Stack Overflow: Activity Books

Books Stack Overflow

When you were a kid, did you have Fun Pads? I remember having these little notepads that were filled with coloring pages, dot-to-dots, word searches, and so on. Well, activity books have gotten a lot more sophisticated these days, with coloring books for adults, color-by-number, and more. Here are a couple to keep you and your kids busy this spring!

Animetrics, and daughter with finished owl picture
My daughter shows off her completed owl Animetrics picture. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

Animetrics: A Striking Color-By-Sticker Challenge

Barron’s, which makes a lot of adult coloring books, recently sent me an advance copy of Animetrics, a color-by-sticker book. Each of the 12 images is a geometric illustration of an animal—some close-up portraits, and some showing the entire animal.

Animetrics Zebra page
A half-completed Zebra with the sticker sheet. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

Each page has the image filled with numbered shapes, and an associated set of stickers, also numbered. Just peel the stickers, find the right spot, and fill it in, and you get a brilliant image. There’s a little bit of room for error because the white spaces have colored borders, and if the sticker isn’t placed just right, you can still peel it up and reposition it if you’re careful.

Family working on Animetrics
My whole family got into the Animetrics. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

I don’t know what it is that made these more appealing than the coloring books (which I often start and then get bored with), but we went through most of the book in a weekend and wanted more! I particularly liked the more complex portraits, like the owl shown at the top or the lion on the cover. Sure, they’re basically color-by-number, but there’s something satisfying about putting stickers down and making a cool image with them.

My only complaint is that, although the sticker sheets are perforated so you can tear them out, the illustrations themselves are not, so they were hard to remove from the book. I hope if Barron’s makes more of this type of book, they’ll make the pictures perforated as well. In the meantime, it might also be time to look into the Paint by Stickers books that GeekMom Shiri wrote about last fall.

Color Quest books

Color Quest

Speaking of color-by-numbers, the Color Quest books from Barron’s also make for a nice coloring activity for detail-oriented people. Each page has a whole lot of tiny numbered spaces, along with a color key showing you what color each number should be. The first book (released last year) has a lot of pages that are impossible to identify until you fill in the colors: they’re mostly grids of squares, triangles, and hexagons. The latest one, Color Quest Animals, still has some grid-based pages, but there are also some that have irregular shapes, and you may be able to figure out what animal it is by looking carefully.

Summer Brain Quest covers

Summer Brain Quest

Workman Publishing has a series of Summer Brain Quest books, designed to get kids ready for grades 1 through 6. I was sent two copies, for incoming first-graders and incoming sixth-graders. They’re both higher levels than where my kids are now (still in preschool and going into fifth grade), but they both decided to give them a shot.

Toddler working on Summer Brain Quest
Finish an activity, and then put stickers on your map! Photos: Jonathan H. Liu

The quest is broken up into several levels, and each level consists of activities in science, social studies, math, and language arts. As you complete activities, you get to put stickers along the path on the pull-out map; bonus activities award you fun extra stickers that decorate the land around the path. And when you complete a level, you get another sticker that marks the end of the level. (Hey, it’s like Gloomhaven for little kids!) There are also Outside Quests—things related to a particular section but that are done outdoors—that earn you other stickers.

My toddler has really taken to it, and although she’s not great at writing or drawing by herself yet, she’s reading and coloring and counting—and the book gets her to practice writing her letters and numbers, which is great. At this rate she’ll be ready for first grade by about next week, I think.

The books also have extras, like a Brain Quest mini deck that you can cut out and carry along, or summer reading lists, and so on. My middle daughter started working on the 6th grade book, and that’s when I realized that I didn’t know how to explain what prepositions are … I guess I should get some practice, too!

Draw and Discover books

Draw and Discover books by Yasmeen Ismail

Yasmeen Ismail has illustrated children’s picture books, and now there’s a series of activity books featuring her illustrations as well. Each book has Ismail’s adorable animals in various situations, with sections for the reader to color and fill in. The books cover topics that are often found in kids’ books: opposites, feelings, actions, and so on. These books require a little more imagination on the part of the reader than the coloring books: you’ll have to make things up to draw in the big empty spaces.

This Annoying Life coloring book

This Annoying Life by Oslo Davis

This adult coloring book portrays the little annoyances in life: the empty ice cube tray, a lost contact lens, furniture assembly, stepping on LEGO bricks with bare feet, even a group of grumpy adults sitting around coloring fancy coloring books. Overall the drawings aren’t as complex to color as many adult coloring books I’ve seen, but they’re definitely the funniest.

404 Not Found coloring book

404 Not Found by The Oatmeal

If you’re a fan of The Oatmeal, aka Matthew Inman, with his twisted sense of humor and bizarre comics, then here’s a coloring book for you. It’s a picture book with a rhyming tale about 404, a missing robot, as all the other robots imagine where he might have gone. It’s appropriate for both kids and adults—for certain definitions of “appropriate” that include robot barf and knife-juggling accidents. It is still tamer than some of what you’ll find on the website, but it is also still The Oatmeal. Funny and more than a little strange, as you might expect.

Visions of the Universe coloring book

Visions of the Universe by Alex Bellos & Edmund Harriss

Last year I mentioned a coloring book called Patterns of the Universe, which had all sorts of really cool mathematics-based images to color. Visions of the Universe is the follow-up to that one, and includes even more brain-tickling patterns to color, accompanied by explanations of what you’re looking at. There are tessellations, fractals, sequences, and strange attractors—it’s sure to be a hit for the math geek in your life.

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