It’s that time when school holidays start to pepper the calendar and the terms seem to grow shorter and shorter in inverse relationship to the lengthening days. The Millers Tale has compiled a selection of brilliant activity books covering all manner of subjects from fossils, doodling and colouring books filled with magical forests to the most exquisitely illustrated encyclopaedia of animals that will enthrall adults, let alone their kids. Finally, there’s a few story books too for when they are eventually poured into bed (check out the jazz rat!) plus a great looking guide to growing up specially written for teenage boys on the autism spectrum. Enjoy!
642 Places to Draw by Chronicle Books.
A follow-up to the hugely popular 642 Things to Draw, this esoteric assortment of locations to sketch will send casual doodlers and serious artists on a creative adventure, be it to remote locations (Mt. Fuji wrapped in mist), just down the hall (under your bed), or to the height of their imaginations (over the moon). One for the older child and a little bird tells me that adults are obsessed with it too. Yours won’t be the first kid to come down in the morning and find their parents have already ‘contributed’.
Maps Poster Book by Aleksandra and Daniel Mizielinska
Quite simply one of the loveliest designed map books I have ever seen, the large-format maps printed on gorgeous textured paper will bring the world alive. The authors and designers, Aleksandra Mizielinska and Daniel Mizielinski graduated from the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw in 2007 and were nominated for the Bologna Ragazzi Award in 2010. Previously available as a best-selling children’s style atlas simply called ‘Maps‘, this new compilation includes detailed maps of countries, along with a map of the world too that will brighten the bedroom (and indeed any room) of your child’s home. Twenty eight maps cover national costume and monuments, natural features and food; right down to the tiniest of insects.
Millie Marotta’s Animal Kingdom
Marketed in the blurb as a ‘stunning colouring book for adults’, I’d happily give this to a child aged from 10+ who likes intricate and finely wrought patterns, is patient and able to cope with not finishing in one day. Millie Marotta is a very popular illustrator and here she offers delicate outlines of forest scenes, birds and jellyfish trailing intricate tentacles printed on thick pages although I would avoid alcohol based felt pens to minimise bleeding through. There are composites of flowers that add up to a giant grizzly bear and other outlines that aren’t all they seem with ! A non prescriptive approach allows the artist to make the designs their own in what could turn out to be one heck of a trippy book with authorial suggestions for things to add when your own imagination starts to fade.
Superbook for Superheroes by Jason Ford
Here we have a ‘compendium of ideas’ from simple drawing and colouring to activities that allows you to create your own crusaders for justice who do battle with super villains and unravel their crazed schemes for taking over the world. Children will learn to draw villains such as the Mad Scientist, Bog Creature and Evil Robot, while also creating superheroes, their sidekicks, secret hideouts, outfits and super gadgets. And there are superpowers to discover such as invisibility, super strength, speed, flight, heat vision, teleportation and X-ray vision. A brilliant primer for the child who finds existing superheroes lacking and wants to invent their own.
Creaturepedia by Adrienne Barman
There are no words for how much I would have wished for a book like this as a child, both in design and contents (my tastes haven’t changed that much). A collection of best-loved animals from all over the world are chosen for their special talents and characteristics, made vivid and characterful in the illustrations by the author. Divided into witty and inventive categories such as ‘the architects’, the ‘noisy neighbours’, the ‘homebodies’, the ‘forever faithfuls’, the ‘champions of forgetfulness’ and more, including animals ordered through colour and habit too, this fact stuffed book will keep young explorers busy for hours.
Usborne Step by Step Drawing Animals
All these beautiful books packed with critters means your kids will want to learn how to draw them, an exercise that can often lead to frustration when the creatures in their minds eye do not match those they put down on paper. This book can help bridge that gap with its clear, easy to follow tricks and techniques that help kids create a lively and personality filled sketch. The double colourful pages have step-by-step drawing instructions, space to practise and doodle in, and ideas for colouring in or adding backgrounds to help develop imagination- a useful counterbalance if your child baulks at following too many instructions. This is part of a series of books; others have mermaids, people, comics etc.
My Pop Up Body Book by Jennie Maizels and Will Petty
A bright and bold interactive book that shows kids how it all works and takes them on a journey of discovery right from the very start- conception. There are pull tabs, lift flaps, turn wheels and pop ups plus tiny windows that show what happens internally, including the journey food makes along your alimentary tract in all its wonderful, kid friendly grossness. Useful as a visual guide for tinies and a jumping off point for more detailed explanation to the olders, the book is fun and funny, versatile and relatively hard wearing compared to a lot of interactive books which can make the mistake of sacrificing sturdiness for a design that sadly appeals more to a parent than it does to a child. This book doesn’t make this error.
