Creative Challenges & Awesome Activities | Arts & Crafts Series Nonfiction

With opportunities for creativity and the chance to gain new skills, this season's arts and craft series include projects and ideas that are foolproof, field-tested, created with on-hand materials, and sufficiently explained using clear text and photos. 


A recent ad for Southwest Airlines features a fourth grade teacher guiding her students through the volcano experiment over Zoom. As vinegar and baking soda catastrophes explode on multiple screens, she likely realizes, “I should have checked the reviews in Series Made Simple first.” Don’t make her mistake: in Let’s Make a Volcano by Katie Chanez (Norwood House) we learn to put the vinegar in FIRST. The COVID-19 pandemic has seen teachers and parents dig deep to find enriching and engaging activities for students, and many have gained a new appreciation for projects and ideas that are foolproof, field-tested, created with on-hand materials, and sufficiently explained using clear text and photos. Add some opportunities for creativity and the chance to gain new skills, and you’ll find the winners in this section.



Bleckwehl, Mary E. The Birthday Cookbook. ISBN 9781623103088.
Brown, Tammy B. The Valentine’s Day Cookbook. ISBN 9781623103132.
Caswell, Mary Lou & Deanna Caswell. The Christmas Cookbook. ISBN 9781623103095.
––––. The Halloween Cookbook. ISBN 9781623103101.
––––. The Independence Day Cookbook. ISBN 9781623103118.
––––. The Thanksgiving Cookbook. ISBN 9781623103125.
ea vol: 24p. (Holiday Recipe Box). Black Rabbit/Hi Jinx. Jan. 2021. Tr. $29.95.
Gr 2-4 –Talk about shelf appeal—these five-recipe cookbooks are unmissable, in ­blazingly bright colors, accompanied by digital animation-style cartoons, and chock-full of sweet treats and gimmicky dishes. Kids can contribute to holiday meals or plan a themed party, from a snack (Pickle Eyeballs,Halloween) to a striking main dish (Fireworks Pizza, Independence Day). An alarming Frito pie/pizza/seven-layer dip hybrid (Gobble Taco Pizza) has the makings of a truly memorable Thanksgiving appetizer. Most recipes rely on assembly and decoration skills, but the heavy use of semi-prepared and premade ingredients such as mixes, crusts, and marshmallow fluff means that results will taste fine regardless of appearance. VERDICT High-interest recipes for kitchen beginners.

Borgert-Spaniol, Megan. Build a Roller Coaster! And More Engineering Challenges. ISBN 9781532194344.
––––. Construct a Tiny House! And More Architecture Challenges. ISBN 9781532194351.
––––. Craft a 3-D Mask! And More Art Challenges. ISBN 9781532194368.
––––. Create a Rocket! And More Flight Challenges. ISBN 9781532194375.
––––. Invent a Game! And More Coding & Strategy Challenges. ISBN 9781532194382.
Felix, Rebecca. Make a Star Light! And More Circuitry Challenges. ISBN 9781532194399.
ea vol: 32p. (Super Simple Makerspace STEAM Challenge). ABDO/Super Sandcastle. Dec. 2020. Tr. $29.93.
Gr 2-4 –The four open-structured engineering challenges in each of these well-designed books are framed in terms of a demand (an aircraft that flies 15 feet) and a limit (build it in 60 minutes). This cut-to-the-chase tasking not only allows for a high degree of experimentation and creativity, but also more closely resembles the way that real-world challenges present themselves. Learning to analyze problems in these terms is a powerful tool in any of the creative or engineering fields covered by these books—and beyond. Examples of solutions to each challenge are provided, with sufficient photos and captions that they could be reproduced, but readers are encouraged to work to get it done their way. VERDICT Readers can learn how tasks are defined and think their way around them in these appealing books.

Chanez, Katie. Let’s Make a Battery. ISBN 9781684508433.
––––. Let’s Make a Fossil. ISBN 9781684508419.
––––. Let’s Make an Egg Drop. ISBN 9781684508426.
––––. Let’s Make a Salt Crystal. ISBN 9781684508402.
––––. Let’s Make a Volcano. ISBN 9781684508389.
––––. Let’s Make Slime. ISBN 9781684508396.
ea vol: 32p. (Make Your Own: Science Experiment!). Norwood House. Jan. 2021. Tr. $26.60.
Gr 3-5 –Readers can take an in-depth look at one classic science project in each of these informative books. Photos and diagrams—along with a fair amount of text—dive deep into the hows and whys of an electrical charge, tectonic movement, crystal formation, and more. The abundant white space with no sidebars or call-outs is great for kids who find too many visual elements distracting or annoying. Readers are led through each experiment with patient step-by-step written instructions, each paired with a large captioned photo of actual kids performing the experiments. Boldface vocabulary words are frequent. VERDICT A calm alternative to often busy science activity books.

