Friday, December 10, 2010

20. Three Guides to Play

Play All Day: A Really Giant Book of Punch-Out-and-Play Games, Toys, Finger Puppets, Boxes and More!, by Taro Gomi, Chronicle Books, $19.99, all ages, 116 pages. Opening this book is like entering a wonderland of possibility, but where does a child ever begin? Watching your child figure that out is part of the magic of Gomi's clever new book of toys. Every folded page is so packed with playthings waiting to be made, little eyes will be darting about just trying to take it all in. Then once they land on the thing they just have to do first, clear the table and stand back. Will it be a garland strung with monkeys and a few long-tailed friends? Or a game of ring toss made from a Parisian themed punch-out -- three hot pink rings and a fold-together black cone? Or maybe a troupe of finger puppets that are sure to inspire a bigger project, such as a cardboard stage? By day's end, don't be surprised if Play All Day is all punched out, though with more than 60 playthings that slide together, fold and/or hang, your child is sure to be amused for days time to come.

As with her wildly popular Scribbles and Doodles coloring books, Gomi keeps instructions spare, as if to say: Be spontaneous and self-inspired! Yet the toy projects are all so straightforward that only the youngest crafters will need a helping hand, perhaps to slide in tabs to make a box, slip buildings into a cityscape or string their ornaments for the tree. Need an all-in-one activity to keep your child happy on a slow day? This is it! Now all we need is a Taro original, punch-out toy box.

Action Journal, by Becky Baines, art by Neal Ashby and Patrick Donohue, National Geographic, $12.95, ages 7 and up, 176 pages. The first thing you'll notice about this journal is that it has a mind of its own. On the first page, the book tells you to answer a simple question: Are you boring? If you are, you have no place in this book: "Do not," the journal warns. "I repeat, do not proceed past this page." OK, it got you, but what could be so exciting about an "action" journal? Well, for one, it's got a hip narrator. The journal doesn't mince words and it also assumes you don't want to go on and on about your day or your deepest thoughts. Every page is a silly, fun exercise in being yourself. One page allows you to smear on your favorite scent. Another asks you to go around your house and write down what you think a Barcalounger and other voiceless items might say. And one gives you four categories of words so you can string together a name for the band you're now going to form (now that you've been asked to come up with a name and all). Not every page of the journal is meant to stay put for future reflection. On one page there's a sign to cut out and hang on your history teacher's door, no-boring people allowed inside, and on another, there's a blank space for you to write a note to a stranger, then cut it out and stick it somewhere someone will find it, like in the nook of a tree or under a park bench. There are even letters in different, quirky typefaces for you to cut out and paste into ransom note, say to your annoying sister: Pay me a billion dollars if you ever want to see your pillow again. (If you use this one, you first might want to flip ahead to the section on on logging fingerprints. It's always good to have a record of anyone who might get so miffed at you that she'd steal your journal.) Illustrated as if drawn free-hand, the Action Journal elevates "busy work" to a silly, mindless fun.

This Book Made Me Do It: Cool Things to Make, Do and Explore, by John Woodward, illustrated by Tobatron, DK Publishing, $19.99, ages 8 and up, 192 pages. Find short how-tos for things you've wanted to figure out or never imagined doing in this fun, fact-filled compendium. But be wary, not every project should be attempted without a trusty adult at your side. Many of the projects are just silly, good fun, and don't require anything more than following directions and a few props -- among them, designing a flip book, tie-dying a shirt and folding a boomerang. Others will take a bit of practice, like snowboarding a half pipe, lassoing a chair and nailing a free throw in basketball. But a few will be a bit more tricky, and others will definitely require expert adult help. Among them, landing an airplane and climbing Mount Everest. Several how-tos are for just in case -- if you ever find yourself in a pickle, like how to survive a bear attack or build a bivouac, and a few are meant only to tickle your imagination, like how to fly a lawn chair balloon. The book is broken up into six categories (or chapters): Amaze Your Friends, Food, Glorious Food, Get Creative, Explore the World, Survive in the World and Be a Sports Hero. Being a nature gal, my favorite how-to explains the steps for building a butterfly house using a transparent tank, a thick card cover, a nail and caterpillars found in the backyard (or leaves with eggs sticking to them.) -- a thrifty alternative to the store-bought kits, which run almost $25 a piece with a refill of 5 caterpillars costing almost $15.

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