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Picture Book Review – Yuna’s Cardboard Castles




Written by Marie Tang

Illustrated by Jieting Chen

(Beaming Books; $18.99, Ages 3-8)



Yuna's Cardboard Castles cover Yuna in Japan with origami


In Yuna’s Cardboard Castles, the heartwarming picture book debut from author Marie Tangillustrated by Jieting Chen, readers meet Yuna, who has just moved with her family to America from Japan. Like most children in that situation, Yuna is filled with concerns about what life will be like in her new home and how she’ll make new friends. The extra challenge Yuna faces is that she doesn’t speak English yet. While she misses her old friends and all that is familiar, Yuna is eager to find a way to connect with local kids.


 Yuna's Cardboard Castles int1 Yuna longed for the colors and shapes
Interior spread from Yuna’s Cardboard Castles written by Marie Tang and illustrated by Jieting Chen, Beaming Books ©2023.


It’s great to see Yuna take the initiative to look for ways to break the ice with the children in her neighborhood. At first, she tries making balls out of colorful paper. The results are lovely and impressive, highlighting her skills. However, Yuna feels discouraged after noticing children already have balls to play with. Onto the next option.

Thinking about where she used to live, Yuna longs to reproduce that environment where there were pointy buildings and rice cake stands. She cleverly uses cardboard and scissors to construct her very own stand but she’s at a loss to find the words to explain her project and the food on display. So, the neighborhood kids return “back to their tea parties.”


Interior spread from Yuna’s Cardboard Castles written by Marie Tang and illustrated by Jieting Chen, Beaming Books ©2023.


And though with her talent, Yuna can build almost anything she wants, she still feels the disconnect without the language to communicate. She is sad, frustrated, and isolated.

When a boy’s kite gets tangled in her yard, the two soon find common ground with their paper creations. Teaming up, their imaginations soar, and playing together becomes second nature. Soon, the neighborhood kids can’t help but engage with Yuna and the exciting cardboard world she’s constructed with her new friend. Chen’s vivid illustrations convey energy, enjoyment, and make-believe, filling each page with wonder to inspire children as they read  Tang’s thoughtful story.

When my family lived overseas for 10 years, our children played with other children from around the world whether we traveled to Germany, France, the Canary Islands, Italy, or Greece. Watching kids connect despite not having the words is always joyful to watch. Play is a universal language bringing diverse children together wherever you are. Yuna’s Cardboard Castles was inspired by Tang’s childhood experience of moving from Hong Kong to the United States. In the book, Yuna demonstrates how, just as Tang did as a child, using origami and corrugated boxes can open up worlds of opportunities for friendship when you have only a minimal grasp of your new country’s language. While the immigration experience is different for every child, Tang’s book creatively captures the emotion Yuna feels while presenting a positive way to cope that is empowering. Four pages of backmatter include detailed instructions to make an origami boat … “that can actually float!”

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel
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Kids Arts + Crafts Book Review – Playing With Collage


by Jeannie Baker
(Candlewick Press; $16.00, Ages 8-12)


Playing With Collage cover



Junior Library Guild Selection

Whether you have a budding artist or are just looking for something to do on a rainy day, Jeannie Baker’s beautiful picture book, Playing with Collage, provides hours of entertainment. Baker opens with a short explanation about her process, then the fun begins with pages of tips, tricks, and ideas. I like how she doesn’t just list what you need, but, rather, gives helpful advice such as using an old paintbrush to apply PVA glue and then soaking the brush in water after each application—who knew??


Playing With
PLAYING WITH COLLAGE. Copyright © 2019 by Jeannie Baker. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA on behalf of Walker Books, London.


Collage is all about texture and you can lose yourself exploring her amazing, creative images. Playing with Collage is a feast for the eyes and an education. Even the supplies are pieces of art; Baker has arranged them for visual interest, showcasing everything from orange peels to baked clay. Kids learn via seemingly simple questions: “Do those pieces of torn tissue remind you of clouds?”


Playing With
PLAYING WITH COLLAGE. Copyright © 2019 by Jeannie Baker. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA on behalf of Walker Books, London.


Divided into four main sections—Paper, Out in Nature, On the Beach, and In the Kitchen—the underlying message is to play. While geared for kids between the ages of 8 and 12, some of the ideas require adult supervision (noted accordingly). Even before we had any of the “starter” items at home, my ten-year-old was off collecting and arranging, gluing and layering, proving you can do much with found materials and a little inspiration from Playing with Collage.



Find a review for another tween arts & crafts book here.






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Kids Halloween Picture Books 2019




(*Which means we’ll be back next year with more Halloween reads,
but for now, please go out and pick up some books at your local indie bookstore to share with kids.)


free clip art pumpkin



dino halloween book coverDINO-HALLOWEEN
Written by Lisa Wheeler
Illustrated by Barry Gott
(Carolrhoda Books; $  Ages 5-9)

Dinosaur loving kids will find Dino-Halloween right up their rhyming Halloween alley! A bevy of big and small dinos get together to do their trick or treat thing as only dinos can in the latest picture book in the series.

“Come October, nights are longer.
Moon looms bigger. Winds blow stronger.”

The scene is set for a dino-mite Halloween romp that’s more silly than scary, making this a safe go-to story for younger children. Between the read-aloud rhyme and the animated, jewel-toned illustrations, each page is bursting with the excitement of this special night.

