During what NPD BookScan considers the Covid-19 period of sales reporting, March 1–May 2, the hobbies and crafts category saw increased interest, with print unit sales up almost 16% compared with the same period in 2019. To encourage that growth, marketing departments have had to find new ways to promote titles and retool plans for books that were in the works well before the pandemic hit.

DK managing editor Ruth O’Rourke says the company’s new Stay at Home Hub of online activities for adults and children draws from an array of titles, offering, for instance, step-by-step instructions from April’s Woodworking for making a bird box and a how-to for machine-sewn seams from 2018’s The Sewing Book. Since launching the hub in late March, DK has seen a 161% increase in global website traffic.

Storey Publishing has been sharing downloadable activities and excerpts from forthcoming titles across social media platforms, says associate publicity and marketing campaign manager Colleen Mulhern, and, like many publishers, it has reconceived author appearances. As part of promotions for September’s Sky Gazing, to name one release, nature centers and bookstores will host virtual events.

At HMH, executive editor Lisa White says online author webinars have proven a successful alternative to on-site events. In May, Scribd hosted a Zoom chat with Heather Balogh Rochfort, Will Rochfort, and Laura Fisk, the authors and illustrator behind the recently released Sleeping Bags to S’mores, who spoke with kids about camping in the backyard—or living room—and presented a pinecone bird feeder activity. HMH is also working with the American Birding Conservancy to produce online events around the September publication of Peterson Reference Guide to Bird Behavior (see “Of a Feather” for more birding books).

Much of the recent growth in hobbies and crafts was driven by books on traditional pastimes such as needlepoint and cross-stitch—subjects that fit in with a new line of craft titles from Pen & Sword imprint White Owl. Eight books, including Sewing Animal Dolls by Tiny O’Roarke (July) and Floral Embroidery by Teagan Olivia Sturmer (Nov.), will pub by the end of 2020; plans call for 12–20 releases per year.

But publishers also recognize that many readers, after months at home, are drawn to more active pursuits with a hobbyist slant, and some houses are casting an eye toward flora, fauna, natural materials, and the outdoors. In this feature, PW looks at titles whose topics—not new but newly relevant—set the tone for a new era of making and doing.

Home and away

When Laurence King acquired organic farmer Claire Ratinon’s How to Grow Your Dinner Without Leaving the House (Aug.) in 2019, editorial director Zara Larcombe says, she knew it was on-trend, “but we had no idea how relevant it would be.” A guide to
producing food where space is limited, it covers topics that editors have seen renewed interest in since the pandemic took hold—gardening, cooking, and baking.

These activities nod to a self-sufficiency, even a prepper-lite mentality, that recurs in other titles. Storey’s Curious Compendium of Practical and Obscure Skills (Sept.), like How to Grow Your Dinner, was conceived well before Covid-19. But, says Storey acquiring editor Deborah Burns, “we felt a groundswell of people wanting to get back to knowing how to do things”—enough that the publisher has been updating and rereleasing backlist titles on what she calls “humble crafts,” such as root cellaring.

Curious Compendium rounds up 214 projects and skills-building activities from previously published Storey titles on homesteading and country living. Some entries send readers outside to learn to predict weather by the clouds, make a garden in a straw bale, or navigate by the stars. Others offer a cozier vibe: making tinctures, braiding rugs, or melting down beeswax for candles.

Another compendium, Smithsonian Makers Workshop (HMH, Sept.), delves into the collections of the Smithsonian museums in Washington, D.C., to highlight four areas of American domestic arts—crafts, cooking and food, design and decorating, and gardening. About half the entries have associated “make it” instructions, such as those for a needlework sampler or a cold frame for the garden. History and context illuminate the photos: the section on chop suey, to take one example, includes not just a recipe but also covers “Chinese migration, the transcontinental railroad, and the dish’s history as a takeout item,” says associate editor Sarah Kwak.

Suggesting a one-project-per-week schedule, crafter Barbora Kurcova, in 52 Nature Craft Projects (Thunder Bay, Aug.), has readers collect pinecones, twigs, leaves, and flowers for her seasonal wreath, garland, bouquet, and flower-pressing crafts. Accompanying photos depict projects at various stages leading up to the final results, whose decorative flourishes—pine boughs, tiny mushrooms—have a Scandinavian flower-fairy sensibility reminiscent of the books of 19th-century children’s author-illustrator Elsa Beskow.

