Brilliant Biospheres to Terrific Technology | Arts & Crafts Series Nonfiction

Craft and activity books come in a variety of themes. These series cover video games, puzzles, search-and-find activities, and STEM challenges. 


Craft and activity books come in a variety of themes; they can center on a holiday, a historical period, a country, or a skill. Grouping projects by required materials can be extremely useful. On the other hand, books that take a holistic approach to a single theme can offer crafty kids a suite of related activities that add up to a cool homemade installation. Video game titles are also covered in this section; "Game On!" (ABDO/Checkerboard Library) details the development of kids’ favorite games, while the "Unofficial Guides" (Cherry Lake) navigate major aspects of each game.


Dudziuk, Kasia. Amazing Animals. ISBN 9781725394735.
––––. Fairy Tales. ISBN 9781725394698.
Higgins, Megan. Around the World. ISBN 9781725394605.
––––. City Life. ISBN 9781725394643.
ea vol: 32p. (Spot-a-Thon). Rosen/Windmill. Jan. 2020. Tr. $27.25.
K-Gr 2 –Twenty-three puzzles per book encourage print awareness. Whether readers are finding the rainbow unicorn, counting the clownfish hiding among the anemones, or examining jack-o’-lanterns to find the one with three eyes, their efforts are rewarded with adorable, candy-colored, digital cartoon art. The tasks of spotting the difference and finding the exact duplicates require close examination, giving striving readers practice with concentration. Fluffy animals, interesting costumes, and a diverse cast of children and adults add interest to these somewhat repetitive challenges. VERDICT Attractive additions to your collection of observational challenges for beginning readers.


Schuette, Sarah L. Around the World. ISBN 9781977114419.
––––. Food. ISBN 9781977114433.
––––. Vehicles. ISBN 9781977114426.
––––. The Zoo. ISBN 9781977114440.
ea vol: 32p. (Can You Find It?). Capstone/Pebble. Jan. 2020. Tr. $29.32.
PreS-Gr 2 –Seek-and-find books are valuable tools for word acquisition and print engagement. They provide inherent rewards for scrupulous attention, often with humor and visual surprises. The best combine visually pleasing compositions with varied textures and harmonious or brilliant color palettes. It’s a lot harder to put together an effective "I Spy" composition than you might think, and the team at Capstone has done a beautiful job with this series. Crystal clear photography and printing are paired with clean, consistent design, with objects to be found listed across the bottom of the pages with their photographs. VERDICT Pretty additions to a popular genre.

Ventura, Marne. Building Boats That Float. ISBN 9781977112972.
––––. Building Marble Runs. ISBN 9781977113009.
––––. Building Simple Traps. ISBN 9781977112989.
––––. Building Stone Bridges. ISBN 9781977112996.
––––. Building Sunshades. ISBN 9781977113016.
––––. Building Tough Towers. ISBN 9781977112965.
ea vol: 24p. (Fun STEM Challenges). Capstone/Pebble. Jan. 2020. Tr. $27.32.
PreS-Gr 2 –The enormous, full-bleed photos of a child concentrating on each structure and then reacting with genuine surprise during the experimentation process provide a level of authenticity and believability in this series. Each book starts with a simple, clear definition of the structure, with a cursory attempt at explaining its use. After assembling materials, readers are propelled straight into creation on page eight. Using only a beginning reader word count and vocabulary, each book guides readers through the project. Each step prompts open-ended observation, reflection, and questions. The series also features an attractive design with large type, lots of white space, and graphics in bold, bright colors. VERDICT Appealing photos draw readers into projects that teach new vocabulary and concepts via real-world demonstration.


Bean, Raymond. Backpacking Hacks: Camping Tips for Outdoor Adventures. ISBN 9781543590319.
––––. Wildlife Watching: Spotting Animals on Outdoor Adventures. ISBN 9781543590357.
Hoena, Blake. Campfire Cooking: Wild Eats for Outdoor Adventures. ISBN 9781543590333.
––––. Wilderness Survival: Basic Safety for Outdoor Adventures. ISBN 9781543590296.
ea vol: 48p. (Outdoor Adventure Guides). Capstone. Jan. 2020. Tr. $23.99.
Gr 3-5 –When it comes to outdoor adventure, it’s important to pick the right resources. These ruggedly handsome titles help establish priorities, whether it’s shelter from the elements or what equipment to bring and what to leave behind. The books stress planning ahead, gathering information, and using observation to inform decision-making. Full of tips and hacks, they also include instructions for useful items like solar stills, packable toothpaste, first aid kits, fire starting packs, and more. Abundant stock photos of wild animals and diverse hikers will inspire readers, while an engaging page layout with lots of sidebars and captions offers multiple entry points. VERDICT Packed with good advice and good-looking to boot.

