Aria Volume 2

Aria Volume 2 by Kozue Amano, 2003, English Translation 2008.

The is the second volume of the second part of a fascinating manga series that combines sci-fi, fantasy, and slice of life. The series takes place about 300 years in the future, when Mars has been terraformed and renamed Aqua (because of all the water on its surface). The human colonies on Aqua are designed to resemble old-fashioned cities on Earth (called Manhome here). The people of Aqua prefer a much slower pace of life than people on Manhome, and aspects of life on Aqua more closely resemble Earth’s past.

The series is divided into two parts. The first two books are the Aqua volumes and introduce Akari Mizunashi, the main character, a young girl who came to Aqua to learn to become a gondolier in the city of Neo Venezia (which resembles Venice). Female gondoliers, called Undines, give tours of the city, giving Akari plenty of time to admire the beauty of her new home and meet interesting people. The two Aqua books are the prequel to the main series, Aria. Aqua covers Akari’s arrival on the planet, her introduction to life on Aqua, and the beginning of her training. The main Aria series show Akari’s continuing training, her progression to becoming a full Undine, her evolving relationships with her friends, and as always, her delight in learning more about her new home and admiring its beauty.

In the second volume of the Aria series, winter comes to Neo Venezia, and Akari experiences the delights of the changing season and the celebration of a New Year as well as continuing to learn more about her new home.

The series has received some criticism for being slow and lacking danger and adventure, but that is not really the point of the series. The main purpose is to show people how to appreciate the small pleasures of life. The sci-fi and fantasy elements (the spaceships, advanced environmental controls, intelligent Martian cats, and even the occasional appearances of the legendary Cait Sith) are mainly background to the stories about the magic of friendship and simple pleasures. Each volume contains a few short stories about Akari and her friends and the little adventures they have on a daily basis and the life lessons they learn. It’s a great series for relaxing when you’re stressed out.

The stories included in this volume are:

Snow Bug

Snow Bugs (a kind of fluffy aphid) appear on Aqua at the onset of winter. They are larger than Earth aphids, and they look like cute little puff balls with eyes.

Akari makes friends with one of them when she and Alicia go out to gather some firewood, and she brings her Snow Bug friend home with her for awhile.

However, the Snow Bugs appear at this time of year because they are migrating to their winter home, and as snow comes to Neo Venezia, Akari has to accept that her little friend must move on with the other Snow Bugs as it gets colder. Fortunately, Snow Bugs have long life spans, so Akari can count on seeing her little friend again next winter.

Utopia

Akari has trouble adjusting to the winter in Neo Venezia because it’s much colder than the winters she is accustomed to on Earth. Aika suggests visiting a hot spring, which Akari has never done before because people on Earth are more technological and not so much into the beauties of nature. Alicia takes Akari and Aika to visit a very special hot spring where the baths are built into a magnificent old mansion.

The mansion has been there for years, and parts of it are now crumbling with disuse, but the hot water from the spring beneath it is now allowed to flow through the lower floors of the old mansion, giving it a mysterious atmosphere, yet it’s still a very relaxing hot bath.

The girls indulge themselves in the baths and have dinner on one of the upper floors with a grand view of the ocean. (Alicia is older than the other girls and a legal adult, so she drinks alcohol. She lets the teenage trainees try a small amount to see what it’s like, but mostly, the younger girls have iced coffee milk.)

After the younger girls have a nap, they go back in the baths, and Alicia shows them a special part of the hot springs. Akari feels a little guilty for taking the day off and indulging themselves, but Alicia says that a break now and then is good.

This is one of my favorite stories in the Aria books because I just like the idea of a mansion being turned into a giant hot spring bath, with water flowing through it. The crumbling bits look a little dangerous to me, but it’s fun to imagine what the rest of the house might be like.

A Day in the Life of the President

President Aria may be an intelligent Martian cat, but he is still a cute kitty. He does cute kitty things, like climbing into bags and boxes, worrying about Akari’s hair dryer, and fighting with a hair brush. It even says that he doesn’t like baths, although he didn’t mind going to the hot spring in the previous story.

Martian cats are supposed to be as intelligent as humans, and it’s established in the series that President Aria and other cats have their own community with Cait Sith, the king of the cats, sneaking off sometimes to meet with each other, but President Aria also does things that people would expect from ordinary pet cats, and it’s not clear why. Then again, it might not matter. The Aria stories are mostly atmospheric and about emotions, so not everything has to be completely explained.

Voices of the Stars

Akari learns about the Gnomes, a group of people who control the gravity on Aqua. Alicia tells her about the gnomes one day when she explains why the gravity on Aqua seems to be the same as on Earth even though its natural gravity would be much less strong. The Gnomes live in their own community underground and only come up to the surface from time to time to go shopping.

One day, Akari and Aika see a group of Gnomes shopping. They help one of them, who is having trouble loading his supplies into his boat. Akari offers to take him home in her gondola, and he accepts, taking her and Aika to see where the Gnomes live underground.

The Gnome, Al, is a trainee Gnome, just a few years older than Akari and Aika, although he is short and looks younger and, oddly, speaks like an older, old-fashioned man. He explains to the girls how the Gnomes control the gravity on Aqua by conducting special high-mass gravitational rocks through a network of pipes surrounding Aqua’s core. As always, the science and technology on Aqua are borderline magical.

Al shows them where he works, and the machinery that controls the sending of rocks through the pipes is like a large pipe organ, making beautiful musical sounds as it works. Al becomes a recurring character in the Aria stories.

Auguri Di Buon Anno

Akari celebrates New Year’s Eve with her friends. It’s interesting how they compare Japanese New Year’s traditions with ones from Venice, from the types of food eaten during the holiday to the way that Japanese people traditionally consider New Year’s Eve a family holiday, while Akari’s friends consider it a holiday to spend with friends in public. Alicia explains to Akari that one of the traditions of Neo Venezia is similar to a traditional Italian custom of throwing out old things on New Year’s Eve as a way of throwing off bad memories from the previous year.

Akari and Alicia join their other friends in the public square on New Year’s Eve, and Akari reflects on how much her life has changed during the last year, since she came to Aqua. During that time, she’s had many new experiences and made many new friends, and she’s grateful for everything that’s happened and all of the good memories she’s had.

Akari and her friends stay out all night and see the sun rise on the first day of the new year.

Carnival

Akari is introduced to the traditions and wonders of a Venice Carnival! Alicia explains the origins of the tradition to her.

However, Akari becomes intrigued by mysterious figure dressed as Casanova. Rumor has it that the same person has played the role of Casanova for 100 years, but no one knows who it is.

Aika and Akari try to follow a member of Casanova’s entourage to see if they can find out who Casanova really is. The two girls get separated, but Akari meets up with Casanova, and he invites her to join his entourage to parade through the crowd.

In the end, Akari does get a look at Casanova without his mask, and it’s a magical end to Carnival!

Aria Volume 1

Aria Volume 1 by Kozue Amano, 2002, English Translation 2004.

The is the first volume of the second part of a fascinating manga series that combines sci-fi, fantasy, and slice of life. The series takes place about 300 years in the future, when Mars has been terraformed and renamed Aqua (because of all the water on its surface). The human colonies on Aqua are designed to resemble old-fashioned cities on Earth (called Manhome here). The people of Aqua prefer a much slower pace of life than people on Manhome, and aspects of life on Aqua more closely resemble Earth’s past.

