Thunderstorm, written and illustrated by Arthur Geisert

Arthur Geisert has long been a favorite of mine - ever since my oldest son and I discovered his books at the library more than 10 years ago. Since then, I have done my best to buy, read out loud and review as many of Geisert's books as I can get my hands on, although some, sadly, are out of print. A few years ago, Geisert's books, which are made from etchings and can take three years to create (for an incredible visit to Geisert's home studio, scroll down for two different clips, one is less than two minutes and one is almost fifteen and either are worth your time) found a home with the amazing Enchanted Lion Books and it seems like he is getting a bigger share of the attention he deserves. Recently, Rebecca Hersher visited Bernard, Iowa (population 98) where Geisert lives and works in the renovated bank that he bought a few years ago for her piece on Geisert for NPR's All Things Considered. Geisert's book launch for Thunderstorm at Coe's Bar in Bernard resulted in more than 500 signed copies of his book being sold. Thunderstorm has the largest trim size of any of Geisert's books I have seen and it is beautifully packaged, the etchings printed on thick, creamy pages, the covers sturdy and graced with the same illustration found on the dust jacket.

Like his book HaystackThunderstorm unfolds over over a period of time. However, where the story of the haystack takes seasons to tell, the events of Thunderstorm play out over a matter of hours, the timestamps serving as the only text in the book. One of the most amazing things about Thunderstorm is the fact that the illustrations are continuous and could be, and actually were, displayed from end to end in Geistert's studio. The story follows a Midwestern family in a red truck with a trailer as they make a hay delivery. Cutaways reveal animals in their burrows, barns with owls in the rafters and the house of friends with a leaky roof. As the family travels through the countryside, so does a growing storm. The sky darkens, the rain falls and twisters wreak havoc.

We see families bringing in laundry, herding animals and preparing for whatever destruction is ahead. The red truck breaks down but neighbors help repair it and it's back on the road, but soon they are taking shelter under a stone bridge as the twister passes over them. There is lightning, sheets of rain and wind that rips trees and houses from the ground. Geisert captures the changing color of the sky as the storm progresses. He also captures what happens after a storm on the final pages of his book - the coming together of the community to help clean up and rebuild, throwing tarps over roofs and mopping up basements. As with all Geisert's books, repeated readings will reveal more and more details.

Source: Purchased

Pomelo's Opposites, written by Ramona Bădescu, illustrated by Benjamin Chaud

With Pomelo's Opposites, Ramona Bădescu and Benjamin Chaud's charming little pink garden elephant is back! These two have a way with taking something seemingly everyday, like a book of colors or a book of opposites, and making fun and funny and unexpected. We first met Pomelo in Pomelo Begins to Grow, then again in Pomelo Explores Color, which included the "always different yellow of wee-wee," the "mustard-yellow pang that goes up your nose" and the "speeding orange of shredded carrots." There is also the "promising red of ripening strawberries" and the "mysterious blue of dreams." And, like Pomelo, the trim size of these books is small and square and just right for little hands and for tucking next to car seats or into tiny backpacks.

Pomelo's Opposites includes those opposites we usually think of: black and white, far and near, high and low, striped and polka-dotted. Anticipated as they may be, they still manage to takes us by surprise with the creative ways Bădescu and Chaud present them.

However, Pomelo's Opposites really soars when Bădescu and Chaud start thinking outside of the box. Ordinary and extraordinary, possible and impossible, pretend and real, gastropod and cucurbit, convex and concave and my favorite, having and being. This is that extra something that makes these books truly memorable and definitely worth giving.

More Pomelo!

