what to get a disaster-obsessed kid for Christmas?
November 30, 2010 3:04 PM   Subscribe

Gift-list filter: what to get an eight-year-old boy who is obsessed with disasters, decay, big things collapsing, and 'Earth after people' scenarios?

Help me be a cool auntie this Christmas! My eight-year-old nephew is fascinated with buildings/structures and possible scenarios in which said buildings/structures may collapse (through decay or force). He loves the 'Earth after people' series, and he also likes to hunt youtube for things like the Space Needle falling scene from "10.5". He really digs models and plans for buildings, too (though his motor-coordination and patience aren't up to building the kinds of models he likes yet).

Other possibly relevant info: his reading comprehension is well above his grade level (though he's not too into fiction yet. He likes facts and figures.). He is also crazy for anything Mario-related.
posted by lovecrafty to Shopping (42 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
My girlfriend suggest Jenga, though I'm not sure if she's joking.
posted by ejfox at 3:07 PM on November 30, 2010 [4 favorites]

Any of the supercool David MacAulay engineering books: I loved these as an 8 year old with similar interests. Try Underground or Castle.

Alternatively, Legos? Or a survival kit (minus the guns)?
posted by seventyfour at 3:10 PM on November 30, 2010 [2 favorites]

Is he computer-savvy? If so, SimCity.
posted by NoraReed at 3:12 PM on November 30, 2010 [4 favorites]

A metal detector.
posted by The World Famous at 3:13 PM on November 30, 2010

How about getting him a great big wad of dominos?
posted by jamjam at 3:15 PM on November 30, 2010

Death From The Skies! by Phil Plait. It's a bit larger-scale than building collapses, but its a fun read with both 100% absolutely certain to happen disasters (meteor strike, the sun's old age, the heat death of the universe) and highly unlikely ones (alien robot invaders, vagrant black holes and - my favorite - gamma ray bursts). Highly recommended.
posted by MShades at 3:15 PM on November 30, 2010

My little brother had a poster of a sink hole on his door for years (my stepmom- his mom - is a civil engineer, she got it from a conference.) The kids loved it. It doesn't look like you could buy one (of say, a sinkhole gallery,) though; you'd have to make it.

You can, however, get architectural rendering posters. The USGS also sells earthquake summary posters, though that might not be appreciated for a few years.

I assume he already has age-appropriate building toys like Knex, LEGO, Lincoln Logs, etc.
posted by SMPA at 3:16 PM on November 30, 2010

A huge bottle of vinegar and a large box of baking soda. A box of small zip lock bags, empty wine bottles and corks. The better quality freezer bags will make a good pop when they go, wine bottles will shoot corks 100+ft when they pop too. Just mix and wait.
posted by Felex at 3:31 PM on November 30, 2010

K'NEX Education: Intro to Structures: Bridges and a copy of David Macauley's Building Big (which was also a series on PBS; clips available on YouTube).
posted by MonkeyToes at 3:31 PM on November 30, 2010

Planet of the Apes?
The Comet?
posted by SLC Mom at 3:33 PM on November 30, 2010 [1 favorite]

Not sure if it's a great idea to encourage the apocalyptic side of his interest. You can definitely get him lots of cool toys, games, and books without actually reinforcing the idea that the world is coming to an end. I loved to wreak havoc on my Sim City towns as a child, but books about the coming collapse of humanity would have given me nightmares.

Love the Jenga idea, as well as the latest take on Sim City. And what kid isn't perennially in need of more legos? Or what about something a little more ambitious like the mega erector set? Checking out those David Macauley books, I want them for myself! If he's more into creating and designing than reading about stuff, one thing I used to love to do (nerd alert) was drawing building and city layouts on graph paper with colored pencils. I was also addicted to maps.

Another angle, if he is into the Earth After People stuff, would be to give him stuff about collapsed civilizations from history. The Minoans and Mayans are classics, of course, but there's always The Khmer and Vijayanagara empires, The Lost City of Z (he's probably too young for that book, but I remember my childhood being full of that sort of thing in YA format), Teotihuacan, Troy, ancient Egypt, the Indus Valley, really any "lost" city or civilization that was later discovered by archaeologists
posted by Sara C. at 3:36 PM on November 30, 2010 [1 favorite]

My first thought was survival kit, but on second, not sure how much fun it would be past the initial "wow, a survival kit!" moment. But I bet an eight-year-old would appreciate a space blanket.
posted by equivocator at 3:36 PM on November 30, 2010

Oooh, along the lines of SLC mom, what about the Indiana Jones series?
posted by Sara C. at 3:37 PM on November 30, 2010

Oh, on reading Sara C's idea about collapsed civilizations, maybe a book about Pompeii?
posted by equivocator at 3:39 PM on November 30, 2010 [5 favorites]

On a more general note, Ripley's Believe It or Not and the Guinness Book of World Records are full of anecdata that facts-loving types like your nephew enjoy.