50 Things to Do in the Wild (Princeton Architectural Press, Aug.) by outdoor educator Richard Skrein, illustrated by Maria Nilsson, is something of a scout’s handbook for adults, down to its nostalgic olive-green illustrations. Divided into sections according to the elements—earth, air, water, and fire—the book presents a range of hobbyist activities. Readers learn whittling techniques and ax skills, ways to identify particular birds’ nests and medicinal trees, and how to read the sun and the stars.

In fact, looking at the night sky figures into several forthcoming books. In July, Page Street will release The Backyard Astronomer’s Field Guide by earth science teacher David Dickinson, coauthor of 2018’s The Universe Today Ultimate Guide to Viewing the Cosmos. Astrophotographer James Harrop, in The Moon (White Owl, Oct.), teaches enthusiasts best practices for capturing images of Earth’s only natural satellite (see “Near and Far” for more photography books). And Sky Gazing (Storey, Sept.) by Smith College astronomer Meg Thacher is written for kids ages nine to 14 and meant for them to share with their families.

Learn by doing

Some of the biggest gains in the hobbies and crafts sector during BookScan’s designated Covid period were for books aimed at children. Print unit sales for those more than doubled compared with the same period in 2019, as parents struggled to entertain and educate their newly minted homeschoolers. Editors anticipate that the sorts of books that appealed at the beginning of the pandemic, namely those offering screen-free activities, will prove to have legs as summer and autumn progress.

Recently released by Fair Winds Press, The Unplugged Family Activity Book by Rachel Jepson Wolf (ages 8–12) is organized around the seasons and proposes more than 60 nature-based pursuits. The idea, Wolf writes in the introduction, is to help kids and their parents connect more with flowers, fields, and critters, and stress less.

“It’s extraordinary how much our confinement has rekindled our appreciation of nature,” says Zara Larcombe at Laurence King, which in August will release 100 Things to Do in a Forest by Jennifer Davis, illustrated by Eleanor Taylor. Billed in the introduction as a “toolkit to repair the scars of modern life,” the book suggests a variety of outdoor hobbies and crafts that include the sweet (making daisy chains and grass whistles), the useful (learning to light fires and track animals), and the esoteric (fish tickling and teddy bear picnics). Davis, who runs an outdoor learning community in the U.K., writes that her goal is to “enable you to create moments of deep focus within the natural world.”

Though the importance of ditching devices is not a novel concept, Deb Burns at Storey says parents are increasingly adamant about finding ways to spend time outdoors with their children, and the publisher’s Backpack Explorer series for ages four to eight helps them do just that. Bird Watch, the third installment, pubbed in May; Bug Hunt will release in 2021, and a tree-themed title will follow.

At Quarry, Nature Play Workshop for Families by Monica Wiedel-Lubinski and Karen Madigan (July, ages 8–12) encourages parents to prioritize outdoor time in their children’s lives, for their physical, mental, and emotional well-being. Wiedel-Lubinski, founding director of the Eastern Region Association of Forest and Nature Schools, and nature educator Madigan suggest more than 40 outdoor projects for adults and kids to undertake together throughout the year, such as building sundials, brewing natural dyes, and hammering together hummingbird feeders. The authors also make the case for letting kids engage in purportedly dangerous acts like climbing trees.

Turning off computers and gaming consoles, however, doesn’t necessarily mean embracing the pastoral. Girls Garage by Emily Pilloton, illustrated by Kate Bingaman-Burt (Chronicle, June, ages 14 and up) offers a primer on tools, techniques, and materials, along with 11 building projects. (See “Girl Power Tools” for a q&a with Pilloton.)

One unexpected outcome of the pandemic months, says DK’s Ruth O’Rourke, is that they’ve inspired many to “reevaluate their priorities and realize we’ve been handed the opportunity to appreciate the world around us more.” Slowing down, prioritizing family, participating in activities like growing food and baking, and spending more time outdoors are four of the ways Americans hope to change post-Covid, Vice reported in June. Picking up a book discussed here could be one step toward achieving those goals.

Below, more on Hobby & Crafts books.

Girl Power Tools: PW Talks with Emily Pilloton
In ‘Girls Garage’ (Chronicle), Pilloton teaches construction fundamentals and helps girls build “the world they want to see.”

Of a Feather: Hobby & Craft Books 2020
Avid birdwatchers will flock to these new birding guides, bird-related activity books, and primers on bird behavior.

Near and Far: Hobby & Craft Books 2020
These photography books help amateurs capture images of their meals, their pets, and the great outdoors.