Source: Review Copy


THE DIVERSITY GAP IN CHILDREN'S BOOKS : An infographic from Lee & Low Books


This infographic from publisher Lee & Low Books, an independent book publisher focusing on diversity, has been making its way around the kidlit blogs and I felt the need to share it here, mostly because it, and a story that recently aired on NPR, has made me think about what I choose to read and what I see on the shelves. Elizabeth Blair's story, As Demographics Shift, Kid's Books Stay Stubbornly White featured a mother who grew up in Texas with family from Mexico and Cuba, who makes a concerted effort to assure that her daughter reads books with Latino characters in them, the kind of books she never read as a child. Explaining her efforts, she says, "I think children today are told, 'You can be anything.' But if they don't see themselves in the story, I think, as they get older, they're going to question, 'Can I really?' " As a middle class white woman, I've never had to worry about this, as a child or as a parent. The most up-in-arms I ever had a right to get was squawking about the lack of girl protagonists in middle grade fantasy novels (where girls are still most often relegated to being the sister or friend...) and thinking deeply about Gender Equality in Children's Books. I never had to worry that my kids were reading books that didn't have characters who looked like them or had the same cultural backgrounds as they did. As a bookseller working in a store that is located in a city with a Hispanic population that is nearing 50% I was thrilled to see Malin Alegria's Border Town Series, described as a Latino Sweet Valley High, but the few copies we received came and went, never to return. And, to be honest, I worried that I was being some kind of racist when I showed the Latino kids the books with Latino characters and the African-American kids the books with the African-American kids and the Asian kids the books with Asian kids. But at the same time, I realized how uncommon these books were and I wanted kids who might enjoy them to discover them before they disappeared.

I would love to hear from you on this subject. Do you choose what your kids read? Are you a parent who seeks out diversity in books for your kids? Do kids really notice that they may not be seeing themselves represented in characters in the books they are reading? Would I be a different person today if the books I read as a kid had more and stronger female characters?

The Willoughbys written and illustrated by Lois Lowry 157pp RL3

The Willoughbys by Lois Lowry is in paperback!

For me and other adult readers of children's books, The Willoughbys is a tasty little treat. For young readers, I am not sure what they will make of it. And it matters to me what they will make of it.

The Willougbys is, from start to finish, a playful joke, a parody that pokes fun at "old fashioned" children's stories while at the same time referring back to them by name and character. Lowry even provides a bibliography with brief descriptions as well as a glossary that defines all of the big vocabulary words (words that are used regularly in classic children's literature) in the back of book. This, in an of itself, is wonderful. As a child and as an adult, I love it when a book I am reading leads me to discover another book. I can only hope that kids who will read this book will be inspired to read Anne of Green Gables, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Little Women, Pollyanna, James and the Giant Peach, and The Secret Garden, to name most of the books cited. However, I think it would be very admirable if those parents out there who enjoy reading aloud to their children and recognize the value in classic children's literature take it upon themselves to read as many of the books listed here out loud to their children. If that is too large a task, I beg you to read this book out loud so you can fill your kids in on the "in jokes" and check in on them occasionally to see what they are making of the hilariously horrible adults, bossy children and deprived orphans depicted in the story.

The story: It is nefariously written and ignominiously written and illustrated by Lois Lowry, author of Newbery Award winners The Giver and Number the Stars, two truly amazing, remarkable books - not just children's books. The other books that loosely follow The Giver, Gathering Blue and The Messenger,  and the final book in the quartet that circles back, Son, are among my favorites. They all illustrate Lowry's ability to distill a story into a brief (all three books hover around 200 pages) shining plot that carries you along like a leaf on a river, like poetry, like a dream, but with a dark, serious undercurrent. And, while this book is short, it does not have a dark undercurrent - it wears it's humorous menace right on its sleeve, or (book) jacket. Lowry's illustrations for The Willoughbys immediately call to mind the works of Edward Gorey, illustrator of Florence Parry Heide's Treehorn Trilogy, as well as many other books, all Gothic in their illustrative style and story telling, seemingly for children but really for adults. This cover is meant to be our signal of things that are to come...

What does come is a story of four siblings, some horrid, some timid, some woefully underdressed and under-named. Tim, the eldest, is a bossyboots with a despicable points game that allows him to make up the rules as he wishes and cause the other three children to lose points and the game as well as warm, clean bath water privileges. Next come Barnaby and Barnaby, the twins who share one sweater, commonly referred to as A and B. Finally, there is Jane, plain Jane, discriminated against constanly by Tim, but not so down trodden. She grows up to be a professor of feminist literature and mother of three excitingly named daughters, Lavender, Arpeggio and Noxzema. There is also a baby girl left on a doorstep (named Ruth because she is foisted off on Colonel Melanoff thus making the children the "Ruthless Willoughbys" as Tim notes), a grieving candy magnate living in squalor and an odious nanny who is really fabulous. Then there are the horrible adults. The Willoughby parents really just do not like their children. They leave on a cruise (one that the children secretly arranged through a third-rate agency, hoping their parents would perish and make them orphans just like in the old fashioned stories) and, while they do hire Nanny to look after the children, they also sell the house out from under the children, instructing them to hide in the coal bin whenever prospective buyers stop by. There is another set of awful adults, but they will remain anonymous as there are some surprises to be had in The Willoughbys.