Bergin, Mark. Clay. ISBN 9781912904280.
––––. Collage. ISBN 9781912904396.
––––. Leaves. ISBN 9781912904402.
––––. Paper. ISBN 9781912904303.
––––. Pebble. ISBN 9781912904310.
Scrace, Carolyn. Handprints. ISBN 9781912904297.
ea vol: illus. by author. 32p. (Arty Crafty). Black Rabbit/Book House. Jan. 2020. Tr. $32.80.
Gr 4-6 –Crafters who like making things with on-hand and natural materials will find lots of inspiration here. The 13 to 14 projects in each of these books offer practice with materials (yarn, paint, glue, clay), techniques (collage, printing, stencils), and creative judgment. Most projects can be completed within about 20 minutes, making them good for classroom or club use, but enthusiastic artists could spend much longer perfecting and decorating their work. The layout is a bit of a challenge; numbered steps and their accompanying photos meander around the page. The color palette and type choices are busy, too. Handprints is a standout title and features a wider variety of projects. VERDICT Grist for the crafter’s mill.

Hunt, Santana. Making Desserts with Math! ISBN 9781538245552.
––––. Making Pasta with Math! ISBN 9781538245590.
––––. Making Pizza with Math! ISBN 9781538245644.
––––. Making Salads with Math! ISBN 9781538245729.
––––. Making Snacks with Math! ISBN 9781538245767.
––––. Making Soups with Math! ISBN 9781538245682.
ea vol: 24p. (Cooking with Math!). Rosen/Gareth Stevens. Jan. 2020. Tr. $22.60.
Gr 1-3 –This series shows the connection between cooking and STEM. It’s essential to know how to tell time, double a recipe, and subtract in the kitchen, and these simple challenges are scattered throughout the books. Four recipes function as four short chapters in these leveled readers, which combine cooking, reading, and math problems, ensuring that there’s something new to do on every page. Recipes have no more than five steps (although steps are combined in Making Pasta with Math!—you can’t make lasagna in five steps) and use whole foods such as fruits and grains without much added sugar. Making Snacks with Math! is notable for featuring healthy choices such as hummus and trail mix. ­VERDICT Attractive photos invite junior chefs to try their hand at these attainable recipes.

Loya, Allyssa. Sporty Algorithms. ISBN 9781541576919.
––––. Sporty Bugs and Errors. ISBN 9781541576933.
––––. Sporty Conditionals. ISBN 9781541576926.
––––. Sporty Looping. ISBN 9781541576940.
ea vol: 32p. (Sports Coding Concepts). Lerner. Jan. 2020. Tr. $27.99.
Gr 1-3 –Practice coding concepts with pencil and paper—and sometimes balls and baskets—in this peppy, easy-to-read series. With an emphasis on rote movement, sequences, and clear results, sports provide fine metaphors for computer programming. Eleven coding projects per volume increase in difficulty from ridiculously simple (put the steps in the right order to shoot a basket) to moderately challenging (writing algorithms for guiding athletes through a course). A variety of formats keeps these puzzle books from looking too much like homework. Some challenges are set up as two-person games. Some use props, and others provide a game board within the book. Big, clear photos of diverse children and adults in athletic action and generous graphics make these books seem easy and fun. VERDICT Coding puzzles that use the language and processes of sports to effectively demonstrate concepts.

Polinsky, Paige V. Fortnite. ISBN 9781532191640.
––––. Just Dance. ISBN 9781532191657.
––––. Madden NFL. ISBN 9781532191664.
––––. Mario. ISBN 9781532191671.
––––. Minecraft. ISBN 9781532191688.
––––. Pokémon. ISBN 9781532191695.
ea vol: 32p. (Game On!). ABDO/Checkerboard Library. Dec. 2019. Tr. $28.50.
Gr 3-6 –This serious nonfiction approach to the development and success of popular electronic games is wrapped in a design and illustration package that keeps interest high. Reading these titles back-to-back offers a truly fascinating comparison of the varied ways video games develop and succeed. Minecraft gained a huge following via test releases and Kickstarter before its creator even quit his day job, while Mario was closely linked to Nintendo’s hardware development. Just Dance was developed to take advantage of the Wii; Madden’s success was closely tied to relationships with game companies and the NFL. "Behind the Screens" information offers a sneak peek at the design process, branding and merchandise, music, motion capture process, and choreography. These sidebars include quotes from game designers and other insiders. VERDICT With standard back matter (time line and ­glossary) and nonfiction organization, these books give readers the chance to use their favorite games as report subjects.

