Carla Sinclair

Carla Sinclair is the co-founder of bOING bOING, the founding editor-in-chief of CRAFT magazine, and editor-in-chief of Wink. She has written several books, including Net Chick, The Happy Mutant Handbook, Signal to Noise, and Braid Crazy.

Pippi Won’t Grow Up – Whimsical, charming and wonderfully absurd

Just released today is Pippi Won’t Grow Up, Drawn and Quarterly’s third volume of Pippi Longstocking comics. Last spring I reviewed the hilarious second volume, Pippi Fixes Everything, and this one is just as whimsical, humorous and utterly charming.

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Sugar Skull - nightmare continues in Charles Burns’ grotesquely fantastic trilogy

In May I reviewed Charles Burns’ surreal and darkly realistic graphic novels, X’ed Out (2010) and The Hive (2012), and now the eerie trilogy is complete with the release of Sugar Skull.

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The secret sidekicks of history

When we talk about George Washington, how many of us think about his dentist, John Greenwood, who crafted four sets of dentures during the first U.S. president’s career. Were it not for Greenwood, Washington may never have been elected as president sporting only one tooth in his mouth. And then there’s Amelia Earhart’s husband (after he proposed six times), publicist G.P. Putnam, who dedicated himself to Earhart’s career, using his connections, finances and skills as a publicist to help her rise to stardom.

In The Who the What and the When, 65 of celebritydom’s unsung sidekicks are celebrated with a one-page bio along with a striking image. What kind of artist would Andy Warhol have been without his influential mother, Julia Warhola? Would Charles Darwin have been credited as the father of evolution instead of his competitor, Alfred Russel, were it not for the public support of botanist and BFF Joseph Dalton Hooker? Would Lolita have survived the flames of fire without Vladimir Nabokov’s wife, Vera Nabokov? Following in the footsteps of The Where the Why and the How: 75 Artists Illustrate Wondrous Mysteries of Science, each 2-page entry is written by a different writer and illustrated by different artist, making this book a fun, pretty and eclectic collection of fascinating mini-bios.

See sample pages of The Who the What and the When at Wink.

Marx – A graphic bio of the father of communism

Corrine Maier and Anne Simon, the duo who brought us the historical graphic novel Freud, are at it again with Marx, a graphic bio of the father of communism, Karl Marx.

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This book is an enthralling recap of Game of Thrones to prepare you for Season 5

I’m a huge fan of the Game of Thrones HBO series, and yet I admit I don’t retain half the details in this richly layered, complex, many-threaded fantasy series. Which is where Inside HBO’s Game of Thrones: Season 3 & 4 comes in.

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A history of functional toy cameras

Written by pop-culture authors Buzz Poole and Christopher D. Salyers (who is also a toy camera collector), Camera Crazy is an attractively photographed collection of functioning toy cameras, which were popularized in the 1960s when the plastic 120 film “Diana” hit the market for only $1 a pop. Although always a hit with children, toy cameras have also been revered by collectors and photographers who welcome the artistic challenge of shooting with a plastic box that offers only a fixed focus and single shutter speed. From 1970s Mick-A-Matics and Gobots Cameras (1985) to Tamagotchi Cameras (1997) and Lego Digital Cameras (2011) – and everything in between – this book pays homage to over one-hundred of these cameras as well as many photographs produced by these “toys.” With a camera now included in every smart phone, I hope toy cameras don’t become a thing of the past.

Camera Crazy by Buzz Poole and Christopher D. Salyers

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No Such Thing – charming kids' ghost story with a deadpan sense of humor

I haven’t recently run across a children’s book that has excited me as much as No Such Thing (see Cory's review here). Usually I see books for young children with either wonderful art but no real story, or a clever story with forgettable illustrations. But this is one grabbed me with both its utterly charming style and deadpan sense of humor.

It’s about a young girl named Georgia who keeps noticing odd things happening in her house – snacks disappearing from the fridge, objects vanishing or shattered on the floor, scribbled crayons on the wall – but the logical little girl is able to prove in each case that these things are caused by a pet or her brother or even a bird outside the house. I’ve noticed in other reviews that the moral of this story is that there really is no such thing as ghosts. Ha! Not so quick! Look deeper, at the Golden Book-style illustrations, and you will see the humor of it all. Without saying it in words, the message of the story is quite the opposite. But Georgia doesn’t know this, so all is good in the end. Author Ella Bailey is new on the scene of books and art, having just graduated from college a little over a year ago, but keep your eyes out – I think we’ll be seeing a lot more great creations from this talented artist.