Holiday Pocket Puzzle Book by Alex Frith
Costing less than £1,50, these little portable books are ideal for backpacks and jacket pockets. Even the meanest of airplane carry on allowances shouldn’t preclude taking one of these for kids aged 6+. Featuring mazes and logic problems to solve, wordsearches, codes to crack, number puzzles and more, this book is a boredom-buster, ready to use any time you have a spare few moments.
Pirates Maze: Maze Craze Boon by Don- Oliver Matthies
Priced at less than a fiver, this maze and puzzle has been very well received by the five and overs. Taking readers on a pirate themed fantasy where they board Captain Silver’s pirate ship, encounters with fish, mice, an octopus, a map in a bottle, and a super treasure hunt in an ancient Incan pyramid will keep them interested. Finding the lost gold and jewels whilst negotiating barriers and blocks to bewilder you and your gang of pirates challenges in a safe and non frustrating manner- handy if you need a few child free moments yourself.
Secret Garden: an Inky Treasure Hunt & Colouring Book by Joanna Basford
An absolutely divine book that most adults would covet. Tumble down the rabbit hole and find yourself in an inky black-and-white wonderland where interactive tasks take you on a ramble through a secret garden created in beautifully detailed pen-and-ink illustrations. The pages beg to be brought to life through colouring and reward the child who is prepared to explore and pore over each page as each drawing also shelters all kinds of tiny creatures just waiting to be found. And there are also bits of the garden that still need to be completed by you. Appealing to older children and YA’s, the intricately-realized world of the Secret Garden is both beautiful and inspirational and pretty much a modern day meditative activity.
Minecraft: the Official Construction Handbook
Again, costing only a few pounds, this is the handbook to expand Minecraft addicts abilities. This official handbook is packed with tips and step-by-step instructions from master build team FyreUK. You’ll learn how to construct houses, bridges, ships, floating islands and rollercoasters of the highest quality. There are guides to wooden houses, n impressive tower bridge build, a Nordic hall, palace gardens, mage city walls but whilst some designs have some step by step instructions (galleon ship, fortified wall, rollercoaster), others such as the Steampunk City serve a more inspirational role and don’t have instructions.
Stone Bone Girl: the Story of Mary Anning of Lyme Regis by Laurence Anholt
History is not littered with tales of great female derring do and not because women (and girls) didn’t actually do anything. Here, the story of Mary Anning, who is probably the worlds best known fossil hunter, acts as useful counterbalance and is a well loved heroine of mine as a result. As a little girl, she found a fossilised sea monster, the most important prehistoric discovery of its time and in this lovely book, best-selling author Laurence Anholt turns her fascinating life into a beautiful story, ideal for reading aloud. Sheila Moxley’s luscious pictures vividly evoke the coastal setting and the real-life dramas of this spectacular tale. Mary Anning is a role model, inspirational especially because she came, not from a wealthy family that could afford to indulge its cossetted offspring, but from a family that actually had to live off her earnings from her beachcombing finds.
Sticker Activity: Fantastic Fossils
Packed with over 250 easy-peel, re-usable full-colour stickers, this inexpensive book costing less than £4 takes you around the world to unearth the weird and wonderful creatures of the past and offers lots of fun activities. Become a fossil hunter: discover the most famous fossil finds, put together an Ichthyosaur, build a museum exhibit, match the fossil to the animal, go collecting fossils and put them on display. This is a book I’d recommend buying in conjunction with the story of Mary Anning featured above.
Big Top Burning by Laura A Woollett (pub 15 June 2015)
Big Top Burning investigates the 1944 Hartford circus fire and invites readers to take part in a critical evaluation of the evidence, helping develop their ability to pay attention and detect from the evidence presented. On July 6, 1944, thousands of fans made their way to Barbour Street in Hartford, Connecticut, to see the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey circus performance. Not long after the start, a fire broke out and spread as panicked circus-goers scrambled to escape. Within 10 minutes the entire big top had burned to the ground, and 167 people died. The book recounts the true story and follows the tragic stories of the Cook family—including children Donald, Eleanor, and Edward, who were in the audience that day—and 15-year-old Robert Segee, a circus employee with an incendiary past. Drawing on primary sources and interviews with survivors, author Laura Woollett guides readers through several decades of investigations and asks, Was the unidentified body of a little girl nicknamed “Little Miss 1565” Eleanor Cook? Was the fire itself an act of arson—and did Robert Segee set it? Young readers are invited to evaluate the evidence and draw their own conclusions. Combining a gripping disaster story, an ongoing detective and forensics saga, and vivid details about life in World War II–era America, Big Top Burning is sure to intrigue any history or real-life mystery fan.
