As the weather gets colder and the snow days start piling up, you may find yourself wondering what to do with your children now that they are stuck indoors more than usual. No need to sit them down in front of the television or computer — here are some great activity books for kids that are sure to alleviate their boredom and inspire their creativity.
The Curious Kid’s Science Book by Asia Citro encourages children to develop a scientific curiosity about the world around them. Citro points out that children are naturally inclined to ask questions about the way things work, making them “born scientists.” A science teacher herself, Citro reassures parents that the experiments in the book aren’t complicated and don’t need to be executed perfectly in order to have value — the main purpose of the experiments is to show kids how to use the scientific method and develop scientific skills. The book is divided into simple topics such as “plants and seeds,” “water and ice” and other concepts that introduce children to the basics of biology, chemistry, physics and even engineering. This book is great for parents of 4-7 year olds who want their children to start developing science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) skills early in their education.
Do you have a budding chef or a young Martha Stewart on your hands? In Good Taste by Mari Bolte is filled with fun recipes that kids can put together and package with style to give as great holiday gifts. Bolte encourages kids to be creative with their presentation and packaging as that is often what makes a gift go from being ordinary to extraordinary. Some of the gifts include pickles in decorated mason jars, homemade marshmallows wrapped in colorful cellophane and ribbon and bouquets of fruit cut into decorative shapes. She also includes a section at the end where multiple gifts from the book can be combined into themed gift baskets. This book is best for slightly older children in middle grades with an aptitude for cooking and an eye for aesthetic appeal.
For parents whose children are more interested in arts and crafts, Paper Mania by Amanda Formaro has a variety of projects for kids of all ages and skill levels. The projects include everything paper: from simple paper airplanes to magazine collages and mosaics, from toilet paper tube marble racetracks to papier-mâché masks and decoupage. Children will develop their skills with cutting, weaving, pasting, measuring, folding, coloring and more. Formaro is a mother and blogger who has been crafting with children for years. Her blog, CraftsbyAmanda.com, includes projects for both adults and kids — so parents can join in on the crafting fun too!
A fascinating read that focuses on both local and internationally important histories, Breakthrough! Is the record of the surgeon Alfred Blalock, his assistant Vivien Thomas and Dr. Helen Taussig, who teamed up to invent an operation to save some of their tiniest patients. Previous to the innovation of Blalock, Thomas and Taussig in 1944 there was an affliction known as “blue baby” syndrome, in which the patient’s color would change and their breathing would gradually decrease This syndrome was almost always fatal, and affected mostly patients between birth and 5 years of age. Dr. Taussig often worked with and attempted to treat many of these Blue Babies and was the leading expert on the disease but she needed the help of an experienced surgeon to develop and perform what she thought could be the cure. She, Vivien Thomas and Dr. Blalock were all working at Johns Hopkins at the time and although Blalock was reluctant to take on the task at first, he eventually agreed. Essential to the story is the fact that Thomas, who because of his African American heritage had been kept at the level of assistant instead of given schooling and credentials that would have promoted him to surgeon, was the main developer of the operation, which involved re-routing veins in the heart in order to increase oxygen flow in afflicted patients. The incredible delicacy and skill Thomas possessed could not be put into practice in the operating room directly, but he did assist and direct Blalock every step of the way on the revolutionary day that all three of their efforts paid off and their first young patient was permanently cured.
Breakthrough! is a fascinating piece of local history that discusses how much medicine has advanced in this century, the racial and gender barriers we have overcome and those still left to tackle on the horizon. It’s excellent reading for personal interest or for research on the topic of the blue babies disease or any of the individual doctors the account centers around.
Publishers seem to be making a real effort to create informative books for kids that are beautifully crafted and truly spark imagination. Wide Eyed Editions are among the best, and they have recently released two atlases that are great for aspiring explorers.
