Friday, March 15, 2013

Why make & do books matter, and what they teach

I've written before about the importance of books that encourage children to make and do things. This is a revised version of a post I wrote in 2012. I want to stress that there are four main reasons they matter.

First, they offer reluctant readers (especially boys) another way into reading.
Second, they require and teach literacy skills not generally used in narrative forms.
Third, they encourage creativity and problem solving.
Fourth, they get children doing things in an age when it's easy to be inactive.

The books I mention in this post don't just matter, they teach! They engage children by getting them to make, explore or manipulate things. The examples are generally just as appealing for girls as boys. Books of this type can also act as 'breakthrough' books for boys (and some girls) to get them reading. I've written previously about the role of non-fiction, cross section and diagrammatic books, science & technology, and generally how to make reading exciting for boys.

'Make and Do' books teach varied literacy skills. They require readers to:
Comprehend specific instructions
Learn subject specific vocabulary
Become familiar with the language of instruction
Use their body, not just their heads
Be creative and use problem solving
Here are a few good examples of the type of books I'm talking about. I'd welcome your suggestions for other good examples.

'The Lego Ideas Book' by Daniel Lipkowitz and published by DK Publishing 

If you have a box of Lego pieces resulting from your purchase of dozens of Lego sets, then you need this book. The book has 500 ideas for how you can make new things out of your box of Lego pieces. The book has six themed chapters—transportation, buildings, space, medieval history, adventure, and useful things to make. Each section has templates for models and ideas for how you might create your own. The book has 200 pages of tips and advice, illustrations and ideas.  It is well illustrated and beautifully designed. This book will keep children aged 7 to 70 years busy for hours.

'How Machines Work: The Interactive Guide to Simple Machines and Mechanisms' by Nick Arnold & Allan Sanders, published by Quarto Children's Books and distributed in Australia by Walker Books.

This book is a unique interactive guide to understanding simple machines and mechanisms. It introduces basic physics both in words and through models that the reader manipulates. It has 9 double-page spreads that introduce the reader to a key mechanical principle that you then put into practice by building one or more working models. The text and illustrations offer an easy to understand description of the mechanical principle and how to make a model that demonstrates it. This hands-on approach makes it easy to understand how these principles work and how they can be applied to everyday objects, such as cars, bicycles cranes and seesaws. Everything that you need is within, or attached to the book. The concept is brilliant

'The Book of Potentially Catastrophic Science: 50 Experiments for Daring Young Scientists' by Sean Connolly, published by Icon Books and distributed in Australia by Allen & Unwin.

I wanted this book as soon as I saw it.  Well, as soon as I saw the title!  The book is all about igniting interest in science. Sean Connolly achieves this with lively, hands-on activities that suggest excitement and "danger". Simple experiments that pop, ooze, surprise and teach will delight boys and girls in upper primary. He also leads the reader through the history of science, and uses simple experiments to demonstrate key scientific principles.

The reader can rediscover the wheel and axle with the ancient Sumerians, or perform an astounding experiment demonstrating the theory of angular momentum. Children can build a simple telescope like Galileo's and find the four moons he discovered orbiting Jupiter.  They can experiment safely with electricity and avoid the more risky approach of Ben Franklin with his Lightning experiment. They will also learn how to re-create the Hadron Collider in a microwave with marshmallows, calculator, and a ruler to demonstrate the speed of light. Or they might simply crush a can using Stephenson's steam can experiment. This is a wonderful book for children aged 9-12 years.

'Sewing School: Hand-Sewing Projects Kids Will Love' by Amie Plumley & Andria Lisle and published by Storey Publishing.

Photo courtesy littlerockmamas.com
If you'd like some simple designs for sewing projects that don't require a machine, then this might just be the right book for you.  This beautifully designed book has 21 projects suitable for children aged 7 and up.  All of the ideas have been tested with kids and most only require basic hand stitches. The book has numerous illustrations and clear instructions as well as quotes from children who were part of the author's sewing camps where the ideas were developed and tested. 

The 150-page book has 12 chapters that cover basic instructions and foundational sewing skills. It then has a variety of projects arranged in categories. These include items to hug (e.g. blanket, pillow, doll), things to hold (e.g. wallet, tote, apron, pouch), gifts (e.g. coasters, pot holder, toy mouse), things to wear (e.g. hat, dolls dress), repairing clothes (e.g. patches, fixing rips, hems) and repairing soft toys (e.g. sewing eyes back on). Each project has step-by-step instructions at a reading level of about 7 years, photos of every step, and also a photo of the final project. The book also has some full-size patterns and instructions for how grownups can help.

'Usborne Complete Book of Art Ideas' by Fiona Watt and published by Usborne

The Usborne Art book has almost 300 pages of original ideas for painting, drawing and making collage. This fantastic book is ideal for children of varied (and minimal) artistic ability. It is also suitable for just about any age (but it's ideal for 7-12 year olds). The book will help children to explore varied artistic forms and materials, including chalk, pencil, paint and watercolour. It offers ideas that require the use of a wide variety of artistic techniques, including painting, drawing, sticking, ink, ripping, rubbing, smudging and colouring. Each of the many ideas is illustrated with very easy to follow step-by-step instructions. The book also offers tips on brushwork, mixing colours, thinning and thickening paint, how to shade and add patterns, using oil pastels, acrylics and more. 

'Children's Quick and Easy Cookbook' by Angela Wilkes and published by DK Publishing.  

The Children's Quick and Easy Cookbook has 60 simple recipes that children will enjoy. The recipes are easy enough for most children to use, and are mostly suitable for the whole family. It contains a mix of healthy snacks, full meals, and delicious treats and sweets. The meal recipes include pita pockets, falafel, pizzas, Turkish meatballs, tacos, Thai satay kebabs, lemon fish sticks, filled crepes, chicken curry and rice. There are also many wonderful sweets including simple baked bomb Alaska, Tiramisu, parfaits, carrot cake, cookies and many more.  

The book also outlines cooking techniques, good food hygiene, kitchen safety, and step-by-step instructions. Full colour photographs are used throughout the book 

The Dangerous Book for Boys. by Conn Iggulden & Hal Iggulden and published by Harper Collins

This book offers a range of ideas for making and doing things. For example, how to make the greatest paper plane in the world, building a tree house, all about dinosaurs, making a G0-cart, how to go fishing, juggling, all about Australian snakes, skimming stones and so on. This isn't a simple book (about grade 4-5 standard) but the content will help boys to 'stretch' themselves. It is also a great book for boys to read and 'do' with an adult. I've reviewed it in more detail here.

'The Daring Book for Girls' by Andrea J. Buchanan & Miriam Peskowitz and published by Harper Collins is a companion volume to 'The Dangerous Book for Boys'.


Like its predecessor, it is designed for children aged 7-12 years. It includes a mix of things to make and do, information about things that girls might like to know, biographical material, poetry etc. It has been produced again by Harper Collins and has a similar layout, size and range of contents. Even the cover is similar in design, to build on the success of the previous book. Andrea Buchanan and Miriam Peskowitz have written the book. The Australian edition was released in 2008 and mirrors the US edition released by Harper Collins in 2007, but it includes some different Australian content.

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