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Spectacular and Craft-Tacular: Arts & Crafts Series Nonfiction

MacGyver has become a verb, and readers will be MacGyvering all over the place with books that teach STEM skills, encourage tinkering and repeated testing, and show how to reuse recyclables. The series below offer original activities, new takes on old favorites, and great-looking reproducibles for library, club, or classroom use.

Never underestimate the practical lessons of hands-on activities. MacGyver has become a verb, and readers will be MacGyvering all over the place with books that teach STEM skills, encourage tinkering and repeated testing, and show how to reuse recyclables. There are two types of crafters: people who want detailed step-by-step instructions that will lead to a guaranteed outcome and people who prefer an idea and a few process notes. Look for books that provide enough detail for the former, while allowing the latter to go their own way. Projects that mention variations or ask questions are a good indication of an author who has taken the more experimental crafter into account. The series below offer original activities, new takes on old favorites, and great-looking reproducibles for library, club, or classroom use.

 

ELEMENTARY

Colins, Luke. Draw a Funny Alphabet! ISBN 9781680729450.
––––. Draw Animals Dressed Like People! ISBN 9781680729467.
––––. Draw Funny 3-D Pictures! ISBN 9781680729474.
––––. Draw Funny Bugs! ISBN 9781680729481.
––––. Draw Funny Holiday Pictures! ISBN 9781680729498.
––––. Draw Silly Superheroes! ISBN 9781680729504.
ea vol: 24p. (Silly Sketcher). further reading. glossary. illus. websites. Black Rabbit/Hi Jinx. Sept. 2019. Tr. $29.95.
Gr 2-6 –The drawing projects featured in these books (seven per book) contain outlandish figures and kooky expressions. Along the way, readers gain practice drawing cartoon staples like flames, poofy clouds, motion lines, curlicues, and fur while learning techniques like perspective, proportion, and lettering. Good advice, reflective questions, and career connections add value. Though finished examples are extremely aspirational—not only done with a high degree of finesse but digitally drawn and colored—tracing and guide lines are recommended. This cartoon style makes departing from the literal steps easy. If readers want to draw a curly-haired superhero dancing instead of shooting through the sky, it’s an uncomplicated switch. VERDICT Easy to follow, fun to draw, with great technique practice.

Kington, Emily. Be an Animal Tracker. ISBN 9781541555211.
––––. Go on a Critter Scavenger Hunt. ISBN 9781541555235.
––––. Make a Nature Sculpture. ISBN 9781541555259.

––––. Make Forest Faces and Mud Monsters. ISBN 9781541555273.
ea vol: 24p. (Get Outside!). photos. Lerner/Hungry Tomato. Aug. 2019. Tr. $27.99.
Gr 1-3 –Attractive photos make these very simple, mostly improvisational activities more substantive than they might seem. The six to eight projects in each book resemble what we used to think of as idle fooling around in the yard or the park. Most of the final creations are ephemeral, but this is not to devalue them. Kids learn about structures and materials when they experiment, and using leaves and sticks means that materials are always available. A few techniques are presented—using paint in a spray bottle, wrapping yarn, or tying knots. Many activities encourage observation, such as looking for faces and patterns in bark or sticks or playing with your shadow. Each book includes safety tips and a list of tools and materials. VERDICT Great ideas for getting outside...and looking at, touching, and playing with what you find there.

Kington, Emily. I Am Not a Box! ISBN 9781541555136.
––––. I Am Not an Egg Carton! ISBN 9781541555174.
––––. I Am Not a Paper Plate! ISBN 9781541555150.
––––. I Am Not a Paper Roll! ISBN 9781541555198.
ea vol: 24p. (Ready-Made Recycling). photos. Lerner/Hungry Tomato. Aug. 2019. Tr. $27.99.
Gr 1-3 –Multiple techniques and materials are presented in most of these projects, so readers will be reaching for their paint, glue, paper clay, string, and/or pipe cleaners. Nearly any craft supply can be used to embellish penguins made from egg cartons or to make paper tube mermaids or to create cardboard communities. Instructions contain four to eight steps, with an average of one photo per step illustrating the final creation. Not all egg cartons, boxes, or tubes are the same, so a little improvisation will be necessary to reproduce the results shown. The crafts are executed at a fairly high level but are still attainable. In particular, painted details are kept convincingly childlike. In particular, the monster bank looks silly rather than sinister. A few additional items are required to transform recyclable materials into projects. String and other minor consumables add texture. VERDICT This series showcases fun ways to make low-cost crafts and will satisfy makers of all ages.

