20 best kids' activity books

Keep children busy in the school holidays with reads packed with (some educational) diversions

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The Independent Online

Kids’ activity books have come a long way from the thin papered, black and white dot-to-dot and colouring books of yesteryear. They're now increasingly innovative, with a vast choice available for children of all ages. We rounded up the newest activity books for our panel of three- to 15-year-olds to test and whittled them down to the those that stand out most for innovative features, play value, fun and maintaining concentration levels. 

1. 100 Things To Do on A Journey: £5.99, Usborne

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You get a lot of bang for your buck with this pocket-sized book of doodles, puzzles, word searches, mazes and more, making even long-haul flights pass by quickly. It’s a handy size to keep in your bag and despite being used every day for two weeks by our young tester, there was still more to do when we got home. Great value for money.

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2. Sticker Shape Create: £8.99, Ivy Kids

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If ever there was proof that sticker books aren’t just for tiny tots, this is it. Despite including only basic sticker shapes in 10 different colours, we found kids of all ages enjoyed following the instructions to build dramatic sticker pictures onto various background scenes, with themes including hot air balloons, cityscapes and wildlife. A really original book, in which kids can finish their masterpieces with drawings.

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3. The Usborne Space Maze Book: £7.99, Usborne 

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Kids love mazes, and with Tim Peake’s return from space this month, what could be more timely than a whole book of space-themed ones? Fly rockets, discover new planets and escape from aliens as you work your way through 45 pages of puzzles, with each maze more challenging than the last. Best for children aged five and over.

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4. Lonely Planet My Travel Journey: £8.99, Lonely Planet

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This is the best travel journal for kids that we’ve seen and is great for confident writers aged six and over. An A5 hardback book (that will withstand a bit of inevitable bashing, water damage and all the rest on holiday), it’s a colourful and quirky companion for kids to write and draw about everything on their trip, from best breakfast to lovely views and from happiest moments to details of new friends. Save it as a keepsake afterwards. 

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5. Miffy on Holiday: £7, Miffy Shop

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This charming book is great for pre-schoolers, who may well be familiar with the lovably bunny Miffy. It’s essentially a story book, in classic Miffy style, but it gets kids to illustrate the pages themselves with bright and colourful stickers to show the kinds of things Miffy gets up to while she prepares, travels to and enjoys her holiday.

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6. Millie Marotta’s Wild Savannah: £9.99, Pavilion Books  

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Hands off, Mum and Dad! This might be marketed as an adult colouring book, but we found children around 10 or older couldn’t get enough of it, making it a great purchase to last them through long flights and meals out. Packed with beautiful and intricate designs that the grasslands of the savannahs, complete with baobab trees, crocodiles and zebras, it’s got a lovely front cover too. Be sure to invest in some fine-tipped pens.

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7. The Wimpy Kid Do-it-Yourself Book: £3.85, Amazon

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Few kids today grow up without a phase of obsessing over Jeff Kinney’s The Wimpy Kid novels, making this accompanying activity book – in which the child becomes the author – an instant hit. With page titles ranging from “Draw your own comics” to “A few questions from Fregley,” and from “You’re your own band” to “Draw your family the way Jeff Heckley would”, there’s also plenty of lined sheets at the back for youngsters to create their own written masterpiece.

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8. The Usborne Outdoor Book: Usborne, £9.99, Usborne 

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Not the kind of activity book that kids need a pen for, this new book from Usborne is instead a keeper and reference book, packed full of beautifully illustrated and imaginative ideas for making the most of the great outdoors, including step-by-step guides for things like wildlife watching and damming a stream, as well as campfire cooking and seashore hunts. Don’t live rurally? Fear not, as it covers everything from city parks to the garden, as well as woods, beaches and more. Catch crabs, stargaze, make trails, build shelters, and identify wildlife. Aimed at ages six and up. 

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9. The Tracing Paper Colouring Book: £6.99, WH Smith 

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This is colouring with a twist. The 20 tracing paper pages at the back can be used to create a stained-glass effect designs, using the 64 colouring pages. Seven of the tracing paper pages are printed with simple designs for children to fill in and complete, using the designs from the book. Hours of fun for children aged six plus, who have good pen control.

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10. Robots to Build and Decorate: £9.99, Pavilion Books 

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Get crafty with the six thick pages of this bold, bright book, each of which is filled with pop-out parts that children can build into robots, using the instructions on the inside cover. Three are ready-made, while the other three are plain so that kids can customise them, either using the stickers at the back, or their own pens. No glue is required and it’s suitable for kids aged four and over, although they’ll need adult supervision if they’re younger than around eight or nine.   