Meet Pterodactyl, Triceratops, Diplodocus, Apatosaurus, Iguanodon and many more, all on hand (or claw) to have fun. The dinos head to a haunted house then spend time carving pumpkins (“Iguanodon has no finesse. He’s smeared with pumpkin. What a mess!”). After that comes costume-making or buying for the Costume Ball. Picture Raptor stuffing his clothes with hay to make himself into a scarecrow. The ball’s where readers will find all the dinos dancing before heading out for some serious trick or treating. They call it a night after overdoing it on treats, but everyone agrees it’s been a blast and look forward to celebrating the next holiday⁠—Thanksgiving!

pick a pumpkin book coverPICK A PUMPKIN
Written by Patricia Toht
Illustrated by Jarvis
(Candlewick Press; $16.99, Ages 3-7)

Starred Review – Booklist

This atmospheric read is certain to become a family fave for getting into the Halloween spirit. What better way to get ready for Halloween than going to a pumpkin patch to find that special one.

“Pick a pumpkin from the patchtall and lean or short and fat. Vivid orange, ghostly white, or speckled green might be just right.”

An autumn glow fills every page of Pick a Pumpkin. The country setting (look out for Jarvis art supplies and Patty’s book shop!) and the country-colors palette of the artwork add anticipation that something special is on the horizon. Soon a diverse group of friends and family gather at home. Preparations begin for each guest to become part of the PUMPKIN CARVING CREW! Toht’s top-notch rhyme sparkles beside the warm illustrations as the fun gets underway. “A kiss. A frown. A toothy grin. A zigzag gap cut long and thin.” Every possible pumpkin design is explored and presented in two beautiful spreads with joyful and satisfied children.

Before the happy kids can light their new creations, it’s time for setting up the decorations and putting on costumes. And when at last the pumpkins are lit, a dazzling light transforms the illustration into pure magic to beholda Jack-O’-Lantern. Read this with your children or students before wishing everyone a very Happy Halloween! I have no doubt this lovely book will be revisited again and again every fall.


paint by sticker kids Halloween coverPAINT BY STICKER KIDS: HALLOWEEN
(Workman; $9.95, Ages 5-9)

This latest activity book in the Paint by Sticker series is perfect for families who are keen on keeping the Halloween celebration mess-free. This portable, non-electronic entertainment will keep kids busy and happy before or after trick or treating. Plus all the stickers are glow-in-the-dark! Here’s how it works.

Children choose one of the ten Halloween-themed pictures including a witch, a bat, “a tuxedo-suited vampire,” “a creepy unraveling mummy,” pumpkins and a haunted house. Then they turn to the back of the book to find the corresponding sticker page for their illustration. Then, let the peeling begin! It’s easy to peel and stick in place by matching the numbers and voilà, their masterpiece is ready to remove and even frame. All of the pages are perforated making removing the picture and sticker page easy peasy. Say good-bye to paint spills and hello to neat stickers this Halloween. 🎃



  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

Click here to read a previous Halloween Books roundup.



Written by Rachel Kolar
Illustrated by Roland Garrigue
(Sleeping Bear; $16.99, Ages 5-7)




Monsters Come Out Tonight cvrMONSTERS COME OUT TONIGHT!
Written by Frederick Glasser
Illustrated by Edward Miller
(Abrams Appleseed; $8.99, Ages 3 and up)




No More Monsters Under Your Bed cvrNO MORE MONSTERS UNDER YOUR BED! 
Written by Jordan Chouteau
Illustrated by Anat Even Or
(Jimmy Patterson Books; $16.99, Ages 3 – 6)



Snack Attack book coverSNACK ATTACK!
by Terry Border
(Philomel; $17.99; Ages 3-7)



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Best Children’s Books for Christmas and the Holiday Season – Part Two



As promised, Good Reads With Ronna continues this year’s roundups of great Christmas books and activities to share with your children before and during the holiday. There are so many terrific new books to choose from that we felt it was important to review as many as possible so you could find some special ones that appeal to everyone in the family.



The Twelve Days of Christmas by Emma Randall cover imageThe Twelve Days of Christmas
Illustrated by Emma Randall
(Penguin Workshop; $16.99, Ages3-7)

The traditional Christmas song about a partridge in a pear tree can get to feeling a bit cluttered by the time seven lords are leaping around, but in The Twelve Days of Christmas, Emma Randall’s illustrations are a breath of fresh winter air, clear and colorful throughout. For example, each leaf and pear in the partridge’s tree is separate, forming a lovely mosaic that could be Swedish or Ukrainian. The characters are drawn in a homey style that reminds me of Jessie from Pixar’s “Toy Story,” with old-fashioned winter afternoon-wear replacing cowgirl duds. There are plenty of visual details to search for and enjoy, and of course you can sing the song while searching if caroling is your jam.  • Reviewed by Mary Malhotra


Susan Jeffers Jingle Bells cover imageJingle Bells
Written and illustrated by Susan Jeffers
(HarperCollins; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

