March 11, 2010


The Solar Car Book. By the editors of Klutz. Klutz. $21.95.

The Only Coloring, Puzzle, Game, Dot-to-Dot Activity Book You’ll Ever Need. By the editors of Klutz. Klutz. $14.95.

     “Satan finds some mischief still/ For idle hands to do,” wrote Isaac Watts in the 18th century. “We’ve got a better idea,” Klutz editors might reply in the 21st. Kids with time on their hands can easily spend it in crafts projects or “directed doodling” (not that Klutz actually calls it that) – or in many other activities designed to prevent those idle hands and the minds controlling them from slipping into boredom or, worse, television. For kids ages eight and above, The Solar Car Book provides a wonderful and surprisingly simple project that parents can turn into a discussion of ecologically responsible ways to get around in the world (if they can find a way to do that without taking all the fun out of things). There are only a few parts needed to build this little light-powered vehicle, and as usual in Klutz books, all those parts are included. The car’s body is cardboard, bound right into the book – just take it out, attach the wheels, axles, wires and solar cell, and you’ve got a working model. In fact, Klutz challenges kids who “hate step-by-step instructions” just to look at a front-of-book photo and put the car together from it. But then, of course (and as usual for Klutz), the book gives step-by-step instructions, which make the assembly very clear and easy (there are even holes punched in all the places in the car body through which items need to be inserted). In fact, the instructions are so simple that this would be a mighty thin book if that were all it included. But that is not the Klutz way. There are also pages about solar power, how solar cars work vs. how regular ones with internal-combustion engines work, ways in which solar power is used in real-world vehicles (including airplanes), and how to make the solar car operate indoors (answer: attach a battery; instructions included, of course). Kids who build the car and read the book will not only have a neat little plaything (which doesn’t move terribly quickly, though – be forewarned) but also have a better understanding of energy in general, “green” energy, and the positive elements and natural limitations of using the sun to make things move.

     What kids will understand after going through The Only Coloring, Puzzle, Game, Dot-to-Dot Activity Book You’ll Ever Need is – well, to be honest, not much. This is a book for younger children (ages four and up), and it is designed purely for fun, not for any instructional purpose. But that won’t limit its value to families on rainy days, during car trips or at other “what do I do now?” times. Spiral bound so it easily opens flat or can be folded back on itself, the book features fold-in pages, connect-the-dots puzzles, construction projects such as cootie catchers, punch-through pages that create goosebumps and mosquito bites, an age-guessing puzzle, cutouts that turn buttons into “button noses,” and lots of other silly and simple (and simply silly) activities. The whole book is in black-and-white, which means there are opportunities to color absolutely everything with the five included twist-up crayons – including the page that says, “Don’t color this page” (you’re supposed to do something else first, then color it). There is nothing profound here at all, but there is lots of fun to be had. And if the fun in this book and The Solar Car Book seems vaguely familiar – well, you must be an adult with a good memory, or with kids who are widely spaced in age. Both these books are new editions of ones with the same titles that were issued by Klutz early in this decade. The new versions are redesigned and repackaged but are essentially the same as the earlier ones. That means that if you already had a child who enjoyed either of these books and now have another child in the right age range, you can be almost sure that he or she will have a great time with these reissues. And there’s nothing devilish, or idle, about that.

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