Learn by Doing: Arts & Activities | Series Nonfiction

The seamless integration of information into crafting projects is what elevates activity books into must-haves. Check out these latest offerings to refresh collections.

1611-sms-art-activityThere’s no shame in sneaking a little vocabulary and background information into a craft or activity book. For instance, it’s useful to know that Lewis and Clark carried air rifles on their expedition, as readers will learn in Lerner’s “Tabletop Wars.” But titles that insist that a prospective crafter should stop and write a plan before embarking on a project are not fooling anyone—that looks like work instead of play. This latest batch of series offerings encourage kids to dive right in and start cooking, building, folding, or experimenting—selections with projects that appeal to students with all kinds of interests and abilities. So warm up that soldering iron and dig into that stash of toilet paper tubes—it’s time to make something!


Bernhardt, Carolyn. Film It!: YouTube Projects for the Real World. ISBN 9781680783568; ISBN 9781680790177.

––––. Pin It!: Pinterest Projects for the Real World. ISBN 9781680783575; ISBN 9781680790184.

––––. Share It!: Facebook Projects for the Real World. ISBN 9781680783582; ISBN 9781680790191.

––––. Snap It!: Snapchat Projects for the Real World. ISBN 9781680783605; ISBN 9781680790214.

––––. Tweet It!: Twitter Projects for the Real World. ISBN 9781680783612; ISBN 9781680790221.

Felix, Rebecca. Shoot It!: Instagram Projects for the Real World. ISBN 9781680783599; ISBN 9781680790207.

ea vol: 32p. (Cool Social Media). glossary. index. photos. ABDO. Aug. 2016. lib. ed. $19.95. ebk. $34.95.

Gr 3-7 –Students have to be at least 13 years old to start an account on most social media sharing sites, but these books, written for a much younger audience, demonstrate some of the skills that may come in handy in the future. The six or seven projects in each volume are uneven in appeal and utility, ranging from a confusing game of Twitter charades to a helpful primer on how to make a video tutorial. Some projects, such as “Geography Gallery” or a “Profile Poster from the Past,” could be adapted for classroom or party use, but some, like the “Pin Lab” (a bulletin board poster on which friends can place pushpins to indicate “likes” and “repins”), are just strange off-line approximations of social media posts. VERDICT A bit odd, but may satisfy kids who are fascinated by the online world frequented by older siblings and favorite celebrities.

Bosch, Sammy. Super Simple Backyard Critter Crafts: Fun and Easy Animal Crafts. ISBN 9781680781601; ISBN 9781680778786.

––––. Super Simple Wetlands Critter Crafts: Fun and Easy Animal Crafts. ISBN 9781680781649; ISBN 9781680778823.

––––. Super Simple Zoo Critter Crafts: Fun and Easy Animal Crafts. ISBN 9781680781656; ISBN 9781680778830.

Kuskowski, Alex. Super Simple Farm Critter Crafts: Fun and Easy Animal Crafts. ISBN 9781680781618; ISBN 9781680778793.

––––. Super Simple Forest Critter Crafts: Fun and Easy Animal Crafts. ISBN 9781680781625; ISBN 9781680778809.

––––. Super Simple Pet Critter Crafts: Fun and Easy Animal Crafts. ISBN 9781680781632; ISBN 9781680778816.

ea vol: 32p. (Super Simple Critter Crafts). glossary. photos. ABDO. Aug. 2016. lib. ed. $18.95. ebk. $33.95.

Gr 2-4 –Young crafters gain practice with standard tools and materials, such as air-dry clay, hot glue, chenille stems, and craft paint, in the eight projects per volume of this series. Little expertise is needed to achieve recognizable results, and there is plenty of room for individual creativity, as students can move features around to make their creatures friendly, scary, or shy—or in some cases move arms and legs to create poses. Instructions are clearly written and easy to follow, with at least three photographs of the work in progress to aid comprehension. A harmonious color scheme and uncluttered design also contribute to the accessibility of the series. Introductory pages encourage readers to learn a little about the animals they are modeling. VERDICT Cute crafts provide great incentive to learn how to process instructions.

Enz, Tammy. Awesome Craft Stick Science. ISBN 9781515708612.

––––. Cool Plastic Bottle and Milk Jug Science. ISBN 9781515708629.

––––. Incredible Snack Package Science. ISBN 9781515708636.

