Little One-Yard Wonders is the newest in the best-selling One-Yard Wonders series by Rebecca Yaker and Patricia Hoskins, and it returns to the premise (and promise) that one yard of fabric is all we need to make one-of-a-kind treasures: this time, for babies and kids. Projects start with nursery staples like a diaper stacker and crib rail guard and move to adorable clothes, accessories and storage solutions, but about half the book is devoted to projects for play: a tummy-time mat, toddler activity book and story cushion for the truly tiny and a sweet riff on I-Spy. Older kids get a “Gamer’s Tote,” a kite that actually flies, a four-in-a-row matching game and an artist’s portfolio with on-board supplies. But my favorite is also the biggest: the amazing “House in a Hallway.” With an operable fabric gate, mailbox and curtains, it can be the setting of endless narrative play, and even doubles as a doorway puppet theatre. At bedtime, the whole thing—tension rods and all—folds into nearly nothing for easy storage.

A History of Useful Plants
Michael Largo, author of The Big, Bad Book of Beasts, shifts his alliterative attention from fauna to flora in his latest compendium. Following the alphabetical arrangement of his previous volume, The Big, Bad Book of Botany goes not only literally from Absinthe to Zubrowka, but literately as well. Largo has the gift of transforming a nerdy catalog of facts into an apothecary of invigorating information. His encyclopedic knowledge is never an end in itself, but it is always an engine for historical insight and reflection on human nature. Somehow, the book’s A-to-Z structure proceeds as an interwoven set of narratives, with each entry including a separate box detailing the pragmatic uses of the species in question. Largo reveals that “early civilizations believed every plant was put on earth with a purpose”—and in the case of Absinthe, that purpose was to kill intestinal parasites, and then (later in its history) to help impoverished artists in Paris get drunk and/or frisky in a fast and cheap fashion. Zubrowka, we learn, can deliver us into a meditative state when it’s not being fermented into vodka. One way or another, each plant can heal or harm—it’s up to us. 

Top Pick in Lifestyles
“Sustainability” is not just a buzz word: It’s the only future we’ve got. Without sustaining our natural resources, we perish. Strong evidence suggests that this is what befell the Mayans and a host of other disappeared civilizations. Is it our turn next, on a global scale? That’s what Douglas Gayeton darkly proposes and sets out to fix in Local: The New Face of Food and Farming in America. Fortunately, there is now a growing sustainable farming subculture, evidenced by this book form of the Internet-based “Lexicon of Sustainability,” a crowdsourced project which draws upon a worldwide fund of agricultural expertise and practical experimentation. The author and photographer lays out workable (and gorgeously photographed) strategies for transforming our wasteful and greedy economy into an efficient, self-sustaining social organism.

 

This article was originally published in the August 2014 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.

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