Schuette, Sarah L. 10-Minute Art Projects. ISBN 9781543590944.
––––. 10-Minute Duct Tape Projects. ISBN 9781543590982.
––––. 10-Minute Engineering Projects. ISBN 9781543590937.
––––. 10-Minute Paper Projects. ISBN 9781543590968.
––––. 10-Minute Science Projects. ISBN 9781543590951.
––––. 10-Minute Yarn Projects. ISBN 9781543590975.
ea vol: 32p. (10-Minute Makers). Capstone. Jan. 2020. Tr. $23.99.
Gr 3-5 –Most of the 13 projects in each book are easily completed in a short time—with the exception of 10-Minute Yarn Projects and a few of the examples in 10-Minute Engineering Projects. Bright colors and helpful process photos invite crafters into projects both decorative and useful. Some projects encourage (or even require) a fair amount of improvisation. 10-Minute Paper Projects assumes that every young crafter is extremely adept at using scissors and cutting. 10-Minute Science Projects includes well-considered mini-experiments; 10-Minute Engineering Projects offers interesting but sometimes rickety structural challenges. 10-Minute Duct Tape, Art, and Yarn Projects feature familiar as well as remixed versions of classic crafts—friendship bracelets made of yarn but also duct tape beads; painted rocks but also a yarn-wrapped version. VERDICT Lots of uses for classic craft materials in these friendly books.

VAN Lent, Colleen & Kristin Fontichiaro. Coding at the Grocery Store. ISBN 9781534159297.
––––. Coding at the Water Park. ISBN 9781534159266.
––––. Coding at the Zoo. ISBN 9781534159242.
––––. Coding in the Cafeteria. ISBN 9781534159303.
––––. Coding in the City. ISBN 9781534159259.
––––. Coding in the Science Lab. ISBN 9781534159273.
––––. Coding Onstage. ISBN 9781534159280.
––––. Coding on the Playground. ISBN 9781534159235.
ea vol: 24p. (Operation Code). Cherry Lake. Jan. 2020. Tr. $28.50.
Gr 2-4 –The most frustrating part of learning to code is the setup phase. Constructing an environment requires lots of steps before getting to the fun parts. This series and its associated projects shortcut that process, dropping coders into scenes already created online. The result is on-paper tutorials with large, helpful graphics of sections of code, padded with "Pro Tips" offering mnemonics and encouragement. Two-page chapters organize the coding projects into easily completed tasks, most of which teach a single concept. Readers will gain practice with layers, movement, duplication, loops, and signals and end up with cute animations. ­VERDICT Great as an adjunct to online tutorials.


Claybourne, Anna. Make a Biosphere and Mini Garden. ISBN 9780778773528.
––––. Make a Castle. ISBN 9780778773542.
––––. Make an Amusement Park. ISBN 9780778773535.
––––. Make a Space Center. ISBN 9780778773559.
––––. Make a Theater and Movie Set. ISBN 9780778773566.
––––. Make a Transportation Hub. ISBN 9780778773573.
ea vol: 32p. (Make-It Models). Crabtree. Jan. 2020. Tr. $27.60.
Gr 5-9 –In this series, nine to 11 related mini-projects can be put together to make a fun, large, multicomponent project or made piecemeal as the mood strikes. STEM concepts permeate these books: A gravity-powered fountain in Make a Biosphere and Mini Garden is ingenious and relatively foolproof, as is the drawbridge in Make a Castle. Precise digital drawings look almost like diagrams, making them good support for the copious (up to 15 steps), easy-to-follow instructions. This is beneficial for detailed subjects like seed heads; lines indicate where to cut. Builders are encouraged to survey their surroundings for items that can be used as raw materials alongside standard craft supplies (hot glue, string, straws). Make a Biosphere and Mini Garden asks for potting soil, seeds, and sand, but even these special purchases will not break the bank. VERDICT Field-tested projects for weeks of fun.


