Make It!, created by Jane Bull (DK Publishing, $12.99, ages 4-8, 64 pages, 2011) After one look inside this eye-catching craft book, kids will be rummaging through recycling bins. And just think! You won't have to buy much of anything for them to get started! At the beginning, Bull rallies crafters, "Starve your garbage can!" and collect all those scraps. A spiraling circling shows it all: from bottle tops to junk mail, old baking tins to tights. Even parents will be surprised at how adorable scraps can look when strung, crimped, glued, woven, twisted and sewn in just the right way. Among the highlights: woolly friends from matchless mittens, a robot from a tin pan and foil, and a seat cushion from bubble wrap and candy wrappers. I've never seen our boys jump into projects so fast. (Just a bit of advice: introduce this one early in the week before the recycling truck comes. Or use it as a motivator to clear out scraps from rooms.)
How to Cook: Delicious Dishes Perfect for Teen Cooks (DK Publishing, $17.99, ages 12 and up, 128 pages, 2011) If I could rename this book, it would be: How to Get Your Kids to Make You Dinner. This hip, fun cookbook delivers all that it promises: step-by-step recipes, great tips and fail-safe techniques, and it speaks to what teens want most in food (while going easy on the grease, sugar and processed ingredients). The first chapter, "Fast Food," gives 15 delish dishes, from hot tortilla soup and Huevos rancheros to potato rosti (crispy patties of grated potatoes). The moment our 12-year-old son glanced inside this section, he was jotting down a shopping list of ingredients. That night we dined on falafel and even our grade school boys cleaned their plates. Now my husband keeps asking our oldest son, "Could you make that again?" Our son is not only anxious to do just that, but he's already adjusted the recipe. A nice chutney, he says, would taste great on top. Yum. I know my husband and I are ready. But from the looks of the next recipes, my husband and I might have to duke it out for the menu. I say, cannelloni; my husband's set on lamb kabobs. Oh, please, choose mine! Teens don't have to be Food Network fans to love this book; all it takes is opening the book and having a salivary gland. The biggest selling points, according to my son? The variety of dishes, the gourmet taste and the fact he didn't have start over. It all came together on the first try.
Pop-Up: Everything You Need to Know to Create Your Own Pop-Up Book, paper engineering by Ruth Wickings, illustrated by Frances Castle (Candlewick, $19.99, ages 7 and up, 16 pages, 2010). What child doesn't dream of creating something magical? Well, this book may not hold the secrets to Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium, but if your child loves pop-ups, oh my, this is about as good as it gets. This clever book teaches kids to engineer a pop-up with very little technical know-how. All it takes is one look at the cover and pull of a flap over the "O" in "POP," and kids (and parents) will be giddy to look inside. From there, it only gets better. The book begins with a quick lesson in pop-up techniques (angle folds, parallels folds and extras like noisemakers). Then it jumps head-long into four pop-ups that a child really can do: Press out pre-folded pieces and peel off sticky-back plastic to make a dragon, castle, jungle and Frankenstein monster. (Sound too hard to be true? Don't worry, all the instructions are there and there's nothing fussy about it -- except maybe which child gets to do it first.)