Book & Multimedia Reviews

Books on How to Have Fun the Old Fashion Way

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Unplugged Play

Today’s kids are captivated by a high-tech world, so this month’s selections are geared to getting you and your children back to basics. The theme is old-fashioned fun, and these books will give you things to do with your kids at home without electronic games or a television set. The importance of spending quality time together is a message that never gets old.

Unplugged Play  by Bobbi Conner has more than 700 activities for children ages 12 months to 10 years and encourages creativity without batteries or plugs. It’s designed to arm parents with plenty of play strategies to combat today’s couch- potato mentality. Studies show children spend three times the recommended limit in front of a TV screen each day. If your kids complain about boredom when they aren’t “plugged in,” then this book could be for you.

Part of Unplugged’s appeal is that the games are designed for you to play with your children, for your children to play with their friends and for kids to play alone. Modeled after a cookbook, Unplugged contains quick, easy recipes for fun. Among the play tips are sections on the importance of saying “I’m sorry,” and how to promot

e a no-battery zone. The book is divided into games and activities by age group, and includes expert advice on playing without plugs plus tips from parents on what works in their homes. For example, Candace from Texas wrote about how the “five-minute rule” helped her children learn not to grab toys from each other. Any child can invoke the rule, which allows for plenty of give-and-take with treasured possessions.

The next three books bring fun into the heart of every home, the kitchen. While cooking can be tricky for the younger ones, there is plenty to do that is safe, fun and edible. In Gadgetology, you can find ways to engage your child’s curiosity just by opening your utensil drawers. You would be amazed at what you can do with a potato masher, rotary beater and salad spinner. For instance, did you know that with a cherry pitter, you can create your own paint set? Just collect the juice that accumulates when pitting dark, sweet cherries, dip in a small brush and paint away.

Designed for ages 4 to 10, the book contains recipes for food and fun using 35 different kitchen gadgets. In the whisk section, there’s a tasty recipe for an open-faced omelet complete with cheese and bacon, followed by a creative way to use a whisk to make aromatic potpourri. Just hang a large whisk upside down in a spot without too much light. Thread flower stems through the whisk, letting the flower petals hang in the air to dry. Continue layering the flowers and allow the potpourri to dry for about a week.

Sisters Isabella and Olivia Gerasole of Chicago put together their first cookbook of healthy, fun recipes called The Spatulatta Cookbook. The girls, ages 9 and 11, are the youngest winners in the 16-year history of the James Beard Foundation Awards for their Website, The book contains more than 50 recipes from the site, arranged by season, and includes vegetarian selections and snack foods. The book is also filled with youngsters’ quotes and pictures of the girls having fun in the kitchen.

The Spatulatta Cookbook includes basic skills needed for successful cooking, such as tips on separating eggs, grating cheese and measuring liquid and dry ingredients. Since it is autumn, you may want to look at their seasonal recipes for “Ghosts in the Graveyard Meat Loaf,” “Black Bean Chili” or “Pulled Pork Sandwiches.” Younger sis Liv suggests putting leftover chili in a thermos to take to school for lunch, because the chili flavor gets even better the next day.

Finally, capitalizing on the American Girl trend, four new cookbooks inspired by popular characters Samantha, Kit, Felicity and Molly are available for girls ages 8 and up to have hours of fun in the kitchen and learn more about each characters’ time period. For example, in Molly’s Cooking Studio, girls learn about life in the 1940s during World War II, when food rationing and shortages were commonplace. Some of Molly’s favorite food recipes include French toast, Waldorf salad, Victory Garden soup and fruit bars.

Victory Garden soup teaches youngsters an essential lesson particularly poignant in the war era: “waste not, want not.” Adding leftover veggies to soup is a way to make the recipe go farther and has no “official” limits for too much and not enough. The recipes include a listing of ingredients, as well as equipment. These books come with a fold-out poster full of cooking and kitchen safety tips, a cookie cutter, ideas for themed parties, place cards with wipe-off surfaces to be used over again and table talker question cards designed to be conversation starters.

Freelance writer Eileen Cornish of Santee hopes her three growing sons enjoy cooking as much as they enjoy eating.