As I began reading this book I could not help but think of Daniel Handler/Lemony Snicket's Series of Unfortunate Events, all of which I read out loud to my son a few years ago. I did not enjoy the experience and felt ripped off at the end of book thirteen. I realize that there was a lot going on in the books that I failed to appreciated while I was reading them, even though I caught all of the literary references and snickered at the in jokes, even though they remain the most beautifully illustrated and packaged series of books for middle grade readers - followed closely by the Sisters Grimm by Michael Buckley and Peter Ferguson and the Edge Chronicles by Paul Stewart and Chris Riddell. I realize that I was reading for plot and wanted the mysterious disappearance of the Beaudelaire parents resolved (and wanted the children not to be orphans...) and maybe that was the wrong perspective on my part. Maybe, as with The Willoughbys, I should have been reading for the humor and then I might have enjoyed the series as much as I did this gem of a book. There are very funny parts, good enough to read out loud to other adults, and there are characters in whom you will recognize traces of meanies from the works of Roald Dahl. And, I think that Lowry may even be having a little fun with the charming new girls on the block, sisters who could definitely be called old fashioned, The Penderwicks. I recommend this book to all of you kids who are advanced, avid readers. But I also beg you, no matter what your reading abilities, to get your mom and dad in on the game and have them read the book out loud to you.


Stealing Magic: A Sixty-Eight Rooms Adventure, written by Marianne Malone with illustrations by Greg Call, 246 pp, RL 4

Stealing Magic : A 68 Rooms Adventure is now in paperback! 
And Book 3, The Pirate's Coin is out!

The magic (and miniatures) continue to abound in Marianne Malone's newest Sixty-Eight Rooms Adventure, Stealing Magic, again with wonderful illustrations by Greg Call. The excitement of finding Mr Bell's missing photographs and the gala opening night for the exhibition of his long lost masterpieces is barely a memory when Ruthie Stewart and her best friend Jack discover a visit to the Thorne Rooms in the Art Institute of Chicago is in order again. On their last adventure, Sixty-Eight Rooms, the two left Jack's bento box with a note in it in the Japanese Room and Ruthie is beginning to think this might have been a bad idea. That, along with the glowing warmth that indicates the magic that stems from Christina, Duchess of Milan, that emanates from a beaded bag that Mrs McVittie, antiques dealer and family friend to the Stewarts. When Ruthie and Jack return to remove the note they find that someone has written a reply! On top of that, they learn that a thief has been stealing artwork from Chicago residents. This seems like an odd coincidence when the two discover that miniature items are missing from the Thorne Rooms as well.

In her second book, Malone creates a greedy (but not too threatening) criminal in Pandora Pommeroy, an art student and burgeoning interior designer who has stumbled on to a little bit of the magic of the Thorne Rooms while stealing from them. Ruthie and Jack know that certain items animate each room with the magic that Christina imbued in them, allowing visitors to move beyond the interior of the room and travel through time by walking from the room into the outside world, a place that seems nothing more than a painted diorama to someone on the outside looking in. In Sixty-Eight Rooms Ruthie and jack had the chance to meet the aristocratically born Sophie Lacombe and are able to warn her of the coming revolution that will tear France apart. In Stealing Magic, the two find themselves in Paris, 1937, with a new friend, Louisa Meyer. Louisa and her family have moved to Paris from Berlin, where Hitler's new laws were making life unlivable for them. After returning to her normal size and home, Ruthie, with the help of the more history-minded Jack, learns that they Meyers are not safe in Paris either. Desperate to return to the Thorne Rooms and warn Louisa, Ruthie finds she is up against a determined thief in the form of Ms Pommeroy. How Ruthie and Jack stop Ms Pommeroy, locate the missing miniatures and return the magic to the rooms while at the same time racing against the clock to warn Louisa is a new adventure that readers of the first book will surely enjoy.

