The Best of Making Things by Ann Wiseman

A classic bible of hands-on craft activities for kids of all ages. 162 pages, illustrated, indexed.

$8.00 — $10.00

Children everywhere will welcome this new edition of a classic activity book – as will their teachers and parents (especially those seeking to simplify). A “best of” compilation of two volumes, it is a unique, affordable, and child-sized handbook that doesn’t talk down to anyone. In fact, it is mostly pictures drawn in a simple and elegant style clear enough for anyone to follow, whether or not they read (though some projects, like paper making or batik, ask for adult supervision).

Thirty years later, author Ann Sayre Wiseman says “I still meet people who say ‘Making Things was (or is) my bible.’” What’s the appeal? The elegant line drawings certainly make each page its own composition and work of art. They also convey crucial information in a way that’s as close as a printed page can get to “show me how.” Many of the projects are unusual or unique, such as the “cardboard racing turtles” and “box horses;” but even the old standards, such as soap carving and paper sculpture, are presented in such a way that creativity is invited not promoted. Rather than a “create by numbers” kind of book, here is a delightful invitation to the innate, creative artist in each of us. As the author says in an introductory note to “beginners and late starters”:

Remember, you know more than you think you know…

When you have tried most of the activities in this book, you will have taught your hands lots of useful skills for fun, for necessity, for leisure, and for survival.

  • These skills and concepts can set your imagination free and inspire you to try your own variations.
  • As you train your eyes to see and your hands to know, you will strengthen your belief in yourself.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask questions and go beyond the rules.

Her philosophy of “learning by doing” is older than Aristotle, and the ethic of using odds and ends to “make something out of nothing” should provide refreshment and relief for today’s stressed out, over-scheduled, and mall-weary parents.

Each project is part of a broad curriculum that explores the roots of culture. Starting with making the paper itself, we can explore sculptural folding and cutting projects, aeroplanes, puppets, potato and other kinds of printing, and, finally, how to make books. Projects like mobiles and salt pendulums explore the science of gravity; zoetropes and animated flip cards make a study of motion; various toy and play ideas make for fun, absorbing, and creative entertainment. Fiber and cloth projects offer basic lessons such as weaving grass hats and shoes; all kinds of simple looms; sewing and dyeing clothes; as well as macrame and twining. There are even “sweet sounds from found objects,” bread and bread sculpture, and “stained glass cookies” made from melted lollypops.

Though diverse, it’s not random. Ms. Wiseman developed the material during her tenure as Program Director at the Boston Children’s Museum Visitor’s Center, and selected the projects to “develop natural curiosity and self-esteem” and to teach a range of “simple and important concepts that have shaped the cultures of the world.” Also an exhibiting artist with work in the Rockefeller and Hirschorn collections, she later pioneered the field of Art Therapy at Lesley College in Cambridge, and has authored a dozen other books, including Nightmare Help, and Making Music, among others. Now a 78-year old grandmother, she conducts workshops, teaches, paints, and travels widely.

So when a child asks, “what can I do,” share this book and say: “Let’s make things! Paper from laundry lint! Chocolate pudding finger paintings! A cardboard box loom [that also teaches weaving and math]! Stocking masks, a braided wig, and a grass hat!” Budget priced at $8.95, with over 50,000 copies in print in English and foreign language editions, it’s a good bet for any parent or crafter, and would make a great gift.

First published in the 70s by Little, Brown, it won a Scientific American Young Reader’s Award, the 1997 Parents’ Choice Silver Honor Award, and was featured by the Book-of-the-Month Club. It has sold tens of thousands of copies. This revised edition combines the best selections from the original two volumes.

Reviews for The Best of Making Things: A Handbook of Creative Discovery:

“…consistently the most useful book I’ve used with kids…[it] has been and still is my bible” ­ Cathy Wilson, author, mother of 9 home schooled kids, and a teacher of youth in custody.

“Fresh and inspiring…Parents and teachers will delight in this creative book. The majority of the ingenious projects are not found in other craft books.” – Library Journal, starred review.

“…classic…a popular manual [with] simple but thorough directions for everything from…paper-bag puppets to decorating your own window shades.” – Boston Globe, “The Young Reader”

“Excellent and innovative…helps it audience become real artisans.” – Horn Book.

“…one of the most exciting play and workbooks to come along…. Particularly invaluable for the teacher of children’s craft or the parent on a rainy afternoon…brimming with the wonder of discovery and creation…” – San Francisco Examiner & Chronicle.

“This book belongs on the shelf in every home where a child has ever asked, ‘What can I do now?’” – Princeton NJ Lawrence Ledger.

“Now that I’ve seen [it], I know why these customers thought so highly of it…using words like “special” and “sense of wonder.”…an extraordinary book.” – Chinaberrry Book Service.

“Fun, painlessly educational, handy to leave lying around for a bored child and you’ll enjoy watching him spring to creative life!” – South Shore Mirror.

“The best book of its kind I have ever come across.” – Jane Yolen, Northampton Gazette.

“An excellent resource book…[for] elementary [and] high school…. Highly recommended…. Ms. Wiseman’s approach encourages individual freedom for creative expression and pride in acccomplishments.” – Curriculum Advisory Service, in Fine Arts.

“Truly, a document of ‘revelations and adventures,’ Making Things …is an answer to the child’s perpetual question, ‘what can I do?’…encourages the reader to become adept in many skills and to gain a measure of self-understanding as he develops latent talents for creativity.” – Tallahassee Democrat.

“I love your Making Things …there’s warmth and care…and how to and excitement and mood and all the way till morning. ‘Doing is contagious’ … and so are you and what you do.” – P. Cardozo, Director, Bantam Books

“I haven’t even finished reading your book…but I must hurriedly write and thank you for such a creative and simple book on art and all it includes…What else is there to say? I only want you to know I am one of (hopefully many) peoples using your book and its damn honest attitude.” – A. Bandenieks, Thunder Bay Ontario

“Making Things is absolutely great!” – F.M. Trace, Director of Elementary Education, City of Rochester, NH.

“That lovely, fascinating book! …It should help…teachers; and day care centers; and those who work with mentally or physically handicapped children; and families both prosperous and poverty-stricken.” – K. Taylor, educator, former head of Shady Hill School (MA)