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Doodle to your heart’s content

We’re heading into gift-buying season, and activity books are a great choice for creative kids. The previous activity/coloring book I reviewed on this blog was a hit with my sister’s nephew, so I took a look at a few of the new activity books we’ve received.

I love fairy tales and superheroes, but Vincent Boudgourd’s My Beastly Book of Twisted Tales (OwlKids Books, June) and My Beastly Book of Hilarious Heroes (OwlKids Books, August) didn’t get my imaginative juices flowing. The uninspiring instructions (e.g., “Pinocchio’s candle has burned out. Color everything black”) left me wondering “what’s the point?” I was similarly unimpressed with I ♥ People: An Activity Book for Writing, Drawing, and Having Fun by Françoize Boucher (Kane Miller, September). More journal than activity project, this book belittles the reader’s intelligence on each page with attempts at witty commentary: “Are you always ready to meet new people? Even weirdos?” I couldn’t get past the first few pages.

Then I tried Hervé Tullet’s newest book, Doodle Cook (Phaidon, October).

Its premise involves taking an “empty plate” (i.e., a circle) and adding “ingredients” (e.g., shapes, squiggles, lines, etc.) to create nineteen recipes like “Zigzag Soup” and “Crayon Tartar.” In true Tullet form, Doodle Cook requires interactivity and imagination. I created a few dishes of my own:

Tullet turns food into an art form, so where better to go next than to an activity book based on famous artwork? I poked around Marion Deuchars’s Let’s Make Some Great Art (Laurence King Publishing, September), which teaches you about great artists, what type of art they did, and how to do art projects similar to the masters. The projects include learning how to draw, adding shading and depth, and creating something using items around the house. I learned how to draw a Pablo Picasso–style bird…

and then brought my birds to life simply by changing the placement of the shapes…

until, alas, a bird had an unfortunate run-in with a bicycle that I learned to draw in the Andy Warhol section.

I also had a little too much fun improvising the supply list to create an Alexander Calder-inspired mobile from things I found in our office (yes, those are chopsticks – we love our Thai takeout and they worked just as well as the recommended straws).

Originality, subject matter, narrative voice, difficulty level, creativity, activity duration all played a part in these books’ success (or lack thereof). Each book approaches the “activity” part differently; you’ll have to choose based on a child’s interests/age. But the right activity book is a blast to use at any age.

Cynthia K. Ritter About Cynthia K. Ritter

Cynthia K. Ritter is associate editor of The Horn Book Guide. She earned a master's degree in children's literature from Simmons College.



  1. I’ve pretty much decided that Tullet can do no wrong.

  2. Nice art work sis. I should give that how to draw book a shot – I need serious artistic help!

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