I always looked forward to packages under the tree that were a certain rectangular shape and thickness, heavy and not resilient … I knew they were books. But which book?
I enjoyed receiving fiction and biographies and books about foreign places and history, so in that moment before carefully removing the tape and turning back the wrapping paper fold by fold … I had the possibility of a world of books to anticipate. Even so, I always hoped that among the books there would be at least one volume with which I could do something.
These are the books that gift-givers are reluctant to purchase and wrap because their favorite young people won’t be “reading.” Have no fear! I believe that kids read every word in these books in order to understand what to do, absorb the background information, and ultimately to be able to do something.
There are even bigger payoffs … these books address multiple intelligences, helping kids learn while they play. Creative problem-solving, higher-level thinking, kinetic memory, learning while doing, the urge to explore beyond the book’s information … all of this can be found wrapped inside the pages of these books.
Accessible to younger readers
How Big is the Lion? My First Book of Measuring
by William Accorsi
Workman Publishing, September 2010
“Can you measure the pretty kites? Which is longer–the red or the white?” With felt, lace, buttons, and yarn (inspiring by themselves), this book’s simple text inspires children to use the accompanying 6-inch ruler-on-a-ribbon (it won’t get lost) to measure the creatures and objects on each page. Sometimes there’s a comparison to be made: “Can you measure the pink peacock? Is he taller than the croc?” Sometimes it’s about spatial relationships: “Can you measure the little mouse? Does he fit inside his house?” A lot of learning and math concepts here—they’ll whizz right by your young people. They’ll just be having fun. Sneaky you.
1 + 1 = 5 and Other Unlikely Additions
by David LaRochelle, illustrated by Brenda Sexton
Sterling Publishing, 2010
When does 1 plus 1 equal 3? When two creatures reading books in a library, Mythical Beasts and Barnyard Buddies, realize that one unicorn plus one goat equals three horns! Are you with me? When does 1 plus 1 equal 1? The sun and the moon could answer this in a snap: 1:00 am plus 1:00 pm equal one day! This entire book is a series of mind-bending puzzles, something which David LaRochelle takes very seriously. A lifelong afficionado of contests and puzzles, David’s questions will have your youngsters (and dare I say oldsters?) contemplating alternate ways of thinking. Brenda Sexton’s bright and energetic illustrations offer clues, details that are so involving that the youngest children will enjoy looking at the pictures and the oldest among us will experience great satisfaction upon predicting what the answers might be. (I recommend this book for senior citizen homes, too. These are engaging puzzlers to keep the mind sharp.)
A-MAZE-ing Zoo Adventures
by Jill Kalz, illustrations by Mattia Cerato
Picture Window Books, 2010
Intricately detailed illustrations of zoo layouts, complete with animals, people, buildings, and hidden items that require close attention … these comprise the mazes in this delightful book. Questions are posed by the author that encourage the mazewalker to become involved beyond getting from Start to Finish. In which direction is something? The compass provided on each page will help. Can you count a set of items or people? Of course you can. The double-page mazes are large enough and colorful enough to engage a single child or a group of friends or students in a learning circle. Learning while playing with mazes? Hours of fun! (And nothing to plug in … no battery required.)
by Noël MacNeal
Workman Publishing, 2010
Do you remember getting instructions to make crafts that never turned out as good as the pictures? Well, there’s no danger of that here. You know this author. He’s the bear puppeteer from Disney’s Bear in the Big Blue House. (Translation: he knows puppets.) Using items you have around the house (gloves, envelopes, brown paper bags, construction paper, felt … oh, and take the eyes off of your Mr. Potato Head® or other detachable toys), you can make puppets easily. There are step-by-step photos and written instructions to help even the most timid of puppeteers. The bright illustrations will help inspire the make-your-own spirit. Chapter 5 is all about making puppet theaters … out of chairs and sheets, cardboard boxes, card tables. You can do this! Chapter 6 informs you about telling stories, their structure, suggested public domain stories and folktales, songs you can sing, and telling your family’s history. The last part of the book has pages and pages of reproducible puppet parts, forms, and even a page of eyes to cut out (in case your Mr. Potato Head® is using his). Open up just one page of this book and you’ll be sitting down to make a puppet within minutes.
For older children … and you!
The Book of Potentially Catastrophic Science
by Sean Connelly
Workman Publishing, 2010
I love this guy’s books. He gives us history, the science behind, and the experiment that solidifies understanding of scientific markers. Now, you know your kids. Page through this book before giving it as a gift. Read one or two experiments (they’re all marked with the “degree of mess”) and figure out if this is something you want your children to read. This may be a family-activity book, a good read-aloud (yes, I mean that). Don’t say I didn’t warn you. That being said, I find this book irresistible. Starting with a Stone Age tool and working forward in time to the Large Hadron Collider (don’t worry, you won’t have to give over your basement to strange quarks), your understanding of the advancements in science will take off like a rocket, defying gravity. Wish you (oh, yeah, the kids) knew more about Marie Curie’s discovery of carbon dating? With a fascinating two-page history of Marie Curie’s conclusions about radiation, and “the science behind it” leading us to understand that radioactivity is about energy release, the accompanying experiment invites us to time the popping of popcorn, making scientific notations, and arriving at the “half-life” of popcorn. Dammit, Jim, I’m a reader, not a science geek. Wanna bet?