The series is divided into two parts. The first two books are the Aqua volumes and introduce Akari Mizunashi, the main character, a young girl who came to Aqua to learn to become a gondolier in the city of Neo Venezia (which resembles Venice). Female gondoliers, called Undines, give tours of the city, giving Akari plenty of time to admire the beauty of her new home and meet interesting people. The two Aqua books are the prequel to the main series, Aria. Aqua covers Akari’s arrival on the planet, her introduction to life on Aqua, and the beginning of her training. The main Aria series show Akari’s continuing training, her progression to becoming a full Undine, her evolving relationships with her friends, and as always, her delight in learning more about her new home and admiring its beauty.

The series has received some criticism for being slow and lacking danger and adventure, but that is not really the point of the series. The main purpose is to show people how to appreciate the small pleasures of life. The sci-fi and fantasy elements (the spaceships, advanced environmental controls, intelligent Martian cats, and even the occasional appearances of the legendary Cait Sith) are mainly background to the stories about the magic of friendship and simple pleasures. Each volume contains a few short stories about Akari and her friends and the little adventures they have on a daily basis and the life lessons they learn. It’s a great series for relaxing when you’re stressed out.

The stories included in this volume are:

Neo-Venezia

As autumn comes to Neo Venezia, Akari encounters a grumpy old man, a visitor from Earth, who has gotten separated from his daughter and lost in the city. He is frustrated with the confusing and inconvenient nature of Neo Venezia.

Akari says that she can help him find his daughter and gives him a tour of the city, showing him the beauty of the city and changes his mood with the help of some baked potatoes and green tea. A slower pace of life and appreciation for the little pleasures has benefits.

Drydocking

It’s time for the gondolas to be cleaned, so they are moved onto dry land. Akari and her friend, Aika are in charge of the cleaning, but it is Akari who makes it fun.

The Bridge of Sighs

Like the original Venice, Neo-Venezia also has a “Bridge of Sighs.” Akari goes there one day to meet Aika and finds her friend, Akatsuki, waiting for someone. Akatsuki is impatient while he is waiting, so he convinces Akari to give him a short tour to pass the time. Akari tells him about the original Bridge of Sighs and how she thinks the name is still appropriate but for a different reason.

The original Bridge of Sighs, as Akari explains, was between an old courthouse and a prison, and the prisoners were said to sigh as they crossed the bridge because they were being led away to be incarcerated. However, Akari sighs because she likes living in the beautiful city of Neo-Venezia and feels like she’s lucky to be there. Her sigh is a sigh of contentment.

When the person Akatsuki is waiting for shows up, it turns out to be his older brother, who also appears in later stories.

Sun Shower

Although Akari lives in Neo-Venezia, which is designed to look like Venice, there are other parts of Aqua designed to look like different parts of Earth. Alicia takes Akari to an area much like Japan to see the changing autumn leaves and get some inarizushi.

They see a shrine on the island, and the woman at the sushi shop tells them a Japanese legend about the fox’s wedding, giving them a warning that the Inari fox might spirit them away to another world.

While admiring the red autumn leaves, Akari finds herself separated from Alicia, and she witnesses a strange wedding procession. When she seems to be invited to join it, she thinks quickly and gives the procession her inarizushi instead.

The story explains that a Japanese term for a sun shower (when it rains while the sun is still shining) is “the fox’s wedding.” Sun showers happen quite often when it rains where I live in Arizona, and I now think of this when I see one. I also know where to get some inarizushi. The Aria stories are good for making me want different types of food, whether it’s inarizushi or baked potatoes and green tea or pudding (from a previous book).

Vogare Longa

This story is based on a real gondola race that takes place in Venice.

Akari and Aika are told about the Vogare Longa gondola race, which all of the gondoliers, including the trainees, will participate in. Aika is determined to make a good showing in the race because there’s a rumor that it is used to judge trainees, but Akari gets caught up in the beauty of the day.

In the end, Akari admits to herself that she never forgot what Aika said about the race being used to judge trainees, but she just didn’t want to hurry because she was enjoying herself, and that’s the way she feels about her training in general. Akari wants to become a full Undine, but she wants to do it at her own pace and enjoy herself along the way.

It turns out to be just as well because the rumor about the race being used to judge trainees was only a rumor.

Aqua Volume 2

Aqua Volume 2 by Kozue Amano, 2003, English Translation 2008.

The is the second volume a fascinating manga series that combines sci-fi, fantasy, and slice of life. The series takes place about 300 years in the future, when Mars has been terraformed and renamed Aqua (because of all the water on its surface). The human colonies on Aqua are designed to resemble old-fashioned cities on Earth (called Manhome here). The people of Aqua prefer a much slower pace of life than people on Manhome, and aspects of life on Aqua more closely resemble Earth’s past.

In the previous volume, a young girl, Akari Mizunashi, came to Aqua to learn to become a gondolier in the city of Neo Venezia (which resembles Venice). Female gondoliers, called Undines, give tours of the city, giving Akari plenty of time to admire the beauty of her new home and meet interesting people.

The two Aqua books are the prequel to the main series, Aria. Aqua covers Akari’s arrival on the planet, her introduction to life on Aqua, and the beginning of her training. The series has received some criticism for being slow and lacking danger and adventure, but that is not really the point of the series. The main purpose is to show people how to appreciate the small pleasures of life. The sci-fi and fantasy elements (the spaceships, advanced environmental controls, intelligent Martian cats, and even the occasional appearances of the legendary Cait Sith) are mainly background to the stories about the magic of friendship and simple pleasures. Each volume contains a few short stories about Akari and her friends and the little adventures they have on a daily basis and the life lessons they learn. It’s a great series for relaxing when you’re stressed out.

The stories included in this volume are:

My First Customer

Akari gives her first customer a ride in her gondola. Although she makes mistakes, it is still a memorable experience, and she makes a new friend. Her ability to row a boat very fast backward even comes in handy!

It’s good to read the books and stories in this series in order because characters reappear. Akari’s first customer is Akatsuki, who is a trainee “Salamander” who lives on the floating island of Ukijima above Neo Venezia, which is reached by cable cars. Because Akatsuki spends most of his time on Ukijima, he tends to get lost when he comes into town. He becomes an important character who makes regular appearances through the books. There’s a story later in this book that explains more about his job.

It’s Hard Being President

President Aria feels useless because he can’t help with the spring cleaning. He decides that he isn’t a good president to Aria Company and tries to run away from home but learns that there is nowhere else where he is happy and that his friends still love him.


Night-light Bells

In the summer, people in Neo Venezia buy special night-light bells, chimes that glow in the dark.

These bells do not last forever because the glowing center eventually falls out, but sometimes they leave something special behind besides happy summer memories, a tiny crystal.

Akari goes to a night light bell festival and gets a night light bell of her own. The night light bells are a cheery part of summer, and when it’s time for them to expire, the people of Neo Venezia have a special ritual to return the glowing centers to the water when they fall out. However, Akari is lucky and gets one of the bells that has a tiny crystal when the center falls out.

I like this story because I think that the idea of having glow-in-the-dark wind chimes is really charming.

Enter the Hero!

President Aria dreams of being a super hero, like the hero of his favorite television show.

