Monday, August 19, 2013

Nonfiction Monday: DK craft/activity books

There are some "nonfiction" books that nobody seems to review. Series nonfiction and how-to/craft books seem to be the least popular. On the one hand, it's hard to review these titles; unless you have umpteen hours to do all the crafts/activities/recipes you can't really say what will or won't work and after a while they all start to look the same. Really, there's only so much you can do with seeds, glue, and paper. As I read through these three new books I found myself super annoyed - "ack, they repeated crafts" "do we really need more crappy crafts in the garden?"

Well, no. But that's the librarian's point of view. When you see everything it's easy to forget that a patron doesn't come in and see 10 identical craft books. Maybe the other books are checked out, or they just want a specific craft, or they grab the first thing that catches their eye. They're not going to sit down and read through the books cover to cover.

So, I don't feel I wasted the library's money after all (can you tell it's budget time?). Even if they have some drawbacks, I love DK's craft books. They have a wide variety of activities, are brightly-colored with lots of photographs, the instructions are clear and simple, and they're generally attractive. I especially like that their recipes are real food, even if some of it is a bit British.

Outdoor Crafts is similar to some of the gardening/craft books they've previously published. It's divided into three sections, Make It, Cook It, and Create It. The first section includes information about germination and gardening and has various garden projects. Lots of cute plant labels and creative containers. The cooking section has recipes for muffins, mini pumpkin pies, ice pops, herbal sun tea, red currant cordial, pepper hummus, vegetable chips, blueberry cheesecake, and kebabs. The pumpkin pies are a recycled recipe from a previous book (and why DK has so many recipes calling for puff pastry I do not know - I've never seen it in the store. Then again, I've never looked). I'm not sure currants grow around here - I've never seen them. I'm a bit doubtful about the vagueness of herbal sun tea. It has some suggestions, but kind of leaves it open-ended and I can see kids dumping any old plant in to steep. However, I doubt they'd drink it (or the tea itself, which doesn't sound too good). The final section, Create It, has some really clever crafts and activities. Making a fairy ring, flowerpot people, various kinds of gardens, sachets, stepping stones, corn paper, mini ponds, and topiary. One of the gardens is to make a mini cactus garden and it's themed "wild west" with little plastic Indians in the pot. This is vaguely disturbing, but I am somewhat resigned to the extremely odd attitude towards Native Americans found in many British children's books. The topiary is, to put it mildly, ambitious, but there is a simpler alternative included. Several pages of bug information and plant suggestions, a glossary and index complete the book.

The Big Book of Things To Make is a kind of random compendium of crafts, facts, and stuff. It's divided into three sections, Make It, Do It and Know It. The first section includes things like paper airplanes, pizza (from dough to toppings), science experiments, and a pinhole camera. The second section, Do It, brings back the Wild West cactus garden with even more plastic Indians (seriously British people, this view of Native Americans went out in the 1950s, or it should have!), flipbook animation, learning to juggle, make balloon animals, write a story, have a water fight, and more. The final section is even more random, ranging from trivia about robots to tips on spotting deadly snakes, to information on the seven wonders of the ancient world. This book is a really random collection, but I can see it being a great title to take along on vacation or hand the kids during a long summer day and tell them to just try something.

I am not going to say anything about the fact that the book of things to make and do is blue and the book of crafts and decor is pink. Nope, not going to say anything. Ahem.

The Big Book of Crafts and Activities actually could have been called The Big Book of Sleepover Activities and Party-Planning Ideas. Which is fine, nothing wrong with that, and there are lots of fun ideas in here. It has numerous chapters; Bedroom Makeover, Treat Yourself (how to make bath bombs, have a "pamper day" and your own chocolate truffles), Fashionistas, Watch it grow (includes a section on healthy eating), Friends Forever (make me banana pancakes and we will not be friends forever. Yuck. That's just me though). Culture shock includes some international dishes, customs, and how to trace your family tree. This is followed by Get Crafty, Summer Living (ice cream and making balloon animals are some highlights of this section), Food Heaven, Remember the Date (party planning), Sewing It and Activity Time (some crafts, but also party games).

The final chapter includes reading horoscopes, which might bother some people, but in a dip and try book like this you can't expect everything to be just right. Realistically, most of the activities in this book are going to be of interest to girls having sleepovers or planning parties with friends. Everything is pretty pink, in other words. Again, nothing wrong with that, and I frequently have girls asking for party/sleepover idea books and crafts to do, especially if they're babysitting, and this has a nice mix of ideas.

Verdict: Are these perfect? No. The bindings are ok, but nothing to write home about (I have a hate on for DK's bindings right now - Disney Fairies Encyclopedia, bought in May, circ'd 4 times, binding totally disintegrated on me. GRRAHGH). Some of the activities are repeated from book to book, some of them are things you could find in any craft book. There is the occasional minor typo and the odd Britishism. Do I regret buying these? Not at all and I heartily recommend them. They're affordable, colorful, attractive, and they have a huge variety of crafts, activities and ideas to spark kids' imaginations and provide something to do for those long summer days or the occasional crafty weekend moment. There's something for every child somewhere in these books and they make a great addition to our craft section.

All three titles were published in 2013 by Dorling Kindersley (DK) and purchased for the library

Outdoor Crafts
ISBN: 9781465408242

The Big Book of Things to Make
ISBN: 9781465402554

Big Book of Crafts and Activities
ISBN: 9781465402561

1 comment:

Myra Garces-Bacsal from GatheringBooks said...

I just thought that this is a project that my 11 year old daughter and I could make together with some of these books' recommended activities. They all look fun! Thanks for sharing.