Wheeler-Toppen, Jodi Lyn. Amazing Cardboard Tube Science. ISBN 9781515708605.

ea vol: 32p. (Recycled Science). further reading. glossary. index. photos. websites. Capstone. Aug. 2016. lib. ed. $20.99.

Gr 3-8 –The projects in these books are at least as much science experiments as they are craft activities. Whether readers are learning about circuits by making their own flashlight out of office supplies and household items or making a mess with a vinegar rocket, they’re getting a quick lesson on Newton’s third law of motion or the movement of charged particles. Most of these projects are easily accomplished, requiring only a few easily sourced materials—lots of recycled containers, bendy straws, balloons, and the like. Written instructions are clear, and photographs of the project at various stages of construction are very helpful. Science-centered “Reusable Knowledge” sidebars are illustrated with diagrams or photos when necessary. A sharp black, white, and green color scheme gives the titles a sophisticated look. VERDICT Great page design and cool projects combine to make this series a winner.

Felix, Rebecca. Cool Battery & Electricity Projects: Fun & Creative Workshop Activities. ISBN 9781680781250; ISBN 9781680778205.

––––. Cool Engine & Motor Projects: Fun & Creative Workshop Activities. ISBN 9781680781267; ISBN 9781680778212.

––––. Cool Engineering Projects: Fun & Creative Workshop Activities. ISBN 9781680781274; ISBN 9781680778229.

––––. Cool Leatherworking Projects: Fun & Creative Workshop Activities. ISBN 9781680781281; ISBN 9781680778236.

––––. Cool Metalworking Projects: Fun & Creative Workshop Activities. ISBN 9781680781298; ISBN 9781680778243.

––––. Cool Woodworking Projects: Fun & Creative Workshop Activities. ISBN 9781680781304; ISBN 9781680778250.

ea vol: 32p. (Cool Industrial Art). glossary. index. photos. websites. ABDO. Aug. 2016. lib. ed. $19.95. ebk. $34.95.

Gr 3-8 –This series quickly ramps up in difficulty, moving from leather-wrapped pens to a flipping gymnast model powered by a magnetic motor. Detailed instructions and prolific process photos help builders make their way through these projects, but adult assistance may be required nonetheless. Most call for specialty materials available at hardware or craft stores. While almost all of these crafts demonstrate one or more scientific principles (e.g., magnetism, oxidation, transfer of energy), the books do not directly address these concepts. VERDICT A few challenging projects for kids who want to expand their abilities.

Fields, Stella. Accessory Projects for a Lazy Crafternoon. ISBN 9781515714361.

––––. Back-to-School Projects for a Lazy Crafternoon. ISBN 9781515714385.

––––. Decorating Projects for a Lazy Crafternoon. ISBN 9781515714354.

––––. Party Planning for a Lazy Crafternoon. ISBN 9781515714378.

ea vol: 32p. (Lazy Crafternoon). further reading. photos. Capstone. Aug. 2016. lib. ed. $20.99.

Gr 3-8 –This series hits the sweet spot for fun, casual activities—neither particularly challenging nor too time-consuming. Whether crafters chooses to paint a rock or decoupage a pair of shoes, these are projects that require manual focus but not much intellectual involvement; ergo, they are perfect for doing while hanging out in a group. Liberal use of washi tape, glitter, and tissue paper make for projects with an emphasis on pretty and decorative in addition to their more purposeful uses. Instructions are fairly minimal, but with a little patience and experimentation—and perhaps advice from friends—good results can be had. VERDICT A variety of low stress projects that are good for group activities.

Ives, Rob. Break the Siege: Make Your Own Catapults. ISBN 9781512406382; ISBN 9781512411720.

––––. Castle Attack: Make Your Own Medieval Battlefield. ISBN 9781512406399; ISBN 9781512411713.

––––. Ready, Aim, Launch!: Make Your Own Small Launchers. ISBN 9781512406368; ISBN 9781512411737.

––––. Surprise the Enemy: Make Your Own Traps and Triggers. ISBN 9781512406375; ISBN 9781512411706.

ea vol: illus. by Jean Paul de Quay. 32p. (Tabletop Wars). chart. diag. ebook available. glossary. illus. index. Lerner/Hungry Tomato. Nov. 2016. lib. ed. $26.65. pap. $7.99.