Marianne Malone's books have a special place in my life. After reading  Sixty-Eight Rooms I sent it on to my niece, who was eight at the time. She read the book and loved it so much that her mother bought her the catalog for the rooms, Miniature Rooms: The Thorne Rooms at the Art Institute of Chicago by Fannia Weingartner. As her ninth birthday approached (and her love of American Girl Dolls grew) she and her mom planned an all-girls trip to Chicago to see the rooms (and the dolls) in person, with  Sixty-Eight Rooms,  Stealing Magic, her Grandmother and Aunt in tow. We had a fantastic weekend and, while I happen to remain very fond of dolls (yes, I brought my very own AG doll on the trip with me) the highlight of the trip for me was returning to the Thorne Rooms (with Marianne Malone's books in tow) and seeing them through the eyes of my niece. It was also a kick to see Malone's book at the information desk in the Thorne Rooms as well as in the gift shop. Thank you, Ms Malone, for helping to make such a special, memorable birthday bash for my niece and myself!


The Dream Stealer by Sid Fleischman, illustrated by Peter Sís, 89pp, RL 3

The Dream Stealer is now in paperback!

The Dream Stealer by Sid Fleischman teams up again with Peter Sís, his illustrator for the Newbery award winner, The Whipping Boy. As with The Whipping Boy, Fleischman takes on a story with a fairy tale feel, this time setting it in Mexico instead of a kingdom in "long ago and far away." The Dream Stealer begins with the line, "Muchachos and Muchachas, boys and girls, do you know what happened to the fearless little girl who lives in the pink stucco house behind the plaza?" He goes on to tell the story of eight-year-old Susana, who is sad that she has fought with her best friend, Consuela Louisa, and they have not spoken since she moved away to Guadalajara. And, happily, he continues to use Spanish words and phrases with subtle translations when needed.

Outside the window of Susana's pink stucco house, the Dream Stealer, who goes by the name Zumpango, although it is not his true name, perches in a tree eating mild green peppers. Zumpango's job has been to lasso the bad dreams and nightmares of children with his spider silk rope and carry them off so that the children can have a peaceful sleep. However, Zumpango has become scared of these demons and cowardly in his work, stealing good dreams instead of bad. When Zumpango steals Susana's dream in which she is reunited with Consuela Louisa on a merry-go-round made of real horses, Susana knows there is something afoot and plots to get her dream back.

How Susana does this and the journey she embarks on make for an imaginative and sometimes suspenseful story. One of my favorite scenes involves a room in the house of Zumpango in which he keeps the good dreams that he has stolen. They float around the room like fireflies, the newer dreams shining more brightly than the older ones. It is here that Susana captures a dream that she hides in her pocket to take home as proof of her adventure, not realizing that it will be the weapon that saves her from Thunderdel, a two-headed giant who escapes Zumpango's dungeon and chases after him. Being Susana's only way back to her family, she races off after Thunderdel in an attempt to save Zumpango.

The Dream Stealer is a great bedtime read aloud or the perfect book for a new reader who is ready for chapter books. The folk/fairy tale feel of the story is rich with imagery that is as firmly rooted in fantasy as it is geography. After I read the book, I wondered if it could be set in any other country or culture and be as entertaining? Being the gifted writer he is, I have no doubt that Fleischman could have made it work anywhere, but, I think that setting it in Mexico was the perfect choice, especially after reading his author's note at the back of the book. While traveling in Mexico City, Fleischman spotted a "hand-carved figure of some wildly imaginative and dappled figure" that he learned was a Dream Stealer. As he says, "my writer's breath caught. A thief of dreams? What a lot of fun I could have with a character like that!" And he does...


Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein, 337 pp, RL: TEEN

I never thought I would read a YA novel that was as compelling, harrowing, and memorable as Ruta Sepetys's Between Shades of Gray, the story of a family sent to a gulag near the Arctic Circle during Stalin's purge of Lithuania. However, Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein, while cut from a different cloth, matches Sepetys's superlative novel. Marjorie Ingall's 2012 New York Times Book Review of Code Name Verity begins in the exact same place I find myself - a predicament. I want to tell you everything about this amazing, breathtaking (literally - I held my breath at several points over the course of this novel) story of two best friends during World War II. I don't even want to tell you their names because they each have more than one and part of the thrill is discovering - actually realizing - who is telling the story as it unfolds. In her review Ingalls says that Code Name Verity is a, 

fiendishly plotted mind game of a novel, the kind you have to read twice. The first time you just devour the story of girl-pilot-and-girl-spy friendship and the thrill of flying a plane and the horrors of Nazi torture and the bravery of French Resistance fighters and you force yourself to slow down, but you don’t want to, because you’re terrified these beautiful, vibrant characters are doomed. The second time, you read more slowly, proving to yourself that yes, the clues were there all along for you to solve the giant puzzle you weren’t even aware was constructed around you, and it takes focus and attention to catch all the little references to the fact that nothing is what you thought. Especially while you’re bawling your eyes out.