Susan Jeffers offers a new interpretation of another classic holiday song, Jingle Bells. Her cover illustration gives us the main characters: a boy carrying a gift, a girl snuggling a dog, a beautiful horse, and lots of snow, including raised sparkling snowflakes just asking to be touched by little fingers. Open the book and the front endpaper lays out the path the sled will follow, from the children’s barn, over a river, through a forest and on to a little house. Working with such a familiar song, Jeffers takes the opportunity to include new things for readers to ponder. The children would like to stay bundled up in the sled, but their dog is determined to discover every winter animal playing or hiding in the white world outside the sleigh. Readers can look for the animals, too; the last two pages identify them for reference. Near the end, we find out where the children are going and who will receive their gift. In a surprise, the story shares some insight about what it might be like to have a famous neighbor. Add this one to your songbook collection.  • Reviewed by Mary Malhotra

A Charlie Brown Christmas Deluxe Edition cover imageA Charlie Brown Christmas
Deluxe Edition
(Part of Peanuts)
By Charles M. Schulz
Adapted by: Maggie Testa / Illustrated by: Vicki Scott
(Simon Spotlight; $19.99, Ages: 4-99)

I tried to share my favorite holiday television special with my own kids twenty years ago — and it didn’t really work. Maybe the animation techniques or sound quality didn’t hold up, or maybe I had loved it partly because I could only see it once a year, whenever CBS decided to air it. At any rate, my kids couldn’t relate to my anticipation. I opened A Charlie Brown Christmas: Deluxe Edition (Peanuts) hoping this book might be a way to share the Peanuts magic more successfully with my grandchildren. I’ll know for sure when I see them before the holidays, but I’m thinking this version is a “yes!”  • Reviewed by Mary Malhotra

This deluxe edition, by Maggie Testa (Adapter), Charles M. Schulz (Author), and Vicki Scott (Illustrator), is big, with an almost-velvet red cover framing a smiling Charlie Brown holding his special little Christmas tree. The endpapers are sheet music of the Christmas carols “Jingle Bells” and “Hark the Herald Angels Sing.” The art throughout pops with bold colors and stylized shading. In case you’re unfamiliar with the characters or story, Charlie Brown is a kid who has few friends and can’t do anything right. He is correspondingly depressed, yet embodies optimism, always coming back to try again. In the Christmas story, his true friend Linus thinks he knows how to cheer up Charlie Brown. “You need to get involved. How would you like to be the director of our Christmas play?” Charlie Brown takes charge, but after he gets a straggly little tree to decorate the stage, the other kids convince him he’s ruined everything again. Later, led by Linus, everyone comes together to decorate the tree. It shapes up like only a cartoon tree could, and the true spirit of Christmas shines. This adaptation hits the important notes I remember from the animated special, including my favorite scene: Linus reciting Luke 2:8-14 after assuring Charlie Brown, “I can tell you what Christmas is all about.”  • Reviewed by Mary Malhotra

Christmas Paper Crafting: Holiday Cards, Gift Tags, and More!
Authors: Valerie McKeehan, Valentina Harper, Thaneeya McArdle,
Robin Pickens, Angelea Van Dam
(Design Originals, an imprint of Fox Chapel Publishing; $19.99, Ages 6+)

With a title like Christmas Paper Crafting: Holiday Cards, Gift Tags, and More! it’s no surprise that this book contains cards, envelope templates, and gift tags. The “more” includes bookmarks, mini cards, full-page images called frameables, and scrapbook paper (which makes nice two-sided gift wrap). Most pages are perforated and easy for a child to use on their own. Kids can choose an item, then draw or write on the mostly blank second side—some have short quotations. The envelope templates are straightforward as are the instructions for bookmark tassels or fridge magnets.

The artwork is that of best-selling artists Thaneeya McArdle, Robin Pickens, Angelea Van Dam, Valentina Harper, and Valerie McKeehan. A variety of styles showcases the holiday sentiments. Images are produced on thick paper and in full color—except for a few in black and white for self-coloring. While most pictures are appropriate for a range of holidays, in keeping with the book’s title, many of the quotes on the back of the cards refer to Christmas and some are of a religious nature. If the quotes aren’t suitable, the card’s second page can be omitted and used as postcard-size instead.

If you’re strapped for time, Christmas Paper Crafting can give your cards a more homemade feel. It may also be less costly than buying individual greeting cards or boxed card sets. Kids who enjoy making their own choices and crafting will appreciate the freedom to pick what they like then to embellish a bit, adding their special seasonal touch.  • Reviewed by Christine Van Zandt

Mary Englebreit's Color ME Christmas Book of Postcards coverMary Englebreit’s Color ME Christmas
Book of Postcards
(HarperCollins; $9.99, Ages 4+)

I picked up Mary Engelbreit’s Color ME Christmas Book of Postcards because it looked like a fun, creative project to do with my granddaughter, coloring in holiday postcards, gift tags, and ornaments illustrated with designs in Engelbreit’s signature vintage style. I love that at Christmastime, every arts and crafts project is also an opportunity for young kids to make presents for the people they care about. The book is printed on thick card stock, so after coloring, the items will be ready to mail, tie onto gifts, or hang on the Christmas tree. Paired with a package of colored pencils or markers, these postcards make a wonderful gift for any young visitors you may be expecting. Recommended for ages 4 and up, in other words, for anyone who’s a kid at heart like me.  • Reviewed by Mary Malhotra



Christmas Books for Children Roundup – Part One

Christmas Books for Children Roundup – Part Three

Holiday Gift Books Guide

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New Thanksgiving Books for 2016

