Making spirits bright with clever books
Looking for great gift books for children, selections that will encourage creativity and curiosity? We’ve combed through publishers’ offerings to find these 10 irresistible choices for kids of all ages, from tots to teens.
FOR LITTLE ONES
Avast, toddler and preschool pirate fans, here’s a pop-up book and play mat all in one. Playbook Pirates, written by Corina Fletcher and illustrated by Britta Teckentrup, is a take-along adventure set starring a cute crew (boys and girls, and with a range of skin tones) and colorful critters. Read the book from either end: One side is a pop-up tale with cheerful pirates searching for buried treasure and navigating sharks, a shipwreck and a mermaid tea party. The other side shares scenes from a pirate’s busy life, including parent-pleasing evidence that pirates “have to keep the ship clean and tidy!” The clever design unfolds into a large, pop-up play mat equipped with free-standing characters ready for uncharted adventures.
Here’s a wish: that kiddies will grow up loving and remembering Caldecott Honor-winning illustrator and author Paul Galdone. The Folk Tale Classics Treasury: Six Cherished Stories in One Keepsake Volume is a core curriculum of the earliest kid lit, including The Little Red Hen, The Three Little Pigs, The Three Bears and The Gingerbread Boy as retold and illustrated by Galdone. Each story has a perfect ratio of word to fabulous image, “just right for reading aloud and reading together.” Who can forget the “TRIP, TRAP, TRIP, TRAP” of the third Billy Goat Gruff across the troll’s bridge? Hopefully, no one. This beautiful collection, designed for ages 4 to 7, includes a downloadable audiobook of all six stories.
Pop-up master Robert Sabuda pays big homage to Hans Christian Andersen’s The Little Mermaid in this spectacular three-dimensional edition. Those of us who only know the Disney version or abridged picture book variations will be surprised by plot details and the emotional depth of Andersen’s story. It is hardly simple, sweet goodnight fare. Sabuda spins the drama with towering, intricately engineered eruptions on every spread, as well as within sequential booklets—with pop-ups of their own—in the margins. We are hooked from the very first page, when the sea king’s castle—a paper sculpture teeming with merpeople, studded with doors shaped like water drops—rises far larger than the book itself. Best for ages 6 and up.
Ever hear the phrase “rack and pinion steering” on car commercials and wonder what it means? Ask a kid to show you with this nifty kit: How Cars Work: The Interactive Guide to Mechanisms That Make a Car Move by Nick Arnold. Children aged 7 and up can build 10 basic car mechanisms with pegboard, cardboard bits (gears, strips, cams, etc.), rubber bands, plastic bolts and wing nuts. What they’re really building is a hands-on, working knowledge of stuff like valves, brakes and windshield wipers. Running timelines provide historical context, while adorable illustrations by Allan Sanders make instructions easy and fun to follow.
Nat Geo goes interactive with the Animal Creativity Book, stuffed with animal photos and facts, plus stickers, stencils, games, crafts and other neat things to do. Make a pop-up card for a friend, featuring one of the world’s longest living animals: a giant tortoise. Play Baby Animal Match-Up with colorful cards ready to cut out, or Build a Bear, a game of chance where players compete to assemble a paper panda model. More highlights: a cut-out 3-D lion mask (with a mane made of paper strips) and Animal Artist, a step-by-step, super-easy method for drawing dogs and cats. For ages 6 to 9.
A cell phone or digital camera is all a kid (ages 8 to 12) needs to make amazing animated films with the awesome boxed set of Animation Studio by Helen Piercy. We’re talking “stop-action” movies, where every incremental movement is caught “on film” and then combined at speed to look real. Movies can feature 2-D action, such as simple drawings on a whiteboard or paper, or 3-D subjects like clay and more complex models. The kit includes a fold-out stage, props, sets and storyboards, all with irresistible artwork, plus some cool tools from animation history: a zoetrope drum and a thaumatrope. The colorful handbook gives storytelling tips, advice on editing and complete how-tos.
Dinosaurology: The Search for a Lost World is a facsimile of the 1907 travel journal of Raleigh Rimes, a (fictitious) young explorer on a secret journey to a “lost island” in South America where indigenous humans and “living, breathing dinosaurs” coexist in the shadow of a grumbling volcano. Yellowed pages studded with notes, maps, drawings and lift-the-flap extras detail the boy’s adventures and bring to life many prehistoric creatures, remains and encounters. This fictional account is an entertaining way to learn a lot of facts, including a brief history of paleontology, dinosaur characteristics and behavior, plus a great deal about popular prehistoric creatures not classified as true dinosaurs, such as the Megalodon, Ichthyosaurus and Pterodactyl. For ages 8 to 12.
The Animal Book: A Visual Encyclopedia of Life on Earth is an “amoebas to zebras” reference destined to pique the interest of young readers and provide years of homework help for ages 8 to 12. A super simple (and thus memorable) Tree of Life graphic starts the book, dividing all living things into Plants, Fungi, Microscopic Life and—the main attraction—Animals, with invertebrates and vertebrates branching out from there. The goal is a comprehensive, at-a-glance guide illustrated with brilliant color photography, accompanied by facts that prove to be easily digestible. A nice bonus is the little silhouette “scale” graphic tucked beside each gorgeous spread, giving kids a better sense of how each specimen relates to other species and to themselves.
How the World Works, by Clive Gifford, promises young readers (ages 8 to 13) they can “know it all, from how the sun shines to how the pyramids were built.” “All” means “the systems, processes and phenomena . . . that make up the workings of the world,” organized into five headings: Earth and Space, Prehistoric Life, Life, Science and Technology, and History, presented in an inviting question-and-answer format. For example: How do volcanoes erupt, how did the dinosaurs die out, and how does nuclear power work? Each question and answer fits onto two adjoining pages, which gives kids plenty of information via illustration and description without being overwhelming.
ROOKIE GROWS UP
Rookie is on online, independent magazine with writing and artwork from and for teenage girls. (Check it out at Rookiemag.com.) Rookie Yearbook Two, edited by Tavi Gevinson, compiles highlights from Rookie’s thrilling second year of life, including pieces by Lena Dunham and Mindy Kaling, interviews with Emma Watson and Carrie Brownstein, and tons of thematic content from dozens of talented young contributors. Themes like Play, On the Road, Freedom and Paradise give scope to memoirs, essays, fiction, photos and other creative responses. Funky DIY projects are paired with step-by-step photos, like the denim jacket tutorial which, according to a reader’s whim and materials on hand, can involve spray bleach, tie-dye, vintage fabrics and even googly eyes. This compilation would be a welcome gift for the hard-to-please teen on your list.