August 6, 2018

Cut A Silhouette, An Old-fashioned Art Form


by Brandon Marie Miller

The art of creating a silhouette has been around a long time, but was most popular in the 1700s and early 1800s. A silhouette, cut from dark paper, shows a person as a solid shape, one color, usually in profile.


Sitting for an artist who brushed oil paint onto canvas took time and was an extravagance most people could not afford. A silhouette, however, also called a "shade," "profile," or "shadow portrait," took only minutes to create and was cheap enough for the masses to buy. The name "silhouette" comes from the French finance minister, Etienne de Silhouette, who relaxed cutting images out of paper. He also liked things done cheaply. His name soon stuck to this inexpensive form of portraiture. 

Expert silhouette artists could eye a person's profile and snip away at the black paper until the image remained. Other artists used a light and a screen to cast a shadow of the subject. They traced the outline and cut it out.



Silhouettes remained a popular means of creating portraits until photography began taking over in the 1840s. This activity comes from my book, George Washington for Kids, His Life and Times.
Silhouette of George Washington

July 4, 2018

Embrace Your Inner Inventor

by Mary Kay Carson

Buy from Books 'N' More and get a discount!
I'm proud to announce the release of my newest book, Alexander Graham Bell for Kids: His Life and Inventions with 21 Activities.

Alexander Graham Bell was a man of many interests and talents. While famous for inventing the telephone, Bell also...

  • invented an improved phonograph that Thomas Edison had to buy the patent for in order to build a usable product.
  • worked with early airplane inventors Glenn Curtiss and Samuel Langley and competed with the Wright Brothers.
  • attempted to save President Garfield from his fatal gunshot wound with a bullet-finding invention similar to a metal detector.
  • was a pioneering speech teacher to the deaf and a life-long friend and mentor of Helen Keller.
  • emigrated from Scotland with his parents after both his brothers died from tuberculosis.
Bell invented and experimented his entire life. A favorite Bell quote is: "The inventor is a man who looks around upon the world and is not contented with things as they are. He wants to improve whatever he sees, he wants to benefit the world."

You and your students can put their own problem solving skills to work. Everyone craves improvement and likes getting problems solved. We all seek better ways of doing things and love new gadgets! What would you invent?



June 17, 2018

Take Your Pick of Favorite Summer Activities


Look what grew in my house last summer!


Summer! Time to relax, refresh, and review. In honor of the Summer Solstice coming this week, I’m linking you to several of my favorite summer activities posted since we started Hands-on-Books in 2011!







May 1, 2018

Thanks for all Planets, Kepler!

by Mary Kay Carson

Kepler is dying. NASA's famed planet-hunting space telescope is running out of fuel and will soon stop functioning. The workhorse has been discovering planets beyond our solar system for the past nine years. But nothing lasts forever. Once Kepler uses up the last of its fuel, the spacecraft's orbit around Earth will begin to decay. Until then it soldiers on collecting data.

As of today, Kepler's confirmed exoplanet discovery count is 2,343. Nearly as many remain unconfirmed. That's right, we now know about thousands of planets circling other stars that no one knew existed until the small space telescope went to work in 2009. As impressive as the number of new exoplanets is, the stunning variety of these new worlds is just as impressive. There are planets orbiting two stars, hot gas giants like Jupiter orbiting near their suns, and lots of small rocky places, too. Surely one or two are Earth-like.

Kepler's successor is already up and running. A small refrigerator-sized satellite went into orbit in April. It's called TESS, short for Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite. Like Kepler, it will search for exoplanets by looking for telltale dips in light that occur when planets pass in front of their star. But it will do so much faster and with better cameras. Good hunting, TESS!

Students and educators can model how Kepler and TESS search for alien worlds circling distant stars in this activity from my book, Beyond the Solar System. Enjoy! And thanks, Kepler, for all the planets.



April 6, 2018

Make and Play a Board Game!

by Brandon Marie Miller

Playing a board game in Ancient Egypt
We toss dice, spin a wheel, draw a card. Pieces move around a decorated board. People have played board games for thousands of years. Most of us grew up playing them. Each year, new games are invented and  old favorites get updates.

Versions of chess, checkers and backgammon have been around hundreds of years. Fans have played  games like Monopoly and Sorry for over 80 years now. Candy Land, introduced in 1946, has been updated many times for new generations of kids.

Monopoly, 1930s






And from Trivial Pursuit, to Hungry Hungry Hippos and Settlers of Catan, people enjoy the shared experience of sitting around a game board in competition. The Game of Life, first created in 1860, was one of my favorites as a kid. You spun a wheel, moved little cars around the board, earned a salary and faced setbacks. Once when our spinner stuck, my sister and I greased it with a little butter and kept playing!
You may not have heard of the board game, The Royal Game of the Goose, but the game has been played since the 1500s. I included this game in my book THOMAS JEFFERSON FOR KIDS, HIS LIFE AND TIMES. Below are instructions to make the board and the rules for play. Enjoy!