His attempts to be an ally of justice aren’t very successful until he discovers that even doing something small can make a big difference, returning a lost toy to a grateful child.


Fireworks

Akari and her friends visit the floating island of Ukijima where her friend, Akatsuki, is learning to be a Salamander. Salamanders help control Aqua’s climate. Because Ukijima is anchored above Neo Venezia, they have to use a cable car to get there, and Akari thinks that the view is amazing, like she’s flying when she’s there.

Akari and her friends have dinner wtih Akatsuki, and he shows them around and explains more about how Ukijima works and what his job as a Salamander involves. Neo Venezia experiences different seasons and different types of weather, but the Salamanders help to regulate it and keep it safe for the residents by controlling the amount of heat released into the atmosphere. The processes behind some of the technology on Aqua sound almost magical.

There are many amazing things on Ukijima, but Akari is most entranced by her first fireworks show. Even though Akari has never seen fireworks before, she finds herself connecting with the nostalgia surrounding them, which she realizes is a feeling that surrounds everything on Aqua and in Neo Venezia because the style of living is more old-fashioned than on Earth/Manhome.


Colds and Pudding

Akari and another friend, Alice (who you don’t really get to meet until the Aria series begins – she’s another trainee Undine), go to visit Aika, who is sick with a cold. They find her upset and learn how a simple trip to get some pudding led to a disturbing epiphany for her.

Aika was bored, hungry, and tired of staying in her room, so she decided to sneak out to get some pudding.

While she was walking through the streets, enjoying her freedom without anyone knowing she that she was gone, she caught sight of Akari and Alice practicing their rowing. At first, Aika is amused that she can spy on them without them noticing her, but then, she gets a strange feeling, realizing that, under normal circumstances, she would be practicing with them, but she can’t be with them now.

It feels eerie to her to see people going on with their day without her, as if she didn’t exist or that her absence doesn’t matter. Aika gets so spooked by the feeling that she runs home and goes back to bed, crying.

However, Aika’s friends do miss her and are thinking about her while she’s sick, and they know exactly what she needs. Trust your friends to help you feel better (and bring you pudding) when you need it!

This is the story that convinced me to learn how to make pudding from scratch one day when I was sick at home. You don’t have to go out and get creepy feelings when you know how to make pudding yourself! Pudding is an easy dessert to make; it just takes awhile to thicken on the stove.

Aqua Volume 1

Aqua Volume 1 by Kozue Amano, 2003, English Edition 2007.

I debated at first about whether or not I wanted to include any Japanese manga or light novels in this blog. When I was in high school and college, I knew a lot of people who were really into anime and manga, and I know that there are teens who still are, and my overview of children’s literature in different decades wouldn’t be complete if I didn’t mention that. However, the variety is pretty extensive, some of the series run very long, and it’s impossible to just skip around in some series because the story-telling is very linear, and I didn’t want them to take over the blog. Also, I tend to like the less popular ones, so I’d be bound to get some grumbling from manga fans about why I chose these when there are so many others that are more exciting or more iconic. Notice that I didn’t say “better.” “Better” is subjective, and I like what I like. I decided to go ahead and make an exception in this case because this is one of my favorite manga series and because I think this is something that people could really use right now. The stories are very calming, and they’re good to read during stressful times.

This book is the first volume of a series. I don’t have them all because they haven’t all been published in English yet, but know how it ends, and it’s a really good series with a happy ending. If you’re not familiar with manga, they’re basically graphic novels from Japan. I can’t read Japanese, so I rely on the English translations. However, manga like this typically follow the Japanese format of reading from right to left instead of left to right, like in English, so the books open and the pages flow in the opposite direction. When you look at the panels on a page, remember to look at them in right to left order.

The Aqua and Aria series is unusual because it combines elements of science fiction and fantasy, but most of the stories themselves aren’t really either science fiction or fantasy. That’s just the setting for the stories. The stories themselves are more slice-of-life, about daily events or small adventures in the lives of the characters and sometimes lessons they learn from them. There is a lot of emphasis on slowing down and enjoying the simple pleasures in life.

The series takes place in the future, when Mars has been terraformed and renamed Aqua (because of all the water on its surface). The human colonies on Aqua are designed to resemble cities on Earth (called Manhome here). The people of Aqua prefer a much slower pace of life than people on Manhome, and aspects of life on Aqua more closely resemble Earth’s past.

A young girl, Akari Mizunashi, comes to Aqua to learn to become a gondolier in the city of Neo Venezia, which resembles Venice. Female gondoliers, called Undines, give tours of the city, giving Akari plenty of time to admire the beauty of her new home and meet interesting people.

There are two parts to this series, called Aqua and Aria. The two Aqua books are the prequel to the main series, Aria. Aqua is only two volumes long, and it covers Akari’s arrival on the planet, her introduction to life on Aqua, and the people who will be her friends. In the Aria books, Akari progresses in her training as an Undine. All of the books in both series contain several short stories.

This book, the first one in the Aqua series, focuses on Akari’s arrival on Aqua and her friendship with Aika, the first fellow Undine trainee she meets.

The stories included in this first volume are:

The Water Planet

The series begins with Akari Mizunashi on the shuttle carrying her from Manhome to Aqua. She is typing a message to someone on her computer, but there is nothing to indicate who she is writing to. This is a running theme throughout the series, but the identity of Akari’s pen pal isn’t revealed until the very end of the series, and it wouldn’t make sense if I told you who it is right now. Akari explains a little about the history of Mars/Aqua, and how the melting of Mars’s polar ice caps during the terraforming of Mars 150 years earlier has turned it into a water planet, earning it the name Aqua. Currently, the year is 2301.

One of the nice things about the Aqua/Aria series is the imagery. As Akari’s shuttle arrives at Mars/Aqua, the walls of the shuttle turn transparent, so the travelers can feel like they’re flying in with the seagulls.

On Earth/Manhome, Akari lived in Tokyo, Japan. The modern cities of Manhome are very tidy and convenient, with people able to work and shop from home. Still, Akari has felt like something is missing from her life in all the convenience and tidiness. In Neo Venezia on Aqua, people rely on boats constantly to help them get around town, which is inconvenient, but Akari finds it calming and peaceful, which is why she wants to become an Undine, one of the female gondoliers who act as tour guides and help travelers to navigate Neo Venezia. Overall, life on Aqua and in Neo Venezia has a much slower pace than that on Manhome.

Akari arrives on Aqua and meets a friendly mailman and the only two employees of the gondola company she will work for: her mentor, Alicia, and the company’s president, a Martian cat named Aria. All gondola companies on Aqua have a Martian cat as their mascot/president. Alicia explains that Martian cats are as intelligent as humans, even though they can’t talk, but in many ways, President Aria still acts like a very large kitty.

The Guide on the Water

Akari wakes up on her first morning at the gondola company Aria, and she meets Aika, who is a trainee at Himeya, another gondola company. She catches sight of Aika hanging around, watching Alicia, and Aika witnesses Akari’s first time practicing in a gondola under Alicia’s watch.

Akari is embarrassed to learn that when she practiced rowing on Manhome, she was doing it backwards, standing in the front of the boat, which would block the view of her passengers. Because Akari practiced the wrong way on Manhome, she can row very fast the wrong way, but is clumsier when she tries to row the correct way.