Gr 3-7 –Let’s be honest, books about warfare tend to fly off the shelf, and this series is worth a good look. Craft enthusiasts will use rubber bands, craft sticks, paper tubes, and pencils to fling paper wads and marshmallows across the room or set up a battlefield for warriors made of plastic eggs. Most of the projects are tricky to make, and though each one is explained via multiple illustrated steps, even confident crafters might benefit from photos instead of drawings. Materials are culled from the recycle bin or the office, sometimes creating more work than necessary (instead of being told to use dowels, students are instructed to cut the point and eraser off of pencils). Illustrated sidebars give historical anecdotes for each project. VERDICT Perseverance is key with these high-interest crafts.

Jorgensen, Katrina. Beat the Wheat!: Easy and Delicious Wheat-Free Recipes for Kids with Allergies. ISBN 9781491480571.

––––. Enjoy Without Soy: Easy and Delicious Soy-Free Recipes for Kids with Allergies. ISBN 9781491480564.

––––. No Egg on Your Face!: Easy and Delicious Egg-Free Recipes for Kids with Allergies. ISBN 9781491480557.

––––. No Peanuts, No Problem!: Easy and Delicious Nut-Free Recipes for Kids with Allergies. ISBN 9781491480540.

––––. This Is Not Cheesy!: Easy and Delicious Dairy-Free Recipes for Kids with Allergies. ISBN 9781491480533.

ea vol: 32p. (Allergy Aware Cookbooks). further reading. glossary. photos. websites. Capstone. Aug. 2016. lib. ed. $20.99.

Gr 3-8 –Learning to cook is not only an essential life skill but it is also a great way to foster a sense of agency among students, especially those with food sensitivities. The 13 recipes provided in each book demonstrate that accommodating allergies doesn’t mean limiting options. Sidebars alert readers to potential allergen pitfalls (for instance, in Peanuts, “cocoa and chocolate are often manufactured with nuts”) or suggest recipe variations that eliminate other categories of allergens for people with multiple food sensitivities. There is not a lot of cooking instruction, and there are occasional inconsistencies between picture and recipe (e.g., the corn dog bites in Egg are baked in a muffin tin, while the photo shows egg-shaped corn dog blobs), which, while puzzling, probably won’t bar successful completion of the recipe. Most of these recipes make use of specialty ingredients such as arrowroot, flax seeds, sunflower butter, or coconut amino to replace eggs, peanuts, or soy. VERDICT Fairly simple recipes use substitutions to make well-known dishes allergen free. Consider to fill gaps in cookbook collections.

Loh-Hagan, Virginia. Bake Sale. ISBN 9781634711012; ISBN 9781634712996; ISBN 9781634713986.

––––. Organic Garden. ISBN 9781634711029; ISBN 9781634713009; ISBN 9781634713993.

––––. Scavenger Hunt. ISBN 9781634711036; ISBN 9781634713016; ISBN 9781634714006.

––––. Training Course. ISBN 9781634711043; ISBN 9781634713023; ISBN 9781 634714013.

ea vol: 32p. (D.I.Y. Make It Happen). further reading. glossary. index. photos. Cherry Lake. Aug. 2016. lib. ed. $20.95. pap. $9.95. ebk. $32.95.

Gr 2 Up –This appealingly designed series aims to get readers out of the house and into the dirt by showing them how to fund-raise, and get in shape. These volumes are notable for their use of language—ultrasimple sentences and lots of repetition make them easily accessible to ELL students and others for whom reading is a challenge. Energetic page designs with bullet lists and large pictures of people having fun keep the books from looking babyish or remedial. Not to mention, there are some legitimately good ideas in here—a scavenger color hunt, during which players need to find items that match the colors on paint chips from the hardware store; or a fruit dip station at a bake sale. VERDICT Activity books for language learners get everybody into the game.

Polinsky, Paige V. Super Simple Experiments with Electricity: Fun and Innovative Science Projects. ISBN 9781680781670; ISBN 9781680778854.

––––. Super Simple Experiments with Elements: Fun and Innovative Science Projects. ISBN 9781680781687; ISBN 9781680778861.

––––. Super Simple Experiments with Forces: Fun and Innovative Science Projects. ISBN 9781680781694; ISBN 9781680778878.

––––. Super Simple Experiments with Heat and Cold: Fun and Innovative Science Projects. ISBN 9781680781700; ISBN 9781680778885.