Dubke, Karon. Out in Space: A Can-You-Find-It Book. ISBN 9781977132130.
Thompson, Heidi E. On the Farm: A Can-You-Find-It Book. ISBN 9781977132123.
ea vol: 32p. (Can You Find It?). Capstone/Pebble. Jan. 2021. Tr. $29.32.
K-Gr 3 –Capstone continues to offer strong entries in its seek-and-find family of books. Exceptionally clear, well-lit photography gives readers a fighting chance at finding the 10 tiny treasures hidden in the colorful flotsam of each spread. Pattern recognition and visual memory are given a workout in these books, which also serve to engage resistant readers and give them a chance to demonstrate mastery within the pages of a book. Hidden object books are great for sharing, as the nonlinear puzzle play levels the playing field between readers and non-readers. Only persistence and attention will lead to success, as the brain soaks up practice with vocabulary, sorting, memorization, and pattern recognition. VERDICT Keep your supply of hidden object books fresh with these colorful titles.


Upper Elementary toMiddle School

Nelson, Louise. Cardboard Eco Activities. ISBN 9781427128591.
––––. Clothing Eco Activities. ISBN 9781427128607.
––––. Metal Eco Activities. ISBN 9781427128614.
––––. Plastic Eco Activities. ISBN 9781427128621.
ea vol: 24p. (Eco Activities). Crabtree. Jan. 2021. Tr. $23.60.
Gr 3-6 –Here’s something new: these books open with an examination of the properties of the subject material. This is a great starting point for coming up with new projects and making decisions about structure, durability, alteration, or purpose—perfect for a series that provides ideas and guidelines for projects instead of strict step-by-step instructions. Four such starting points appear in each book, with big photos, cheerful colors, and graphic elements that invite and inspire. In addition to the main recycled material, crafters are encouraged to make use of scraps from other projects and treasures from the recycling bin. Messages about waste and recycling, including pictures of kids handling waste responsibly, reinforce the eco message. ­VERDICT Idea seeds for creative and conscientious crafters.

Owen, Ruth. Get Crafting for Your Cool Cat. ISBN 9781647476601.
––––. Get Crafting for Your Delightful Dog. ISBN 9781647476618.
––––. Get Crafting for Your Gorgeous Guinea Pig. ISBN 9781647476625.
––––. Get Crafting for Your Lovely Lizard. ISBN 9781647476649.
ea vol: 24p. (Playful Pet Projects). Bearport/Create!. Jan. 2021. Tr. $26.99.
Gr 3-6 –The page of safety and cleanup instructions that prefaces each of these titles admonishes, “Never force your [pet] to do something it seems unhappy to do”—good advice for avoiding bites but also a reminder that consent applies to all creatures. Four projects include a toy, treat (or treat delivery system), bed, and costume, all made from readily available household and craft store supplies, with an emphasis on recycled materials. Step-by-step instructions accompanied by photos and in some cases by templates help ensure a successful outcome. There’s much measuring, cutting, and gluing, with care taken to avoid harmful materials such as paint, staples, etc. Colorful textured borders and abundant white space are easy on the eye. ­VERDICT Get in on the lizard cosplay trend (go ahead, Google it) with these ­entertaining crafts for pet lovers.

Regan, Lisa. A-Maze-ing Adventures Among the Stars. ISBN 9781499485592.
––––. A-Maze-ing Adventures in Africa and Europe. ISBN 9781499485479.
––––. A-Maze-ing Adventures in Asia and Australasia. ISBN 9781499485554.
––––. A-Maze-ing Adventures in Deep Space. ISBN 9781499485677.
––––. A-Maze-ing Adventures in North and South America. ISBN 9781499485516.
––––. A-Maze-ing Adventures in the Solar ­System. ISBN 9781499485639.
ea vol: illus. by Andy Peters. 32p. (A-Maze-ing Adventures). Rosen/Windmill. Jan. 2021. Tr. $27.25.
Gr 3 Up –Peppy cartoon art and a variety of shapes and colors keep the pages turning through the 11 mazes in each of these books. Good factoids and photos lend credibility, and hidden objects sprinkled among the twisty paths add a bonus challenge. The mazes themselves range from not too hard to difficult. In fact, some mazes are made extremely difficult due to paths that change color, color gradients, and imprecise start and end points. This reviewer questions whether it is entirely respectful to include Vietnam’s Cu Chi tunnels (Down Under, Asia and Australasia), and it is inaccurate to state that Vietnam was cut off “from the rest of the world” during the conflict known in the U.S. as the Vietnam War. VERDICT Cute but challenging, best for advanced maze runners.

We’ve learned a lot about demands and limits this year. “Super Simple Makerspace STEAM Challenge” (ABDO/Super Sandcastle) demonstrates these concepts—so powerful when analyzing problems—to kids. Maybe you’ve turned to puzzles to help detach from stress. Give kids a dose of that with “Can You Find It?” (Capstone/Pebble) or “A-Maze-ing Adventures” (Rosen/Windmill). Activities that challenge but do not defeat keep kids at the proximal edge of learning, where they are most engaged. “Eco Activities” (Crabtree), “Holiday Recipe Box” (Black Rabbit/Hi Jinx), and “Make Your Own: Science ­Experiment!” (Norwood House) offer interesting STEAM ­activities that create a sense of accomplishment and exercise creative muscles.

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