– A Roundup of Holiday Books –


Thanksgiving Countingthanksgiving-counting-cvr
A First Celebrations Book
Written by Barbara Barbieri McGrath
Illustrated by Peggy Tagel
(Charlesbridge; $6.95, Ages 0-3)

Going to relatives or friends for Thanksgiving and don’t know what to bring along to keep your little ones occupied and entertained? Why not consider buying a copy of this counting themed board book, part of the Charlesbridge’s First Celebrations series for the youngest readers in your family?  With its vibrant colored turkey cover, this new book introduces the first Thanksgiving and one ear of corn going all the way up to six multi-hued leaves falling from a tree and lots of scrumptious food in between. Thanksgiving Counting is a great way to get your children to observe all the decorations and food around the dinner table while learning to count all the wonderful things that make this holiday so enjoyable.

Written and illustrated by Michael Hall
(Greenwillow Books; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

For Hall fans and those who also appreciate the art of Eric Carle and Lois Ehlert, Wonderfall is sure to delight. As the jacketflap says, “In this book you will discover 1 colorful tree, 2 scurrying squirrels, and 15 blended words created to celebrate the wonder of fall!” So much goes on around this one majestic oak tree. In 15 brief poems that tell the story of the people and animals that live and work near it, we see what an important role this tree plays as autumn turns into winter. Peacefall, Plentifall, Playfall,  Frightfall, Thankfall, and Watchfall, are just a few of Hall’s wordplay topics that culminate in Snowfall. The stories move from acorns dropping with a plink, plunk, plop to the magic of  fall’s magnificent colors. The tree is there to welcome trick-or-treaters, witness animals enjoying nature’s bounty and provide piles of leaves in which children frolick, and branches in which squirrels chase. A bonus for readers is the five pages of back matter containing great information about the tree, the animals that find shelter in it and get nourishment from its acorns. I’ll weigh in here with one more blended word that happens to be my reaction to reading this charming new picture book – Joyfall!

Thankfulness to Color:thankfulness-to-color-cvr
Gratitude to live and color by
Written and illustrated by Zoë Ingram
(Harper; $15.99, Ages 4 and up)

Coloring books are so popular right now and with the hectic holiday season upon us, there’s no better time to find a few quiet moments with your kids to decompress. Coloring helps foster creativity and mindfulness, and most of all, it’s calming. Adults and children alike will find the designs and quotes that Ingram has provided to be perfectly suited for  Thanksgiving. On the last page of Thankfulness to Color is a list of these quotes including Henry David Thoreau’s “I am grateful for what I am and have,” all of which have been woven into the plethora of beautiful patterns. Keep this book to enjoy with the family or give as a gift to your holiday hostess.

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel


Here are links to our book reviews from previous Thanksgivings:

Written and illustrated by Mercer Mayer


Written and illustrated by Mark Fearing



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Coloring Books To Brighten Everyone’s Christmas




Juli Barry’s dipped into them all and has this to say:

Christmas to Color
by Mary Tanana
(HarperCollins; $15.99, Ages 4 and up)

ChristmastoColorcvr_Looking for a way to keep the peace during holiday gatherings? Or do you need a way to get those eternally bored teens to put down the phone and interact with family members?  Try gathering those cousins around a table and color together! Mary Tanana’s Christmas to Color provides ultra-attractive, over-sized pages of beautiful Christmas scenes to tempt even the grouchiest Grinches of the family! Snowflakes, wreaths, ornaments in detail, and so many other festive designs are sure to add amusement to any family gathering. Tanana cleverly draws some designs that can be cut out and placed in outlined areas on facing pages. “Trim” an intricately decorated tree with colored pens or pencils, then place it in the blank center of a background of poinsettias and mistletoe. Or have the relatives color any of the pages of sleds or stockings, animals and stars and so much more, to create a collage of everyone’s work.

Bright and cheery stocking colored by Juli Barry from artwork in Christimas to Color by Mary Tanana, HarperCollins, ©2015.
Twinkling toppers colored by Juli Barry from artwork in Christimas to Color by Mary Tanana, HarperCollins, ©2015.










IHeartColoringFlowers.jpgColoring books are all the rage this year and they come in every size and theme. Lizzie Preston and Jane Ryder-Gray, Jess Bradley, and Felicity French all illustrate a new, smaller (6” X 6”) coloring book series appropriately entitled I Heart Coloring … These make great stocking stuffers and provide fun distractions during those holiday trips in planes, trains, and autos. Specifically, I Heart Coloring Flowers with artwork by Preston and Ryder-Gray includes intricate floral patterns and challenging motifs as well as lighter fare for those just starting out. You can mat and frame your completed pages and give them as presents, or cut out particular flowers and add them to hand-made cards. Use now or save for Valentine’s Day or Easter.

TheNeonColoringBookCheck out the bold, over-sized The Neon Coloring Book with its hints of neon orange and pink adorning pages of animals, skateboards (!!) and other funky objects. Black or neon-colored backgrounds radiate other pages of delights to color. So buy a pack or two of neon markers and join in the fun! Coloring provides both a quiet way to interact with loved ones and a creative break from all the work and stress of the holidays. And Price Stern Sloan has a tempting array of coloring books sure to brighten everyone’s day!



