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Great Crafts You Can Do at Home (As Inspired by Recent Picture Books)

library-craftsI feel like I need to start off with a bit of a confession. I’m a children’s librarian by training. And part of that job requires a complete and thorough knowledge of crafts and crafting. Now here’s the problem: I hate crafts. Well, not completely; I’ll color in an adult coloring book if someone hands it to me. But generally speaking, I’ve always been the librarian who’ll go all out with the hand rhymes and book readings and then throw a couple coloring pages at my tiny patrons as the “craft” afterward. But that’s the thing about having kids, isn’t it? By hook or by crook, they’re going to make you be as creative as possible. Children’s librarianship, as it turns out, was just the prelude.

What’s that phrase they use with kids these days? Ah, yes. The days are long, and the years are short. Since I have a five-year-old and a two-year-old I haven’t quite gotten to the “years are short” part of the equation, but I’m certainly in the thick of the “days are long” section. It doesn’t matter if the weather is good or bad, sunshiny or pouring rain. Every day home with a kid is an endless battle against that soul-sucking phrase, “I’m booooooored. What should I doooooooo?”

For a while there we typed up a list of activities called the “What Should Lily Doooooooooooo List.” But even that cannot do true battle with the boredom monster. Fortunately, I come with good news. There is a superhero lurking in your home, ready to do battle with the forces of boredom everywhere. I call it Picture Books.

Obviously, they’re good for reading. Sure. Got that. But a whole host of picture books go above and beyond the call of duty, allowing you and your child to come up with clever crafting ideas. Here’s a quick smattering of what I mean, with some examples from my own home.

Books with Crafts

potter_thismydollhouseFor this, you’re going to need the aid of a clever children’s librarian or children’s bookseller. It’s not like the picture books that contain crafting ideas are clearly marked on shelves, after all. Take This Is My Dollhouse by Giselle Potter. Nothing on the outside would give you a clue that underneath the book jacket are instructions for creating a dollhouse out of everyday materials around the home yourself. The plot of the book centers around a girl who has created her own dollhouse and is then ashamed to show it to a friend who has a store-bought model. Naturally, her friend much prefers the handmade creation, and readers will, too. There are plenty of ideas here worth taking to heart.

The minute I read this book I knew my crafty kid would be inspired.  As you can see, she quickly set up her own dollhouse, using the ideas in the book, and then coming up with some of her own. Balled up tiny pieces of toilet paper really DO look like popcorn! And a “hot tub” on the roof is always a good thing.

Books like this are out there. Just ask that useful children’s librarian to whip you up a list. Or, failing that, there are whole Pinterest pages dedicated to this very subject. So if you’re in the market for more inspiration, check out Crafts Based on Children’s Books, Children’s Book Related Crafts and Activities, and Crafts That Go Along with Books, just for starters.

Books with Recipes

Recipes! Like crafts but more edible! You’re far more likely to find a recipe in the back of a picture book than a craft, truth be told. But how different are the two, really? The trick comes in determining which recipes are something you’d actually like to eat (and make with your kid) and which ones are a bit on the cazuela-coverweird side. My personal favorite comes from The Cazuela That the Farm Maiden Stirred by Samantha R. Vamos, illustrated by Rafael López. The entire book is about making rice pudding, and at the end there’s a very nice, very simple little recipe that helps you to do precisely that. Any picture book involving food in some way is likely to have recipes in the back, be they the delicious Bee-bim Bop! by Linda Sue Park, the butter-drenched biscuits of Cynthia Levinson’s upcoming The Youngest Marcher, or the delicious gingerbread that comes from Mara Rockliff’s Gingerbread for Liberty. There was even a great School Library Journal round-up of such books called Read It, Make It, Eat It: Great Picture Books with Recipes. That said, if you want green eggs and ham, you’re on your own.

Books with Science Experiments

godsens_colafountainsYou may be willing to destroy your home with cardboard amalgamations and your kitchen with recipes gone haywire, but science experiments are another kettle of fish. For this, I’m cheating a little. There aren’t many picture books out there with science experiments in the back. There are, however, really amazing, wonderful, eclectic, and doggone weird science experiment books for kids coming out all the time. Two 2016 titles that are particularly beloved in my home are Cola Fountains and Spattering Paint Bombs by Jesse Goossens and Linde Faas (a Dutch import that’s a lot less violent than it sounds) and DK’s Smithsonian Maker Lab: 28 Super Cool Projects by Jack Challoner. Both of these will literally fill up days of your life. From the simple one where you can remove the Ms from M&Ms to the only slightly more complex “Icy Orbs” (it’s amazing what salt, ice, and food coloring can accomplish), I consider these books godsends.

Books with No Crafts, No Recipes, No Science Experiments, Just Pure Imagination

When my family moved to Evanston, Illinois, from NYC we found ourselves in possession of something almost never seen in Manhattan: a basement. With lots of rooms! Creepy spider filled rooms, yes, but rooms! So rather than breaking down our moving boxes and recycling them like responsible adults, a large number of them were simply tossed into one of these basement rooms. Messy? You bet. But precisely what we need when it comes to rainy days.

staake_robotMy daughter is, insofar as I can tell, a knight in shining armor when it comes to defeating the dragon of boredom. When we, her parents, fail to keep her occupied (which is to say, we don’t get up on the dot at 7 a.m. on weekends with projects in mind), she comes up with her own ideas. One day she was paging through Toys Galore by Peter Stein and Bob Staake when she came across a picture of a boy wearing a robot costume made out of cardboard. Now she’d already made one cardboard lily-robotrobot costume after reading the marvelous Robo-Sauce by Adam Rubin and Daniel Salmieri, but that just resulted in a video of her whispering, “Robo-domination . . . the end is near.” This was far more complex. She took everything Bob Staake included and made it real, from the pencil mouth to the clothes hanger antennae.

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So feel free to find inspiration in the everyday! Any picture book can inspire a craft, if you really think it through. And if you’re anything like me and your inclination to craft ranks right up there with removing that burgeoning wasp nest from your front porch, take heart. We may be inspirations to our kids, but they return the favor tenfold when they help us to put down the iPhones, pick up a couple cardboard boxes, and create marvelous things.

Here’s to creativity, no matter the source, no matter the inclination.

Betsy Bird About Betsy Bird

Betsy Bird is collection development manager of the Evanston (IL) Public Library and former youth materials specialist of the New York Public Library. She reviews for Kirkus and blogs for SLJ at A Fuse #8 Production. She is the author of Giant Dance Party (Greenwillow) and co-authored (with Julie Danielson and Peter D. Sieruta), Wild Things!: Acts of Mischief in Children’s Literature.

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Comments

  1. I am always impressed at how creative your daughter is, and just so willing to throw herself into the process of creating something with her hands. Those are some nicely crafted creations, Miss Lily!

  2. I’m very impressed by Zoe Toft’s blog http://www.playingbythebook.net. Most often, after a children’s book review her children take part in book-inspired art projects and photos are included. The creativity is delightful. A bonus for me in North Carolina is heads up on good picture books published in England.

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