Mummy Mazes: a Monumental Book
by Elizabeth Carpenter
Workman Publishing, 2010
“Join Professor Archie Ologist on his expedition through the secrets of ancient Egypt—if you dare!” This large book has fold-out pages, each with a black-and-white maze (these are not easy, there are false paths, and only one correct path). Many of the mazes are worthy of coloring with colored pencils (something with a fine tip) . I think the text is equally entrancing (Beware the Mummy!). I learned a great deal by reading through the involving pages. Ever hear the old Arabic expression, “Man fears time, but time fears the pyramids?” Well, no, I haven’t but it set me to thinking. And then I learned that King Djoser built the earliest known pyramid with six huge stone steps. “It stood taller than 34 men stacked one on top of the other and was part of a temple complex the size of 28 football fields.” Oh, this is good reading. There are sidebars with facts for the collectors among us. When you finish a maze correctly, you collect a heiroglyph which you can later translate using the cartouche translator. (I know what I will be doing late on Christmas Eve.)
StoryWorld: Create-a-Story Kit
by John and Caitlin Matthews
Templar Books, an imprint of Candlewick Press
The two people who have created this set of storytelling inspirations are storytellers and folklorists, living in England, teaching and writing and singing. This boxed set of lusciously illustrated cards, each suggesting a story, will have you thinking about stories in a way you haven’t for a long time … if ever. Let’s take a look at “The Man in the Moon” card. The cratered moon has its ear turned toward us, it’s face contemplatively turned away. There’s an old, bearded man walking across the moon, a lantern and a bundle of sticks slung over his back. Two ducks fly near him. A jester with pointy shoes and jingly hat has his faced turned away toward the moon … or is that his face on a stick in his hand? An owl and a scarecrow look on. The illuminations are filled with creatures and faces, flora and fauna. Stories spring into your mind with no effort. Turn the card over and you’ll find prompts: “The Man in the Moon makes the moon wax and wane. Where did he come from and how did he get here? Who is the scarecrow waiting for? What does the owl see?” Another sample card is The Star Blanket and still another The Wild Beast. The small booklet included suggests games and theater and individualized activities. There are even Hidden Clues on each card that tie it to another of the 40 cards in the pack.
Movie Maker: Everything you need to know to create films on your cell phone or digital camera!
created by Tim Grabham, Dave Reeve, Clare Richards, and Suridh Hassan, illustrated by Garry Parsons
Quarto Children’s Books, Candlewick Press, 2010
With the help of this book, I’m going to become a movie producer. Seriously. It’s all in here. In short paragraphs, I learn about planning, preproduction, production, postproduction and … ta-da! … showing the movie. Everything is in here. Wardrobe, makeup, camera shots, composition, lighting … all covered. A binocular mask is included to help the movie maker frame a shot. There are folders to help you be organized: première night (includes tickets); animation studio (with perforated robot parts to punch out and make stop motion films); props and special effects (perforated punch-outs of a time traveler’s wristband, a pirate’s eyepatch, and stickers of fingerprints, cracks, and much more); sound studio (a CD with 99 sounds effects such as sci-fi beeps and sleigh bells and a jet taking off). In the fiction section of the book (we’re reading, remember?), we learn about scriptwriting, silent movies, musicals, and classics in their genre are referenced to inspire readers to watch them. The documentary section has tips for sports films (have you watched Step into Liquid, the surfing film?), travelogues, and nature films. In the animation section, there are tips for stop-motion (watch Coraline or The Wrong Trousers), painting cels, and experimental films. A separate booklet provides reproducible pages for creating your own storyboards or filling in the blanks between scenes that the authors suggest. I’ve saved the coolest part for last: the box this all comes in is a movie clapboard and it makes the most satisfying sound when you snap it shut. It even has a chalkboard coating so you can write on it. With the proliferation of videos, every child (and quite a few older people) should read this book and use these tools.
Do Something! a Handbook for Young Activists
Nancy Lublin, Vanessa Martir, and Julia Steers
Workman Publishing, 2010
What do the kids in your life care about? Feel strongly about? Talk passionately about? This is a book to inspire them to do something about it. You remember activism, don’t you? Perhaps you consider yourself an activist right now. Get the kids in your life involved in being good citizens of the world. In a step-by-step, wirebound book, there are projects, activities, and essays to provoke thinking and action. There are pages to draw on, boxes to write in, and reproducibles for people who can’t bear writing in a book. You’ll find suggestions and methods and resources for writing letters to express your concern. There are quotes and ideas to make posters for Martin Luther King Day. There are suggestions for holding a coat drive. One section describes the people and organizations who are already doing something. You’ll find practical tips for creating petitions. Want to learn how to mind-map? It’s in here. Thinking about a name and a slogan but you’re stuck? You’ll find tricks and tips to help you move ahead. This 280-page book is an ideal gift for the kids (or adults) in your life who can’t imagine sitting still without doing something to make the world more secure and healthy and satisfying for everyone.
Have I convinced you? Everyone loves a chance to read a book that helps them do something. These books are just right for someone on your list.