I Heart Coloring
by Felicity French
I Heart Cute Coloring
by Jess Bradley

I Heart Coloring Flowers
by Lizzie Preston and Jane Ryder-Gray

(Price Stern Sloane; $9.99 each, Ages 10 and up)

The Neon Coloring Book
by Richard Merritt, Amanda Hillier, and Felicity French
(Price Stern Sloane; $12.99, Ages 5-8)


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This is Not a Math Book by Anna Weltman

THIS IS NOT A MATH BOOK: A Smart Art Activity Book
by Anna Weltman
(Kane Miller; $14.99, Ages 8 and up)


If you have a doodler, or a kid who likes geometrical shapes and patterns, then This is Not a Math Book is for you! There are over 30 fun and creative drawing activities that just so happen to have a subtle math spin. With a few drawing and math tools in tow, kids’ll be set to choose an activity. I can see this book coming in handy for the classroom or for homeschoolers. You can learn to make tessellations or fractals, and see how neat it is to create drawings with lots of circles and triangles.

Interior artwork from This is Not a Math Book by Anna Weltman, Kane Miller Books ©2015.


Interior artwork from This is Not a Math Book by Anna Weltman, Kane Miller Books ©2015.

I decided to try my hand at a little tessellation and I really enjoyed inventing a creature to match my shape. This book makes math entertaining and gives ample creation decisions to the reader.

Sample of Transformers activity from Kane Miller Books’ This is Not a Math Book completed & photographed by reviewer Lucy Ravitch ©2015.

Even as an adult I found the book fascinating. I also watched my kids spending a good amount of time on their creations, intent on making them just right. The instructions were easy to follow and could be used by most kids ages 8 and up. It’s helpful, too, that there’s a handy Table of Contents and Glossary if you’re looking for a particular activity.

Kudos to Weltman for coming up with this unique, hands-on math/drawing activity book that is sure to be a hit with children and parents alike.

  • Reviewed by Lucy Ravitch

headshot LucyRavitchLucy Ravitch is the blogger behind and author of The Pancake Menu: What will you order? An interactive book that lets kids practice math as they play restaurant, with free printable order sheets and play money on Lucy loves everything that makes math fun, and enjoys crafting and cooking books as well. She has a degree in Elementary Education and lives in Southern California with her family and cute, crazy dog.

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Maisy’s Placemat Doodle Book by Lucy Cousins

Maisy’s Placemat Doodle Book by Lucy Cousins is reviewed by Rita Zobayan.


Maisy’s Placemat Doodle Book by Lucy Cousins, Candlewick Press, 2014.

My youngest daughter adores a certain mouse by Lucy Cousins, so Maisy’s Placemat Doodle Book (Candlewick Press, 2014; $11.99, Ages 3 and up) was a huge hit with her. With over 50 activities, it’s perfect for doodling, coloring, drawing, and, most importantly, using imagination. Each of the pages has a prompt and an illustration to inspire little hands to get busy with crayons, markers, or pencils. For example, your child can give these mugs some pretty patterns or can help draw some food that she [Tallulah] would like to eat. The prompts help children learn or reinforce colors, patterns, shapes and content knowledge.

As with all Maisy books, the illustrations are splendid in their simplicity, and Maisy’s friends are there to join the fun. Draw lots of teeth for Charley so he can crunch on this tasty carrot. Make his shirt striped. Panda has been eating tomato soup. Draw the TERRIBLE MESS he has made on his face and everywhere else!

The pages are 12.5” x 9”, so there is plenty of space to color. When we’ve been on our way to dine out, I’ve torn pages from the book and taken them with us. That way, my daughter has her placemat(s) at the diner, as well. In her words, “You could color it, look at it, and it’s fun.”

Check out this terrific My Friend Maisy/Maisy’s Fun Club site for kids.


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PROJECT KID: 100 Ingenious Crafts for Family Fun by Amanda Kingloff

PROJECT KID: 100 Ingenious Crafts for Family Fun (Artisan Books; $22.95) by Amanda Kingloff is an innovative new kids craft book reviewed by Ronna Mandel.
Kingloff, former Parents magazine lifestyle director, is a DIY pro so there’s really no need to go elsewhere.

—Publishers Weekly, starred review

Credit: “Excerpted from Project Kid by Amanda Kingloff (Artisan Books). Copyright © 2014. Photographs by Alexandra Grablewski.”

Here’s one of the best things about being a kid – making stuff!! Here’s one of the best things about being a parent, grandparent or caregiver – making stuff with kids!! Here’s one of the best things about Artisan Books – they’ve allowed Good Reads With Ronna to share the beautiful Bookworm Envelopes Project with you! Scroll down to find instructions then, after trying the craft, visit the Project Kid website at to get as excited as I am about the book.

I have a “craft closet” that has traveled around the world with me. I wouldn’t be surprised if a lot of you reading this have one, too. I’ve also got hundreds of buttons I’ve been saving since the sixties that have been used countless times in a myriad of ways. Maybe you’ve been hanging onto your favorite old fishnet tights, or perhaps you stockpile single socks whose mates were lost in the laundry long ago … whatever you keep on hand (toilet paper tubes, yarn, mesh produce bags), I am confident you’ll find a creative use for them with Kingloff’s inspiring and easy-to-use new craft book.