Rachel Williams’ Atlas of Adventures takes readers around the world to experience different places, cultures and events. Giant illustrations done by Lucy Letherland invite readers to dive into exotic locales while interesting captions give facts and short descriptions of each unique experience. Every full-page spread offers a tantalizing peek into another culture. Choose from pages such as “Go to sleep under the Northern Lights”, “Learn to steer a gondola in Venice,” “River raft down the Grand Canyon” or “Set the world aglow at Hong Kong’s Lantern Festival.” The editors have captured some of the most fascinating events around the globe and made them wonderfully accessible. The adventures are organized by continent, and each section begins with a map of the continent showing important places as well as each adventurous destination. Readers can leisurely explore one continent at a time or jump from Paris to the Great Pyramids with a flip of the page. At the end, there is a collection of things and people to go back and search for in the illustrations.
The 50 States by Gabrielle Balkan is another wonderful atlas for children from the same publisher. This book shows children “the story” of each state and is fascinating even for readers who aren’t usually drawn to history or geography. It is a perfect balance of fun and fundamental kinds of facts accompanied by eye-catching illustrations. Maps include geographic information like borders and bodies of water, but they also include inspiring people, landmarks, “regional spotlights” for things you just don’t find anywhere else and historical moments that made each state what it is today. The book inspires an interest in the natural world by highlighting state parks, battlefields, reservations and national forests. It is easily accessible but still manages to give readers an idea of the personality of each state.
Readers who enjoy these will like other Wide Eyed Editions, such as Maps by Aleksandra Mizielinska or This Is the World: A Global Treasury by Mirosalv Sasek.
Just in time for Native American Heritage Month are two narratives of famous Indians by famous Indians for children. In response to the misrepresentation in Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's poem “The Song of Hiawatha,” Hiawatha and the Peacemaker sets the record straight on the legend of two Indians who united the warring tribes of the Eastern Great Lakes region to form the Haudenosaunee — what would become of the Six Nations Iroquois Confederacy and the oldest participatory democracy in the world (formed well before the American Revolution). This epic tale is written by Robbie Robertson of The Band fame (who was immortalized in a biography of his own last year), with page-popping illustrations by Caldecott winner David Shannon. Sitting Bull is the latest biography in a series of Lakota histories written and illustrated by S. D. Nelson, who uses the famous chief's life story to contextualize the conflicts making up the American Indian Wars. The book begins with a first-person account of the major events in Sitting Bull's life, dotted throughout with direct quotations and photographs from the time period, followed up by a detailed timeline and concluding with an author's note discussing Nelson's thoughts as a member of the Sioux.
Despite the fact that they represent different tribes and different time periods of Native American history, both stories tell of how Indians have borne the brunt of adaptation in the face of great adversity and conflict. What is most interesting about this pair of stories is how they have incorporated mediums characteristic of the Indian arts. Hiawatha and the Peacemaker includes a CD, not of an exact reading of the text but of Robertson's musical performance of the legend that parents and kids will both enjoy listening to. Nelson has formatted his work in the form of Ledger Book Art: palimpsests that evolved as interred Indians repurposed the accounting cast offs from the U.S. government, examples of which can be seen at the National Museum of the American Indian.
During that lull between the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and football games, before your home fills up with family and you fill your bellies with food, here are a few new Thanksgiving-themed picture books to share with the kids.
Sharing the Bread: An Old-Fashioned Thanksgiving Story by Pat Zietlow Miller and Jill McElmurry depicts a 19th century family preparing their Thanksgiving feast. Everyone has their own special job — Daddy tends the fire, Grandma bakes her pumpkin pie, the baby sleeps as quietly as a mouse. Short, simple rhymes make for an enjoyable read aloud about the love, hard work and synergy that go into a holiday meal.
In Little Critter: Just a Special Thanksgiving by Mercer Mayer, Little Critter enjoys the Thanksgiving holiday with his family in typical Little Critter fashion — from forgetting his lines during the school play and singing an impromptu song instead, to hitching a ride on a parade float when he’s tired of walking. The illustrations are what make the book so special, adding an additional layer to the narrative by filling in the details that he neglects to mention or showing how his version of events diverges slightly from reality.