No Such Thing by Ella Bailey

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The Best American Infographics – Information conveyed in a fun, visual, and highly digestible way

“Put information in the right visual form and your audience will immediately get the gist.” – Gareth Cook

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The Cosmic Tourist: Visit the 100 Most Awe-Inspiring Destinations in the Universe

Open the pages of Cosmic Tourist and journey across the universe with 100 thrilling pit stops along the way. Your itinerary starts with Planet Earth, makes stops on the moon, the sun, a comet, Mercury, resting spots through the asteroid belt, and many other cosmic sites until you end up 13,700,000,000 light years away at “Infinity and Beyond.” Each stop offers spectacular photography and fascinating outer space facts that are written by the BBC’s “Sky at Night” astronomers Patrick Moore, Chris Lintott, and Brian May (who also happens to be the guitarist and founding member of Queen).

If you’ve often sat under the black twinkling canopy of the night sky and wondered… What is that mysterious glow on the night side of Venus? Or… Why is the Delta Cephei, which is 887 light years away from Earth, one of the most important stars in the sky? Or… What are those beautifully bright beaded interlocking rings that are floating 167,000 light-years away from us? … then it’s time to buy your passenger ticket, er, this visually stunning book, which will captivate you with space travel for many moons to come.

The Cosmic Tourist: Visit the 100 Most Awe-Inspiring Destinations in the Universe by Brian May, Patrick Moore, and Chris Lintott

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Let’s Learn Japanese – an illustrated dictionary with over 1500 Japanese words

For anyone learning how to speak Japanese, this is a fun illustrated “picture dictionary” with over 1500 words that will help build up your Japanese vocabulary. Designed like some of Richard Scarry’s classic books (What Do People Do All Day, Best Word Book Ever…) Let’s Learn Japanese is filled with colorful scenes, each with a theme such as the doctor’s office, the supermarket, colors, the zoo, clothing, etc, and each theme offers dozens of related, illustrated words.

At the end of the book there is an English-Japanese and a Japanese-English glossary and index so that you can look up a specific word when needed. I originally bought this for my husband and I to brush up on our vocabulary before making a trip to Japan, but now my daughter, who is interested in Japanese, pores over the pages as if she’s reading one of her favorite comic books.

Let’s Learn Japanese: Picture Dictionary

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Great Maps – Over 60 of the world’s most fascinating and significant maps

Great Maps is a visual treat that begins with one of the world’s earliest existing maps – the Bedolina Petroglyph (1500 BC) – found in a valley in northern Italy that charts fields, livestock, and houses of its day. The book leaves us with a Google Earth map. In between are over 60 mesmerizing maps and charts that give us a glimpse of world views throughout the ages. Whether it was religious, political, or mercantile, each cartographer seemed to have his own perspective, which was revealed by the way he drew his map. Author Jerry Bretton fills us in on each map’s story, gives us a short bio on its cartographer, and zooms in on specific parts of each map to point out interesting details about it. Great Maps is as much an art book as it is an archaeological history lesson as it is a collection of the world’s most fascinating and significant maps.

Great Maps: The World’s Masterpieces Explored and Explained, by Jerry Brotton

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Bitter: one of the most interesting and exciting cookbooks I’ve ever read

The term bitter, when associated with food, has never whet my appetite. Bitter, like sour, leans towards the negative. “She made a sour face.” “He is a “bitter” person. Unlike sweet or savory (unami), I think of bitter as an acquired taste that does not easily enthuse. So when I ran across Bitter: A Taste of the World’s Most Dangerous Flavor, I was intrigued. And I was not disappointed.

Bitter is one of the most interesting and exciting cookbooks I’ve ever read, with adventurous recipes that show us how to poach fruit in tea custard, boil mussels in beer, roast squab in dark chocolate, simmer pork chops in a coffee black currant sauce, can orange whisky marmalade, and whip up many other exotic dishes with unexpected food combinations. The book explains that not all bitter tastes are alike, and categorizes bitterness in five chapters: Born To Be Bitter, Liquid Bitter, Pungently Bitter, Subtly Bitter, and Dark, Forbidden and Very Bitter. And more than just recipes, this book is loaded with fascinating facts and anecdotes about everything bitter and beyond.

