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A Trio of Non-Fiction in Teen

The Chalk Art Handbook: How to Create Masterpieces on Driveways and Sidewalks and in Playgrounds by David Zinn

Everything You Need to Ace…in One Big Fat Notebook series, various authors

The LEGO Castle Book: Build Your Own Mini Medieval World by Jeff Friesen

It’s spring!  Or, at least it finally feels like it.  Flowers and trees and shrubs are blooming around town, and possibility is in the air.  Here in the Library’s Teen Department, the latest crop of books has as much variety and promise as the flowers outside.  Take a look at these non-fiction titles just waiting to be discovered!

For middle school and high school students who are wrapping up the semester and preparing for finals, try a title in the Everything You Need to Ace…in One Big Fat Notebook series from Workman Publishing.  Created by the editors of the popular educational game Brain Quest and written by authors with experience in the given field, each book is like borrowing the notes of the organized, thorough student in class.  

Each title in the series breaks down key concepts into important, easily understood components covering the subject.  The books are laid out like school notebooks with lined pages, handwritten fonts, and color-coded highlighted sections.  Doodles illustrating complex topics are scattered throughout as are mnemonic devices, definitions of key terms, and quizzes for review.  Compact-yet-thick, these titles easily fit into a backpack and are far easier to carry than most textbooks.

Disclaimer: the Big Fat Notebook series, while an amazing resource, is not a substitute for actually paying attention in class!  It is fantastic for review, confidence building, and reinforcement of concepts before exams or in smaller bites during the semester.  The series covers major subjects–computer science/coding, math, science, world history, American history, English language arts for middle school and pre-algebra/algebra 1, chemistry, biology, and geometry for high school.  They are super helpful and accessible, great for middle school and high school students plus adults wanting to catch up on these subjects.  (Where were these when I was in eighth-grade algebra?!)

To let off steam after studying, break out some LEGOs and try The LEGO Castle Book: Build Your Own Mini Medieval World by Jeff Friesen.  Written for LEGO enthusiasts, this straightforward, concise title begins with a history of castles and a tour of their architecture then moves to building different types of castles and landscaping a medieval village from LEGOs, ending with instructions for 6 “master builds” (even a dragon).

The book’s layout is clean and clear, with color photos of completed and in-progress builds throughout.  The brief text provides just the right amount of context for background; text in the builds sections is designed to look like manuals from LEGO sets, showing important phases along the way.  Builds and book are designed for LEGO fans with some experience plus access to the variety of bricks listed (a few specialty ones).  I was pleased to see a quick guide to the variety of bricks used (including color photographs showing individual bricks/plates with their official numbers) and a discussion of economical sources for purchasing the bricks needed.

Also, I was excited that the builds were grounded in history.  Author Jeff Friesen identifies major types of medieval (European) castles with photos of completed LEGO versions and interesting text.  He also depicts the main parts of the castle and the community within its walls and how to construct them, tossing in handy tips along the way such as using minifigure accessories as turret finials.  He reminds readers that castle life was real life a thousand years ago, discussing topics like the role of castle builders, the cost and building process, and how castle architecture is tied to its defense.  The LEGO Castle Book is great for teens, adults, or upper elementary ages with a passion for LEGO; pair this with David Macaulay’s classic Castle for a fantastic dive into the subject.

Looking for a different creative outlet?  Try The Chalk Art Handbook: How to Create Masterpieces on Driveways and Sidewalks and in Playgrounds by David Zinn for some outdoor fun.  Zinn has been creating delightful, amusing chalk drawings around his Michigan hometown for years and shares his enthusiasm and expertise in this guide to accessible outdoor art.

Zinn’s tone is warm and encouraging with a light sprinkling of dad humor.  He offers basic techniques and advice for drawing 2-D and 3-D illustrations on outdoor surfaces such as concrete, asphalt, and brick.  Viewing this art form as both an opportunity to stretch skills and to bring joy to the community, he emphasizes a respectful approach (ask permission, use media that will wash away, etc.).  Color photos of his completed and in-process artwork illustrate his tips and techniques.  His advice is concrete (no pun intended) and accessible although geared toward teens who have some drawing experience and skill.  He assumes a base level of drawing knowledge which could be frustrating for someone trying it for the first time.  

He invites artists to consider basic creative components before starting–what will you draw?  How many?  How will your creature(s) move around?  What is happening in the picture?  Then he moves to more detailed information about dealing with the drawing surface at hand.  Zinn identifies various paved surfaces (concrete, macadam, paving stones, etc.) giving hints about turning their natural, imperfect states into part of the picture–pits and holes in concrete become the eyes and ears and nostrils of a hippo, a manhole cover becomes a cookie about to be eaten by a monster.  As he notes, art tells a story, and depicting emotion is key even if it’s a small component, “Eyebrows are powerful things. Always use them wisely, both in your drawings and on your own face.”