After the introduction inside Project Kid, you’ll find Kingloff’s provided helpful Getting Started spreads showing Essential Tools, Crafty Materials and Household Items, all sharply photographed and well-labeled. Parents will appreciate the safety note, too. The contents pages describe the seven main sections of the book which are called Animal Kingdom; Hold Everything; Home Sweet Home; Playtime; Ready To Wear; The Great Outdoors; and Abstract Expressions. Additionally Resources, Acknowledgments and a Project Index are included. Plus if the book isn’t hands-on enough already, there are six Art Lessons throughout the 270+ pages from pom-pom making to fabric dyeing.

Alexandra Grablewski’s photographs in Project Kid are excellent and give such a good idea of exactly what each craft is and its size. Here’s a sampling of some of my personal faves: Needlepoint Flyswatter on pg. 52; Dolly’s Oven-Mitt Sleeping Bag on pg. 150; and Bedazzled Branches on pg. 224. I hope you’ll consider Project Kid: 100 Ingenious Crafts for Family Fun your new go-to activity book and wish you months of crafting pleasure with your family!  Now, don’t wait another minute. Pull your kids off the couch, put away any electronics and go get crafty with ’em!


Since this is a book review blog, what better project to share with you all than one involving old book jackets? I can’t tell you how many times my daughter removed the book jackets from her books only to eventually donate the books without said covers. What happened? I became the proud owner of dozens of abandoned book covers I couldn’t bear to throw out. With this clever project you can breathe new life into those old book jackets and bring joy to their recipients.

Credit: “Excerpted from Project Kid by Amanda Kingloff (Artisan Books). Copyright © 2014. Photographs by Alexandra Grablewski.”

69_Bookworm Envelopes.jpg
Credit: “Excerpted from Project Kid by Amanda Kingloff (Artisan Books). Copyright © 2014. Photographs by Alexandra Grablewski.”

Bookworm Envelopes from PROJECT KID!

What you’ll need


Dust jackets

Pen or pencil


Glue stick

Ruler or bone folder (optional)

1. Carefully pull apart the seams of an envelope.

2. Trace the flattened envelope onto a dust jacket and cut it out. Make sure to position the template over your desired section of the jacket.

3. Fold your new dust-jacket envelope to match the original envelope template and glue the overlapping edges together, leaving one flap open. (You can use a ruler or a bone folder to create good flat creases for your envelopes.)

4. Use a glue stick to seal the envelope for mailing.


Use these envelopes to hold receipts, photos, memorabilia, or a note from a BFF on a bulletin board—or use one to mail grandparents a thank-you note for all the birthday books they’ve sent.

68_Bookworm Envelopes.jpg
Credit: “Excerpted from Project Kid by Amanda Kingloff (Artisan Books). Copyright © 2014. Photographs by Alexandra Grablewski.”


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Holiday Gift Guide – Play-Doh Christmas Craft Fun


Cover art for Play-Doh Christmas Craft Fun
Play-Doh Christmas Craft Fun, by Susan Amerikaner with art by Kara Kenna, Silver Dolphin Books, 2013.

Play-Doh Christmas Craft Fun, written by Susan Amerikaner and illustrated and digitally composed by Kara Kenna (Silver Dolphin Books, $14.95; Ages 3 and up), is reviewed today by Rita Zobayan.

Christmas is upon us, which undoubtedly means presents. Why not combine two perennial kid favorites—Play-Doh and books—and delight the youngsters in your life? Silver Dolphin Books and Hasbro have done exactly that. The Play-Doh Christmas Craft Fun set includes four cans of Play-Doh, a plastic knife and roller, and 15 projects wrapped into a 32-page activity book.

Santa is on his way to Jolly Town, and Penguin, Cat, and Dog need your help to get the town ready! Help them prepare a tree, a candy cane, a bow, advent candle, a stocking and 10 more fun, Christmas-themed items. Each project is presented in three easy-to-follow steps with accompanying photographs.  Then the project is highlighted in the two-page spread artwork.

Time for presents! Let’s make one.

1. Shape two square in any colors you like. Make one thinner than the other. Then make five small rolls.

2. Put the thin square on top of the bigger one. Flatten the rolls into strips and fold them over. Roll out several tiny round pieces.

3. Use the folded strips to make a bow. Make a ball for the middle of the bow. Decorate with the tiny round pieces.

This gift is ready to go under the tree! Great job! Maybe next year you can work at the North Pole!

The artwork consists of Play-Doh figures on a backdrop. They’re fun and inviting scenes. See the cozy fireplace where you can hang your stockings. Step into Mrs. Claus’ kitchen where she’s busy baking gingerbread cookies, with your help, of course! Watch the snowflakes cover the trimmed tree!

Create some Christmas memories with the Play-Doh Christmas Craft Fun activity book and set.


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We Love to Sew: 28 Pretty Things to Make by Annabel Wrigley

We Love to Sew by Annabel Wrigley
We Love to Sew: 28 Pretty Things to Make by Annable Wrigley, from Fun Stitch Studio/C&T Publishing, 2013.

Mary Brown reviews We Love to Sew, 28 Pretty Things to Make: Jewelry, Headbands, Softies, T-shirts, Pillows, Bags & More.