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11. The National Trust Colouring Book of Cards and Envelopes: Summertime: £6.66, Nosy Crow

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This book of 24 summertime designs is aimed at children aged two to five, although our much older testers loved it too – which we put down to the elaborate designs and added bonus of being able to turn your creations into cards and envelopes to tear out and give to people. Pictures include flowers, dragonflies and dolphins.

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12. M&S Oh No! Grumpy Monster is Coming To Tea: £6, Marks and Spencer 

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Grumpy Monster has caused havoc and Milly needs your help to sort it all out, using the magnetic pictures, which are all stored neatly in the plastic casing at the top of this small, neat and cleverly illustrated book. Great fun for pre-schoolers, but don’t lose the small magnetic parts on the beach.

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13. UEFA EURO 2016 Activity and Colouring Book: £4.99, Prion Books 

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Their favourite team might be out of the tournament but this will still probably be the first book that young football fans are likely to pick up in the activity book section of any local store. The official licensed product of EUFA EURO 2016, it has everything from star players to colour in to football-themed word searches and flag match-up games, with plenty of opportunity for colouring and stickers too. 

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14. DK Write Your Own Book: £9.99, DK 

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This large, spiralbound hardback book is fabulous for young budding writers aged around six years old and over, encouraging them to get creative in describing action, expressing emotions, making up their own whodunit story, beginning a legend – and much more. It is colourfully illustrated and there’s plenty of room for drawing and even designing their own front cover. 

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15. Stampy’s Lovely Book: £3.85, Amazon

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Once kids have been introduced to Minecraft, it can be hard to tear them away, but this 69-page sturdy, hardback book packed with Minecraft-themed puzzles, games, jokes, silly challenges, video tips and secrets, should do the trick. The artwork is varied and appealing, and at under four quid, it’s a bit of a bargain. 

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16. Doodle Imagine Draw Activity Book: £9.99, John Lewis

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Created exclusively for John Lewis, this thick A4 book is a sketchbook, with guidance to help children get really creative. It’s colourful, with lots of inspiration to bring out children’s artistic sides, and we found it cleverly appeals to younger children, as well as much older ones, even young teenagers.

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17. Galt First Activity Book: £2.99, Galt Toys 

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A wonderfully varied book for children who have recently started school, this vibrant book has 24 pages of simply puzzles including mazes and spot the difference, as well as plenty of colouring. Nothing takes too long, so it’s particularly good for little ones with short attention spans, and there are reward stickers that motivate them to finish each challenge.

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18. Koob The Upside Down Book: £7.99, Amazon

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Inside this Koob world, everything is topsy turvy, which means kids have to flip their creativity on its head as they complete crazy activities ranging from drawing the world upside down to eating a jam doughnut inside out. A unique book, which we found children with a sense of silliness and humour absolutely adored.

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19. This is Not A Maths Book: £9.99, Ivy Kids 

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This very clever book, which won Best Educational Book gong at last year’s British Book Design and Production Awards, is wonderful for children aged nine and above who aren’t maths-mad, presenting the subject in one of the most engaging ways we’ve seen. It reveals how maths can be artistic and art can be mathematical and it is full of maths-based patterns and fascinating maths facts. Examples include anamorphic art, spiral shapes and intricate 3D webs, as well as stomachion puzzles and Seirpinski Triangles. A lovely book to sit down with your child and do together. 

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20. Little Sticker Dolly Dressing: Ballerina: £5.99, Usborne  

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This is part of a popular sticker book series that gets younger children aged four and over dressing up characters, using over 250 delightful stickers included. In this one, kids dress up ballet dancers for big performances including Cinderella, The Nutcracker, Swan Lake, among others. There’s huge attention to detail, and a handy fold-out back cover where they can temporarily store the resuable stickers when they’re not using them. 

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Verdict

The Lonely Planet My Travel Journey stands out, not only because it encourages your children to imaginatively record their favourite bits of their holiday, but because you get to keep it as a lovely memory afterwards. The Sticker Shape Create book is another great find because it steps away from the usual conventions of sticker books, encouraging more creativity than most. But our top pick is 100 Things To Do On A Journey, thanks to its sheer variety and ability to keep kids captivated. 

IndyBest product reviews are unbiased, independent advice you can trust. On some occasions, we earn revenue if you click the links and buy the products, but we never allow this to bias our coverage. The reviews are compiled through a mix of expert opinion and real-world testing

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