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.

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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The Trilobite Book – Stunning photographs of trilobite fossils that predate dinosaurs


Pre dinosaurs, trilobites roamed the earth’s sea floors for nearly 300-million years before becoming extinct for unknown reasons.

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Listomania – Over 1,200 fun facts organized by lists

I’m a sucker for trivia, and Listomania is on my top-ten list of fascinating facts books. As the title reveals, the book is loaded with fun tidbits of information (over 1,200 of them) that are organized by lists. Most items or lists are explained in a short paragraph, and every list is playfully and boldly illustrated.

My top 10 favorite examples:

  1. 8 Awful Jobs in History (sperm collector, nitpicker…)
  2. 14 Cool Things to View on Google Earth (giant pink bunny in Italy, Mount Everest…)
  3. 10 Places on Earth that are Still Unexplored (Makira Forests in Madagascar, Lake Vostok in Antarctica…)
  4. 9 Extreme Abodes (house on a volcano, airplanes converted into houses…)
  5. 14 Beauty Queen Scandals (Spain’s Miss Universe chucked her crown out of a window, Miss England punched another beauty queen…)
  6. 18 Things that Fell From the Sky (colored rain, cows…)
  7. 8 Dastardly Ponzi Schemes (Charles Ponzi, Bernie Madoff…)
  8. 7 Things Made from Insects (red dye from ground-up cochineal bugs, antibiotic herbal remedy from cockroach brains…)
  9. 14 Unexpected Odds (117:1 that you’ll fly with a drunk pilot, 6,250:1 that you’ll be struck by lightning…)
  10. 10 Best Countries to be a Geek (US, Belgium…)

Listomania: A World of Fascinating Facts in Graphic Detail

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Tiny Homes on the Move – nomadic houses that offer an adventurous yet simpler way of life

As a continuation of Tiny Homes: Simple Shelter, author Lloyd Kahn (former Shelter editor of Whole Earth Catalog) brings us Tiny Homes on the Move, which showcases 90 nomadic homes made from trailers, school buses, vans, trucks, boats, and even a tricycle. Each entry includes an essay by or about the home’s creator, who talks about why and how they converted a vehicle into a house. Each dweller has a unique story:

A corporate man in Manhattan quit his job three years ago to live a simpler life. He bought a camper van and converted it into his home, which travels between the desert and the beach where he can surf.

A struggling family with young children sold their traditional house and converted a 76-passenger school bus into a new home. “We desperately wanted off the bureaucratic treadmill and to get into a simple life.” The result is astonishing, with a colorful, clean, modern living space that looks more like a trendy pad in Manhattan than a house bus.

A woman who lost almost everything she owned in a house fire says, “It was almost like a burden lifted off my shoulders.” She decided to reinvent her life by living a minimalist lifestyle on a sailboat and exploring the world. With only 100 square feet of cabin space, she doesn’t miss a thing.

Although no two stories or homes are alike, what these people all have in common is their love of freedom and simplicity that their alternative housing offers them. Reading this book is inspiring and makes me examine ways in which I can shed some of the complexities that encumber my own lifestyle.

Tiny Homes on the Move

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Over 1000 hilarious Nancy comic strips from 1946-1948

A few years ago my then 8-year-old daughter, Jane, started reading collections of old Nancy comic strips. I’d never paid attention to the strip and assumed it wouldn’t appeal to anyone over ten. But then I found Jane and her dad laughing out loud while reading Nancy in bed. “What’s so funny?” I asked. “Nancy logic!” they answered.

They pointed out Nancy logic to me: Nancy tries on a pair of thick-lensed glasses and shouts “Oh boy!” when she receives an ice-cream cone that’s almost as big as she is. Nancy’s aim is off to the right while shooting arrows so she paints an oblong target with the bull’s eye placed on the far right side. Nancy thinks leaving her coat on a chair brings her good luck, so when her aunt points at the chair and tells her to hang up the coat, Nancy hooks the chair on the coatrack.

Created by Ernie Bushmiller in the 1930s (and still running today by Guy Gilchrist), Nancy is about the mischief, charm, and naiveté of a young girl named Nancy, whose best friend, Sluggo, is a kind-hearted urchin from the wrong side of the tracks. Drawn in a simple, bold, and eye-catching style, Nancy is clever, hilarious, and a bit surreal. This volume offers over one-thousand strips that ran between 1946-1948, and although its title, Nancy Likes Christmas, suggests a holiday theme, only a handful of the strips revolves around Christmas. The setting is post World War II, but the gags, about the wishful and sometimes absurd logic that kids so often use, are timeless.

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Sticky Monsters – Magnificent monster drawings on Post-it notes

At first glance, I assumed John Kenn Mortensen’s ghoulish images were storybook illustrations that were originally drawn on large sheets of paper. Then I read his tiny introduction and discovered that these magnificent monster drawings are simply (and complexly) doodles on Post-it notes.

Born in Denmark, Mortensen is a director of kids’ TV programs, but in his spare time he enters a black and yellow world in which monsters loom over unwitting humans, and it’s hard to tell whether these monsters are hungry for human flesh or whether they just want some mischievous fun. A cross between Edward Gorey and Maurice Sendak, Mortensen’s art is both eerie and playful, dark yet adorable. Although I love the whimsical nature of his medium, it would be great to see what he could do with a few square feet rather than a few square inches.

Sticky Monsters, by John Kenn Mortensen

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All Wrapped Up – A collection of wrapping paper from its artistic glory days of the 1960s

In the early 1900s, wrapping paper as we know it did not exist in America. People “dressed” their gifts in tissue paper. But in 1917, the greeting card company Hall Brothers (which later became Hallmark) ran out of tissue paper right before Christmas.

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Kiddie Cocktails: hooch free drink recipes in a beautiful book

Without question, cocktails are the most fun and playful type of drinks on the menu, with their vibrant colors, toy-like swizzle sticks, plastic straws, paper toothpick umbrellas, swords of stacked fruit, and the exotic-shaped glasses that contain the concoctions. And yet – the cruel irony of it all – cocktails are off limits to children!

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Unbored – A zillion ways for kids to keep busy and engage with life

I’m always amazed when one of my daughter’s friends comes to me and says she’s bored. As if I’m supposed to put on a pair of tap shoes and dance a jig for her. My daughter knows better than to say the B-word, but I can always tell when she’s at a loss for something to do by the way she lies limply across the arm of the couch, her head dangling towards the floor, her voice depleted of emotion. Next time this happens I will suggest Unbored (which, when she picked it up for the first time yesterday, didn’t put it down for almost an hour).

A collection of inspiring activities, projects, and articles on freeing up your creativity (by the authors as well as many other DIY experts, including an introduction by my husband Mark), Unbored offers a zillion ways to keep busy, stay engaged, and connect with the outside world. Start a band, make a zine, teach “your grown-ups” how to geocache, trick your friends into saving the planet, tell your politicians what you think, build a backyard fort, make a pet robot controller… The book is fun, instructional, edgy (create different colors of fire, take an adventurous gap year between high school and college, spray paint your bedroom walls, read banned books), and has insightful lessons on how to engage with life rather than allowing life to pass by like a boring television commercial. And as a parent, it’s nice to be reminded not to fall into the trap of smothering helicopter parenting, passive parenting (screens!), over-scheduled parenting, and all the other pitfalls of modern life that turn our kids into lethargic, helpless, unthinking slugs. Unbored belongs in every kid’s – and parent’s – library.

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