'The best books, reviewed with insight and charm, but without compromise.'
- author Jackie French

Monday 22 November 2010

Great Activity Books for Kids

This bumper crop of activity books takes interactive books to a whole new level - and yes, we've published it just in time to gather decent stocking-stuffers. Information-packed, educational and of course – lots of fun – this variety would make Santa's stocking complete, and are perfect school holiday accompaniments. Any excuse to dive into a book - yes, even ones you can draw in.

Illustrator Denton is an experienced expert when it comes to silly and fun – his books have been making kids laugh for a long time, and now kids have the opportunity to interact with an Aussie mastermind of Fun in this Bumper Book of Silly Stuff to Do.

Yes, parents, I know you want it. Christmas hols are on the way and the bumper nature of this book will keep ‘em solidly occupied while simultaneously expanding the imaginative components of their brains we all desire to hone. What more could you want?

This is some imaginative, artistic book. Large format, in black and white, there are stacks of creative prompts and everything is beautifully done. A book about ‘drawing and creative ideas’, the only thing kids will need are ‘a brain, one or more eyes and hands, lots of drawing tools and an imagination’.

If you can drag your kids away from a computerized screen, you might be surprised to see just how imagination they have left.

There’s colouring, drawing prompts, find-its, visual construction, mazes, even emotional prompts that encourage kids to write as well as draw, making this much more than just an activity book - and instead takes it to the level of art book/priceless childhood memento.

Denton has studded the pages with his own illustrations and humorous verbal teasers, making this an all-round creative fun-fest. An anonymous critic named T. Denton provides quotes on the back of the book seriously supporting its value – ‘This guy is a genius!’, ‘The greatest drawing book ever created.’, ‘This book completes me.’.

Frankly, I couldn’t agree more. Love it.

Title: Bumper Book of Silly Stuff to Do
Author/illustrator: Terry Denton
Publisher: Puffin, A$16.95RRP
Publication Date: 22 November 2010
Format: Soft cover
ISBN: 9780143305484
For ages: Any age!
This book is available online

Did you know that the National Library of Australia makes wonderful use of its enormous catalogue of archived visual media in most of its children's books.

This gorgeous activity book for kids makes full and glorious use of that collection, with a really striking line-up of fabulous artwork and photographs.

With crosswords, colouring, drawing activities, searches and more, the collection references are all catalogued at the end of the book, making fascinating reading for parents, too.

I couldn't think of a better way to expose our kids, even subconsciously, to the glorious heritage of Australia's past, and allow them visit this wonderful institution, no mnatter where they live int he world. And at only $4.95 (32 pp), why wouldn't you send it to everyone you know? Perfect for people overseas.

Title: NLA Activity Book
Author: Susan Hall and Joanna Karmel
Publisher: National Library of Australia, A$4.95RRP
Publication Date: 1 October 2007
Format: Soft cover
ISBN: 9780642276575
For ages: 5 - 10
This book is available online

Yes, it’s the 2011 annual! Peep! I still remember swooning over annuals as a child and this C&L version doesn’t disappoint. There’s adorable short stories, interesting facts, spaces for kids to record their favouritist places and best inventions, games, projects and a central sticker sheet that will have kids going coco bananas.

Resplendant with all things very Charlie and Lola – the humour, the fun, the brightly coloured, unique pictures… this warm book is really really cool.

Title: My Favourite and Best Charlie and Lola Annual 2011
Author/Illustrator: Lauren Child
Publisher: Puffin, A$19.95RRP
Publication Date: 22 November 2010
Format: Hardcover
ISBN: 9780141331621
For ages: 3-10

Fresh from the Bindi publishing juggernaut comes this very collectable compendium of fun, with that typical health and nature lifestyle bent this little girl and her producers are so famous for.

And despite the Disneyfication, it’s certainly a book that’s very well done. Even if kids are not Bindi fanatics (because this is the ultimate book for any fanatic), there’s still a lot here to please kids with a zest for life and the great outdoors.

In full, glamorous colour, this interactive book is an intimate glimpse at the life of Bindi, with plenty of photos, facts and figures, plus recipes, quizzes, word searches, crosswords, animal profiles, plus fabulous tips on healthy living and how to save the planet.

A collectible annual-style book combined with fun activities, this is a must-have for Bindi fan eco warriors.

Title: Totally Bindi: Access All Areas
Author: Bindi Wildlife Adventures
Publisher: Random House, A$19.95RRP
Publication Date: 01/10/10
Format: Soft cover
ISBN: 9781864718584
For ages: 6-12
This book is available online

Part of Puffin’s Pocket Money Puffins range, this fabulous little book by consummate cartoonist Hackett, is so much fun, I wanna do it! And yes, even useless old me can.

With each cartoonish body part from eyes and noses through hair and feet (and those ultra-challenging hands!) kids of all capabilities will love creating their own cartoons both within and without the book’s pages.

With lots of tips and techniques, there’s also cartoon challenges for the kids to complete and the compact size of the book makes it perfect for tucking into a bag and taking on holiday travels. Good fun. And funny.

Title: Hands-On Cartooning
Author/illustrator: Dave Hackett
Publisher: Puffin, A$7.95RRP
Publication Date: 27 September 2010
Format: Soft cover
ISBN: 9780143305576
For ages: 4 - 12
This book is available online

This Twelve Days of Christmas book is Australianised as only the talented Heath McKenzie knows how... with a lustrous array of super cool illustrations using his signature pomp, colour and character.

Kids can learn how to make their own Aussie decorations (like a possum hanging upside down or a koala with the use of a gumnut).