Really, Ingalls's review is far superior to anything I could write here, in part because I am still too shaken by the story itself and the brilliance of Wein's writing and her mastery of story telling to coherently write about it. On top of that, I still find myself pausing in wonder at the fact that this story, this story of a pilot and a spy during WWII, has two teenaged girls as narrators! While their exact ages are never stated, we do know that one of the characters was forced to leave boarding school in Switzerland because of the war, beginning her studies at Oxford a year early. I began listening to Code Name Verity, which is stunningly narrated by Morven Christie and Lucy Gaskell, choosing to know nothing more about it than the fact that it had two narrators and won the Printz Honor award this year, which is the Newbery for YA books. The winner, In Darkness by Nick Lake, is set in Haiti in January 2010, just days after the devastating earthquake and sounds even more intensely harrowing than Code Name Verity. "Part 1: Verity," begins with a weary but verbose narrator who's first words are, "I AM A COWARD." She goes on to detail every act of cowardice that has bought her shreds of warmth, helping her survive being a prisoner of war, held by the Gestapo in Ormaie, France. The narrator is writing out everything she knows, everything that happened, going back before the first time she met Maddie, the pilot who secretly ferried her into France and crash landed the plane, the narrator parachuting out without knowing her fate. The narrator is writing, divulging as many British secrets to her captors as she can, to extend her life. She begins writing on luxurious hotel stationary - her prison was once a hotel - eventually finding herself writing on recipe cards, a prescription pad that belonged to a Jewish doctor and sheet music that belonged to a Jewish flutist, telling the story of her friendship with Maddie, saying, "It's like being in love, discovering your best friend." Wein does so much in Code Name Verity to establish this profound friendship between two very different girls from different stations who would have never even crossed paths if it were not for the war, adding another layer to this already complex tale.

There is a considerable amount of page time devoted to every aspect of flight and Wein, who is herself a pilot, makes it interesting in the voices of Verity and Maddie. Wein recreated this time and place so specifically and densely, heightening the intensity of the plot. While Ingalls found some of these details over the top, I found them completely engrossing, putting me even more deeply into the world Wein (re)created. In fact, Wein herself did quite a bit of research for this novel. Referring to is as "part obsession, part procrastination," Wein shares the fruit of her research (mostly knitted items) on her blog under the label Vintage Verity, where you can see a replica of Verity's sweater, which has a pretty significant role in the plot. Ingall's also says that she thinks that Code Name Verity will appeal more to adults than teen readers because of the rich details and an original cover (second from the left, below) that makes the book look like a "lesbian version of Fifty Shades of Grey." While I have to confess that the original cover was off-putting enough to me that I didn't even bother to read past the flap when I shelved it last year, the Printz award and a glimpse at the first lines of Ingall's review was enough to get me to buy the audio and then the paperback copy. This is the kind of book that you BEG people to read so that you have someone to talk about it with. This is also the kind of book that you BEG people to read so that you can watch them gasp as the story unfolds. My mom, husband, daughter (junior in college) and non-fiction loving son (sophomore in high school) are going to be reading this book over the summer and I'll report back here with their thoughts!

Rose Under Fire, a companion novel to Code Name Verity, continues to explore the themes of "friendship and loyalty, right and wrong, and unwavering bravery in the face of indescribable evil." It will be released in the US in September, 2013. The first cover is the US edition.