The Chalk Art Handbook is packed with tips for creating whimsical, thoughtful drawings to delight artist and neighborhood alike.  It serves as encouragement and inspiration to teens with drawing experience and/or an interest in sidewalk art, including 3-D illusion pictures.  Everybody can win when public art is shared because “More art in more places brings more people more joy”.

Stop by the Library for these and many more titles blooming this spring!

Teen Nonfiction Fun for Summer

 

Make: Minecraft for Makers by John Baichtal

Start to Stitch by Nancy Nicholson, Claire Buckley, and Miriam Edwards

Teens Cook Dessert by Megan and Jill Carle with Judi Carle

We’ve made it to the middle of May when life becomes a frenzy of pollen and exams and changes and celebrations, spinning faster every day only to explode into a three-day weekend that launches summer.  Here at the library that culminates in the summer reading program–two months of adventures in reading, learning, and fun for all ages.

Participants will have a chance to read for prizes and enjoy a variety of activities.  Most importantly, summer reading helps keep literacy skills sharp during weeks of downtime when many students are out of school.  Because adolescence is a time of self-discovery and learning how to move through the world, the Teen Department encourages personal growth as well as reading.  We call it the Teen Summer Challenge because teens can stretch themselves socially and developmentally in a supported environment. The library offers activities and resources to encourage them along the journey.

One way we do this is through gaming.  Games can sharpen mathematical, reasoning, literacy, and social skills and are fun!  They can also act as springboards to other pursuits. Popular computer game Minecraft has spawned an entire fandom.  In Make: Minecraft for Makers, John Baichtal uses the game as a stepping stone to maker activities.  His 9 projects take the blocky elements of the game “and introduce them to our world” using LEGOs, circuitry, 3D printing, woodworking, Arduino microcontrollers, and laser cutting.  Projects range from fairly simple (Emerald Ore Blocks made with LEGOs) to quite advanced (Redstone Lamp and a motorized Robot Creeper). Other than the LEGO designs, everything will involve some combination of power tools, circuitry, electronics, or spray paint.  Baichtal’s writing style is straightforward–utilitarian with clear explanations tying projects to the game. Color illustrations are throughout, and a final chapter gives a crash course on Arduino technology used in some projects.

The book is published by the folks behind Make: magazine and reflects the “serious fun” found there.  These projects are designed for heavy adult supervision with attention to safety and represent an investment of time and materials in some cases.  The designs are super cool–I’m considering trying the chess set with our chess group using the laser cutter in the library’s makerspace. Offer this book to high schoolers or mature middle schoolers (individuals or groups) working with experienced adults (a neat activity for a Scout troop).

Maker activities are a fantastic means of mastering a new skill or learning STEM concepts or fine tuning eye-hand coordination.  They can incorporate computers and robotics or be low-tech pursuits like crocheting and sewing. The Teen Department has a sewing machine, and we’ll experiment with it during June and July.

Teens learning to sew will find a fun start and engaging designs in Start to Stitch by Nancy Nicholson, Claire Buckley, and Miriam Edwards.  Colorful photos show step-by-step instructions for sewing by hand or machine as well as finished products.  The book introduces stitches and skills as needed in each design; some of the stitch photos can be small or basic, so some new sewers may benefit from initial instruction or additional resources (book or video) before tackling a project, particularly machine sewing.  Start to Stitch is divided into chapters based on technique: applique, embroidery, patchwork, quilting.  It’s full of vibrant, accessible designs ranging from beginner to moderate skill levels. The designs vary from accessories (applique brooch, patchwork belt) to bags (Heart Purse, Sashiko Bag) to decor items (a quilted cat wall hanging, a patchwork pillow).  The book’s designs skew feminine, and its illustrations are exclusively so. If desired, some projects can easily be made gender neutral with minimal changes. A brief glossary rounds things out. Give this title to teens who have the basics of hand or machine sewing.

Community building is a year-round goal of the Teen Department, and it’s wonderful to see teens make that connection.  One of our activities is to practice a random act of kindness–inspired by former patrons who were very excited to have done something nice for someone else.  Cooking offers many chances to build relationships, and Teens Cook Dessert is one great resource.  Written by sisters Megan and Jill Carle with their mother, Judi Carle, this title neither assumes gourmet-level experience nor insults the cook’s intelligence.  Using a realistic approach and clear language, the authors present a wide variety of family favorites (turtle brownies, pound cake) and interesting twists (nectarine ravioli, gingerbread & pumpkin trifle).  Recipes are gathered into chapters by type (cookies, cakes, custards, fancy, etc.); each recipe includes a color photo of the finished product and brief, lively anecdote. Short sidebars covering kitchen tips, terms, science, shortcuts, and history abound.  A handy ingredients discussion is included. Both the layout and the tone are inviting without trying too hard. This is a great book for teens ready to move beyond boxed mixes.

There’s lots of fun to be had and things to try during summer reading!  The adventures begin at the library on May 28. Watch our website for details: //www.joplinpubliclibrary.org/

 

Beth Snow is the Teen Department Librarian at the Joplin Public Library.