If you’re just looking for a quick refresher on the holiday’s roots and customers, Sally Lee delivers A Short History of Thanksgiving. The simple text, illustrated with both drawings and photographs, is perfect for beginning readers and includes details on the tradition of fall festivals, the meaning of thankfulness and also touches on modern ways of celebrating the holiday.
Writer Kate Schatz and artist Miriam Klein Stahl pair up to make their wonderfully colorful and informative book Rad American Women A-Z. Each woman gets a two-page spread with a graphic illustrated portrait and a few easy-to-read paragraphs. There are a myriad of different women including actresses, artists, scientists and activists. In addition to showing a variety of careers, Schatz and Stahl feature women with different socioeconomic backgrounds, races, ages, gender identifications and disabilities. Notable features include Kate Bornstein, a transgender writer and performance artist, “who reminds us to bravely claim our true identity,” and Temple Grandin, an autistic animal science professor, “who shows us the power of a brilliant mind.” Although the text is written at a fifth-grade level, the women featured can be shared with any age group, from kindergartners to adults.
A to Z Great Modern Artists, drawn by Andy Tuohy and with text by Christopher Masters, is the kind of aesthetically pleasing book to have on your coffee table for when you want to get absorbed into something interesting but don’t quite feel like engaging yourself in a novel or magazine. Each featured artist has a portrait drawn by Andy Tuohy that replicates the style of that artist—Piet Mondrian’s portrait is drawn in the signature geometric style of his artwork, while Andy Warhol’s portrait is done in his famous pop-art style. In addition to Tuohy’s creative portraits, each letter of the alphabet feels like its own exhibit and includes notable works of art from the featured artists. You’ll want to move through the book slowly, like you would when walking through an art museum, in order to fully appreciate all of the nuances of Tuohy’s creative design.
So you raced through the Percy Jackson series by Rick Riordan, all the way from The Lightning Thief through The Last Olympian. Then you settled into the Heroes of Olympus series, flying through those tomes like Hermes fleeing Typhon. Now you’re just waiting around for your copy of The Blood of Olympus to hit the hold shelf and your journey through all things Greek and godly will be complete.
Probably think you’re an expert on Greek mythology by now, right?
Sure, you know all about Zeus, Athena, Poseidon; all the poster children of Greek legend and lore. And by now you’ve gotten a handle on what it means to be a demigod. But how about Minthe or Metis? Thetis or Themis? Ring any bells? Face it, when it comes to real expertise, you’ve got a ways to go. Fortunately, Professor Percy Jackson has got your back.
Here to guide you through the chaotic origins of Greek mythology, including nymphs, lesser gods, heroes and upstart mortals of latter days, Percy Jackson’s Greek Gods covers it all.
Not in some boring lecture-style either. Nah, Percy wouldn’t have the attention span for it, and you don’t have TIME for that right now anyway! You’re about to embark on the very last book in the Heroes of Olympus series for Pan’s sake! Percy knows that and doesn’t want to shake your focus.
But seriously, at a time like this, do you REALLY want to face Gaea without a complete working knowledge of the whole Greek godly shebang? When you’re in the thick of battle, you don’t want any multi-headed, poison-dripping surprises. So while you’re waiting for The Blood of Olympus, do yourself a favor and brush up on your myth know-how. You’ll be glad you did.
To commemorate the centennial of the outbreak of World War I this summer, many new books have been and will continue to be released. They range from new analyses of battles, biographies of personalities of the era and wide-ranging assessments of how the ‘War to End All Wars’ set the history of the 20th and 21st century and its continuing conflicts in motion. A furry character study for young readers comes in Ann Bausum’s Stubby the War Dog: The True Story of World War I’s Bravest Dog. As the United States was at last pulled into the war in 1917, a stray, brindle-colored Boston Bull Terrier wandered onto a soldiers’ training ground at Yale University. The soldiers all took a liking to this sweet, short-tailed dog, but none more than enlisted man James Conroy.
