Best coloring books

Occupy your kids with these unconventional coloring books

For parents everywhere, the recession has sparked a new quandary over at-home entertainment: how to keep kids busy without going broke on $30 Wii titles at GameStop.Through bull and bear markets, booms and busts, the low-tech task of filling in a coloring book has held children’s attention while fostering creativity. To help parents choose the best titles, my daughter Madison, 8, agreed to try out an eclectic assortment and discuss her favorites. So get those crayons and markers ready, and prepare to introduce your kids to this good old-fashioned pastime.

Rosie Flo’s Coloring Book by Roz Streeten
This oh-so-girlie book encourages children to fill in outlines of kooky vintage costumes (strawberry-shaped dresses, frilly tutus, ruffled gowns, retro bathing suits), and then draw in heads, arms and legs. A few pages even feature accessories—like feathered slingbacks and evening bags. Madison, who hopes to design her own line of couture one day, spent hours perfecting her two-dimensional wardrobes.
Madison says: “I don’t think my mom would wear these fancy kinds of outfits, but when I’m a fashion designer I’m sure someone will.” $9 at

New York for Kids: 25 Big Apple Sites to Color by Patricia J. Wynne
Madison colored a subway car candy-apple red instead of the usual dusty silver, and decided the skyline could use touches of pink and purple. I had to promise we’d give a copy of this book to her New Jersey--based five-year-old cousin so he’d stay occupied and excited during his two-hour ride into the city.
Madison says: “This was a little worky because there were so many pictures that had tiny windows and bricks. I really had to make sure that I colored inside all the lines.” $4 at

Metropolitan Museum of Art Van Gogh Art Kit
A spiral-bound book invites kids to pore over reproductions of the master’s iconic landscapes, self-portraits and still lifes, then challenges them to embellish partial outlines of the works. The kit comes with a set of oil pastels. Madison loved one giggle-inducing exercise: Sketch yourself sporting Van Gogh’s beard. But because my little artiste harbors perfectionist tendencies, she bemoaned the pressure she felt to create pictures on par with the originals.
Madison says: “Even though I know there’s no right or wrong way to draw, I’m one of those people who want to get stuff right.” $17 at

The Anti-Coloring Book by Susan Striker and Edward Kimmel
Co-created by the founder of a Manhattan art program for preschoolers, this book suggests such activities as “Design your own robot” (Madison penned a laundry folder) and “Draw how your future will appear inside a crystal ball” (my maternal girl composed five tots). I was impressed that my typically complacent daughter was stirred to push her imagination beyond its usual reach.
Madison says: “It’s not really a coloring book—it’s a drawing book. You can make up all your own rules and be as silly as you want.” $13 at

The Coloring Book by Herv Tullet
This newly released, 208-page gem is jam-packed with overlapping shapes, optical illusions, daisy and stick-figure collages, and a goofy cyclops portrait. Madison liked the page of superheroes and was thrilled when the text directed her to messily apply one color right on top of another. A few mind-bending activities include a curvy maze that spans four pages and a clever search for the word bravo amid a jumble of letters.
Madison says: “I never saw a coloring book like this, with so many big, crazy shapes and funny-looking pictures.” $19 at