However, Aika tells Akari that Alicia is the best of the Undines, and Akari is reassured that under Alicia’s guidance, she will do better. Aika hero-worships Alicia (for reasons that are explained further in later books), and she agrees to become Akari’s friend partly so that she can see more of Alicia. Aika and Akari become best friends through the course of the books, sharing their training and adventures.

The City Submerged

Akari wakes up one morning and is shocked to find that the lower floor of Aria company has flooded, but Alicia explains to her that this is a natural phenomenon in Neo Venezia in Spring.

Much of the city is flooded during this high tide, causing many of the businesses in town to close temporarily and making it unsafe to go out in gondolas. However, when President Aria needs more of his favorite food, Akari decides to venture into the city on foot.

On the way home, Akari and Aria are stranded when it starts to rain and travel become more dangerous, but Aika sees them and invites them to spend the night at Himeya Company with her. Himeya Company is a much larger gondola company than Aria Company, with many more employees living there.

Aika and Akari have a sleepover in Aika’s room, and Aika asks Akari who she’s always writing to, but Akari tells her that it’s a secret. When the rain stops, Akari admires the view of the water by moonlight. (There are two moons in the sky because this is Mars.)

The Kingdom of Cats

President Aria sometimes ventures off alone, and Alicia tells Akari the story of Cait Sith and the mythical kingdom of cats.

When Akari and Aika practice their rowing together, Akari convinces Aika to help her follow President Aira to see if there’s any truth to Alicia’s story perhaps get a look at the kitty kingdom ruled by the legendary king of the cats, Cait Sith.

However, the trip is stranger than they bargained for. The girls find themselves on a strange waterway through apparently abandoned buildings, going around in circles until President Aria points the way out. Akari only gets a glimpse of the cats before they leave.

The Hill of Hope

Aika shows up at Aria company one morning to brag about how she has been promoted to single (the next step up in gondola training, as shown by the gloves that the girls wear – as the trainee Undines learn the techniques to row their boats more skillfully, they get fewer callouses and need their gloves less, removing them one at a time as they are promoted to new levels).

Akari tries to ask Aika what the promotion test is like, but Aika refuses to tell her. The Undines traditionally keep the test a secret from their trainees until they pass the test. When Alicia hears about Aika’s promotion, she decides to take Akari on a special picnic, giving her the opportunity to prove her skills and introducing her to the concept of aquatic elevators, or canal locks. There is a special surprise for Akari at the end of the journey.

Games

Games by Godfrey Hall, 1995.

This book is part of the Traditions Around the World series, which explains different aspects of culture around the world. Each book in the series focuses on a different cultural topic and then explains traditions regarding that topic in different countries. This one is all about games of various kinds.

The games are organized into sections by continent, and the book covers a variety of board games, party games, and sports. Not all of the games are explained in detail. Many of them have brief descriptions, explaining what types of games they are and when they are usually played, and there are some with complete instructions.

I was originally interested in the histories of the some of the games, but the book doesn’t always explain the history of games or tell how old they are. There is some of that type of information, but some of it is a little vague, just mentioning that these are games are played or have been played in certain countries. Of course, when dealing with such a broad topic in a short book, it can be difficult to go into detail on everything, and when it comes to cultural topics, like games, their origins aren’t always known or obvious. Many games have their origins in many different countries. Sometimes, it’s because they are based on such universal concepts that many different societies naturally come up with their own variations (like games involving tossing a ball or hiding and seeking). Other times, it’s because the games have been played in many different countries over the centuries, and everywhere they’ve been played, rules have been altered or pieces and boards redesigned to take their modern form, like Checkers and Chess. Sometimes, this has happened so many times, it can be difficult to say exactly how the very oldest forms were played like with Backgammon. This book mention that people in China play Backgammon, but it’s actually a game played all over the world, related to ancient board games from Ancient Rome, Egypt, and the Middle East. The book doesn’t really go into its history.

I think that the two strength of this book are the variety of games it covers and the pictures it shows of real people playing different games. The book discusses ancient board games like Go (China and Japan), unusual sports like hurling (from Ireland), and children’s playground games, like How Deep Is the Water? (from Germany) as well as some common games that are played around the world, like jacks (an ancient game that has been played in many variations, called variously knucklebones, jackstones, etc.). Some games and game concepts are universal, but there are some unique gems that are particular to certain areas. Seeing the pictures makes the games come alive and also makes the descriptions easier to understand. That is one of the things that I really like about children’s books, and I wish more adult books would make better use of pictures. They really are worth a thousand words.

Games People Play: China

Games People Play: China by Kim Dramer, 1997.

This book is part of a series about games played around the world. The series also covers sports and other, related activities. This book is specifically about the traditional games and sports of China.

China’s history goes back thousands of years, and so does the history of games and toys enjoyed there by generations of children. The book begins with a brief history of China. This book was written in the 1990s, and it contains a brief description of China’s one-child policy, which controlled the sizes of Chinese families and impacted the way in which children were raised. It also explains some important Chinese festivals, such as the Lunar New Year, Lantern Festival, and Dragon Boat Festival. It explains the origins of these festivals and how people celebrate, including the roles of children in the celebrations.

I most enjoyed the sections about board games. Some of the oldest board games in the world come from China. Some of these games are also played in Japan under different names. For example, the game Weiqi is known as Go in Japan, and this is the name that is also most familiar to Americans. Chinese Chess uses different pieces from the international form of chess. The book mentions Chinese Checkers also, but it doesn’t explain that it was not actually invented in China, even though it is played there today. (The “Chinese” in the title was a marketing gimmick in the United States, to make the game seem more exotic. It’s actually a German variation of the American game Halma, which was based on an older English game called Hoppers.) Majiang (called Mah-Jongg in the United States) is another well-known Chinese game. Sometimes, in the United States, people play it as a solitaire game on their computes, but the real-life board game is a multiplayer game with several variations.

When I was in school, I had a teacher who was fond of tangrams, which is a kind of puzzle game that involves using a set of basic shapes to produce different forms or pictures of objects. The book demonstrates how to make a tangram set and how to use it.

The earliest kites made in China were made for serious, religious purposes, sending prayers, signs, or messages to the heavens. Later, the Chinese also used them to give military signals. Later, paper kites became a popular form of amusement and folk art. They can be made in many different forms. Some of them even make musical sounds, caused by the wind passing over holes placed in the bamboo frame of the kite.

The Chinese also use puppets in different styles. The history of puppet theater also goes back thousands of years, and puppets made for puppet theaters can be very elaborate. Sometimes, plays are performed with shadow puppets controlled by sticks and sometimes with marionettes or hand puppets. The appearance of a puppet and provide clues to the puppet’s character. For example, puppets with red faces represent brave characters while ones with white faces may be cunning and treacherous and ones with black faces are loyal.

Popular sports in China include soccer (called “football” everywhere but in North America) and badminton. China is also famous for its martial arts and some spectacular forms of acrobatics.

From Junk to Jewelry

From Junk to Jewelry by Beth, Leah, and and Mary Johnson, 1991.

I bought this book at a school book fair when I was a kid, and we used some of the projects in the book for Brownies and birthday parties. They are pretty easy craft activities that use basic materials that people have around their houses. As the title indicates, the focus is on reusing things that might otherwise be thrown away to make something new. It uses the term “recycling” rather than “upcycling” (which I don’t remember hearing in the 1990s – “recycle” or “reuse” were more common terms), but that’s the basic idea. Some projects require some additional materials beyond the “junk”, like earring, pin, or barrette backings, but the main decorative part of the jewelry pieces are made from recycled materials. The projects in the book are divided into different levels of difficulty: beginning, intermediate, and advanced.