Loman, Sam. Enchanted Puzzles. ISBN 9781538391747.
––––. Fairy Puzzles. ISBN 9781538391785.
––––. Mermaid Puzzles. ISBN 9781538391822.
––––. Unicorn Puzzles. ISBN 9781538391860.
ea vol: 32p. (Magical Puzzles). illus. Rosen/Windmill. Aug. 2019. lib. ed. $27.25.
K-Gr 2 –The 20 to 25 puzzles in each of the books in this series reward scrupulous attention to the page, asking the reader to follow a twisty line with a finger, look closely for hidden fairies or baby otters, or find patterns in grids of shapes or letters. A wide variety of challenges offers practice with literacy and numeracy skills, as well as working memory and pattern recognition. A little self-expression is sprinkled like edible glitter on top of these cupcakes—pictures to decorate or draw, names to make up, and naming memes. Best of all, these fairies wear boots and sneakers in addition to tutus and slippers and have diverse skin tones and hair textures (although all are slender and most are girls). VERDICT Fun skill-based puzzles for fans of all things pretty.

Olson, Elsie. Build a Shelter Your Way!: Constructing Weatherproof Structures. ISBN 9781532119712.
––––. Design Survival Clothing Your Way!: Crafting Weatherproof Wearables. ISBN 9781532119743.
––––. Make a Pack Your Way!: Building Bags to Haul Your Gear. ISBN 9781532119767.
Thomas, Rachael L. Craft a Water Bottle Your Way!: Creating Cool Carriers for Liquids. ISBN 9781532119729.
––––. Create a Camp Kitchen Your Way!: Making Cooking and Eating Tools. ISBN 9781532119736.
––––. Make a Light Your Way!: Inventing Gadgets to See in the Dark. ISBN 9781532119750.
ea vol: 32p. (Super Simple DIY Survival). glossary. photos. ABDO/Super Sandcastle. Aug. 2019. Tr. $28.50.
K-Gr 4 –Making functional items adds a layer of rigor, as use factors impose limitations on form. No matter how much you want to make a water bottle out of sequined net, you are going to need a watertight layer. Rather than listing detailed steps, these books provide general guidance and thoughtful nudges to spur decisions about size, materials, needs, and appearance. Testing, adjusting, and retesting are treated with as much importance as initial design. Failure is clearly built into the process. Going back to the drawing board process, though frustrating, is a natural and essential part of designing objects and discovering methods that work. Constructing—or attempting to construct—a functional item can be a window into the objects that surround us. These good-looking guides make acquiring these insights fun while offering helpful advice. VERDICT Great pictures and friendly text combine the fun of creation with the challenge of engineering.

Virr, Paul & Lisa Regan . Adding Puzzles. ISBN 9781538391983.
––––. Counting Puzzles. ISBN 9781538392027.
––––. Logic Puzzles. ISBN 9781538392065.
––––. Number Puzzles. ISBN 9781538392102.
––––. Pattern Puzzles. ISBN 9781538391907.
––––. Shape Puzzles. ISBN 9781538392140.
––––. Sorting Puzzles. ISBN 9781538392188.
––––. Subtraction Puzzles. ISBN 9781538391945.
ea vol: illus. by Amanda Enright. 32p. (Puzzle It Out!). glossary. index. Rosen/Windmill. Aug. 2019. Tr. $27.25.
Gr 1-4 –Full-page, full-color graphics are an extra reward for kids who find math activities fun. They’ll gain practice with numeracy skills and concepts such as counting, exception, pairs, patterns, comparison, order, symmetry, odd/even, and simple arithmetic. Each book contains 19 to 24 one- and two-page puzzles, including mazes, spot the difference, and Odd One Out games. Many of these are two-part challenges like count and then match. On-trend cartoon artwork features bright colors and big eyes, with smooth geometric shapes—reminiscent of the style featured in the “Owl Diaries” series. Logic and Pattern are standouts, with activities that feel more like riddles and less like homework. VERDICT Great for solo play or as activity sheets to photocopy and distribute.

