November 10, 2016
(++++) PACKAGED PLEASANTRIES
Dragons Love Tacos: Book & Toy Set. By Adam Rubin. Illustrated by Daniel Salmieri. Dial. $17.99.
Nail Charms. By the editors of Klutz. Klutz. $21.99.
Coloring Cute. By the editors of Klutz. Illustrations by Joy Ting. Klutz. $16.99.
As we move full-speed-ahead into gift-giving season, it is fun to look not only for books that young readers will enjoy but also for book-related projects that can bring a little bit of extra fun to their lucky recipients. Adam Rubin’s Dragons Love Tacos is delightful in its own right. Originally published in 2012, this silly story about food and flying beasts is yummy in any season. It turns on the notion of taco hot sauce – as in, do not let dragons have any of it! Other taco toppings are just fine, and dragons love them all, but be very, very careful, when inviting dragons to a taco party (to which they will come eagerly), that you hide the hot sauce and maybe even bury it in the back yard. If even the slightest bit of hot sauce gets into dragon tacos, well, you can only imagine what will happen. But you don’t have to imagine it, because Rubin tells you and Daniel Salmieri’s hilarious illustrations show you. The little boy having the dragon-taco party does not read the label on the sauce quite carefully enough, and the label itself says one thing in large print and, confusingly, another in small print – and the result is just about what you would expect of dragons that, after all, are fire breathers. What a mess! But the whole book is so good-natured and the dragons are so helpful, even when they burn down the whole house, that there just has to be a happy ending; and of course there is. And just for this season – actually for any season, but especially appropriately for this one – the book is now available in a delightfully boxed combination with a small plush dragon that is holding a very large taco. The dragons’ expression and obvious enjoyment add to the fun of the book, and the pairing of toy and story is very well thought out – it makes the book more fun and will remind young readers of the story every time they play with the dragon or just notice it on a shelf or bedside table. This boxed set is a delight for ages 3-7.
For older kids, ages eight and up, there are plenty of books-plus choices available all year from Klutz – which specializes in crafts-project offerings that include clearly written instruction-plus-information books and are attached to boxes in which kids will find everything they need to do the projects. Nail Charms, for example, has a 56-page book glued to the back of a box containing a whole pile of items that preteen girls – the target audience here – can use to dress up their fingernails in fanciful ways. In the package are a nail sponge, nail tape, gold glitter, charm glaze, brush tool – the use of all of them clearly explained in the book – and lots and lots of charms to attach to nails. The package promises 46 puffy charms, which you can count, and 406 mini gems and charms, for which number you might just as well to take the publisher’s word. There are certainly a lot of them. The back of the box is an illustration showing what everything looks like, so kids can familiarize themselves with all the items before trying the projects. And there is a second, even bigger display of the items on two pages inside the instruction book. There is also a full page showing 30 nail designs that the book shows how to make – although one of the best things about this and most of the other Klutz books-plus offerings is that once you get the hang of the techniques, you can create whatever you like and are not bound by the specific projects detailed in the book. And as always with Klutz, the book starts with basic information on what the project plan is all about, what basics you need to know before starting, how to set up an appropriate working area, and, in this specific case, how to get your nails ready for the designs: there are step-by-step manicure instructions and a “How to Paint a Base Coat” page to get things going. This particular project is not for anyone with a tendency to rush – things can get messy quickly and simply will not work well or look good unless the nail-charm designing is done with care – and parents should keep that in mind when considering whether Nail Charms is appropriate for a child. If it is, the guidance from the book will be just right for the work, starting with basics on using the detail tool (how to make dots, shapes, etc.), how to add charms, what to do with nail tape, the best way to add glitter, and so on. Then there are detailed, well-illustrated instructions on making a nail look like a pineapple, flower basket, unicorn, cupcake, cheeseburger, fries (those two could be done on adjacent nails!), beach, owl, octopus and more. The fanciful and, inevitably, rather silly designs are fun to look at, and the book shows them in more or less the order of difficulty, so kids can try harder designs after they master simpler ones. And the possibility of developing your own nail creations is always out there – the invitation to creativity is one of the most-welcome elements of these books-plus offerings, which provide a charming way to spend indoor time in this season or any other.
Equally fetching in its own way, and a lot simpler and less potentially messy and frustrating than Nail Charms, is a new Klutz offering called Coloring Cute. This one is suitable for kids as young as age six – much less precision is required (although it helps!), and what can potentially go wrong here is more a matter of not-what-I-wanted than a case of fingernail frustration plus glitter and tiny charms all over the place. Coloring Cute is a kit described perfectly by its title: it comes with five double-tipped colored pencils, which means 10 colors in all, and most of the included book – this one is spiral-bound to open flat – does not provide instructions and does not require them. True, there are some of those at the start, about the different lines obtained by holding pencils different ways, and how to blend colors, and which sorts of color combinations produce what types of effects. But most of the book simply contains perforated pages to color and tear out, with a single page sometimes having multiple black-and-white pictures that can become postcards or gift tags. Illustrator Joy Ting offers lots of anime-influenced pictures, with cute kittens, smiling clouds, eyeglasses with two happy faces in the lenses, and stars and teddy bears and strawberries and puppies and nesting dolls and tempting food treats on pages that include the words “yum yum” and “sweet.” Occasional pages have a few colors already filled in – Ting likes reds and shades of pink – and while some pages are completely jammed with characters, others have some white space around such shapes as a jar, a couple of pineapples, or a gumball machine that contains cute critters instead of gumballs. Some kids may actually find the cuteness factor overdone (smiling teacups, rosy-cheeked whales with unicorn horns, whole pages based on the words “Good Vibes” and “Dream Big,” etc.). Certainly parents may find Coloring Cute a bit cuter than it absolutely has to be. But this is scarcely a product for parents – it is the sort of gift that certain young artists will find too adorable for words, or as adorable as the words around which some pages are built. The very last one, for example, contains multiple instances of the phrase “Hug Me,” and the fact that most of the super-cute plants shown on the page are cacti detracts not a whit from the adorableness of the whole thing.