The two beginning projects are a beaded necklace with beads made from rolled paper (mine is shown in the picture) and pins or barrettes made from papier-mache colored with paint or marker.

The intermediate section has instructions for basic friendship bracelets and sgraffito earrings. “Sgraffito” is an artistic technique that involves scratching the top layer of a project to show the colors of a lower layer. Now, you can buy ready-made kits with special scratchable paper or cards that shows rainbow colors underneath, but I don’t recall ever seeing these kits when I was a kid in the 1990s. This project produces a similar look, but you have to apply the colors yourself using crayons. You start with a piece of heavy paper, tagboard, or an old file folder, you color rainbow stripes with crayon, pressing hard as you color. Then, you color over the rainbow colors with black crayon until the rainbow underneath doesn’t show. Then, you cut out the shapes of the earrings and scratch a design on the surface, scratching away the black surface so that the colors show underneath. Then, you glue the colored paper shapes to pieces cut from a plastic milk carton for stability and attach earring wires.

The advanced section has instructions for two more types of friendship bracelets (the v-design, which I’ve made many times myself with yarn, and the bridge design) and making origami earrings using either origami paper or colorful wrapping paper and earring backings.

The end of the book has a collection of tips for making junk jewelry of various kinds for kids of all ages. It describes various types of “junk” you can collect around the house, like old buttons, pieces of broken toys or broken jewelry, pictures cut from magazines, and bits of cloth, lace, cord, or bows. When you’ve assembled your “junk”, you consider how you can arrange it decoratively, and then glue the pieces to a piece of plastic cut from a milk jug. Then, you can attach pin backings or earring backings so you can wear it.

Environmentalism and the concept of recycling were gaining increasing importance through the 1990s and were heavily promoted in schools when I was a kid. Although not every project in this book uses entirely recycled materials, these were common sorts of projects we would do in scouts and craft classes, and they can be a lot of fun even for kids today. When I was a Brownie, we spent a weekend at a Girl Scout camp with girls from other troops, and one of our activities was creating and trading “swaps” – decorative pins we made ourselves from bits and pieces of things like this. Each troop had its own swap design, and we would trade our swaps with each other and wear them around as signs of our new friendships. I can’t remember what my troop’s swaps looked like anymore because I traded away all of the ones I’d made myself, but I still have the swaps that I got in return. No two look alike. There were pins made from old puzzle pieces, popsicle sticks with stuff glued to them, macrame rope made to look like little faces, plain safety pins with colorful beads added, etc. These are good projects to encourage creativity. If the kids are bored this summer, try some of these projects or come up with some creative twists of your own!

The Daring Book for Girls

The Daring Book for Girls by Andrea J. Buchanan and Miriam Peskowitz, 2007.

This is an activity/hobby book for children, especially for girls, but really, full of activities that boys could enjoy, too. It’s often sold in sets with a companion book, The Dangerous Book for Boys. These books follow in the tradition of earlier activity/hobby books like The American Boy’s Handy Book and The American Girl’s Handy Book by the Beard siblings. Some of the activities in these modern books are similar to ones included in historical children’s activity/hobby books, but there are some notable differences. Although The Daring Book for Girls includes sports and outdoor activities, it has more scientific and academic information than The American Girl’s Handy Book.

The differences between these books show changes that have taken place in society, the activities that adults want to promote for children, and the types of activities that children can actually use in the 120 years between the times when the two books were published. For example, 19th century how-to books for girls tended to include instructions for making several different types of decorative embroidery stitches. In this book, there is just one paragraph dedicated to sewing stitches, tacked into the end of the section about different types of knots, and the stitches they show are very simple stitches that can be used for basic repairs to ripped clothing. The authors of The Daring Book for Girls explain in their introduction that they wanted to introduce 21st century girls to more nostalgic pastimes that don’t involve today’s technology, like cell phones, video games, and the Internet because they feel like modern childhoods are too high-pressure and push kids to grow up too fast.

like to explain the contents of books so that people will know whether they would like to read them in more detail. It’s difficult to describe the contents of The Daring Book for Girls succinctly because the contents are extensive and they are not grouped into convenient categories. Like in The Dangerous Book for Boys, it’s more like reading a very long magazine with isolated articles, although some of the articles are related to each other. It did strike me that more of an effort was made in this book to put some related topics next to each other. For example, Building a Campfire is immediately followed by Campfire Songs. and Reading Tide Charts is immediately followed by Making a Seine Net for fishing.

Because it would be difficult for me to explain everything in this book without basically copying the entire table of contents, which would take quite a lot of space to do, I’ll just hit some of the highlights by describing them in sections that the book doesn’t have but which explain the types of activities and information covered in this book. All of the types of activities that I describe below are included in the book, but there is also more in the book than I could take the time and space to describe in detail.

Useful Skills and Knowledge

There are instructions for different types of knots and stitches, tips for assembling a useful toolbox that can be used to building things or making repairs, how to change a tire, how to write a letter, and basic first aid.

There are two sections with phrases, idioms, and terms of endearment in French and Spanish. These sections are more for fun and getting girls interested in learning languages than a functional guide to speaking a language. However, there are other sections with information that will be useful in school, like the sections of Math Tricks, Greek and Latin Root Words, and Books That Will Change Your Life.

As expected in a book for girls, there are tips and information related to clothes and hair styles, like How to Tie a Sari and Chiton, Putting Your Hair Up With a Pencil, Tying a Bandana, and Japanese T-Shirt Folding. However, I disagree with the advice in the section called The Daring Girls Guide to Danger about high heels. Most of that section is about doing things that are a little scary but can lead to greater confidence, like standing up for yourself or someone else, riding a roller coaster, or seeing a scary movie, but I don’t like the advice to wear high heels. Their logic is that it gets easier with practice, which may be true for most people, but I have to say that I’m in my 30s, and the only type of heels I’ve ever been able to wear without turning an ankle are low and thick. Otherwise, I have to wear flats, and I’m not the only woman who says that. Wearing high heels for extended periods is hard on the feet and can lead to foot problems later in life, so I favor being practical. In my opinion, some things just aren’t worth getting used to, and girls would be better off in the future for not starting that now.

In spite of the authors’ assertion that they don’t want girls to grow up too fast, there are some tips and information that are focused on gaining grown-up skills and preparing for a career, like public speaking, learning Roberts Rules of Order to conduct meetings, learning how to negotiate a salary, and understanding financial information like stocks, bonds, and interest. The section about how to have a lemonade stand not only contains recipes for the lemonade and other treats to sell but how to calculate profits.

