One of the most elegant paperbacks in print showcases unusual crafts modeled from museum artifacts. Period paintings and quotations elevate this to an erudite do-it-yourselfer; drawings and photos make this fair game for Rainy Day Blues. "Quills," for instance, shows you how to write with a feather. The diagram is accompanied by Jan van Scorel's 14th-Century painting of a boy with his pen, and thoughts from John Florio (1591): "A serpents tooth bites not so ill, As dooth a schollers angrie quill."
The author presents history in such a lively and interesting format that the crafts are actually secondary. Children will enjoy transforming oranges into pomanders, but they'll be more fascinated by why folks in the 16th Century needed them: "A precious pomander to be worne against foule stinking aire" (Bulleyn, 1562). They'll love the explanation about smelly people.
Most of the project materials can be found by rummaging around your house, but it's not clear where to unearth escutcheon pins or "wing feathers of an English or Canadian goose." If nothing else, this is a wonderful way to explain how artisans spent their days and why it may have taken a lifetime to create a mosaic floor.
THE FABER STORYBOOK, edited by Kathleen Lines; illustrated by Alan Howard (Faber & Faber: $11.95; 230 pp.; ages 5-9). This paperback reprint of a children's anthology may capture the attention of parents, but 5- to 9-year-olds will find most of the stories too long and Howard's line drawings too few. Aesop's fables, Greek myths, traditional fairy tales ("The Princess and the Pea") and animal folk legends provide a wide variety of themes that have more appeal than, say, a straight dose of legends. Perhaps if these are read aloud by an enthusiastic adult, kids will sit still long enough to listen.