Gregory, Josh. Apex Legends: Beginner’s Guide. ISBN 9781534159679.
––––. Apex Legends: Characters. ISBN 9781534159693.
––––. Apex Legends: Combat. ISBN 9781534159723.
––––. Apex Legends: Guide to Kings Canyon. ISBN 9781534159747.
––––. Apex Legends: Equipment. ISBN 9781534159709.
––––. Apex Legends: Microtransactions. ISBN 9781534159716.
––––. Apex Legends: Teamwork. ISBN 9781534159730.
––––. Fornite: Creative Mode. ISBN 9781534159631.
––––. Fornite: Guide to Chapter 2. ISBN 9781534167247.
––––. Fornite: Guide to the Island. ISBN 9781534159662.
––––. Fornite: Save the World. ISBN 9781534159648.
––––. Fornite: World Cup. ISBN 9781534159655.
––––. The Making of Apex Legends. ISBN 9781534159686.
ea vol: 32p. (Unofficial Guides). Cherry Lake. Jan. 2020. Tr. $29.93.
Gr 5-8 –Learning to read nonfiction is a lot like learning a new action game—readers must figure out how to navigate around (or through) sidebars, observe text landmarks like headings or captions to decide which spot to explore first, and use a table of contents and index shortcuts as portals that jump to precise location. These guidebooks provide advice and explanations to beginners, although experienced players may enjoy them, too. Managing inventory, movement, strategy, building, questing, and earning and spending in-game currency are all covered. Lots of large screen captures maintain interest. Warnings about privacy and in-game purchases are included. Although both games are rated "T for Teen" (13+), this series is for children as young as 10. VERDICT Concentrating on the basics, this series won’t become obsolete.


Rathburn, Betsy. Rock Crafts. ISBN 9781644871898.
––––. Seed Crafts. ISBN 9781644871911.
––––. Stick Crafts. ISBN 9781644871928.
Sabelko, Rebecca. Flower Crafts. ISBN 9781644871874.
––––. Leaf Crafts. ISBN 9781644871881.
––––. Sand Crafts. ISBN 9781644871904.
ea vol: 24p. (Crafting with Nature). Bellwether/Express!. Jan. 2020. Tr. $25.95.
Gr 3-8 –Many of the eight projects in these books are, to be frank, a little dicey. Natural materials are not always easy to work with, and in many cases, the amount of connective material (string, glue, tape) is equal to or exceeds the amount of natural material in use. A sand bowl is made with equal parts sand and an unspecified type of glue; in our tests it wouldn’t hold together. A painted rock turtle, hot glued together, fell apart under its own weight when moved. VERDICT This series suffers from inconsistent layouts that make steps hard to follow and a nonstandard placement of materials lists. Projects are not likely to yield satisfying results.

Every season, one or two sets of books in this section end up in my library’s "try this" programming collection. "10-Minute Makers" (Capstone) made the cut for its low-cost, easy, and satisfying uses of duct tape, yarn, and paper, and so did "Make-It Models" (Crabtree). It’s obvious when an author has actually made the projects in a book—readers will find reinforced joints or extra steps that keep projects stable, like filling a garden tray with sand to make a bed for small pots in Make a Biosphere and Mini Garden. Similarly, in Make a Castle and Make a Space Center, shapes that attach to round structures are flanged using small cuts so that the pieces fit together snugly. Readers learn lots about video game development in "Game On!" (ABDO/Checkerboard Library) and gain the authority to bandy terms like battle pass and respawn with "Unofficial Guides" (Cherry Lake). Catapult potential coders into using Scratch with "Operation Code" (Cherry Lake) and add value to the cooking forays of budding chefs with "Cooking with Math!" (Rosen/Gareth Stevens).

Be the first reader to comment.

Comment Policy:
  • Be respectful, and do not attack the author, people mentioned in the article, or other commenters. Take on the idea, not the messenger.
  • Don't use obscene, profane, or vulgar language.
  • Stay on point. Comments that stray from the topic at hand may be deleted.
  • Comments may be republished in print, online, or other forms of media.
  • If you see something objectionable, please let us know. Once a comment has been flagged, a staff member will investigate.



We are currently offering this content for free. Sign up now to activate your personal profile, where you can save articles for future viewing