There is also advice for girls about how to talk to boys. Some of it is the kind of advice that I wish that boys would be given about talking to girls, like, “Some girls are told that boys are different” and that girls need to be into things that boys like in order for boys to like them. I think that, sometimes, boys and girls are taught too much to think of each other as a homogeneous group, that all boys like certain things like sports and all girls like certain things like dolls and romantic movies, and that they each need to do certain thinks, talk about certain things, or not talk about certain things in order to get people to like them. I think kids should be taught to think of each other more as individuals with individual personalities and interests, whether they’re boys or girls, and not to try to do things that they think are pleasing to all boys or all girls. If you want someone to like you, ask them about the things they personally like and tell them about the things you personally like. That’s how you find people who are compatible with you. As the book says:

“Many things are said of boys: Boys like sports, boys are messy, boys don’t have any feelings, boys like trucks, boys don’t like girly things, boys like to run around and eat gross food. Whatever the specific generalization, the point of these notions about boys is to set them apart from girls as being entirely different.

Similar statements are made about girls: Girls like pink, girls like flowers, girls are neat and clean, girls are frivolous, girls are emotional. Are any of these things true about all girls? Of course not. But, it’s easier to think about boys and girls as being entirely different than it is to think about boys and girls as having lots of common ground.”

The book says that, depending on how a girl feels about boys, she could ignore them, be friends with them, or even consider romance with them, but “Wherever you all on the spectrum of how you feel about boys, do treat all of your friends, boys and girls, with kindness. This has gone out of fashion, and that’s a sad mistake. Overall, the truth is that there’s no great mystery about boys. Boys are people, and like all people, they are complicated. And that’s what makes being friends with other people interesting: you get to learn about how other people think and act, and, in the process, learn a little bit more about yourself.”

One of the stereotypes about boys is that they aren’t as good with relationships as girls are, but I think that this is partly due to the advice that they’re given. After comparing the advice about girls given in The Dangerous Book for Boys and the advice about boys in The Daring Book for Girls, I think that both boys and girls should take the advice in The Daring Book for Girls.

Games

The book provides rules and tips for outdoor games, including Four Square, fourteen variations of Tag, Hopscotch, Tetherball, and Jump Rope (which includes jump rope rhymes, and there are separate sections for Double Dutch and Chinese Jump Rope). There are card games, like Hearts and Gin. There are also rules for playing Jacks, Darts, and Hand Clap Games.

There is a special section about slumber party games, which includes the classic Truth or Dare and a couple of games of the spooky variety, Bloody Mary and Light as a Feather, Stiff as a Board. Young girls often like to do spooky things to scare each other when they’re staying up late at night. Boys don’t usually do this stuff, but girls often do when they’re unsupervised at sleepovers or summer camp. The spooky types of “games” are really psychological tricks, and they seem much less mysterious and scary when you know how they work (Bloody Mary makes use of the “Strange Face Illusion“, which is admittedly still an eerie sensation when you’re an adult who knows what to expect and that it’s all a trick of the mind), so they tend to be at their maximum popularity when girls are in their tween and early teen years, old enough to get a little thrill from doing something a bit scary but not yet old enough to have learned why they work and have the mystery taken out of them. The book explains a little about the concept of levitation and the superstitions surrounding it for Light as a Feather, Stiff as a Board, and it ends by calling the effect a “magic trick, a phenomenon based in real-world explanations and techniques”, but it doesn’t go into details about the real-worth explanation behind it, so it doesn’t ruin the sense of mystery for the girls who want to try it. There is also a section of advice for telling ghost stories that is separate from the slumber party section, but good for sleep-overs and camp-outs.

Sports and Exercise

The book provides rules for basketball, netball, softball, and bowling.

It also explains five basic karate moves, some basic yoga, and how to do cartwheels and back walk-overs.

Outdoor Activities

There are sections with activities related to camping out, like Sleep Outs, how to build a campfire, campfire songs, two ways to make a sit-upon, how to paddle a canoe, and how to go hiking, climbing, and bird watching. As I mentioned above, the book also explains how to read a tide chart and how to make and fish with a seine net.

There are also instructions for making clubhouses and forts, setting up a tree swing, rollerskating, and how to make traditional daisy chains and ivy crowns.

Science and Technology

The book explains some natural and scientific concepts, such as weather and the Periodic Table of Elements.

There are instructions for creating projects of the type that would be good for a science fair, like a Lemon-Powered Clock, things to do with Vinegar and Baking Soda, how to demonstrate capillary action with paper flowers, and how to make a lamp, lantern, or flashlight with batteries.

History and Geography

The book covers the Bill of Rights and the 50 states of the United States and also has some information about Canada. There are also sections about the countries of Africa and the South Sea Islands.

All of the historical people or interesting people from around the world described in the book are women. The section about pirates describes famous female pirates from history. There is a section about female scientists and inventors and one about famous female Olympic athletes, and there are several sections about famous Queens of the Ancient World. There is a section about Modern Women Leaders from around the world and one section about what modern princesses are like and what they do, giving girls a more realistic reference for what princesses are beyond the usual fairy tale images. There are also stories and mini biographies about interesting and inspirational historical women, like Joan of Arc, and others that are related to other topics that the book covers. For instance, the section about first aid is followed by short biographies about Clara Barton and Florence Nightingale.

Spies and Secret Codes

The book discusses female spies from history, and there is some information about secret codes, but much of the sections about spies discusses assembling a spy team, the types of roles required for a team, and the skills that the members should have. There is also a section about “Spy Lingo”, terms and code words that spies use.

Arts and Crafts

The book has information and instructions for writing in italics, making a quill pen, painting with watercolors (even doing it “on the go”), pressing flowers, making friendship bracelets, making a cloth-covered book, making your own paper, making paper airplanes, making cootie-catchers (origami fortune tellers), and making God’s-Eyes.

There are some projects that involve wood working, like making a peg game, a willow whistle, and a scooter.

Stunts and Random Skills

The book explains how to read palms (this could go with slumber party ideas, although they’re not grouped together in the book, because young girls often like to speculate about the future, especially their future love lives, or do spooky things to scare each other when they’re staying up late at night) and how to pull Three Silly Pranks of the kind that are common at summer camps (like short-sheeting a bed).

Dangerous Book for Girls Badges

This is the final part of the book. Since many of the activities in the book are the kind done at summer camps or in scout troops, the book offers suggested “badges” you can award yourself and your friends for doing the activities. Even though the activities in the book are not sorted into specific categories, there are six categories of badges offered: Sports and Games, Girl Lore, Adventure, World Knowledge, Life Skills, and Arts and Literature. The book doesn’t specify what activities you should master to award yourself these badges, leaving that up to the reader. My copy says that if you go to their website, you can print out these badges, but that website no longer exists. I don’t know if later printings say something different.

If you’re looking for something to do with the kids during coronavirus lock-downs and/or over summer vacation, this book has plenty of ideas, and you can even make up your own “badges”, using their ideas, my category suggestions, or anything else you would like to do yourself.

The book is available to borrow and read for free online through Internet Archive. There is also a sequel to this book called The Double-Daring Book for Girls which contains similar types of activities and is also available through Internet Archive.

The Dangerous Book for Boys

The Dangerous Book for Boys by Conn Iggulden and Hal Iggulden, 2006, 2007.

This is an activity/hobby book for children, especially for boys, but really, full of activities that girls could enjoy, too. It’s often sold in sets with a companion book, The Daring Book for Girls. These books follow in the tradition of earlier activity/hobby books like The American Boy’s Handy Book and The American Girl’s Handy Book by the Beard siblings. Some of the activities in these modern books are similar to ones included in historical children’s activity/hobby books, but there are some notable differences. Although The Dangerous Book for Boys includes sports and outdoor activities, it has more scientific and academic information than The American Boy’s Handy Book.