A truly awful movie but one that might appeal to both his age and interests is 2012.
posted by misha at 3:44 PM on November 30, 2010 [1 favorite]

How did I forget to mention Pompeii in my big list? I think I actually had a book not unlike the Macauley ones about Pompeii and ancient Rome in general...

This came out in 2007, but I swear I had something just like it and it was awesome. I also remember a documentary (possibly done by the Discovery or History channel in the 90's) with a segment where a POV/steadicam ran through the town and downhill towards the sea in a re-enactment of what it would really be like to flee the city.
posted by Sara C. at 3:48 PM on November 30, 2010

Maybe The Worst-case Survival Handbook?
posted by snofoam at 3:51 PM on November 30, 2010

Apologies if this is a no-brainer/he already has it but the book, The World Without Us, is, if not technically then certainly in spirit, the book version of Life After People.
posted by SugarAndSass at 3:55 PM on November 30, 2010 [1 favorite]

My 7-y.-o. builder suggests Hold On Scooby-Doo. (Think "Don't Break the Ice" rotated 90 degrees and with Scooby and Shaggy instead of an anonymous plastic guy.)
posted by MonkeyToes at 3:56 PM on November 30, 2010

I was going to suggest the MacAulay books as well.
The John Christopher Tripod books might be appropriate, if he's reading a bit above his grade level. They're post-apocalyptic with scrappy early-teen kids fighting against the invading aliens.
posted by rmd1023 at 4:19 PM on November 30, 2010 [2 favorites]

An ant farm?
posted by Windigo at 4:31 PM on November 30, 2010 [1 favorite]

There are several books in the worst-case scenario line for kids, and a game, too.
posted by lemniskate at 4:37 PM on November 30, 2010

Maybe the DVD set of History Channel's Modern Marvels: Engineering Disasters? The episodes don't always have footage of the failures, but the analysis is usually thorough.
posted by puritycontrol at 4:43 PM on November 30, 2010 [1 favorite]

Maybe ask the library if there's any books out there on his level about plate tectonics? There's something really cool about the idea of continents zipping around and crashing into one another & lost land bridges & how mountains are actually just crash zones where the earth's crust wrinkles up/rubs & stuff like that, with the bonus that it's a way to perk interest about !science!, not just the imagination.
posted by Ys at 4:47 PM on November 30, 2010

Does he have the Klutz book Disaster Science? It has cool before-and-after lift-the-flap photos.
posted by Ery at 5:00 PM on November 30, 2010 [2 favorites]

If he's as above his grade level as I was at age 8, he might appreciate the Gamma World tabletop RPG. It's simpler than standard D&D, has a much smaller rulebook and much fewer expansions/supplements.
posted by CrunchyFrog at 5:27 PM on November 30, 2010

Any buildings scheduled for demolition in his area?
posted by robocop is bleeding at 5:30 PM on November 30, 2010

Crazy Machines.
posted by Sassyfras at 5:30 PM on November 30, 2010

One of my favorite toys ever was a set of big cardboard building blocks. The ones I had came in two sizes: I think they were about 12"x6"x6", and 12"x12"x6". I probably spent hundreds of hours as a kid building various structures with them, and also playing the "how tall and unwieldy can I make this tower before it falls over" game. They made a satisfyingly dramatic crash when they fell down, but being made out of corrugated cardboard they didn't weigh much and didn't cause much collateral damage to other stuff in the room.
posted by usonian at 5:37 PM on November 30, 2010 [2 favorites]

I'm not sure what the reading level is on this, but "The Road" by Cormac McCarthy is a very good book. I know that I would have loved to have access to better books than I knew how to find when I was his age. At any rate, it could either serve as a good intro to fiction, or it might serve as a great gift in a few years when he's into fiction.

It looks like they turned it into a movie, too.
posted by aniola at 5:49 PM on November 30, 2010

I loved this book: Motel of the Mysteries. And lo and behold, it's by David McCaulay; I read it before I ever heard of him. It's about an archaeology team in the year 3850 which uncovers a hotel in a city from 1985. They think the TV was a shrine, and the toilet seat was a ceremonial necklace for worshiping at that shrine. Heh, heh, toilet seat!!
posted by CathyG at 5:56 PM on November 30, 2010 [1 favorite]

The Road? For an eight year old? NO.

I liked the Worst-Case suggestion, above. Also, the Macaulay books are wonderful.