––––. Super Simple Experiments with Light and Color: Fun and Innovative Science Projects. ISBN 9781680781717; ISBN 9781680778892.

––––. Super Simple Experiments with Mass: Fun and Innovative Science Projects. ISBN 9781680781724; ISBN 9781680778908.

ea vol: 32p. (Super Simple Science at Work). diag. glossary. photos. ABDO. Aug. 2016. lib. ed. $18.95. ebk. $33.95.

Gr 2-5 –Six experiments per volume demonstrate science principles such as surface tension, centripetal force, and potential energy. Each one is first described in simple terms, then demonstrated via an experiment, and finally explained in a “Why It Works” page that features clear wording and in many cases an exceptionally easy-to-understand graphic. For the most part, the necessary materials can be collected from around the house, with a few items that may require a trip to the hardware or craft store. Minor oversimplifications (“air condenses” in Heat and Cold) likely won’t detract from this set’s ability to introduce kids to important scientific principles. VERDICT Good-looking homegrown science projects for rainy days.

Rau, Dana Meachen. Crafting with Recyclables: Even More Projects. ISBN 9781634714198; ISBN 9781634714358; ISBN 9781634714433.

––––. Learning To Crochet. ISBN 9781634714181; ISBN 9781634714341; ISBN 9781634714426.

––––. Making Knot Projects. ISBN 9781634714204; ISBN 9781634714365; ISBN 9781634714440.

––––. Making Musical Instruments. ISBN 9781634714211; ISBN 9781634714372; ISBN 9781634714457.

ea vol: 32p. (How-To Library). diag. further reading. glossary. illus. index. photos. websites. Cherry Lake. Aug. 2016. lib. ed. $20.95. pap. $9.95. ebk. $32.95.

Gr 3-6 –While this set is chock-full of solid diagrammatic illustrations, especially necessary for demonstrating knots and crochet, inconsistencies throughout hinder the appeal. A couple of truly innovative projects, such as “Glowing Plastic Bottle Lamp” in Recyclables and a washboard instrument in Instruments, make appearances. However, material specs are often too vague. For instance, a macramé project in Knot Bracelets will take forever made with the skinny “hemp cord” most frequently found in craft shops, but neither the instructions nor the illustration suggests finding fat, heavy-duty cord. A faux-leather vase in Recyclables receives a final coat of “varnish,” but a specific kind is not mentioned. VERDICT Consider Knot Bracelets and Crochet for their extremely legible diagrams.

Reid, Emily. Monster Claymation. ISBN 9781508192008; ISBN 9781508192039; ISBN 9781508191971.

––––. Robot Claymation. ISBN 9781 508192015; ISBN 9781508192046; ISBN 9781508191988.

––––. Safari Claymation. ISBN 9781508192022; ISBN 9781508192053; ISBN 9781508191995.

––––. Space Claymation. ISBN 9781499481020; ISBN 9781499481006; ISBN 9781499481037.

––––. Sports Claymation. ISBN 9781499481068; ISBN 9781499481044; ISBN 9781499481075.

––––. Underwater Claymation. ISBN 9781499481105; ISBN 9781499481082; ISBN 9781499481112.

ea vol: 32p. (Claymation Sensation). glossary. index. photos. Windmill. Aug. 2016. lib. ed. $28.50. pap. $11.75. ebk. $28.50.

Gr 4-6 –Stop-motion animation is a great technique for tween storytellers, as it allows them to create settings and stunts they could likely never reproduce in a live-action film. This series shows budding filmmakers how to build characters on wire armatures to make movement easier to manage. They’ll also learn how to use Styrofoam or balls of foil to bulk up their puppets without adding weight, and how to add weight to the base of figures so that they don’t fall over during filming. Pro tips like using magnets and toothpicks to manipulate figures and scenery are also included. Each volume contains step-by-step instructions for building seven figures, a few props, and a set. Except for the polymer clay, no special craft items are required. Novices will need some technical guidance, as these books mention film apps to shoot and edit animation but do not list any. VERDICT Good tips for making Claymation figures and moving them around.

Middle to High School

Fontichiaro, Kristin. Hacking Fashion: Denim. ISBN 9781634714167; ISBN 9781634714327; ISBN 9781634714402.

Huggett, Audrey. Solar Energy Projects. ISBN 9781634714174; ISBN 9781634714334; ISBN 9781634714419.

