Listen. I’m desperate for craft books. This year, to my astonishment, I’ve become both a Brownie leader and a Sunday-school teacher, and I use up craft ideas the way I use up Kleenex. I have two small children (why else would I be a Brownie leader and a Sunday-school teacher?), and we get awfully sick of plain old crayons at my house. We want projects that will cover the whole kitchen table instead of just a few sheets of paper. We want to coat ourselves with homemade paste. We want to — oh, I don’t know — decorate papier-mache bowls with buttons, or something. Here, in no particular order, are some of the best in print:
The Trickster’s Handbook
Guaranteed to fill any parent with dread. All those optical illusions and coin tricks your kids will try out on you day after day! Summon up your strength, though, because this book is exactly what every grade-schooler needs. The routines (making a piece of candy ”vanish” by eating it, getting a hard-boiled egg into a bottle) may be a little tired to parents, but they’ll be all too fresh to kids. Buy it quickly, so your children can be first out of the gate with the ”latest” tricks.
The Letter Book
Bright, busy photos show kids how to make all kinds of letters out of all kinds of things-balsa wood, Legos, folded paper, even food- and how to use lettering in dozens of decorative ways. (My kids loved the homemade shopping bags.) Most children are too busy learning their letters to appreciate them as art; this book will change their view of the alphabet.
You’ve got to have a playdough book of your own, and it might as well be this one. For one thing, this book offers a playdough recipe that’s much less gloppy than the standard flour-and-salt dough. (There’s even a microwave version.) For another, the book is low-key enough that even the ”all thumbsiest” preschooler will be able to make people, animals, and pretend foods — my kids’ top three choices — with a minimum of frustration.
The Great Origami Book
Origami is a delightful hobby, as long as your fine motor skills are highly developed. (At my house, most origami projects we’ve tried have ended up with a pile of crumpled bits of paper and two murderously angry children.) If you know an older child who’s both patient and nimble-fingered, this slick little book on the Japanese art of paper folding offers both basic and exotic examples of the genre, attractively photographed.
How to Make Pop-Ups
Of all the craft books on my desk, this is the one I most wish I’d had when I was little. Then I could have made my own pop-up books and pop-up greeting cards and animals with pop- up mouths (my favorite: the frog with a fly leaping out of its gullet), and I would have thought I was a genius. This wonderfully innovative book demystifies the ”pop-up process” with clear directions and plenty of line illustrations. In an era when pop-up books are gulping up shelf space, it’s nice to have a book that shows kids how to make their own.
Power Magic: Science Activities for Children
Science needs demystifying even more than pop-ups do, and here’s a great place to start. Readers can choose from projects like suspension bridges (made from straws), balloon-powered speedboats, and creepy-crawly rubber-band insects, each with explanations of the scientific hows and whys that make it work. The illustrations have a pleasant picture-book feel; the text is firm when it needs to be.
My First Activity Book
I’m not sure you can really make masks by gluing pieces of felt together. In my experience, you practically have to solder felt to make it adhere to more felt. That quibble aside, however, the other craft projects in this book are as worthwhile as the rest of the My First series. Very young readers are given life-size photos of such classic constructions as pasta necklaces, paper flowers, and envelope puppets-all standard fare, but imaginatively executed. The book’s design is exceptionally appealing.
Steven Caney’s Toy Book
The dust from my own Brownie days seemed to puff up in my face as I opened this earnest book, but I recommend it all the same. It’s a basic, all-purpose collection of toys and projects made of materials kids really will find at home. (Some craft books keep sending you out to buy gold leaf.) From homemade barometers to homemade curds-and-whey to homemade hexaflexagons, there’s a whole vacation’s worth of rainy-day ideas here.