Virr, Paul. Animal Antics. ISBN 9781538391204.
––––. Kitchen Capers. ISBN 9781538391228.
––––. Monster Laughs. ISBN 9781538391266.
––––. Silly Stories. ISBN 9781538391303.
ea vol: illus. by Amanda Enright. 32p. (Just Kidding!). glossary. index. Rosen/Windmill. Aug. 2019. lib. ed. $27.25.
Gr 1-4 –If your joke books could use an update, then this short series is worth a look. The bright colors, full-bleed art, and appealing characters offer lots of shelf appeal. The jokes range from groaningly punny to borderline clever. Most jokes are two to a page, featuring an illustrated scene that helps readers comprehend the colloquialism, double meaning, or pun. This is an important facet, as early readers and English language learners sometimes struggle with the homophones that form the basis of most puns. “What do vampires never have for lunch?” makes more sense when a pointy, wooden stake (“Steak”) appears on the plate. English is a tricky language and jokes can help introduce new readers to its nuances. VERDICT The cute and colorful art in these books can assist reading comprehension.

 

UPPER ELEMENTARY

Adams, Simon. Project Ancient Egypt. ISBN 9781725393011.
de la Bedoyere, Camilla. Project Bugs. ISBN 9781725393035.
––––. Project Earth. ISBN 9781725393059.
Farndon, John. Project Body. ISBN 9781725393028.
––––. Project Science. ISBN 9781725393066.
Graham, Ian. Project Space. ISBN 9781725393073.
Parker, Steve. Project Dinosaur. ISBN 9781725393042.
Steele, Philip. Project Weather. ISBN 9781725393080.
ea vol: 32p. (The Project Makers). diag. glossary. index. photos. Rosen/Windmill. Aug. 2019. lib. ed. $28.50.
Gr 3-6 –Have you been looking for a great micrometeorites project? Packed with illustrations, vivid photos, cool facts, and 11 projects both familiar and new, these books combine real-life examples and experiments to hook readers. Floods in Weather, predation in Bugs, mummification in Egypt, and disasters in Earth keep readers’ interest at a high. Illustrations in a variety of styles send the message that there’s no right or wrong way to draw a dinosaur, visualize earth processes, or illustrate scientific concepts. “How It Works” sidebars and graphic explainers like maps and time lines show up when needed, along with questions that encourage analytical thinking. The craft instructions are a bit minimal in places, but for pep and appeal, this series can’t be beat. VERDICT Streamlined, immersive, entertaining information delivery, supported by experimentation and observation activities.

Gibson, Karen Bush. Gutsy Girls Go for Science: Paleontologists with STEM Activities for Kids. ISBN 9781619307902.
––––. Gutsy Girls Go for Science: Programmers with STEM Activities for Kids. ISBN 9781619307865.
Klepeis, Alicia. Gutsy Girls Go for Science: Astronauts with STEM Activities for Kids. ISBN 9781619307780.
Taylor, Diane. Gutsy Girls Go for Science: Engineers with STEM Activities for Kids. ISBN 9781619307827.
ea vol: illus. by Shululu. 112p. (Gutsy Girls Go for Science). chron. glossary. index. photos. resources. websites. Nomad. Sept. 2019. Tr. $19.95.
Gr 3-5 –These sprightly biography anthologies spotlight five women whose curiosity and determination led them to break barriers and change perceptions. QR codes support information relayed in time lines, archive photos, reflective questions, sidebars, and pull quotes. The codes are used to their very best effect, sending readers to news reports, archival video, websites, TEDx talks, and even a webcomic. Each link is listed in the back matter. The five or six activities per book range from simple observation to rather involved projects and forgo detailed instructions, instead encouraging readers to make choices and assemble materials and create their own challenges. Engineers is a standout for showcasing little-known stories like water safety pioneer Ellen Swallow Richards, while Programmers has the best activities and uses real programming tools. VERDICT A holistic approach incorporating personal stories, history, and STEM content.