The differences between these books show changes that have taken place in society, the activities that adults want to promote for children, and the types of activities that children can actually use in the 125 years between the times when the two books were published. The motives of the authors of these books were similar, all of them wanting to produce the type of activity/hobby book that they would have liked to have when they were young and didn’t have, not because other hobby books didn’t exist exist when they were young but because they were looking for something that they hadn’t found in the hobby books of their youth. In the 1880s, Daniel Beard set out to write a hobby book for American boys because many of the hobby books of his youth were poorly written and/or came from England, using words that were not used in American English or recommendations for London shops where boys could buy equipment, which were of no use to an American boy. His book, The American Boy’s Handy Book, promoted do-it-yourself hobbies, particularly ones related to outdoor activities and suitable for children who lived near woods and lakes or rivers where they could do things like go fishing, sail boats that they made themselves, or build log cabin playhouses. However, 21st century society is much more urban/suburban, and it can be difficult or impossible for modern children to do something the things that Daniel Beard recommended. The Dangerous Book for Boys was written for 21st century children, who might need a bit of nudging to get off their computers and video game systems now and then and maybe a little academic help or something to ignite an interest in history or science, but are no less interested in learning something new and interesting or something fun to do with their friends. One thing that I hope readers come to understand from these books is that the world is full of things to do. There is more to do in life than anyone will have time to do in a single lifetime, and far, far more than can be contained in any one book. The Dangerous Book for Boys (published first in the UK and later in the US) contains things that 19th century Daniel Beard might have found very interesting but didn’t exist during his time, so they never even occurred to him as possibilities, and there are bound to be more things coming in the future that people either haven’t thought of yet or are quietly working on right now, planning the books and activities of the future. There’s always something to do. People just need time to do things and the willingness to get started.

I like to explain the contents of books so that people will know whether they would like to read them in more detail. It’s difficult to describe the contents of The Dangerous Book for Boys succinctly because the contents are extensive and they are not grouped into convenient categories. It’s more like reading a very long magazine with isolated articles, although some of the articles are related to each other. It’s just that related topics are not put next to each other. For example, the information about reading star maps comes much later in the book than the introduction to astronomy, and information about the solar system comes even later, with many other sections in between. There are also some sections of trivia/interesting information, history, or academic topics which were purposely split into different numbered sections and distributed throughout the book, like Questions About the World (explaining natural phenomena like the seasons, the tides, and why the sky is blue), Famous Battles (divided into sections starting with ancient battles and then more modern ones), Extraordinary Stories (about the lives and accomplishments of famous men, including the Wright Brothers and Robert the Bruce), and Understanding Grammar (a more academic section).

Because it would be difficult for me to explain everything in this book without basically copying the entire table of contents, which would take quite a lot of space to do, I’ll just hit some of the highlights by describing them in sections that the book doesn’t have but which explain the types of activities covered in this book. All of the types of activities that I describe below are included in the book, but there is also more in the book than I could take the time and space to describe in detail.

Useful Skills and Knowledge

The book has sections explaining how to do first aid, how to tie different types of knots, how to wrap a package with brown paper and string, and how to make cloth fireproof.

I was somewhat amused by the section about how to talk to girls. Most of it is good advice, like maintaining a clean appearance and not being vulgar or overdoing it with jokes. Lesson #1 is “It is important to listen.”, which is always true. The part that I thought was funny was in the introduction: “You may already have noticed that girls are quite different from you. By this, we do not mean the physical differences, more the fact that they remain unimpressed by your mastery of a game involving wizards, or your understanding of Morse Code.” To that, I say, “Are you kidding?!” I used to have Morse Code memorized from playing the Nancy Drew computer games by Her Interactive, and I know from my fascination with activity books like this that the reason why Morse Code looks the way it does is that Morse wisely decided to make the letters of the alphabet used the most often the shortest to form. I used to play World of Warcraft, and I played every one of the available factions, but then I got more interested in physical board games and board game history. My female friends continued much longer, although they ended up switching to Final Fantasy. I’ve played both D&D and Call of Cthulu and liked them both. The more wizards, the better, as far as I’m concerned!

I always think that advice about what girls like often fails to take into account that girls are individuals with different interests and hobbies, no matter what their age. Not all woman like to wear high heels (which are stupid, annoying shoes that are bad for your feet, especially those with the dumb, skinny heels that always make me turn my ankle), and some either never wear makeup or consider it an annoying hassle that they feel obligated to do to because other people expect it. Some girls wear their hair long because they like the feminine look or like to experiment with different types of artistic braids and hairstyles, and some girls chop their hair short because they’d rather just quickly run a comb through it and forget about it. Some women, like me and my friends are geeks, who love books, play video games and role-playing games, know various types of computer programming or maker hobbies, study history, and would gladly do most of the activities in books like this. Some girls are into sports and working out. There are even some girls who are into things like hunting and even taxidermy and wished that they could have joined the Boy Scouts instead of learning to sew and bake cupcakes in Brownies. People in general can have many and varied interests. Even though this book was written for boys of the 21st century, I don’t think that the authors are really in touch with women and girls of the 21st century and understand the range of topics that many of them find interesting. Although, I think that the authors’ attitudes about girls’ interests aren’t just due to them growing up in the 20th century themselves. Guys have often tried to figure out what women like and what women want, and they frequently get it wrong because they approach the question from the wrong angle. Chaucer tackled the problem of what women want way back in the Middle Ages, and he figured it out. What women like most is often what men like most: having things their own way. What that means varies from person to person because of our different interests, but in some form or other, that’s what we all want. So, don’t try to figure out what “girls” like; just ask a particular girl what she likes. Guys don’t need to try to please all the girls in the world at once, just the one they’re with. Most people will tell you who they are and what they’re interested in, given the chance (or maybe a Facebook or Instagram page), and when a boy finds a girl who likes things that he also likes or is willing to do things that he likes to do, he’s found a good one.

Aside from random, useful life skills, there is also academic information in the book that would be useful to school, like standard and metric measurements, the sections about how grammar works, the origins of words, Latin phrases, quotes from Shakespeare, the Ten Commandments, and poems that boys should know and books that boys should read.

Games

I count games differently from sports because sports tend to be outdoor activities and require a certain level of physical skill, and games tend to be more general, require less physical skill, and can be played indoors. This book includes some pen-and-paper games, marbles, chess, role-playing games, poker, and table football.

Sports

The book has the rules for soccer and stickball. It also discusses famous baseball players and rugby.

Outdoor Activities

These are activities to do that are related to the outdoors and nature and things to make related that are related to outdoor activities, including fishing, building a treehouse, making a bow and arrow, how to hunt and cook a rabbit, how to tan an animal skin, making a go-cart, and learning various methods of navigation and different types of trees.

Science and Technology

The book describes various topics related to science, like astronomy, insects and spiders, cloud formations, and fossils and dinosaurs. There are also instructions for making projects that would probably make good science fair projects, like a battery, an electromagnet, a periscope, a pinhole projector, and crystals.

History and Geography

There are sections about US geography (I don’t know if the original UK version had this or if it focused on the geography of the UK), Early American History, the Declaration of Independence, the Golden Age of Piracy, descriptions of the Seven Wonders of the World (both ancient and modern), the sections about Famous Battles from history, and a Brief History of Artillery.

