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Bold New Activity Books Are More Than Gimmicky

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Playing pirates, drawing, fixing cars and creating mini-movies are just some of the fun activities kids can embark on with these new activity kits and books.

"Animation Studio" from Candlewick Press; $19.99.

Housed in a sturdy blue box that doubles as a mini-stage, Candlewick's "Animation Studio" invites kids ages 8 and up to create their own stop-motion pictures. With enclosed monster- and outer-space-themed puppets, props, animation devices, storyboard sheets and a director's handbook, the moviemaking possibilities are endless. Young directors can learn 2D and 3D, puppetry, clay modeling, shape shifting and pixilation, plus endless story scenes.

Tech-savvy youngsters have everything they need to make the stop-motion animation they can show off on their cell phones or digital cameras. The whole glossy set stores in the box, which closes with a thick Velcro tab. Uber-fun for families, "Animation Studio" would be a fantastic rainy day event and a way for kids to make movies to send to Grandma.

"The Dot: Make Your Mark Kit" by Peter H. Reynolds; Candlewick Press; $24.99.

Reynolds' "The Dot" is an ingenious, best-selling picture book that encourages young children to create their own adventures, starting with a dot. Taking that book one step further, Reynolds and Candlewick added a set of six watercolor pencils, a blank book, and of course a copy of "The Dot" all in one sealed gift set.

Celebrating the 10th anniversary of "The Dot," this set makes a perfect gift for 5- to 9-year-olds who love to create their own illustrated books.

"AlphaBlock" by Christopher Franceschelli; art by Peskimo; Abrams Appleseed; $16.95.

Wish I could show pictures of this bold, mod new board book. Shaped like a thick, almost block-like structure, the book's vivid color scheme of turquoises and oranges, coupled with retro-cool images and cutout letters, is display worthy.

Basically an alphabet book, but so tactile and creative it's more high-concept, hands-on art, "AlphaBlock" is totally hip.

It also uses familiar clues like sprinkles, hot fudge and cherries to hint at I's ice cream, and a smiling tiki and tank treasure chest that lead up to F's fish. With super thick pages cut into the shape of each letter, tots will familiarize themselves with each letter's physicality and play a guessing game that will send them on their way towards alphabet recognition. "AlphaBlock" also looks very cool upon any dresser or bookshelf.

"How Cars Work" from Running Press; $19.95.

With an informative picture book at the beginning and a sturdy pegboard, tools and mechanical devices included, this unique book contains all little mechanics need to fix cars. With 47 machine pieces, 12 nuts and bolts, 9 working machines and the removable workshop pegboard, this set offers hours of hands-on learning about all that goes into cars. Readers will discover the devices that make the windshield wipers, engine, pistons, accelerator, gears, wheels, steering, suspension and brakes work, and can build with the enclosed parts their own devices.

Little engineers, car lovers and mechanics will love this comprehensive book/kit, which also offers straightforward explanations of each device, a timeline that illustrates the development of cars through history and directions to show how the mechanisms are used in a car.

"Playbook Pirates" by Corina Fletcher and Britta Techentrup; Nosy Crow/Candlewick; $24.

Talk about fun in a box! This sea-green-colored box contains a foldout three-dimensional play mat with stand-up pirate ship, lighthouse, octopus, deserted island, shipwreck and pirates, so kids can concoct their own "shiver me timbers" scenarios.

After all the fun, hands-on play, everything folds back up into the box, and what remains is a sturdy, thick pop-up book for story time.

To find out more about Lee Littlewood and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.

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