Can do in the world of “how-to”

I love books. They are my friends, my confidants, my companions and my secret dream places. They are also my mentors and teachers. While learning from an expert in a field is by far the best way to acquire a new skill or craft, it is not always possible or practical.

I learned about buying my first car out of a book. I also learned how to paint from books. When I want to try a new craft, like quilting, the first place I head is to the library for a pile of books on the subject.

When my daughter was a young child, she received a cookbook. It had a set of brightly colored measuring spoons attached to the spiral binding. The book has long been outgrown, but we still have and use those measuring spoons. Sadly, for me, my daughter is no longer fond of creating yummy concoctions in the kitchen together any longer. Cooking with Mom was great fun when she was little.

We also built tissue paper flowers, jewelry and painted faces. We made God’s Eyes and whirly-gigs, costumes and clay creations. We learned about drawing Manga monsters and Super hero villains. There are needlepoint and cross stitch pillows at Grandma’s house. And the instructions (and sometimes the materials) all came from “how-to” books.

You and your kids can learn to sew, to cook, to fish, to make candy, to create crafts from recycled materials or found objects. There are instructions on how to fold origami creatures and there are even books on how to make books.

Anything you are curious about learning how to do and chances are pretty good there’s a book for that. Want to build a bird house? Sure. Create a birthday cake made with Peeps? Not a problem. Craft a faster derby cart? There’s a book for that. There are also books for making jewelry, for learning to juggle, how to draw, how to throw pottery, how to work with beads, even one on how to build a tree house. The possibilities are as endless as your imagination.

But the absolute best thing about how to books is the time parents and children spend together. Both the child and the adult expand their horizons with a new skill, and the shared experience cements emotional bonds.

The feeling of accomplishment gained by a middle-grade reader is more than just a bonus. Children at this stage of the game are experimenting with who they are, what they believe and wondering about how they fit into the world around them. Older elementary school children are beginning to try on who they will become in the world of adults. “How-to” books give children a safe environment to experiment.  Really well crafted “how-to” books make learning a new skill easy and enjoyable. As an added bonus, your children may even be able to create a present for every person on their holiday list. What could be better than that?


Wendy Martin spends her days drawing fantastical worlds. In the evenings she writes about them, then she visits them at night during her dreams.

Wendy Martin
  1. I STILL have my “Betty Crocker’s NEW Boys and Girls Cookbook” from, well, days gone by. I learned how to play a dozen different solitaire games, how to knit, embroider, needlepoint, play cat’s cradle, perform magic tricks and yo yo stunts – all from how-to books.
    I think a great, updated yet old fashioned ‘how to’ books are “The Dangerous Book for Boys” and “The Daring Book for Girls.” I would have loved BOTH of these as a kid!

  2. We have a lot of “how to” books–especially drawing and craft books. My boys love them. I also use them in my day job as an occupational therapist to reinforce reading skills and direction following while doing activities to improve fine motor skills.

  3. I love “how to” books as well–and it reminds me of something that happened today in my library. There was a student who just couldn’t find anything that interested him. I tried all kinds of genres and subjects: scary, graphic novels, funny books, animal books, drawing books, origami, joke books, you name it. Finally just after the bell rang, I said, How about magic books. When he found out they could teach him how to do tricks, his eyes lit up. Ah!!! With most kids, there is usually a “how to” book that’ll fit.

  4. My 7 yo son and I both used a “how to draw superheroes” book and posted our attempts side-by-side on the kitchen pantry door. It was quite a hoot!

  5. We love how-to books around my house! I love that it’s an easy way for parents and kids to do something together, something that doesn’t require monumental planning sessions and fourteen trips to the hardware store, that is. 😉

    Great post, Wendy!

  6. Hooray for how-to books!

    Whatever phase my daughters were going through: cooking, needework, art, pets–I knew I could find a book to get them started.

  7. My 8 yo loves the World’s Best Paper Airplane book.

  8. Great list, Wendy. I’ve always loved trying out activity books like these with my girls.