Gregory, Josh. Fortnite: Beginner’s Guide. ISBN 9781534148185.
––––. Fortnite: Building. ISBN 9781534148123.
––––. Fortnite: Combat. ISBN 9781534148130.
––––. Fortnite: Healing Items and Potions. ISBN 9781534148161.
––––. Fortnite: Scavenging. ISBN 9781534148116.
––––. Fortnite: Skins. ISBN 9781534148154.
––––. Fortnite: Weapons. ISBN 9781534148147.
––––. The Making of Fortnite. ISBN 9781534148178.
ea vol: 32p. (Unofficial Guides). further reading. glossary. index. websites. Cherry Lake. Aug. 2019. lib. ed. $29.93.
Gr 4-8 –These game guides, which feature good-looking design and prolific in-game screenshots, will be as readable as they will be popular. Clear writing takes the new Fortnite player through the initial, somewhat baffling phases of the game, while more experienced players will benefit from the organized approach to objects and materials. Fortnite content changes frequently (a new “season” starts every two months), but these books guard against obsolescence by explaining classes of objects and general methods rather than listing the properties of too many specific objects or moves. Additionally, readers will learn about the game’s origin and evolution. Books about subjects familiar to the reader offer valuable experience with interrogating, informative texts. You can bet novice and veteran players will put these books through rigorous interrogation. VERDICT This attractive series lets the Fortnite fan be the expert.

Harbo, Chris. Make Art with Circuits: 4D An Augmented Reading Experience. ISBN 9781543539882.
––––. Make Circuits That Glow or Go: 4D An Augmented Reading Experience. ISBN 9781543539905.
––––. Make Circuits You Can Wear: 4D An Augmented Reading Experience. ISBN 9781543539899.
––––. Make Games with Circuits: 4D An Augmented Reading Experience. ISBN 9781543539912.
ea vol: 48p. (Circuit Creations 4D). further reading. glossary. photos. websites. Capstone. Aug. 2019. Tr. $31.99.
Gr 3-5 –The 11 to 13 projects per book provide experience with various types of conductive materials (graphite, copper tape, circuit pen, salt dough) and LEDs, motors, and bulbs. Variations allow crafters to adapt the projects according to their personal taste and availability of materials. Good safety tips, including “Never put batteries in your mouth,” show that the author is someone who has actually worked with children. Photos of real kids modeling the objects may inspire readers with the confidence to try them. Not all projects involve the flow of electricity. Circuit board jewelry and a tool belt might be considered STEM-adjacent. Games is the standout. Each craft involves two components—creating the game and then playing it, which can encourage the modification of the game as players test their creation. However, the series is missing explanations of why the circuits work. ­VERDICT These wearable, playable crafts offer kids a chance to practice with conductivity.

Hillman, Emilee. Train Your Brain with Activities of Odds and Chance. ISBN 9781502648082.
––––. Train Your Brain with Activities Using Loops. ISBN 9781502648167.
––––. Train Your Brain with Collaboration Activities. ISBN 9781502648129.
––––. Train Your Brain with Data Activities. ISBN 9781502648006.
––––. Train Your Brain with Parallel Computing and If/Then Activities. ISBN 9781502648204.
––––. Train Your Brain with Problem-Solving Activities. ISBN 9781502648044.
ea vol: illus. by Dana Regan. 32p. (Think Like a Programmer). further reading. glossary. index. websites. Cavendish Square. Aug. 2019. lib. ed. $28.50.
Gr 2-5 –When is a coding book not a coding book? When each of its featured 12 activities is not only analog, using real-world data and processes to demonstrate principles of computer logic and coding, but social, meant to be completed with a partner or a team. Computer science concepts are often taught using real-world analogies. This series provides readers with the basis for those analogies, and along the way, shatters some of the preconceptions about computer science. Readers will break down tasks, write instructions, record and analyze data, and practice parallel processing, sorting, and sequencing—all while planning parties, flipping water bottles, making breakfast, playing Simon Says, and engaging in team activities. The characters demonstrating these projects are a diverse group and drawn in cartoon style. The writing style is casual and friendly. VERDICT This series demonstrates how coding and data concepts are grounded in the real world.