Source: Purchased Audio Book and Paperback


Bedtime with Puritans and Wild Things: An Exhibition Review of the New York Public Library's show THE ABC OF IT: WHY CHILDREN'S BOOKS MATTER by Edward Rothstein

All photo credits Credit: Suzanne DeChillo/The New York Times 

Bedtime with Puritans and Wild Things, an exhibition review written by Edward Rothstein, ran in the New York Times yesterday. The exhibition, The ABC of It: Why Children's Books Matter, opens at the New York Public Library next week and I would give anything to be able to see it since it seems like the closest you can get to actually wandering through a beloved book. The show is curated by Leonard S. Marcus, preeminent children's book historian, critic and author and it is expansive. Rothstein notes that the almost 250 books and artifacts, some from the early 1700s, are "intelligently woven together" by Marcus. Rothstein's article makes interesting connections between the historical, Romantic presentations of the vision of childhood, which makes up the first part of the exhibition, and the second part, which begins in the great green room of Margaret Wise Brown's Goodnight Moon, with a display that shows how this landmark book is linked to the "progressive" idea of the child in the decades after 1900 and how it deeply influenced all that came after.

However, I think that this criticism of Rothstein's is telling:

And if I can complain about one aspect of this fine exhibition, it would be that despite its plenty, this factor is omitted. The relationship between the adult and the child is part of the reading experience; in many cases, it is echoed and toyed with inside the books themselves.

It would have been lovely to see this relationship, this connection, honored as well.

And, if you are  huge fan of kid's books, don't forget the The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art.

The original toys that inspired AA Milne

Authors share memories of going to the library as children

A model of the toy car from The Phantom Tollbooth

Maurice Sendak's drawings for Ruth Krauss's 
A Hole is to Dig: A First Book of First Definitions

This is where the Wild Things Are...

Illustrated pages from William Blake's
 "Songs of Innocence"


Martha Stewart's Favorite Crafts for Kids: 175 projects for kids of all ages to create, build, design, explore, and share by the Editors of Martha Stewart Living

I know that the name Martha Stewart and all that it conjures up can be polarizing. Some people love her her style, and some people... Well, if you don't, please take note that, in my 17 years as a bookseller and 20 years as a parent always on the lookout, I never once saw a craft book as all-emcompasing, colorfully and simply designed and ultimately do-able as Martha Stewart's Favorite Crafts for Kids. On top of all that praise I add this crucial observation: a good 160 of the 175 projects included in the book are things that your kids and you can actually use! Only about 15 or so of the crafts will ultimately end up as dust-catchers that you are waiting for your kids to forget about so you can recycle them. I can't think of a better recommendation than that for the essential value of Martha Stewart's Favorite Crafts for Kids! While my kids are for the most part past the age for crafts and I am too old and weary to even begin to consider them, I did subscrib to Martha Stewart's LIVING for a few years back before I worked full time and I made a few crafts from that magazine over the years. Often, her projects called for supplies that were hard to find where I live, even if they were easy to execute. I am the kind of person who wants my project to look like the picture, so that was a bit disappointing. With that in mind, I read Martha Stewart's Favorite Crafts for Kids with a keen eye, always on the lookout for some fancy, fussy material that could be hard to find and might end up costing more than you are willing to shell out. Happily, there are only a few items in this book that you might have to do a little extra searching for and spend a little extra cash on, but everything else is pretty standard fare for a relatively well-stocked craft cupboard. Coming in the final pages of the book, before the index, photo credits and templates are eight pages listing the tools and materials needs to make most of the crafts (only a few of the items listed are actual Martha Stewart products) as well as a page of sources with listings for vendors that the editors "rely on again and again for tools, materials and other craft supplies."

The book is broken into seven sections: Create a Few Characters, Build a Little World, Make Your Own Fun, Design it Yourself, Experiment and Explore, Keep it Together and Give Something Handmade. The best way to tell you about Martha Stewart's Favorite Crafts for Kids is to show you what's inside. What follows are some projects that caught my eye and my eight-year-old son's. There were a few super-cool projects I couldn't find images for like: DUCT-TAPE ACCESSORIES from the Design it Yourself section, including wallets, coin purses and pencil cases. The TOY SERVICE STATION from Build a Little World, is definitely something I would have saved up my oatmeal containers, paper towel tubes and shoe boxes to build with my kids. The same goes for the PEG-BOARD MARBLE RUN from the Make Your Own Fun which a brilliant idea for a build-your-own Rube Goldberg machine. Stewart also shows some cool new ideas for spectacular tie-dye shirts and some snappy new ways to lace up your Chucks!