The craft of sewing is enjoying a renaissance these days, as young, modern women are taking up the needle to create quilts, garments and functional items with fresh fabrics and a new sensibility.* It’s as if sewing skipped a generation or two, and is coming back into vogue. It’s fun and creative, and sewists can save money by making clothes and gifts more cheaply (and uniquely) than they can be bought. But how does a young girl get started sewing, particularly if her mom never picked it up?

Annabel Wrigley has created We Love to Sew, 28 Pretty Things to Make: Jewelry, Headbands, Softies, T-shirts, Pillows, Bags & More (Fun Stitch Studio/C&T Publishing, $22.95) to help girls acquire sewing skills while making fun sewn items. Ms. Wrigley owns a studio in Virginia where she teaches girls to sew, and says that the book is a collection of the most loved projects they’ve made in class. The projects are appealing, and the book is executed in a cute, modern style. The photographs are gorgeous. The book is intended for girls age 8 to 14, although the projects’ tween appeal might make age 12 a more appropriate cut-off.

The projects feature three skill levels, which the writer categorizes as ‘easy peasy’, ‘teeny bit challenging’ and ‘take your time, ask for help.’ So note that this voice, with phrases like ‘You will be the coolest girl in town with this adorable bag!’ may not appeal to every tween.

The projects and instructions themselves are mostly hits. The little creatures, the pom-poms and the bags are fun and doable by small hands. The small quilt and mushroom house are perhaps overly ambitious so an experienced sewist would need to be lurking nearby to provide assistance for those. The instruction photos and drawings are pretty clear and easy to follow, although there were a couple of places where the pages felt a bit cluttered.

The writer does a lovely job of encouraging girls to make the projects their own, not to strive for perfect replicas of the photos. A creative, self-starting girl can really go to town with this book, a few supplies and her own imagination. We Love to Sew, along with some fabric, needles and thread, would make a great holiday gift for a crafty girl.

* Boys and men sew, too, but the book being reviewed here is obviously targeted to girls. A boy wishing to learn to sew might want to seek out a more gender-neutral book.

Here are links to reviews of other crafts books.

Martha Stewart’s Favorite Crafts for Kids

Embroidery pour le Bébé: 100 French Designs for Babies and the Nursery

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Embroidery pour le Bébé: 100 French Designs for Babies and the Nursery

Embroidery Pour Le Bebe Cover Art
Embroidery Pour Le Bebe: 100 French Designs for Babies and The Nursery by Sylvie Blondeau from Harper Collins Trade Publishers, 2013.

Mary Brown, our excellent all things sewing related reviewer, weighs in avec plaisir on today’s French-themed book.

Do you go ga-ga for Tin-Tin? Did you hang onto your old Babar books? Do you love the illustrations in your dog-eared copy of  The Little Prince? Then you must be très passionné for charming French children’s illustration. The simple lines evoke a bygone era with endearing sweetness. That darling quality is captured on every page of the book Embroidery pour le Bébé: 100 French Designs for Babies and the Nursery (Harper Collins Trade Paperback, $12.99, ages 18 and up) by Sylvie Blondeau.

This little volume (one of three Blondeau’s written) presents small embroidery designs that can be traced onto fabric and made into items for baby. It also includes instructions for a few sewn items that feature the embroidery, such as a pillow, travel case, bib, toys and a hat. The little figures are beyond adorable. There are bunnies and teacups and playthings and all manner of babies and tiny children among them. Each page features a kind of theme for the embroidered illustrations, such as playing house, dress-up, garden, pets, etc.. There is a full-color photo of each design rendered on linen, followed by a page with the line drawings to be copied and traced, along with suggested stitches to use.

The vintage juvenile style is rendered consistently in every single design. Meaning, if this specific brand of cuteness isn’t really your thing, no need to read further. For the rest of us, the kewpie doll charm of the designs will trigger a longing to get out some embroidery floss and get to it. It’s nice that the reader can try out the patterns with nothing more than a needle, thread and a scrap of fabric.

Some prior experience with hand embroidery would be very helpful; this is probably not the best place for the novice stitcher to start out. There are some instructions in the back of the book, and a stitch chart with photos and explanations, but the how-to aspect of the book is minimal. That is especially true of the instructions and templates provided for the sewn items. The explanations are so brief that some sewing expertise would be required to fill in the blanks. That said, the designs could easily be applied to a hat or bib pattern from another source.

You might only make one project using the designs in this book – for that friend who is just ga-ga for Tin-Tin – but you will love having the little volume in your sewing/crafting library. The pictures will bring a sweet smile to your face, whether or not there is a needle in your hand.




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Day of the Dead Activity Book by Karl Jones

Day of the Dead Activity Book by Karl Jones with illustrations by Steve Simpson from Price Stern Sloan 2013.
Day of the Dead Activity Book by Karl Jones with illustrations by Steve Simpson from Price Stern Sloan 2013.


Day of the Dead Activity Book (Price Stern Sloan, $9.99, Ages 6-9), written by Karl Jones and illustrated by Steve Simpson is reviewed today by Rita Zobayan.

Dia de los Muertos or Day of the Dead is a primarily Mexican holiday. Celebrated on November 1 and 2 as a way to remember loved ones who have passed away, Dia de los Muertos has many traditions. The Day of the Dead Activity Book written by Karl Jones and illustrated by Steve Simpson provides information and activities to learn more about this ancient celebration. Readers will learn about the history of the holiday, including the influence of the Spanish conquistadores and the Catholic Church. What is an ofrenda or papel picado? Read and find out!