Lim, Annalees. Once Upon a Dinosaur Craft. ISBN 9781541558816.
––––. Once Upon a Fairy Tale Craft. ISBN 9781541558779.
––––. Once Upon a Medieval Craft. ISBN 9781541558793.
––––. Once Upon a Pirate Craft. ISBN 9781541558786.
––––. Once Upon a Robots and Aliens Craft. ISBN 9781541558809.
––––. Once Upon an Animal Craft. ISBN 9781541558823.
ea vol: illus. by Supriya Sahai. 32p. (Happily Ever Crafter). illus. Lerner. Aug. 2019. Tr. $27.99.
Gr 2-5 –If you are looking for easy-to-medium crafts and activities, made with plenty of inexpensive, recycled, and on-hand materials, these books are for you. Many of these projects are grouped around a party concept. Costumes, invitations, refreshments, decor, and games provide everything a crafter needs for themed programming. The game crafts are especially welcome; making a game and then playing it reminds kids that they can create their own fun. Lots of room for improvisation and self-expression satisfies crafters who consider instructions just a starting point. Friendly cartoon illustrations in a realistic, graphic novel style make the instructions easy to follow, although the order jumps around the page somewhat. In some cases, a template would be helpful. The last page of each book is a reproducible activity sheet. VERDICT With 24 to 26 economical projects per book, this series offers a lot of bang for the buck.

Troupe, Thomas Kingsley. Build Buzz-Worthy Video Blogs: 4D An Augmented Reading Experience. ISBN 9781543540109.
––––. Create Crazy Stop-Motion Videos: 4D An Augmented Reading Experience. ISBN 9781543540079.
––––. Make Mind-Blowing Music Videos: 4D An Augmented Reading Experience. ISBN 9781543540093.
––––. Shoot Epic Short Documentaries: 4D An Augmented Reading Experience. ISBN 9781543540086.
ea vol: 48p. (Make a Movie! 4D). further reading. glossary. index. photos. websites. Capstone. Aug. 2019. lib. ed. $31.99.
Gr 3-5 –This series offers practical video tutorials. Along with solid tips and advice (don’t shoot yourself standing in front of a window), these books emphasize planning. And while scripts and storyboards are the gold standard, inserting an outlining step before recording a video blog is perhaps unrealistic. By contrast, the sections on editing seem oversimplified: It is difficult to sync video with recorded music, as in Music Videos, without a visual representation of the soundtrack or time markers. Appropriately, the photos in these books are a strong plus and show real kids recording each other, setting up equipment, and hamming it up on camera. VERDICT Great photos and resources will help readers direct their filmmaking efforts.

Wood, Alix. Cement Crafts. ISBN 9781725302969.
––––. Duct Tape DIY. ISBN 9781725303003.
––––. Glow Stick Art. ISBN 9781725303041.
––––. Mason Jar Creations. ISBN 9781725303089.
––––. Popsicle Stick Crafts. ISBN 9781725303126.
––––. Rock Art. ISBN 9781725303164.
ea vol: 32p. (Handmade by Me). further reading. glossary. index. photos. Rosen/PowerKids. Aug. 2019. lib. ed. $27.50.
Gr 3-6 –The opportunity for your library group to make something permanent is going to be hard to resist. Some of the projects in Rock Art have a similar community feel (game pieces, alphabet), while others take inspiration from materials: “Try turning your stone around and look at it from different angles.” Observation is also a theme in Glow Sticks, as readers see how their lights look inside a balloon or through fabric, tape, or paper. Precise directions, supported by good process photos showing hands in motion, contain plenty of opportunity for personalization. Tips for working with each material (clean duct tape gunk off scissors with vinegar, alcohol, or peanut butter) and skills practice (measuring, mixing, transferring a pattern) add value. VERDICT With 11 inspired, original projects in each book, this series may spend more time at your desk than on the shelf.


We are going to use the instructions from I Am Not an Egg Carton (Lerner/Hungry Tomato) to make cute sea creatures at my library, and we’re definitely going to try the octopus window sticker from Once Upon a Pirate Craft (Lerner), a couple of the light projects from Make Circuits That Glow or Go (Capstone), and the water cycle project from Project Weather (Rosen/Windmill). Our library has already adapted the beanbag toss game from Once Upon a Robots and Aliens Craft (Lerner) for a space-themed party. “Handmade by Me” (Rosen/PowerKids) is a standout series. It is packed with inspired, original, and doable projects. Another terrific selection is “Get Outside!” (Lerner/Hungry Tomato), which goes beyond painted rocks and encourages interaction with nature and natural objects. Will it work? Maybe not. Will it fall apart? Probably. But the projects in “Super Simple DIY Survival” (ABDO/Super Sandcastle) offer great practice with the design and testing process.

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