It's not in the same "disaster" vein, but he could be into something like this snap-together electrical engineering kit. Might have a short half-life, though.
posted by Alt F4 at 6:00 PM on November 30, 2010 [4 favorites]

Maybe your nephew has a much stronger stomach than I do, but The Road scared the ever-loving SHIT out of me. At age 26. One of the only books I've ever read that literally made my stomach lurch.

Also, McCarthy never really says what the disaster was, precisely (something about nukes, but I think it's meant to be bigger than just that), and the story takes place ten years after the sort of thing that would even interest your nephew. Instead it's all about a father and his young son on the run from cannibalistic rapist warlords. Fun times!
posted by Sara C. at 6:11 PM on November 30, 2010 [1 favorite]

Life After People, Season 1
posted by katopotato at 6:35 PM on November 30, 2010

Destroyed in Seconds is a Discovery channel documentary (2 DVD set).

The description is: Witness unthinkable implosions, explosions and mass devastation on this 2-DVD, 12 episode set featuring clip after clip of jaw-dropping destructions and the stories of the lucky few who walked away. Destroyed In Seconds reveals the most shocking catastrophes ever caught on tape, from freeway accidents and fiery explosions to natural disasters of epic proportions.
posted by cecic at 6:35 PM on November 30, 2010

There are a lot of video games out there that encourage wanton destruction in the name of Fun. Some good examples:

Rampage: A side-scrolling monster battle video game series. It's had several incarnations on multiple consoles over the years, but the gist is that you control a giant monster (originally an ape, a dinosaur, and a werewolf; later expanded to other wacky varieties) who has to either defeat or cooperate with rivals while flattening cities around the world one by one. The gameplay is very satisfying -- you have to kick, punch, and/or bodyslam skyscrapers until they collapse into rubble, which you can do from the ground or by scaling the buildings and attacking them from the sides or the roof. You also have to contend with tanks, helicopters, and other military forces. The architecture varies as you progress, so you can do stuff like punch out the face of Big Ben or level the Capitol Building by bouncing on it like a trampoline. The whole thing has a light, cartoony vibe, and was pretty fun to play, especially on multiplayer. I don't know what consoles he has access to, but there's at least one edition of it out for every major platform from the last decade or so.

Gameplay: Rampage: World Tour (older), Rampage 2: Universal Tour (more recent), Rampage Through Time (more recent-er), Rampage: Total Destruction (the latest incarnation)

War of the Monsters: A Playstation 2 game similar to Rampage, but in 3D. Destroying the various cities isn't integral to the gameplay, but it's just as satisfying. There's also more variety to the destruction -- you can knock buildings over, break off pieces and use them as bludgeons, fire missiles and napalm, and even trigger disasters like earthquakes and tidal waves. It's slightly more violent in tone, but still kid-friendly, with a retro '50s sci-fi feel.

Gameplay: War of the Monsters

You could also get him hooked on one of the many flash games with physics/destructible environments. Angry Birds, for instance, is very popular right now.
posted by Rhaomi at 6:49 PM on November 30, 2010 [1 favorite]

A working Geiger Counter
posted by -harlequin- at 7:37 PM on November 30, 2010 [1 favorite]

Dougal Dixon's After Man: A Zoology of the Future is a beautifully illustrated answer to the question, what would evolve to fill all the empty niches after humanity and our collateral environmental damage disappeared? Whale-sized oceangoing penguins! Spine-tailed squirrels! Gigantelopes! Please ignore the Amazon preview pages, which show only the most boring part of the book, not the 90% beautiful illustrations of fantastic animals. I loved it when I was 8.
posted by drdanger at 8:18 PM on November 30, 2010 [2 favorites]

Earth Abides by George R. Stewart
posted by stp123 at 9:45 PM on November 30, 2010 [1 favorite]


(I'm not kidding. This has been one of my 8-year-old's favorite movies since he was 4.)
posted by Daily Alice at 3:29 AM on December 1, 2010 [2 favorites]

Earth Abides, yes! the S.A.S. Survival guide is the best, even including survival tips after an atomic bomb. And the Dangerous Book for Boys, along with enough PVC pipe to make the spud cannon
posted by Redhush at 9:59 PM on December 1, 2010

You guys are awesome! Jenga is kind of perfect, as it's something we can play together after the first rush of present opening. And the Macaulay books, esp. "Building Big" look great. I'll throw in "World Without Us" and see what he thinks.

Sim City (or something like it) sounds good--I see there is a Wii version (he has a Wii), but it doesn't seem to have very good reviews.

... I think I'll pass on The Road. I do want to remain friends with my sister. Heh.
posted by lovecrafty at 12:57 PM on December 2, 2010

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