'Unbored' a field guide for old-fashioned fun with modern twistby Euan Kerr, Minnesota Public Radio
MINNEAPOLIS — In an age where young people are bombarded by screens of all kinds, a cynic might ask whether there is a place for an old-fashioned children's activity book.
Minnesota writer Elizabeth Foy Larsen believes there really is. She's co-authored a huge new volume called "Unbored: An Essential Field Guide to Serious Fun."
You wouldn't describe the Larsen's Minneapolis household as tranquil. She, her husband Walter, and their children Henrik, Peter and Luisa are making "baggie bombs" — documented on page 26 of "Unbored."
The theory is: the liquids go in the baggie, then when the charge is added and the bag is sealed, the mixture will fizz up and the bag will pop. It's at that crucial juncture the family remembers it might be better to be outside.
Amidst wails of delight they all lunge for the back door. Then the baggie bomb doesn't pop.
"Shoot, I didn't seal it all the way," said Elizabeth Foy Larsen. "We've got to do another one."
And they do. In fact, they do several. There are no spectacular explosions, but there's lots of laughter. Everyone is engaged and having fun. With the activities in "Unbored," the process is as important as the result.
"Unbored" is aimed at people between the ages of eight and 13, but it'll remind more mature folk of the books they may have read as youngsters, their pages filled with how to build huts, or keep a journal, or write in code. But Elizabeth Foy Larsen said the world has changed, and so have youngsters.
"Most kids are really into technology, really into computers, really into screens," she said.
This worries a lot of parents; Larsen said it worries her. But she's said when she and her co-author Joshua Glenn began gathering material for the book, they realized the digital world offered an opportunity to be grasped.
"Sort of the genesis for the idea for the book was 'let's put together a kids activity book that combines the best of the old stuff with the best of the new,' " she said.
Thus "Unbored" includes ways to make disguises, do circus tricks, make a book safe and build an igloo. But it also give tips on doing Internet research and lists of useful apps.
"There are really creative innovative ways to use technology in a way that is empowering for kinds and not just having them sucked in," she said.
A section even describes how to blog. But it comes with instructions on how people under the age of 13 need parental help to do that legally. Elizabeth Foy Larsen said it's a chance to turn a restriction into a positive.
"We think that's not a limitation," she said. "What we see that as a good opportunity for kids to do these things with their parents."
The same is true with the non-digital activities in "Unbored." There are instructions on how to make a cigar box guitar.
"See? A ukulele!" said 13-year-old Peter, strumming away.
As Larson's son Peter demonstrates, anyone can play it, but it'll take an adult with some experience in power tools to build it.
Elizabeth Foy Larsen will read from the book and demonstrate a few projects on Saturday afternoon at 1 p.m. at Birchbark Books in Minneapolis, and then race across town for a 3:15 p.m. appearance at Wild Rumpus.
In "Unbored" there are sections on puberty and how to deal with bullying, on ADHD, and how to calm your racing mind. Elizabeth Foy Larsen sees the book as a field guide to life for youngsters learning about their place in the world.
"Eight to 13 is when you start to figure out who you are as separate to your parents," she said. "I know I deal with that all the time at home. And that we wanted 'Unbored' to be a way that kids could start figuring out and listening to themselves."
And Elizabeth Foy Larson said there's room for adults to learn too. Like many mothers, she's the detail person in the house, which is very important. But in trying the activities in her own book, she discovered she was missing a little.
"I did learn how to have more fun with my family," she said. "And it was something that I really needed."
And when it comes down to it, don't we all?
- All Things Considered, 10/26/2012, 4:44 p.m.