by Renée Schwarz

Published by Kids Can Press

40 pages, 2000

ISBN: 1550747274

Face Painting

by Patricia Silver

Published by Kids Can Press

40 pages, 2000

ISBN: 1550746898


Lunch Box Letters

by Carol Sperandeo and Bill Zimmerman

Published by Firefly

216 pages, 2000

ISBN: 1552095266




Active Kids

Reviewed by Monica Stark


While many adults look towards the holiday season with a kind of glazed horror -- all that work, all that money, all that time -- children understand instinctively that the real meaning of any holiday has a lot to do with them. That is: they'll be getting gifts, seeing loved ones they've been kept from and having time lavished on them that a busy adult world often forbids. And the work of the holidays? They understand this, as well. Time on their hands means there are activities to be planned. And if a gift results from this effort, so much the better.

Renée Schwarz' well thought-out Papier-Mâché brings this interesting and enjoyable craft easily into the home. Though the book is very slender -- just 40 illustrated pages -- Schwarz deconstructs the basics and some techniques enough to make papier-mâché quite approachable for the average parent and child team. As she writes in her introduction, "You can start right now -- all it takes is some newspaper, flour and water!"

Schwarz lists necessary -- and optional -- supplies and the all-important recipe for her own "Papier-Mâché Goo." She also covers some basic principles like how to get started, how to set up, how many layers and so on. Painting and decorating is covered, again in principle, over a couple of well-concieved pages. The balance of the book is mostly specific projects -- 11 in all -- that demand varying levels of skill and dexterity. All of them, Schwarz advises, will take three or four days to complete: and most of that time will involve waiting for layers of newspaper and goo to dry! Included is direction to make cat and mouse bookends, a bug vase, a lion magazine holder and other interesting projects. The especially creative child, or child and parent partnership, will understand that the projects are intended to be jumping off points for your own adventures in paper and goo.

It's almost enough to know that Patricia Silver, author of Face Painting, is better known as Patty the Clown, the creator, manager and lead performer of the internationally known Sphere Clown Band. What higher recommendation could there be for the author of a book on this topic? Face Painting is one of those books that can be purchased to help children stay gainfully occupied on long winter days, but don't lose track of this one! Any parent who has gone through the agony of, "What'll I be this Halloween?" will want to keep Face Painting on a safe shelf for costuming emergencies.

Of course, Face Painting covers the promised bases and includes 16, "Here's how you do it" face designs that range from animals (cat, Dalmatian, rabbit, lion, butterfly) to clowns (mime, hobo, peeper), along with the de rigeur scary characters (witch, skeleton, ad nauseam) to the ever-popular princess, pirate, fairy and alien. Silver's instruction for these is straightforward and simple: just as you'd expect from a professional. She moves the whole thing up a notch, however, by adding an "Easy Costume Pieces," section with each face. For example, the lion pieces called for are:

  • a yellow T-shirt or turtleneck
  • yellow or brown leggings or pants
  • use hair gel to make the hair stick out in a wild mane
  • make a construction-paper crown
  • a brown fabric tail with a yellow pompom on the end

Add the prescribed face paint and -- voila! -- neighborhood gazelles better take cover.

Though the nature of this particular roundup of books is ostensibly things for children to do, why should parents always get left out? Lunch Box Letters by Carol Sperandeo and Bill Zimmerman is about the special bond that can be created between a parent and child with the aid of the written word. Both authors say that they have written to their children in different ways throughout the years. "In writing such letters," they say in the introduction, "you will bestow upon your child one of the most precious gifts that can be given -- the recognition that she or he is loved and valued enough for a parent to take the time to write a note of affection and encouragement."

Though Lunch Box Letters includes 75 two-sided and brightly printed tear-out notes ready for your own note to your child, in this case the message really is more important than the medium. Sperandeo and Zimmerman's thoughts on making lunch box letters -- or any other kind -- work for you is by far the most valuable part of the book. In the "Sample Letters" chapter, the authors write:

On the following pages you will find ideas for notes or short letters you can write to an important child in your life, even a grown child. Written notes provide a complement to all the hugs and kisses you provide.

Some of these are notes that many of us would have liked to have received while growing up, but did not. Others are modeled after notes we have sent over the years to our own children and to other young people in our lives.

This book is intended to be used cover-to-cover. Don't simply give in to the temptation to pull one of the perforated letters out and start scribbling. Sperandeo and Zimmerman make a good case for written communication with the young people in your life and how to act on it. It's advice that literary-minded parents will take to heart. | November 2000


Monica Stark is a freelance writer and editor.