Activities include recipes for sugar skulls and graveyard cake, and instructions for face painting and making paper planes, papel picado, press-out face masks, and paper marigolds. In addition there is a theme-related word find, a crossword puzzle, and a maze. There are six press-out pieces to build your own shrine, four press-out figures, and two press-out masks. The fun doesn’t stop there: two pages full of Day of the Dead stickers finish off the book.

The art work is colorful. The skulls, prevalent in the celebration of the holiday, might be initially a little startling for younger readers, but Steve Simpson does a wonderful job of making them friendly. The Day of the Dead Activity Book is an active introduction to a holiday celebrated by millions.

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175 Projects for kids of all ages to create, build, design, explore and share.

175 Projects for Kids of All Ages from the Editors of Martha Stewart Living
175 Projects for Kids of All Ages from the Editors of Martha Stewart Living

Martha Stewart’s Favorite Crafts for Kids (Potter Craft, $24.99, trade paperback), written by the Editors of Martha Stewart Living, is reviewed by Mary Brown.

We love to see our kids doing crafts. In theory, a craft project keeps the young ones busy and quiet for an extended time, and may produce something worth giving to grandma for her birthday.  But coming up with fun, un-lame projects that utilize inexpensive, easily procured items can be challenging.  Martha Stewart to the rescue!

In Martha Stewart’s Favorite Crafts for Kids, the domestic guru has produced an impeccable collection of crafts with kids in mind. While not every one is a winner, the book has enough good ideas to be worthwhile, and the fresh, modern volume is a delight to look at.

Be warned: almost all of the crafts listed in the book require adult help and supervision, for most kids under 10 or so. Some precocious, crafty or older kids might be able to figure things out on their own, but most of these projects will involve planning and hands-on monitoring. The instructions are straightforward and minimal, which is fine when showing how to make Paper Bag Puppets, but the Tin Can Toys look like they would require an engineer with a good tool chest to complete. Buy this book knowing that your presence will be required.

The book is divided into categories of craft types, which also cover a variety of age ranges and interests. There is a section for making animals and characters out of various materials; designs and embellishments; and science-type experiments. The book also delves into all kinds of little boxes and organizers, as well as gifts to make. It’s nice that there are a number of activities that would appeal to boys, particularly building projects (Peg Board Marble Run and the Toy Service Station) and physical games like Elephant Stilts.  There are plenty of cute girl-oriented items, like barrettes, purses, dolls and jewelry. My favorite projects included a Scented Scrub for the bath, and the Snow Globes. I do wish though that there was an index of craft projects at the front of the book, and that some of the how-to explanations (like for sewing projects) were a bit more thorough.

I would be happy to own this book just for its fun, creative aesthetic, and some of the ideas would be good jumping-off points for my own interpretations of the projects.  Many of the activities look too challenging for most young children, however. You know how you sit a kid down with a project but you end up doing most of it yourself? Also, many of the crafts involve the adult  making something that the kid then plays with, like the Beach Board Games or the Map Puzzle. Some of the activities require found objects from nature – bark, twigs, leaves, rocks – that may not be available in some urban areas or dry climates. There is also a precious, “Martha-Stewart-Perfect” quality to the book that may intimidate the parent who lacks craft confidence. My (oops, I mean my kids’) Pom-Pom Animals will never look like that!   Out of 175 crafts, however, you’re sure to find enough project ideas to inspire creativity in you and your kids for many happy hours.

Today’s reviewer, Mary Brown, is a scriptreader for Hollywood film studios, putting her bookworm childhood to professional use. Her favorite place is her sewing studio, where she designs and creates quilts, functional items and garments.  You can see photos and thoughts on her work at She has managed to get two of her kids through college; her youngest is still in high school and has autism. His challenges keep her sitting up and paying attention to life.

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Personalize It


This Belongs To Me: Cool Ways to Personalize Your Stuff (Running Press Kids, $12.95, ages 9 and up) by Anna Wray is a new DIY book that will help any tween or teen find fun new ways to express their individuality. With the fab 14 projects featuring step-by-step instructions, it’s so easy for kids to customize clothes, accessories and even things in their bedroom.

0762449292So kids, say good-bye to boring shoes and shirts and hello to Doodle Sneakers or a Bar Code T-Shirt. Yep, here’s a way to stand out in a crowd. Pick a project, get your supplies ready and pretty soon you’ll be wearing a unique work of art.  It’s time to revisit masking tape and get creative with empty space. Plus the book includes plenty of blank pages where you can sketch your ideas before trying them out. I like the top tips each project offers in a gray box because sometimes we just don’t think outside the box.

Try out an assortment of design techniques such as graffiti, stenciling and collage (my personal fave). You may even come up with a way to combine several techniques in one project.  The best part is that since it belongs to you, you’re in charge.

My must-do project is the lampshade and, in addition to being inexpensive to make, it allows me, as the artist, the opportunity to make a shade to match any one of my sheet sets, quilt covers, curtains or go completely wild and design something totally new and exciting. I’m still in the sketching stage on that one, but I am very inspired.  Kids will be, too!

-Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

Bar Code T-Shirt

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