The Growing Up Book for Boys: what boys on the autism spectrum need to know! by David Hartman
The Growing Up Book for Boys explains the facts behind the growth spurts, body changes and mood swings of adolescence for boys aged 9-14 on the autism spectrum, a time which can be very confusing for all adolesecents. Using direct literal language and cool colour illustrations, this book tells boys all they need to know about growing hair in new places, shaving, wet dreams and unexpected erections. It’s full of great advice on what makes a real friend, how to keep spots away, and how to stay safe online. Most importantly, it explains that every body is amazing and unique and encourages young boys with autism to celebrate difference!
The Black Dog Mystery by Ellery Quenn Jr
A gang of young sleuths and a trusty terrier put their noses to a bank robbers’ trail in this adventure packed with thrills, danger and suspense. Ellery Queen’s young apprentice, Djuna, is preparing for an afternoon of fishing when a stranger leans out of his car window and asks for directions to Canada. A few minutes later, Djuna watches as the man’s friends come running out of the local bank and into the getaway car, guns blazing, before taking off for the Canadian border. It is a mystery that could baffle even Djuna’s famous boss, but with the help of a ferocious black Scottie named Champ and a few crime-solving friends, he will find the culprits. It will be the greatest adventure of his life.
The Hungry Toilet by Jason Hall
Not a new release but who cares when a book is so witty and perfect for scatologically inclined children? There’s rhymes, gruesome-ness and a few questions at the end plus a mystery to ponder…There is a mystery surrounding Cresington Town. People are going missing and no one knows how or why. Your will meet some fantastic and hilarious characters on your way to solving the mystery. Includes the bonus story – Going on a Bat Hunt. The Hungry Toilet is a Top 10 Best Selling book with the author being described as the “New Roald Dahl of Rhyming.” If your children enjoy Dr Seuss, Roald Dahl and David Walliams they will love this book too!
Oh! The Places You’ll Go by Dr Seuss
Dr. Seuss’s Oh, the Places You’ll Go! is a wonderfully wise and joyous ode to finding one’s path through the maze of life. In celebration of its 20th anniversary, this classic bestseller has been transformed into a popup book by master paper engineer David A. Carter. Filled with glorious pop-ups, detailed pop-up booklets, special effects, and the complete original text, this classic bursts with vibrant new energy. It’s the perfect gift for kids of all ages, and an ideal gift for anyone starting out on a new adventure- why not buy for a child embarking on his first overnight school trip or as preparation for a first holiday?
Kids Made Modern by Todd Oldham
Fashion designer Todd brings us a thoroughly up to date take on children’s crafts books, weaving in examples of grest design such as Mid-Century Modern as a point of inspiration. Packed with craft ideas such as decoupage, the book assumes that no child is too young to have their own aesthetic. Crafts are integrated with a first rate modern art education but kids can shoot straight to crafting if that doesn’t interest them so much.
Cool Daddy Rat by Kristyn Crow
Bursting with potential for parental scat accompaniment, in this divinely cool story a young rat hides in his father’s bass case and tags along as he plays and scats around the big city. A celebration of NYC, of fatherhood and jazz, the lively rhythmic text is perfect for young kids and fabulous illustrations give that cool cat (or rat!) feel that lends itself so well to the slow winding down that a bedtime should be. Accompanied by some slow bluesy jazz, what better way to send them off to sleep?
Five Wounds by Katharine Edgar
I recently interviewed the author for The Bury Spy books page and having read this wonderful book, I came away feeling educated and entertained, Young readers will find the books sixteen year old heroine, Nan, a relatable character and one who offers an important alternative to some of the inane role models they are currently exposed to. Fans of books such as ‘The Hunger Games’ with its dominant female heroine will also find interesting parallels in Nan- parallels that transcend time and remind us that human emotions and motivations have remained fairly constant. It is 1536. The north of England has boiled over into rebellion against Henry VIII. Sixteen year old Nan Ellerton must choose – help the rebels, even though it could mean paying the brutal penalty for treason, or betray her beliefs and risk eternal damnation. A stunning historical novel for teenagers from debut author Katharine Edgar, Five Wounds tells a story of adventure, passion and courage, set against the background of the Pilgrimage of Grace.
The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster
This was hugely popular in the sixties and has stood the test of time as a wacky tale of childhood boredom and a boy who ends up in a fantasy land of words and numbers. It operates as both corrective to and depiction of adult boredom and through alliterative rhyme and gentle wit, it encourages readers to reconnect with the wonders that exist in our world.
For those of you reading this in Suffolk and Norfolk and surrounding counties, here are a selection of local book shops who, if they don’t stock these books, will be happy to order them in. Shop local, shop in real time as there’s nothing like stepping through the door of a book shop.
Kestrel Bookshop in Friars St, Sudbury (no website)
Waterstones in The Arc, Bury St Eds (and there is also a Buttermarket branch too with cafe)
The Angel Bookshop, Cambridge (no website)