Here’s a gift idea for you, suitable for children and arrested adults—which is to say, a large part of your Christmas list. Go online at once and buy several copies of McCall’s Giant Golden Make-it Book.
Until recently, I had totally forgotten about the Giant Golden Make-it Book, but I ran across a copy at a used bookstore and immediately realized how well it’s held up. Simply put, no modern activity book can compare. It’s truly giant, and really comprehensive, but like the same-vintage Betty Crocker’s Cookbook for Boys and Girls, it’s as much about the illustrations as the ideas. A smart publisher has seen fit to reissue the latter; McCall’s really needs to do likewise.
There’s everything you might hope for—games and homemade costumes and simple recipes and easy knitting instruction and theme parties—but also a lot of things that never occurred to you. Dutch painting! Soap carving! Elementary flower arranging!
Because this giant golden book was popular, and came out in several editions in the fifties and early sixties, it is not that hard to find. It was also well made, so despite its age and the fact that it was intended for young children, a lot of the sturdy volumes—hardcover, issued without a dust jacket—have held up.
It is of its times, and some things date. A modern equivalent would certainly illustrate a wider range of children, for starters. But it’s not particularly gendered—boys and girls do all the activities interchangeably.
One of the difficulties for the modern child user would be sourcing some of the materials: say, acquiring the copper sulfates for your chemical garden.
What I like about this book, as both a child and now as an adult, is the sense of possibility it gives children. Not only does it suggest almost total self-sufficiency, but between the covers is hundreds of hours of proof that one need never, ever be bored.