As the Books for Youth department prepped for our annual Spotlight on Crafts and Gardening, we pondered the eternal dilemma of reviewing such books. Without actually making the crafts (or nurturing the garden), how can one know if the books truly work as intended? After our proposal to dump soil in a vacant office to make a lovely herb garden was nixed, we instead chose a few new craft titles at random, rustled up whatever crafty crap we had floating around, and gave ourselves a little-kid-attention-span time-limit of 30 minutes to make our so-called “crafts.”
Contributing Editor (and certified Master Crafter) Ilene Cooper was on-hand to sneer disapprovingly as the judge. After a calamitous half hour of cutting, gluing, bickering, time-outs, and agonized cries of “Origami sucks!”, we were finished. Here’s what happened.
Daniel Kraus, Editor
Book: Sleepover Party, by DK
Craft: “Enchanting Eye Mask”
The example photo proudly presented a fuzzy pink sleep mask that looked so comfy I could imagine wearing it everywhere, day and night, eyesight be damned. Upon the firing of the starting gun, however, a problem presented itself: I had no felt, indeed no cloth material at all. Did that stop me? No way. I had the next best thing: stiff, two-inch-thick corrugated cardboard. After cutting out a mask shape with a handy bandsaw, I Elmer-glued cotton balls to the back to make it super-cozy, then decorated it with color-coordinated paper, ribbons, and feathers. Wearing the finished mask feels like having a TV set strapped to your face—a TV that’s oozing glue, no less—but hey, everyone knows that you have to suffer for true style.
Briana Shemroske, Editorial Assistant
Books: Quirky Cute Doodles, by Stephanie Corfee, and Learn to Draw Military Machines, by Tom LaPadula
Craft: “Pretty Doodled Unicorn” and “M1 Abrams Battle Tank”
Bearing in mind my general lack of coordination, and my strong desire to use my first ever Chinese pencil (why does our office have these?) I decided to keep things 2D. The “Pretty Doodled Unicorn” was a no-brainer. Not only does the book tout a majestic final product (complete in watercolor!), but it offers some endearingly reassuring instructions, which I deeply appreciate (“It’s okay to trace . . . It can be hard to draw horses!”). While difficult it is, I promise that my unicorn and its many hearts, swirls, and stars are 100% freehand. And the stunning mane ribbon? Merely a casual improvisational garnish! Because there’s only so much doodling you can do with one highlighter and three old pens, I topped things off with a stately M1 Abrams Battle Tank. If only my college art professors could see me now.
Sarah Hunter, Senior Editor
Book: Origami Chic, by Sok Song
Craft: “Jacket” and “Ball Gown”
I’ll admit it: I’m a bit of a ringer in this crafterdome. My own father is an avid origami-er, and he taught me lots of paper-folding skills. The height of my gift was when I could fold a perfect teensy crane out of a starburst wrapper (which happily involved eating lots of candy first). Here, I made sure to pick a craft guaranteed to please our esteemed judge—it’s no secret that Ilene Cooper is a sucker for fashion and paper dolls, so I figured my entry would be a shoe-in for top pick. Not to mention that very fashionable avant-garde pattern in such splashy colors (would you guess my paper came from an old picture book galley? They make the best craft supplies). Am I mad I lost? No, CERTAINLY NOT. Perhaps my talents would be better appreciated on Project Paper Runway.
Julia Smith, Associate Editor
Book: Drawing Dinosaurs, by Carolyn Scrace
Craft: “Iguanodon” and “Pteranodon” (and also a bed)
At last, a drawing guide that has let me reach my full artistic potential. Where was this book when I was in school being made fun of for my wonky-looking snowman or laughed at by my parents, who held onto my illustrated projects just so they could laugh at them again later? After marveling at the ease with which my China marker (a crayon-like pencil from a bygone era, much like the creatures I was attempting to draw) rendered a perfect Iguanodon, I wanted to see how I fared with other writing implements. Ballpoint pens, a marker, an editing pencil, a highlighter—all had miraculously become my friends rather than enemies. And I think the results speak for themselves. Just look at that adorable pteranodon. Perhaps most rewarding was the confidence I gained while making my way through this book—so much so that, as per my scrap paper’s instruction to draw my “favorite bedtime buddy,” I added a bed and night cap to the scene all by myself. At the risk of sounding boastful, I think this may be refrigerator-caliber art. Finally!
Maggie Reagan, Associate Editor
Book: Junk Re-thunk, by Brian Yanish
Craft: “Box Puppet”
To be quite honest, I spent 25 out of an allotted 30 minutes incorrectly working on mechanics and five frantically gluing googly eyes onto the front so it looked at least slightly like a monster. This is why you can still see the floral tissue box pattern. I didn’t have time to actually like, craft the part that would be interesting to look at. Here’s what you can’t see: the inside of this puppet (“puppet”) has two cardboard strips attached, which are supposed to serve as handgrips. Basically, you’re supposed to fold them so your hands fit comfortably, and tape them to the inside of the tissue box. This sounds simple enough, but I forgot two things:
- I can’t cut in a straight line.
- My spatial intelligence is zero.
So after 20 panicky minutes of trying and failing to make a puppet actually, you know, puppet-like, I focused on what’s really important here: outside beauty. (Nobody tell Ilene. She still thinks I know how to follow directions. Also, it was her tissue box I sacrificed in pursuit of crafting.)
Finally, it was time for Judge Cooper to render her decision. Cooper’s heart, she reported, was with Sarah’s origami outfits, because Cooper’s aforementioned love of fashion—and the dresses fit perfectly on her Jackie Kennedy paper doll! Cooper continued that her head was with Maggie’s kleenex-box puppet because, well, Maggie’s result was “serviceable.” The winner, though, was Dan’s unwearable sleep mask—a true objet d’art. In closing, Briana and Julia were hastily co-awarded Miss Congeniality, and, at press time, were still seething.