Training complete (for both men and dog), the soldiers were sent to sea, and Conroy smuggled the pup onto the ship bound for France. Now considered a mascot, Stubby had been taught to stand on his rear legs and lift his right paw to salute high-ranking officers. This endeared Stubby to all he met, including women of the French resistance, who sewed him a natty uniform. The dog turned out to be a valiant and useful addition to the men in the trenches, as he aided with rat removal, alerted the men to enemies approaching and was even temporarily wounded in action while helping to discover landmines. Bausum illustrates the history of the four-legged hero with plenty of period photographs from the Conroy family collection and other ephemera of the WWI era. Her impeccable research is outlined in endnotes and an extensive bibliography. She also tells of this famous dog in Sergeant Stubby: How a Stray Dog and His Best Friend Helped Win World War I and Stole the Heart of a Nation, written for adult readers. This title covers even more of Stubby’s exploits during and after the war. Both books are published by National Geographic, and are excellent avenues into this period. They will be enjoyed by dog lovers as well as by history buffs.
As the nation marks the 50th anniversary of the unspeakable murders of three young civil rights volunteers, two books introduce to young readers what happened in Mississippi in June of 1964 – and the legacy of that Freedom Summer. Susan Goldman Rubin takes a timeline approach in her middle grade book Freedom Summer: The 1964 Struggle for Civil Rights in Mississippi. Each chapter is titled with a time, such as “June 21, 1964, Afternoon,” the last time any of the three victims were seen alive. Pulling no punches, Rubin outlines the devastating reality of the ingrained racist attitudes among many of the people of Neshoba County, Mississippi, at that time, while making plain that those feelings extended to the all-white law enforcement authorities which aided and abetted in the killings. Maps, interviews and reproductions of photos and newspaper clippings all bring to light the horror of the situation that played out over the course of that summer.
Don Mitchell’s The Freedom Summer Murders covers similar territory but in a slightly different way, and for a teen audience. Chapters introduce us to the victims individually as each of the young men – James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner – receives his due. Interviews with their families, friends and other volunteers in Mississippi that summer help bring a better focus to who they were and why they felt so strongly for this cause. Additionally, Mitchell’s book fully examines the legacy of the summer and how their martyrdom ignited nationwide awareness, shock and fury. He includes the protracted legal battles and eventual reconciliation efforts that have helped move Mississippi and the state forward from this dark episode even to this day.
Inviting the reader to imagine a time traveler going back to early America, Ick! Yuck! Eew!: Our Gross American History by Lois Miner Huey makes history come alive. Describing American history in all its gross, minute detail, Huey focuses mainly on the odors and insects. She describes the inevitable aroma of the streets of New York City in the 1700s as pigs and cows roam the street freely. Did you know in South Carolina it was once illegal to kill a buzzard because they served to clean up the rotten meat from the marketplaces? The smells weren’t limited to the outdoors either. The smell of rotting food, forgotten chamber pots and the people themselves added to the overwhelming stench of the day. If the description of odors doesn’t fully engage the reader, the author moves on to describe the numerous flies, bedbugs, lice and parasites that Americans lived with in the 1700s. Describing the tremendous number of dead flies, Huey quotes the fictional time traveler as saying “they are gathered by the bushels” four times a day. Designed to pique the interest of children who may be bored to tears of traditional history lessons, Ick! Yuck! Eew! takes learning history to a whole new level.
For students of world history, try Oh, Yikes!: History’s Grossest, Wackiest Moments by Joy Masoff. Spanning the course of human history the book includes fascinating trivia from all elements of world including the history of clowns, diapers, plagues and underwear. Masoff includes wacky history like “idiotic inventions” (chicken eye glasses!), “humongous hoaxes” and “heinous hair,” as well as some informative timelines of history.
Fans of the You Wouldn’t Want to Be… series will love Ick! Yuck! Eew! and Oh, Yikes!