Monday, August 25, 2008

Travel and activity books

Since I work as a children's book buyer at an independent store, you might logically assume that I buy board books, picture books, novels, and non-fiction. I do, of course, but I also buy sticker books, coloring books, hidden picture books, dot-to-dots, mazes, word searches, puzzles, cloth books, audio books, book and CD sets, calendars, workbooks and handwriting books.

I thought I'd share some of the gems I've found in these categories. They're the kind of books that rarely get reviewed, but that lots of customers ask for.

Need a really simple dot to dot book? Try Buki's great, compact activity books. They're terrific for kids ages 3 and up who are learning how to do dot to dots. They come in a lot of varieties and shades of complexities and fit easily into a backpack, purse or diaper bag.
On the other end of the spectrum, anyone who thinks they're too old for dot-to-dots should try the amazing puzzle books published by Monkeying Around. The books are accurately titled The Greatest Dot to Dot Books in the World. Each puzzle contain a variety of symbols and directions and there's no way to tell what the object is before you complete it. Younger kids might want to stick to volumes 1-3 or the Greatest Newspaper Dot to Dots. Older kids and adults should try Volumes 4-6.

My favorite one of all is The Greatest Dot to Dot Super Challenge: Book 6, which has many as a thousand dots per puzzle. I've been having so much fun doing the puzzles, each of which is incredibly creative and inventive. Some puzzles are made up entirely of symbols, or words, or compass points. Check out their free sample pages for a small taste of what I'm talking about. The puzzles in Book 6 are much more elaborate and challenging than the samples. These books are fabulous for traveling or relaxing. I'd also recommend them for someone who's sick or in the hospital and looking for something fun to do.

Looking for unique coloring books? Check out Mindware, which carries a variety of fun and creative options. Some of my favorites include Microdesigns, Threads (intriguing quilt patterns to color), Animal Habitats, and Modern Patterns (where you can color molecules!)

In a similar vein, I also like Sterling's series of Kids' Mandalas. They're a little easier and a little less complicated than the Mindware books, and I find them soothing and a lot of fun to color.

Lots of kids enjoy finding hidden pictures, but I've found that the Where's Waldo and I Spy books can sometimes be too intense and complicated for the under 5 crowd. Looking for something a little easier? I highly recommend Usborne's 1001 Things to Spot series.

The objects are (relatively) easy to find and are identified by both number and picture. That means that a child doesn't have to be able to read to use these books. I've found them to be great books for traveling or going to restaurants. My son also enjoys reading a page a night as part of his bedtime stories.

Got any other recommendations? I'm always on the look out for creative, imagining and challenging activity books.


  1. Thanks for the recommendations, Susan! We were saved during Tropical Storm Fay (we were vacationing in Miami) by the Puzzlemania books put out by Highlights; for younger kids (3-7), try PuzzleBuzz or Hidden Pictures Playground. I think you might have to subscribe to these, though (we had some old ones lying around).

    The kids really love jigsaw puzzle books (the ones with 6 or so puzzles in them).

    And I really love the Taro Gomi books: Scribbles, Doodles, etc.

    Thanks again!

  2. Anamaria,
    You pointed out two great series that I love and that we carry at the store, and that I forgot to write about.

    The Highlights books are great, and you don't need a subscription. They're available from Boyds Mill Press.

    Also, the Taro Gomi books are terrific.

  3. When I was a substitute teacher, I liked using pages from Anti-Coloring Books. Hmm, I should drag some of those out for the library, too!

  4. The Judith Rossell books (which are Inspector Rockfort in the US and Inspector Stilton in Australia) are particular nice search books, visually beautiful and reasonably difficult (well, I very rarely find all of them, but my daughter started being able to find some of them at 3).

    Roxie Munro also does good maze/search books.

    The Usborne dot-to-dots are our current favorites. There's more than one per page, so they make scenes, and they range in difficulty.

  5. Lisa- I forgot to put the Anti Coloring books on the list. Thanks for mentioning them... I think they're great.

    Elizabeth- thanks for reminding me about Roxie Munro. I appreciate it... and thanks for the heads up about the Judith Rossell books. I really like the Usbourne dot-to-dot books too.