Easy Projects

Create a Few Characters, PIPE CLEANER PALS

Create a Few Characters, PAPER BAG PUPPETS

Experiment and Explore, PHENAKISTOSCOPES


Make Your Own Fun, KAZOO

Give Something Handmade, GUMDROP LOLLIPOPS

Projects for Older Kids or 
Requiring More Parental Involvement


Make Your Own Fun, CORN HUSK DOLLS

Create a Few Characters, FELTED FINGER PUPPETS

Design it Yourself, SUPERHERO COSTUMES

Design it Yourself, BEASTLY MITTENS

Source: Review Copy

Made by Dad: 67 Blueprints for Making Cool Stuff - Projects You Can Build For (and With) Kids! by Scott Bedford

On his personal website, Scott Bedford describes himself as an "Award Winning Online Creative Professional" working within the advertising and design industry. What is more interesting (and applicable here) is how his What I Made website came to be. While sitting in a Starbucks with his restless young sons, trying to enjoy his latte, Bedford created something out of coffee stir sticks that ended up keeping his boys entertained, finishing his coffee in peace and sparking (re-sparking, really) his creative drive and reminding him of the "enormous joy gained from making things, even simple things, and that this joy is not the complexity or quality of the finished project but in the process of making itself. On Bedford's What I Made website, he even shares Six Cool Coffee Shop Crafts for Kids that you can try out next time you want to enjoy your coffee and your kids are making that difficult. I've shared two below - be sure to check out the website and see the rest!

Bedford has taken his website one step further with his book, Made by Dad: 67 Blueprints for Making Cool Stuff - Projects You Can Build For (and With) Kids! The projects come in EASY, MEDIUM, TRICKY and CHALLENGING levels and really DO require Dad (or Mom) to be involved. My husband, who is very handy but not especially creative, pages through the book and declared it filled with "dust catchers." He would rather build a five-foot-tall catapult with my son.  As I read through the book and thought about the projects, Bedford's extreme creativity came through on every page. As he said, everything in his book is about the joy of creating above all else, but everything in here is also cool in one way or another, ways that are rarely traditionally what you think of when you think "craft book." Insuring that your kids nurture and carry this kind of creativity into adulthood can be approached with the same methods used to instill a love of reading in kids: read with your kids and let your kids see you reading. Made by Dad: 67 Blueprints for Making Cool Stuff - Projects You Can Build For (and With) Kids! will inspire you to CREATE with your kids and let your kids see you CREATING!

Chapter 1, Dangerous Decor includes projects like the Martian Door Decal and the Twisted Pen Caddy, above.

Chapter 2, Home Hacks, includes the Snappy Toast Rack, above (Bedford is British...) and Sitting on Eggshells, also above, which spices up a wooden chair by screwing painted wooden eggs onto the feet. Then, there is the amazing Table Leg Moon Mine, below. This project requires quite a few cardboard boxes, a black Sharpie, an X-acto knife and a hot glue gun and probably a couple of hours, but it looks like the play-potential far outweighs the time, effort and exertion. It also looks like it can be picked up and stowed away with ease. Other Home Hacks include Trashy Lights, which involved wrapping white fairy lights in colored tissue paper and arranging the string artfully inside a wire trash can. You really have to see this one to appreciate it...

Chapter 3 is titled, Suspect Science and includes the very cool looking Spaghetti and Marshmallow Eiffel Tower, below, which I think my son and I just might try. The illustration also gives you a good idea of the blueprint-style presentation that Bedford uses when illustrating his book. There is the Slingshot Car Launcher and the Rubber Band Rocket Car as well as the very fun looking Extreme Car Ramp, which any kid and dad will love.

Chapter 4 is titled Geeky Gadgets and includes a Ratapult, which calls to mind something from the Muppet Show and uses a ruler, a cardboard box, popsicle sticks, some very strong glue and cool illustrations to create this device. The Remote Release Zip Line is rated EASY and also looks like a really fun way to make use of all those little plastic figurines littering your house. Chapter 5 is Covert Creations featuring a Reversible Castle and a Snail Soup Decoy while Chapter 6 is titled Arty Party and shows you how to make a Bee Swarm Chandelier and the 3-D Snakes and Ladders game, seen on the right, another project I'd like to have a go at. Finally, the Playful Parenting Chapter shows dads and kids how to make Mommy Rewards, below, along with a Spider Surprise Card, a Jelly Bean Reward Rocket, also below, and an "I Love You This Much" Card which are all pretty nifty and sure to put a smile on the recipient's face.

Source: Review Copy