It’s no fun to write about a cookbook without first tackling a recipe, so for this review I turned to the Pungently Bitter chapter and fried up the Brussels Sprouts, Bacon, and Chestnuts dish (shown in cover photo above). With only five ingredients and a few simple steps, I ended up with a multi-flavored delicious lunch in less than 30 minutes. I never knew that brussels sprouts were considered bitter, and realize how unfair I’ve been in my prejudice against the world of bitter food. I now look forward to many more bitter adventures in my kitchen and on my table.

Bitter: A Taste of the World’s Most Dangerous Flavor, With Recipes

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Air plants look and act like they belong on another planet

A few weeks ago while strolling through a farmer’s market in Los Angeles, I came across a vendor cart selling exotic plants that looked like they belonged on another planet. Masses of long green tentacles, feathery white shoots, and spheres of soft silver green spikes that looked like holiday sparklers drew me to the beautiful cart. The vendor told me she was selling air plants (tillandsias). Not very lucky with houseplants, I was hesitant to buy one, until the vendor explained how simple they were to take care of: give them some squirts from a spray bottle a few times a week. I bought two. Coincidentally, a few days later, Timber Press sent me a copy of Air Plants for a possible Wink review. Perfect timing!

Because air plants don’t live in soil or substrate and only need to be misted (or dunked a few times a week, as the book explains), caring for them can be as simple or artistic as you want. Strategically attach them to a screen, create modern art by perching them on wire cubes, craft a year-long wreath, use air plants as living hair ornaments, create a futuristic terrarium… A truly handy and fun read, with clear pretty photos and step-by-step how to projects, this book is not only a guide on choosing and caring for air plants, but also gives us amazingly creative ideas on air plant crafting and design.

Air Plants: The Curious World of Tillandsias

by Zenaida Sengo (author) and Caitlin Atkinson (photographer)

Timber Press

2014, 224 pages, 7.8 x 9.5 x 0.6 inches (paperback)

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Light Bulb Baking – The 50-year history of The Easy Bake Oven

The 1960s were a magical decade in the world of toys. Toy companies like Wham-O, Hasbro, Mattel and Kenner were churning out captivating toys faster than toy stores could keep them in stock. Toys like Lite-Brite, Etch A Sketch, Twister, Creepy Crawlers, Operation, Hippity Hop, Spirograph… and of course Kenner’s Easy Bake Oven (launched in 1963) were all the rage.

With an entertaining narrative, Light Bulb Baking explains how the miniature working oven got its start, dissects the oven, explains how a simple light bulb can bake a cake, and tells us loads of fun anecdotes and trivia about Easy Bake (such as the shelf life of Easy Bake mixes, the horrible burns caused by the 2006-2007 models, and the story of a 9-year-old Easy Bake Baker of the Year who won $5,000 for her Toffee Trifle Cake). The book, which is smartly designed with photos, diagrams and sidebars, ends with a bunch of award-winning recipes that make me want to dig out the old Easy Bake Oven I have somewhere in my garage.

Light Bulb Baking
by Todd Coopee
Sonderho Press
2013, 178 pages, 8.7 x 8.7 x 0.4 inches (paperback)

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The Memory of an Elephant – A beautifully illustrated multi-layered picture book for all ages

This beautifully illustrated picture book takes more than one read to take in all of the delightfully layered pages. At its first level, it tells a sweet story about an old elephant named Marcel who has almost forgotten his birthday, until thoughtful friends and his own reminiscence about his colorful past spark his memory. But the book doesn’t end where the story ends. Inserted into most pages are “index cards” marked with an elephant symbol that have interesting elephant facts, such as listing the differences between Asian and African elephants, describing how they communicate over long distances, and giving us figures on how much they weigh, eat, and sleep.

As if jumping from story to elephant facts weren’t enough, the book is also saturated with yet another layer: miniature encyclopedias on certain topics mentioned in the story. For instance, when Marcel is reminiscing about his days at sea, we get a page of “On the Sea” related word entries. We learn about clipper sailboats, longships, a nautical mile, and more. While sitting with Memory, my attention span was constantly challenged by these fun extras that kept beckoning me away. I finally gave in and read all of the sidebars first, and then eventually went back and read the actual story from beginning to end. Unlike some children’s books, which are ready to be recycled after the first read, this is an illustrated book for all ages that has real staying power.

The Memory of an Elephant, by Sophie Strady (author) and Jean-François Martin (illustrator)

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