Spies and Secret Codes

There are sections about the codes and ciphers that spies use, the Navajo Code Talkers’ Dictionary from World War II, the US Naval Flag Codes, and how to make secret inks.

Crafts

The book explains how to build a workbench, how to grind an italic nib for italic writing, and how to make marbled paper, making paper airplanes and paper hats, boats, and water bombs (these are little origami boxes that you fill with water and splat when you throw them at something – I’ve made them before).

Stunts and Random Skills

These are just random things that are fun to know how to do, like juggling, skipping stones, coin tricks. There is also a section about teaching tricks to dogs.

Dangerous Book for Boys Badges

This is the final part of the book. Since many of the activities in the book are the kind done at summer camps or in scout troops, the book overs suggested “badges” you can award yourself and your friends for doing the activities. Even though the activities in the book are not sorted into specific categories, there are six categories of badges offered: Carpentry and Woodworking, Direction and Navigation, Hunting and Fishing, Nature Exploring, Science and Experiments, and Astronomy and the Solar System. The book doesn’t specify what activities you should master to award yourself these badges, leaving that up to the reader. My copy says that if you go to their website, you can print out these badges, but that website no longer exists. I don’t know if later printings say something different.

If you’re looking for something to do with the kids during coronavirus lock-downs and/or over summer vacation, this book has plenty of ideas, and you can even make up your own “badges”, using their ideas, my category suggestions, or anything else you would like to do yourself.

The book is available to borrow and read for free online through Internet Archive. I’ve also learned that the book has inspired a tv series, which is available through Amazon Prime. You can see the trailer on YouTube.

The American Girl’s Handy Book

The American Girl’s Handy Book by Lina Beard and Adelia B. Beard, 1887.

This is a Victorian activity book for girls, focusing particularly on outdoor seasonal activities and celebrations. Earlier, I covered The Girl’s Own Book, which is a similar type of Victorian activity book for girls, but there are important differences between the two. For one thing, they were published over 50 years apart, which means that the girls who read this book when it was new would be the daughters and granddaughters of girls who had grown up with The Girl’s Own Book. For another thing, this book is organized by the seasons and has a more outdoor focus. There is a reason for the somewhat different focus of this book, but to understand it, I need to a few words about the authors.

The book is now public domain and available to read for free online through Project Gutenberg and Internet Archive.

Historical Background

Lina Beard (“Lina” was short for Mary Caroline) and Adelia Beard were sisters. Their brother, Daniel Beard, was the author of The American Boy’s Handy Book, published a few years before The American Girl’s Handy Book. Like their brother did in his book, Lina and Adelia set out to make a book of activities specifically for an audience of American children, taking into account the sort of environment that the children would live in and the language they would use. In the preface to the book, they say that they had the idea to write a book of activities for girls after the publication of their brother’s book, thinking about times when they have heard girls wish for an activity book of their own whenever a new one for boys appeared. (There were previous activity/how-to books for girls, like The Girl’s Own Book, but their comments indicate that there were more books of this type for boys than for girls.)

Both Lina and Adelia would later be founding members of the Camp Fire Girls, the first major scouting organization for girls in America, during the 1910s, while Daniel Carter Beard was one of the founders of the Boy Scouts of America. (Camp Fire Girls was founded before the founding of the Girl Scouts. Today, it is now a co-ed scouting organization simply called Camp Fire.) Their family believed in appreciating nature and the benefits of exercise and outdoor life, and these concepts are reflected in the activities in of the Handy Books.

However, even though they valued exercise and healthy outdoor activities for girls and the subtitle specifically mentions “outdoor fun”, this book has plenty of indoor activities for girls as well. This is probably partly because they would have appealed to girls of the period and their parents, but it’s also because the book takes the realities of weather into account. An ideal time for forming walking clubs and enjoying the beauties of nature would have been in the spring, but not so much in the heat of summer, when making fans and playing relatively sedentary games would have helped keep them cool, and not in the winter, when things were covered in snow and girls would have to take their exercise indoors and work on indoor crafts and needlework. Overall, the The American Boy’s Handy Book has more outdoor activities than The American Girl’s Handy Book, but the Beard sisters also wrote other activity books, some of which have even more of an outdoor or camping focus.

Contents of the Book

The activities in this book are organized by season, and I liked the organization much better than the organization in The Girl’s Own Book. The organization by season is the same as in The American Boy’s Handy Book. Within each section, there are more specialized sections, focusing on particular pastimes and holidays in each season.

Spring

The holidays that appear in this section are April Fool’s Day, Easter, and May Day. May Day isn’t a major holiday in modern times, but schools in the 19th century commonly had May Day celebrations.

The recommended outdoor activities for spring are lawn tennis (this section includes instructions for making your own lawn tennis net), forming a walking club, and picking and preserving wildflowers. The wildflowers section is the longest section in this part of the book, and it has a surprising array of methods for preserving wildflowers, including crystallizing them.

Summer

The holidays in this section are Midsummer Eve and the Fourth of July. Midsummer Eve isn’t a common holiday for modern girls to celebrate, but the Midsummer activities of the 19th century involve fortune telling.

Summer provides many opportunities for outdoor activities. There are tips for holding various types of picnics and decorating a seaside cottage, and there are suggestions for using plants in art and making dolls out of corn husks and flowers. However, summer is also very hot, and in the days before air conditioning, people would have also wanted ways to relax and keep themselves as cool as possible in the heat. The summer section of the book has instructions for making fans and hammocks and playing relatively quiet games.

Autumn

This section begins with suggestions for celebrating Halloween and ends with Thanksgiving. The Victorian era was the beginning of Halloween parties as we know them today. There would have been games for children and romantic divination games for young adults, particularly young women and girls.

The Thanksgiving section offers tips for putting on a kind of Thanksgiving play, but it’s not historically accurate by any means, and the American Indians aren’t portrayed well. The whole thing is more like a series of joke skits.

The nature themes in the Autumn section focus on nutting parties and making decorations from autumn foliage. A nutting party is a sort of walking party and picnic, where the girls enjoy the beauties of nature, gather chestnuts, and roast and eat the nuts afterward.

Most of the autumn activities focus on various types of art, including drawing, painting in oil and water colors, making picture frames, making clay and wax models, making plaster casts, and painting china.

I was fascinated by the arts and crafts information because I always enjoyed arts and crafts, but I’d like to draw your attention to one activity that doesn’t quite fit with the others in this section: making a tin-can telephone. This fascinates me because telephones were a relatively new invention at the time this book was written, but the tin can variety apparently weren’t far behind.

Winter

This section begins with Christmas activities and games and tips for making homemade presents. The other holiday celebrations included are New Year’s Eve, a special Leap Day party (for years with Leap Days), and Valentine’s Day.

Most of the activities in this section are indoor activities, like studying heraldry and making your own coat of arms with suggested symbols, doing needlework, making book covers and scrap books, and how to make things from stuff that otherwise would be thrown away. (They didn’t have the term upcycling back then, but that’s basically what this activity was about.) There are a couple of sections about decorating a room, decorating windows and mantle pieces and making and decorating furniture.

There is also a section with recipes for different types of candy.

For exercise, there is a section about doing indoor exercises. There is also a section about creating booths for a fair, which surprised me because I wouldn’t have thought of that as a winter activity. Then again, people can begin planning early for later events.