Made by Dad: 67 Blueprints for Making Cool Stuff by Scott Bedford is so good it hurts—’cause you know that if your own dad had had this book in his hands, your childhood would have totally rocked. “Chock-full” doesn’t even come close to describing the teeming nature of this tome. The fun photos, cool diagrams, clear instructions and handy cut-out templates run the gamut from wacky home decorations and gadgets (like setting up a Bunk Bed Communicator) to subversively educational science projects (like getting sucked into a Gravity-Defying Black Hole) to zany party ideas (like making Radioactive Sports Drinks). In the end, Made by Dad is about dads (and moms!) and children working on projects together. It’s no accident that the final blueprint in the book is the trump card: instructions for making a card that unfolds over and over, getting longer and longer, until it says, “I Love You This Much.”

The “back to nature” movement of the 1960s has evolved in various ways, but one note of today’s chorus of tree-huggers rings constant: In the 21st century, those who feel dissatisfied with a life cut off from the natural world and choose to do something about it require more ingenuity, more commitment and more willingness to take risks than their hippie forebears did a half-century ago. Fortunately, help is at hand. In The Good Life Lab: Radical Experiments in Hands-On Living, visionary naturalist and conceptual artist Wendy Jehanara Tremayne presents a unique synthesis of memoir, travelogue, guru-level spiritual wisdom and pragmatic instruction on how to get out of the “waste stream” in which urbanites wallow and re-enter the vital stream of the natural world. For Tremayne and her husband, redemption came in quitting their careers and the bustle of NYC life and moving to an abandoned RV park in New Mexico, where they learned to live self-sufficiently. If she can make it there (so she proposes), we—her wildly inspired readers—can make it anywhere. Need food, gas, lodging? DIY! Welcome to the Good Life Lab.

Michael Largo puts the “best” into this “bestiary”—the medieval bookish art of gathering encyclopedic information about unusual animals into a beautifully illustrated volume. The Big, Bad Book of Beasts: The World’s Most Curious Creatures remains faithful to its alliterative title through its fun alphabetical juxtapositions of creatures as diverse in their size and actual existence as the badger, the bagworm and the banshee, or the caladrius, the camel and the capybara. You’ve never heard of a caladrius or a capybara? Well, once you’ve seen the gloriously old-fashioned illustrations of these critters—from sources ranging from ancient Egyptian sculpture to a Victorian science manual—and once you’ve read the delightfully definitive descriptions, you’ll never forget them, nor will it matter to you that the capybara is real (it’s the world’s largest rodent!), while the caladrius is a creature of Roman myth (a bird who could tell you how close to dying a person was by the way it would sit on that person’s deathbed). When a book is this big and this “bad,” it’s beastly good—for all ages.

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