell Balloon: A 4D Book. ISBN 9781543509458.

––––. How To Make Slime: A 4D Book. ISBN 9781543509427.

ea vol: 24p. (Hands-On Science Fun). further reading. glossary. index. photos. websites. Capstone. Jan. 2018. lib. ed. $26.65.

PreS-Gr 2 –One simple but cool project in each title leads early readers through their first experience with procedural writing. With an adult close at hand, little ones are encouraged to mix up cornstarch slime, make a rainbow in a jar, or inflate a fart balloon (actually made with garlic). Large photographs of children executing each step make these projects nearly foolproof for verbal and visual learners. Online videos that show a child (often a different one than in the photos) successfully completing the project provide additional encouragement, should it be needed. Each book concludes with a simple explanation of the chemistry or physics of the project. Bright colors and the genuine smiles of the photographed kids will win readers over. VERDICT This deceptively simple set offers practice synthesizing visual and verbal instructions. Early learning collections in need of crafting inspiration will want.

Storey, Rita. Art for Fall. ISBN 9781 508194170.

––––. Art for Spring. ISBN 9781508194187.

––––. Art for Summer. ISBN 9781508194194.

––––. Art for Winter. ISBN 9781508194200.

ea vol: 32p. (The Outdoor Art Room). glossary. index. photos. websites. Windmill. Jan. 2018. lib. ed. $28.50.

Gr 2-4 –The 12 crafts in each volume of this series perform double duty, providing entertaining hands-on activity for elementary schoolers while fostering a relationship with natural materials. Pine cones, leaves, flowers, and twigs are employed in many ways—as templates, frames, textures, and raw material. The use of glitter and glue, printing, and assembly of premeasured components is great for kids who aren’t confident in their artistic skills. Most of the end results are decorative, with a few exceptions (rose perfume in Spring). The materials list for each project is short, making it easy to round up supplies or adapt these crafts for club or classroom use. However, in some cases, this is detrimental to the finished work, and although most (but not all) of these projects call for outdoor materials, simply going outside is not a step in any of the crafts. Winter is the standout selection here. Throughout the volumes, the layout and design are unexceptional, with randomly placed sidebars and a zigzag alignment of steps. Also, the photos are small and poorly lit. VERDICT Collections in need of an update may want to consider Winter.

Yates, Jane. I Can Draw Goblins. ISBN 9781538322505.

––––. I Can Draw Mermaids. ISBN 9781538322529.

––––. I Can Draw Sea Monsters. ISBN 9781538322543.

––––. I Can Draw Unicorns. ISBN 9781538322567.

––––. I Can Draw Vampires. ISBN 9781538322581.

––––. I Can Draw Witches. ISBN 9781538322604.

ea vol: 32p. (I Can Draw!: Mythical Creatures). further reading. glossary. index. photos. websites. PowerKids. Jan. 2018. lib. ed. $27.50.

Gr 3-6 –Fans of not-too-scary chapter books featuring mermaids, unicorns, and kooky supernatural families can learn to draw their favorite characters. Thirteen pages of general drawing instructions (repeated with little variation in each book) teach materials, styles, and coloring prior to putting pencil to paper. Each of the nine silly, frightening, pretty, or grotesque drawings is constructed from geometric shapes in seven steps. Early instructions progress easily, though later ones often make that big leap from “draw a bunch of ovals” to “now draw the details.” Sea Monsters is the standout here for its notable look at creatures from folklore traditions around the world. VERDICT Purchase where interest exists.

Middle to High School

Frisby, Shalana. Felting Projects You Won’t Be Able To Resist. ISBN 9781515774488.

McClure, Kelly. Knitting Projects You’ll Purl Over. ISBN 9781515774464.

Whooley, Karen. Crochet Projects That Will Hook You. ISBN 9781515774471.

Yang, Veronica. Seamless Sewing Projects. ISBN 9781515774457.

ea vol: 48p. (Crafty Creations). further reading. photos. websites. Capstone. Jan. 2018. lib. ed. $31.32.