Lovett, Amber. littleBits. ISBN 9781634714150; ISBN 9781634714310; ISBN 9781634714396.

Ng, Sandy. Makey Makey. ISBN 9781634714143; ISBN 9781634714303; ISBN 9781634714389.

ea vol: 32p. (Makers as Innovators). further reading. glossary. index. photos. websites. Cherry Lake. Aug. 2016. lib. ed. $20.95. pap. $9.95. ebk. $32.95.

Gr 4-8 –While there are extremely interesting ideas in this series, such as a solar oven and a littleBits night-light, this set is for sophisticated crafters and readers. These offerings are all about decoding written instructions—photos or drawings of the work in progress are scarce. However, pages are easy on the eyes, with an uncluttered design that incorporates sidebars and some photos. This series is worth considering on a title-by-title basis rather than as a total package purchase. Denim includes about 20 projects ranging from quick and easy (steampunk vest) to somewhat challenging (denim mailbag), while there are only two or three projects in Makey Makey, littleBits, and Solar Energy. VERDICT The tech selections fill a gap, but the more traditional craft books may overlap options a library already owns.

Kachidurian, Debbie & Megan Kachidurian. Bring on the Bling!: Bracelets, Anklets, and Rings for All Occasions. ISBN 9781491482315.

Laughlin, Kara L. Sparkle and Shine!: Trendy Earrings, Necklaces, and Hair Accessories for All Occasions. ISBN 9781491482285.

Phillips, Jennifer. Picture Perfect!: Glam Scarves, Belts, Hats, and Other Fashion Accessories for All Occasions. ISBN 9781491482292.

Ventura, Marne. The Perfect Pair!: Purses, Handbags, and Wallets for All Occasions. ISBN 9781491482308.

ea vol: 48p. (Accessorize Yourself!). further reading. photos. Capstone. Aug. 2016. lib. ed. $25.95.

Gr 4-8 –Kids interested in experimenting with their personal style will find a lot of intriguing ideas in this series. Twenty-plus projects per volume show readers how to combine craft store materials with repurposed household items to create expressive accessories. A couple of old neckties become an obi-style belt, while a pack of playing cards can be turned into a necklace. A wide variety of techniques are employed, so there’s something here for any skill level, from simple cut-and-glue projects to more complicated ones necessitating sewing. Not a lot of artistic ability is required in order to achieve successful results, just manual dexterity, materials, and a willingness to experiment. VERDICT Best for craft enthusiasts interested in fashion and looking for new ideas.

Song, Sok. Everyday Origami: A Foldable Fashion Guide. ISBN 9781515716303.

––––. Origami Accessories: A Foldable Fashion Guide. ISBN 9781515716235.

––––. Origami Outfits: A Foldable Fashion Guide. ISBN 9781515716310.

ea vol: 48p. (Fashion Origami). further reading. photos. Capstone. Aug. 2016. lib. ed. $23.99.

Gr 4-8 –Something new for origami enthusiasts and fashion fans alike. These projects, designed by master folder Song, will result in clothes and accessories for fashionable dolls or paper dolls. Given a big enough piece of paper, a few of these models, such as the clutch, bracelet, and ballet flat in Accessories, will even work for human use. Exceptionally clear instructions and diagrams, coupled with a no-nonsense design, ensure success even for novice folders. With 10 projects per volume, there is still ample space for step-by-step instructions. (When it comes to origami, the more steps the better.) Peppy printed papers and a mod-looking cover give this series lots of shelf appeal. VERDICT Upgrade your origami section with these original models and excellent instructions.

It is difficult, near impossible, to evaluate craft instructions without testing them out. Knot Bracelets and Crochet from Cherry Lake’s “How-To Library” were able to help produce a good-looking macramé hanging on the first try and teach the often complex task that is crochet with ease. Consider ABDO’s “Super Simple Critter Crafts” to not only get little ones crafting but also strengthen their reading skills. Capstone’s “Fashion Origami” is a great selection to update origami collections, and “Recycled Science” mixes smart design with STEM-related crafts. Activity books succeed when there is an equal emphasis on learning and playing so that students can come to new knowledge just by doing.

Paula Willey, Baltimore County Public Library, Towson

For the latest nonfiction series reviews, check out the Fall 2016 Series Made Simple

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Kids are using VR to explore worlds and create new ones


Kids are using VR to explore worlds and create new ones


Kids are using VR to explore worlds and create new ones

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