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15 best kids' activity books

Keep children busy in the school holidays with some fun (and often educational) diversions

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Gone are the days when simple colouring books and scant collections of word searches were all you could find by way of children’s activity books. Today, there’s a mammoth choice of imaginative options for all ages. Read on to find the best for the summer ahead.

1. Engineering Activity Book: £6.99, Stem Starters for Kids 

The trick to getting kids interested in STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) subjects is to start them young, as all the research will tell you – and that goes especially for girls. And what better way of making it fun than this bumper book including everything from drawing puzzles to mazes to quizzes, all aimed at getting children thinking about how STEM affects pretty much every area of our lives.

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2. Usborne Fingerprint Activities: £9.99, Usborne

If you’ve got a kid that likes to get messy, they’ll love this book that has loads garden scenes to decorate with fingerprint art. The inkpad contains plenty of vibrant colours that will last for months, provided you replace the plastic cover after use. Our little tester even started making her own fingerprint-inspired greeting cards using the inkpad and ideas from the book.

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3. Guess How Much I Love You Colouring Book: £9.99, Walker Books

Anyone who hasn’t read this heart-warming tale about Little Nutbrown Hare to their kids is missing out – and now there’s an opportunity for children to colour in nature-inspired illustrations from the original story too. Plus, there’s over 125 stickers, albeit tiny, included in the back.

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4. Amazed by Aleksandra Artymowska: £12.99, Laurence King 

This is amazing (see what we did there?). Seriously, though, this beautifully illustrated and ingeniously designed book requires you to help a lost boy to navigate cactus fields, caverns and treetops – all in the form of tricky mazes – on his quest to return to his friends. They’re no mean feat, so while 10 might not seem many, it will be plenty to keep you going. One for older kids.

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5. Lonely Planet Kids Round the World Quiz Book: £7.99, Lonely Planet

With over 500 fun, often quirky quizzes and activities (word searches, unscrambling words and the like) that focus on the entire planet, this is a great one to get the whole family involved in – especially ones that like a bit of friendly competition. Do you know where the world’s tallest waterfall is? Can you guess the world’s strangest jobs? And can you identify different flags? We were impressed with how it’s pitched to all ages (it got us adults thinking too). 

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6. Cricket Sticker Book: £6.99, Usborne

New for this year, this fabulously detailed sticker book is ideal for any child who’s interested in cricket. Dress the batsman and fielders in their cricket whites, get them in the right positions and learn more about the game itself, especially the rules. And with more than 450 stickers and 24 pages, it’s really comprehensive. 

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7. BIC Kids’ DrawyBook: £9.99, BIC Kids

If a good old colouring book will no longer cut the mustard for your tech-savvy child – but you aren’t willing to give up the tradition just yet – then check out this space-themed interactive activity book which combines colouring and augmented reality for children in the five- to 10-year age group. Once you’ve downloaded the free app, little ones can bring their traditional artwork to live using modern technology, so everyone’s a winner. There are 12 colouring pens included. 

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8. Colour Me Good Benedict Cumberbatch: £7.50, I Love Mel

You’ve got to take your hat off to this publisher that’s come up with possibly the quirkiest idea we’ve ever seen for a colouring book. With black and white illustrations of the actor, who plays Sherlock Holmes among other famous characters, all you have to do is fill in the colour on the pages (which are made from recycled paper). Alternatives in the range include Harry Styles or Eddie Redmayne.

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9. DK Spot the Difference: Things that Go: £4.99, DK

Aimed at children aged two and above, this all-new pre-school book focuses on one of the all-time favourite activities of tiny tots: spot the difference. With different themes relating to things that move on every page, children will have great fun trying to spot the penguin wearing the tux or the crab wearing the boxing glove, while additional educational benefits include the counting and colour questions. Contains shiny, thick pages.

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10. Koob The Upside-Down Book: £7.99, Carlton Books

The weird and wacky activities in this topsy-turvy book make it a great buy for children with a real sense of silliness. Can you draw a clock with your eyes closed? Eat a jam doughnut inside out? Or work out how many letters in the alphabet look like others when turned upside down? It’s a unique book for kids who spurn conventional activity books.

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11. Trace Copy Colour Cut: £11.99, Top That Publishing

This fun-packed book does what it says on the tin, with Arty Mouse and his friends showing kids how to trace and copy pictures and then colour them in and cut them out – all important for developing fine motor skills. We like the vibrancy of the colours, the quality of the paper and sheer number of pages.

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12. Wreck This Journal: £8.99, Penguin Books 

Part of a series aimed at people who like drawing outside the lines – both literally and figuratively – this eccentric book provides subversive, quirky and ultimately creative questions that bring out the reader’s inner avant-garde artist. Ever wanted to poke a hole through a page? Or paint with coffee? Now’s your chance. 

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13. Jungle Magic Painting Book: £5.99, Usborne 

What’s not to like about magic painting? Just dip the paintbrush (supplied) into water and paint over the pages to transform black and white drawings into colourful pictures that bring the jungle to life. Don’t forget to use the flap at the back of the book to save the other pages getting wet if your child gets a bit water-happy. 

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14. JK Rowling’s Wizarding World Movie Magic: £19.99, Walker Books

This hardback book is a keeper. Featuring creature profiles, beautiful illustrations and fascinating facts about the making of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, along with all eight Harry Potter movies, it’s not only a great book to read, but it contains all kinds of activity-based extras including stickers, pop-ups and pull-out posters. 

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15. We’re Going on a Bear Hunt: My Explorer’s Journal: £8.99, Walker Books

Another inspired activity book based on a long-standing children’s classic, this one gets youngsters busy with their own nature discoveries in this beautifully illustrated and colourful A5 journal. Stick in leaves, sketch insects, draw the changing seasons and count stars. And that’s just the start. 

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The Verdict: Kids’ activity books 

Selecting three favourites has been practically impossible because these books all stand out in their own special ways. But forced to pick, we’d recommend Wreck This Journal for sheer innovation, Stem Starters for Kids Engineering Activity Book for best educational and Guess How Much I Love You Colouring Book for best traditional option.  

All listed prices are RRP

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