Today, I share one of my favorite books. Not many have heard of this book, but it is very popular. It was written in 1887 during the Victorian era for girls ages 8-18, and has been republished numerous times since then, and has had many different covers. The American Girls Handy Book: How to Amuse Yourself and Others, written by Lina and Adelia Beard, is full of crafts and activities, many beautifully illustrated. I constantly look to this book for inspiration, not only from the ideas shared but from the lovely way the sisters write. I was lucky to have found this book in a used book store.
The book is organized by the seasons, starting with spring. It covers every major holiday in each season, and sheds light on some obscure ones too. Each season has party ideas and decorations for a girly Victorian-era get-together. Activities that make the most of what each season has to offer are included, like how to preserve wild flowers in spring, or how to make and use a "home gymnasium" during the winter months. My personal favorite craft ideas are from the Fourth of July chapter. The book shows how to make paper "fireworks" like parachutes, thunderbolts, whirls, winged fancies, pinwheels, and bombs. These crafts are followed by party game ideas that were very refreshing from modern party game ideas I know of. There are ideas for fun little plays to perform. There is a very large instructional chapter in Autumn that teaches how to draw, paint with watercolors, paint with oil paints, model in clay and wax, make plaster casts, and china paint. Probably the oddest craft in the book is how to make a string telephone out of beef bladders. It is a very complicated process, but
"when the instrument is carefully and properly made it will carry the voice three or four miles or more, giving every word and tone distinctly and clearly".
That's incredible! I really wish I knew where to get a cow bladder from a good source, i.e. not by killing a cow myself and stealing its bladder. Guess I'll just have to stick with my boring phone that can carry my voice around the world.
This book can be compared to The Daring Book for Girls. It is much older and more genuine, and The Daring Book for Girls may have been inspired by the American Girls Handy Book: How to Amuse Yourself and Others. I felt I learned about an authentic Victorian girl's life and pastimes while reading it, while the Daring book shared ideas, however interesting, that were more modern and derived from authors trying to search into the past.
I highly recommend buying this book, as a crafter and a reader. And as a girl. It is too chocked-full of ideas to simply borrow from a library. It is timeless and you will never tire of it. And, it looks great on a bookshelf!