For all the action figures and other plastic bits of boyhood joy my son received at his recent birthday, it was a book that brought the present opening to a complete halt.
That's right, a book.
With only four shopping days left until Christmas, if you are still seeking gifts for some of the loved ones on your list, might I suggest a book or two?
In this era of e-readers, tablet computers and smartphones, a book might seem a downright old-fashioned notion. But even if you're looking for something more than just a good story to read — which is still one my favorite pastimes, by the way — many books these days are more than just words on paper.
Take “Safari: A Photicular Book” (Workman Publishing, $24.95), the one that every child at my son Gabe's party had to flip through before he could carry on with unwrapping the rest of his presents. Created by Dan Kainen, the book features striking moving photographs of eight African animals. As you turn the pages, the cheetah on the cover dashes across the savanna, a Western lowland gorilla munches on a snack and an African elephant flaps its voluminous ears.
The result is so fascinating that once the youngsters had their cake and dashed off to play some more, the adults took turns flipping the pages of Kainen's book, which also features an engrossing essay by National Geographic contributor Carol Kaufmann.
With “Safari,” Kainen, who describes himself as an artist, designer and inventor, takes an old technology — “lenticular” or “integrated” photography has been around since the early 20th century, although the basic concept dates back to the 1690s — and applies it in a new way. Individual video frames were sliced into thin adjacent strips to create a single master image. On its own, the image just looks blurry, but once a sheet of thin lenses has been placed over it, it appears to come to life and really move.
The effect is similar to Rufus Butler Seder's Scanimation books like “Gallop,” but in full color and even more mesmerizingly lifelike.
While they don't feature magical moving technology, here are more recently released books that will appeal to a wide range of ages and interests:
“Illusionology” (Candlewick, $19.99): When my older son, Chris, now 18, was a grade-schooler, he adored the elaborate volumes “Dragonology,” “Wizardology” and “Egyptology,” which incorporated all kinds of novelty items like samples of dragon wings, a playable version of the Egyptian game Senet and booklets within the books. While Chris has outgrown it — and 6-year-old Gabe is not quite old enough for it — I'm happy to report that the “Ologies” series has continued, and the latest installment promises insights into “The Secret Science of Magic,” with a set of trick playing cards, a magical “dematerializer” and other small sleight-of-hand props.
“The Secret History of Hobgoblins” (Candlewick, $16.99): In a similar spirit, this beautifully illustrated handbook, credited to Professor Ari Berk, contains all sorts of pamphlets, maps and tips on how to identify and deal with kindly hobs and troublesome goblins.
“The Goldilocks Variations” (Candlewick, $17.99): So you think you know the story of “Goldilocks and the Three Bears.” Well, how about the one with “Goldilocks and the 33 Bears” or the futuristic “Goldilocks and the Bliim”? Written by Allan Ahlberg and illustrated by Jessica Ahlberg, this children's book features pop-ups and pull-tabs, plus a play that gets its own little booklet.
“Knowing Horses: Q&As to Boost Your Equine IQ” (Storey, $14.95): Did your kiddos wish for a pony or horsey for Christmas this year? Get them Les Sellnow and Carol A. Butler's interesting guidebook, which covers a wide range of facts, from why horses yawn to who Justin Morgan was. It also addresses the many responsibilities of horse ownership, which may curb those childlike desires to have an equine of their own.
“Twilight: The Complete Journey” (Time Home Entertainment Inc., $17.95): For the Twihard on your list, the editors of Entertainment Weekly compiled the highlights of its “Twilight Saga” coverage into a glossy collection of cast interviews, behind-the-scenes photos and five pullout magazine cover posters.
“Chihuly Garden Installations” (Abrams, $75): This nearly 6 ½-pound full-color coffee table book was released about 13 months ago, but it's such a gorgeous photographic tribute to Dale Chihuly's eye-popping glass sculptures that I just had to add it to the list. Between the Oklahoma City Museum of Art's extensive Chihuly glass collection and the extension of the Chihuly outdoor exhibit at the Dallas Arboretum through Dec. 31, it seemed appropriate to include the huge art volume.
“Fragments: Poems, Intimate Notes, Letters by Marilyn Monroe” (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $17): The entertainment icon has been the subject of countless books over the years, but “Fragments” is particularly fascinating because it features never-before-published tidbits scrawled in her own handwriting, including recipes, poetry and notes-to-self, along with rarely seen photos.
“Chuck Norris: Longer and Harder” (Penguin, $18): Ian Spector has made a New York Times-bestselling publishing career out of parodying the Ryan-born actor/martial arts practitioner. With the latest installment of his humor series, Spector promises 1,500 Chuck Norris “facts” amounting to “The Complete Chronicle of the World's Deadliest, Sexiest and Beardiest Man.” As the title indicates, some of the material is too explicit for youngsters, but if you're of age, it's pretty hilarious.