December 2012

Clever books to engage young hands and minds

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December 2012

Clever books to engage young hands and minds

Feature by
December 2012

Clever books to engage young hands and minds

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Here's a variety of snappy, fun-filled books designed to keep young friends and family members happily entertained for hours. Children's gift books seem to be getting better and better every year, with amazing feats of paper engineering and creative activities designed to appeal to all ages.


Are the kids going haywire with excitement? Open up either of these two collections before the holidays if your young preschoolers are in desperate need of some calming activity.

A great value, The Family Bedtime Treasury contains eight complete books in a large, colorful format, as well as a variety of poems and a CD containing an hour’s worth of classical music. The large format brings these stories alive, showing off a lively variety of children’s artists and writers.

The unifying theme is sleep, that often elusive state for the preschoolers for whom this book is meant. Story titles include such classics as Don and Audrey Wood’s The Napping House; one of Eileen Christelow’s perennial favorites, Five Little Monkeys Reading in Bed; the (hopefully) suggestive title, The Quiet Book; and the bound-to-be-a-favorite The Goodnight Train. Despite the “sleepy” theme, there’s plenty of bed-jumping action, and the book is sure to be a hit with kids and parents alike, night after night. 

Both young and slightly older children will enjoy dipping into a year of poems with Julie Andrews’ Treasury for All Seasons: Poems and Songs to Celebrate the Year. The poems are arranged into monthly themes, along with several bonus sections celebrating such occasions as birthdays and new babies.

The authors include such luminaries as Robert Frost, Dr. Seuss, Jack Prelutsky, Emily Dickinson and E.B. White, all accompanied by colorful, lively illustrations by Marjorie Priceman. These pages will brighten any day, as Priceman’s energetic art swirls across the page with a zooming skateboarder, a swooshing bicycle or a canoe floating downstream.

This is the sort of gift book children can enjoy for years, first as a read-aloud and later as an anthology to explore on their own. Julie Andrews and her daughter, Emma Walton Hamilton, have done a good job of combining lighthearted verses about childhood with those by renowned voices such as Langston Hughes and Billy Collins.


Elementary-aged children are likely to spend hours with the information-packed visual treat My Pop-Up World Atlas. Did you know, for example, that the largest lake in Australia, Lake Eyre, is almost dry for part of the year? This is just one of the many geographical tidbits presented here in easily digestible form.

Starting with a spread of the world, the book contains pop-up spreads for each continent, filled with flaps, information wheels, pullouts and a “Fact File” for each. Budding geographers will find much to devour, as each map is jam-packed with illustrations and facts.

Adults as well as elementary students will be mesmerized by the striking Legendary Journeys: Space, which bills itself as “the Slide-Out, Lift-Up, See-Through Story of the Greatest Voyages in Space.” This historic overview is well organized and full of visual appeal, discussing the first rockets, early space pioneers, moon voyages, the space shuttle and modern missions, including missions to Mars. In addition to tracking the “big picture” of space exploration, the book offers a variety of entertaining minutia, such as a brief discussion of spiders that traveled into space, or photographs of the first television images broadcast by satellite Telstar on July 23, 1962.

The book’s pull-out flaps allow for expansive visualizations of, for example, the solar system as well as the Saturn V rocket with its many stages. Diagrams and flaps are fun and focused, accompanied by photographs that bring the subject to life. Readers can’t help but enjoy these sophisticated tidbits, which jump off the page like an intriguing museum exhibit.


Mo Willems’ pigeon is an irrepressible character, the star of a beloved series that began with Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus! So what better guy to direct the fun-filled Don’t Let the Pigeon Finish This Activity Book! Perfect for advanced preschoolers (there’s some reading to be done) and young elementary students, its perforated pages are packed with Willems’ wonderful humor, along with games, mazes, coloring, puzzles and things to build. Since this isn’t just any pigeon, this activity book is more creative than most.

Seven- to nine-year-olds will also stay busy with Dan Waddell’s How To Be a Detective, which comes complete with a magnifier, an ink pad for fingerprints and a periscope-making kit. This engaging book serves as a nice introduction to Sherlock Holmes, who’s mentioned throughout. Jim Smith’s cartoon-like illustrations add personality and humor to these pages, with thuggish suspects who look bug-eyed and furious, while a sweet grandma sweats nervously in a police lineup.

This guidebook explains things like fingerprints, surveillance and handwriting analysis, with activities on every page. Once these pages have been studied, “graduates” are ready to tackle the mysterious case of a missing painting, complete with fingerprints and handwriting samples for each suspect. Kids will love diving into their own CSI world.

Clear a good-sized workspace for mechanical-minded kids who want to Make Your Own T. Rex. The good news is that there’s no need for glue, tape or scissors; this three-foot model is made of 71 heavy cardboard bones that get slotted together, along with a base upon which the skeleton model stands.

An accompanying booklet gives step-by-step instructions, along with plenty of dinosaur facts and photos. The finished product looks fierce and on the prowl, with a mouthful of teeth ready to bite.

It’s impressive how much kids can learn with Super Science: Matter Matters!, part of a superb new science series written by TV producer and science expert Tom Adams. Who knew a pop-up model of the element boron could be so appealing, or that Jell-O is so wobbly because it’s a colloid? This book contains fabulous flaps to pull and turn, along with a variety of simple experiments to try at home.

Thomas Flintman’s bold illustrations immediately grab readers’ attention, pulling them into the informative text, which explains, for instance, that hot water freezes faster than cold, and that scientists aren’t sure why. The text is simple, yet never simplistic, touching on a variety of important topics, including surface tension, the periodic table, and acids and bases, all presented in an appealing way (think “Killer Chemicals!”).


Star Wars fans of all ages will be overjoyed by the intricate paper engineering in Matthew Reinhart’s fantastic Star Wars: A Galactic Pop-Up Adventure. Rein­hart is a superstar in the field, having created previous Star Wars pop-ups and partnered with paper engineering legend Robert Sabuda on projects like Encyclopedia Mythologica.

The book’s five wondrous spreads tackle the themes of planets, beasts, enemies, technological wonders and finally, Darth Vader. Each spread contains one giant pop-up that leaps out of the pages, along with many flaps and smaller pop-ups, like a wonderful box of secret treasures.

This is pop-up at its artistic best, exploring the characters, creatures and wondrous worlds of the Star Wars universe, even including a color-changing, light-up saber for the 3-D Darth Vader. As readers open the page, they first see the face of Anakin Skywalker, which is then replaced by that of Darth Vader in a nearly magical transformation.

On a much calmer note, preschoolers will squeal with delight at the pop-up version of Itsy Bitsy Spider. Despite the smaller scale, however, this book also features true paper engineering, complete with a clear-paned window that opens and closes above the waterspout.

Caldecott-winning artist Richard Egielski injects new life into this simple rhyme, creating an imaginative storybook village that springs to life on every page. Youngsters will be thrilled by the rush of rainwater shooting the heroic spider out of the drain spout, and cheer on the valiant little hero as he dries himself off and completes his mission.

Julie Andrews’ Treasury for All Seasons
By Julie Andrews
Little, Brown Young Readers

ISBN 9780316040518

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