They can also do dot-to-dot, colouring, drawing, matching, word play and there's even recipes so kids can get busy in the kitchen with icy poles and truffles.

Kids will particularly love the artwork they can make into cards - and the Christmas bonbons are a must-create.

Festive fun!

Title: The Australian Twelve Days of Christmas Activity Book
Author/illustrator: Heath McKenzie
Publisher: Black Dog Books, A$5.99RRP
Publication Date: 2007
Format: Soft cover
ISBN: 9781921167980
For ages: 4 - 10
This book is available online

I remember handing my kids a little activity book and begging them to start writing reviews of the books they read - both out of fun and because of the educational aspects of reviewing their reading - for comprehension, memory and of course, pure enjoyment.

The kids enjoyed doing this but soon tired of the very ho-hum be-lined pages. I just wish I'd had my hands on this little beauty - and now I do.

My Reading Journal is a well-planned, beautifully-thought-out hardcover book by award-winning author Owen Reeder, who provides children a colourful, interesting place to write their journey through books.

Starting with My Reading Journey, kids are encouraged to think about books they're enjoyed reading, and write about them in a review-like fashion. Questions include: What is the story about? What did I think of this book? What new words, facts or ideas did I learn?

There are also icons the child can circle - if it made them feel happy, sad, angry or bored, for example - and the all-important - would I recommend this book to my friends - yes/no? There's also a rating system.

In My Favourites, kids can list their fave books of all time - when they were little... and now. They can also list favourite book characters, authors and illustrators, favourite reading places and what books they want to read next.

In My Best Book Ever, kids can write about their favourite book then complete some activities that allow them to explore it even further.

Clever, educational, encouraging and great fun, My Reading Journey is scattered with wonderful quotes from Australian authors and lovely photos of kids reading. A must for kids who love to get interactive about their books.

Title: My Reading Journal
Author: Stephanie Owen Reeder
National Library of Australia, A$19.95RRP
Publication Date: 30 September 2008
Format: Hardcover with elastic
ISBN: 9780642276872
For ages: 5 - 10

This book is available online

Compiled and illustrated by the talented Gus Gordon, this is not an activity book per se, but what kid doesn’t love a good joke book – the perfect interactive ice-breaker.

Make ‘em Laugh is sliced into little parts – jokes about creepy crawlies, doctors, school, food, knock-knock jokes and even a fabulous section on hilarious Aussie place names (Banana, Boing Boing and Mooball, anyone?).

Kids will have loads of fun scouting through this book to find whacky things to retell - whether it be attempting to shock their parents or catch their friends out, it's giggles all-round. And Gus Gordon, to boot.

Title: Make ‘em Laugh
Author/illustrator: Gus Gordon
Publisher: Puffin, A$7.95RRP
Publication Date: 27 September 2010
Format: Soft cover
ISBN: 9780143305583
For ages: 5 - 10
This book is available online

Perfect for both Aussie kids but also to send to the rellies and expat friends overseas, Puzzles Down Under features your classic activities, with full colour pages and a stash of super cute Aussie critters from lizards to echidnas.

Title: Puzzles Down Under
Publisher: Black Dog Books, A$12.99RRP
Publication Date: 2008
Format: Soft cover
ISBN: 9781742030494
For ages: 5 - 10
This book is available online

Okay, so we do need a little cute here - and not many illustrators do cute so well as the talented Pignataro.

This adorable sticker book is, of course, aimed at girls with a love of all things princesses and fairy - only these are in the form of the cutest little rabbits.

There are over 100 stickers - but they're glitter stickers, excuse me - making them extra-special. There's word-searches, dot-to-dot, how to draw princess and fairy, mazes and room for lots of stickering.

There's even instruction on how to make your own real life bunny toy. Princess and fairies are well taken care of with this perfect. Great stocking-stuffer for Christmas.

Title: Princess and Fairy Activity Book
Author/illustrator: Anna Pignataro
Publisher: Scholastic, A$9.99RRP
Publication Date: August 2010
Format: Soft cover
ISBN: 9781741696134
For ages: 5 - 8
This book is available online
For those with a love of all things Australia, the National Library of Australia have come through again with a really quality colouring in book for wee ones.

Featuring rendered pictures from the library's extensive visual collection, kids can not only colour in some classic Australian animals, but also flowers, bugs, birds, fish, locomotives and other items from our rich heritage.

Each painting (from which the illustrations were rendered) is presented at the back of the book, with full details of its origins.

If you love to expose your children to the cultural aspects of our great country, this is the book for you. Grab it for the Christmas stocking.

Title: Colouring Book
Publisher: National Library of Australia, A$6.95RRP
Publication Date: 7 April 2006
Format: Soft cover
ISBN: 9780642276346
For ages: 3 - 10
This book is available online

Heath McKenzie's The Aussie A to Z is one of my favourite picture books and this activity book version doesn't disappoint.

Filled to bursting with McKenzie's classic illustrations, kids will enjoy a variety of activities that are not limited to a box of colouring pencils.

You can learn to catch a boomerang, make damper and 'echidna squares' or fascinate your parents with some fascinating facts about fairy bread.

You can also (finally!) learn how to master the gum leaf (playing one, that is) learn about important bush survival techniques (unless you're lucky enough to be holidaying in Monaco, that is) - and can even play a game on the mock up boardgame in the centre of the book.

Oh - and there are also stickers. Super cool.

Title: The A-Z of Aussie Activities
Author/Illustrator: Heath McKenzie
Publisher: Black Dog Books, A$7.99RRP
Publication Date: 2008
Format: Soft cover
ISBN: 9781742030067
For ages: 5 - 10
This book is available online