Gr 6 Up –Fiber craft books written for young people often avoid the more technical stuff. Not so here—these are more like textbooks, with strong images and lots of space dedicated to basic techniques, eight to 16 simple projects, and plenty of opportunity to get comfortable with tools, notation, and terminology. Machine and hand sewing, knitting flat and in the round, wet and dry felting, pressing, and gathering are all covered. In addition, best practices, which, as experienced makers know, add time and complexity to a project, are included and will help guarantee professional-looking results. VERDICT­ Crafters will be ready to read and follow almost any pattern or set of instructions after working through these books.

Jones, Jen. Epic Graphic Novel Crafts: 4D An Augmented Reading Crafts Experience. ISBN 9781543506884.

––––. Stellar Science Fiction Crafts: 4D An Augmented Reading Crafts Experience. ISBN 9781543506860.

Ventura, Marne. Enchanting Fairy-Tale Crafts: 4D An Augmented Reading Crafts Experience. ISBN 9781543506891.

––––. Legendary Nonfiction Crafts: 4D An Augmented Reading Crafts Experience. ISBN 9781543506877.

ea vol: 32p. (Next Chapter Crafts 4D). further reading. photos. websites. Capstone. Jan. 2018. lib. ed. $29.32.

Gr 4-8 –This series makes use of a novel theme—and is a natural fit for book clubs or language arts classrooms. Be forewarned, there is a fair amount of book-destroying going on here: pages from old books are used as materials in many of the eight to 10 projects per volume, and three projects use a book’s cover. Directions are nicely laid out and easy to follow, and the 4-D content is a mixed bag of process demonstrations, templates, and sidebar information. The titles rely heavily on craft store supplies such as premade canvases, embroidery hoops, or a tiny bottle. Some tricky steps are inadequately explained, with no visual support. However, Epic Graphic Novel Crafts shines, with manga-inspired projects and a recipe for homemade mochi. VERDICT Good curriculum and leisure reading tie-in crafts involving some interesting techniques. Select as needed.

Wood, Alix. Be a Director of Photography: Make Every Shot Count. ISBN 9781538322741.

––––. Be a Film Director: Direct with Confidence. ISBN 9781538322765.

––––. Be a Film Editor: Polish the Performance. ISBN 9781508162667.

––––. Be a Screenwriter: Turn Your Idea into a Script. ISBN 9781538322802.

––––. Be a Sound Designer: Creating a Mood. ISBN 9781508162575.

––––. Be an Actor: Bring the Script to Life. ISBN 9781538322789.

ea vol: 32p. (Moviemakers’ Film Club). further reading. glossary. index. photos. websites. PowerKids. Jan. 2018. lib. ed. $26.25.

Gr 5-8 –Each book in this set includes a list of traits and skills crucial to the role in question. Students are encouraged to recognize their existing talents (“I’m good under pressure and I’m cool with making decisions—I’d make a good director!”). Each title teaches the specialized terminology of filmmaking: roles, commands, shot descriptions, camera movements, and equipment. Lots of pictures of young people of all ages actively making movies add appeal, and an abundance of sidebars, examples, inspirational quotes, and text boxes will hook readers. Resourcefulness and creativity are emphasized over fancy equipment (“Most people start moviemaking using any camera that can record video”), and budget-friendly tips abound. The series stresses planning and observation as a means to a satisfying end. VERDICT Breaks the complex process of making a movie into comprehensible steps and roles. Ideal for any school where students use video.


Great pictures and diagrams can make all the difference for makers who are learning a new technique. How do you shape a paper plant pot? How do you connect two Cubelets? Capstone has offered an answer to these questions with its app content. While some of it is purely additional, the videos for “Paper Airplanes with a Side of Science 4D,” “Amazing Magic Tricks 4D!,” and Coding in Scratch for Beginners (“Junior Makers 4D”) make learning these skills much easier. ABDO’s “Super Simple Holidays” and Capstone’s “Crafty Creations” are top series. Both leave readers prepared to use what they’ve learned on future challenges.

Paula Willey, Baltimore County Public Library, MD

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