May 08, 2014


Straw Shooter Jets. By the editors of Klutz. Klutz. $16.99.

Air Power: Rocket Science Made Simple. By Pat Murphy and the scientists of Klutz Labs. Klutz. $16.99.

Tissue Paper Crafts. By April Chorba. Klutz. $19.99.

My Style Studio. By the editors of Klutz. Klutz. $21.99.

Make Your Own Washi Tape Stickers. By Anne Akers Johnson. Klutz. $16.99.

Felted Friends: Create Your Own Soft, Fuzzy Animals. By Kaitlyn Nichols. Klutz. $19.99.

     Although no longer going entirely its own way as an independent company, Klutz, which is now distributed by Scholastic, continues to produce books unlike any others – because they are not books but “books-plus” products, crafts projects in book form with clear instructions and all the materials needed to do the things those instructions describe. Whether created by committee (usually listed as “the editors of Klutz”) or by individual people under the Klutz aegis, these books are consistent winners, mostly for kids ages eight and up – although occasionally for older preteens and even young teenagers who enjoy staying in touch with hands-on crafts.  The latest Klutz crop – these offerings do seem to grow organically rather than simply being “published” – includes two “books-plus” likely to be particularly appealing to boys, two likely to attract girls, and one for slightly older preteens.

     Straw Shooter Jets and Air Power are both about making things that zoom, fly, dip and eventually crash (or land smoothly, if possible). The cover of Straw Shooter Jets invites kids to “make your own mini air force,” which in this case means using 14 custom straws (did you know “custom straws” existed?), 10 nose weights (for the planes’ noses, not the kids’), 30 “Fleet Sheets” of specific plane designs, and a stencil showing the exact shape that a plane needs to be in order to work with the straws and nose weights. There are two planes per “Fleet Sheet,” making 60 jets in all, and there are five different plane designs with names such as “Viper” and “Strawhawk.” But as usual with Klutz, there is more here than instructional material – Klutz shows kids where the ideas for these constructions came from (there are great photos of the real-world planes that inspired the crafts projects), and the book details all the capabilities of the projects. That means not only flying the planes for distance but also learning how to make them bank, loop, boomerang, corkscrew and more. Easy? Well, not always – the instructions are very clear and very well illustrated, but they do have to be followed quite carefully, and some of the more-advanced maneuvers require enough time for some trial-and-error experimentation. But one of the neat things about Klutz is that it does not make things too simple – just simple enough so kids who follow the directions will get the expected (and highly pleasing) outcomes shown. The best thing about a Klutz “books-plus” project is the sense of accomplishment that comes with it at no extra charge.

     The accomplishment in Air Power is the creation of four “rocket-powered” vehicles: a hot rod, hovercraft, helicopter and, yes, a rocket. This Klutz project pack says it exists “because rocket science is way too much fun to leave to scientists,” which is a pretty neat way to put things. The enclosed crafts items here are specific to the four projects: rocket fins and tube for the rocket, for example, and – for the hovercraft – cockpit, body, thrust vent and sticker sheet. Straw Shooter Jets offers multiple variations on a theme; Air Power presents four different themes, although all are related through their use of, well, air power. And that power comes from – balloons. Yes, the box attached to the back of the instruction book includes color-coded balloons in two sizes: the red ones are small and the others (blue, green and purple) are large. Matching the right-size balloon to the appropriate project is important; but, as always, Klutz clearly explains what to do and how to get things “rolling,” “floating,” “spinning” or “blasting.” There’s even a little science background here – another frequent feature in Klutz offerings. For example, there is some information on Sir Isaac Newton (shown, anachronistically but amusingly, holding a modern orange balloon), and there is an explanation of why rocket-engine functions resemble what happens when you fill a balloon with air and then let it go to fly away, out of control.  (“Go find the balloon. You’ll need it again later,” Klutz advises.) Here as in Straw Shooter Jets, the projects are fun, there is solid science behind them, and kids who take the time to follow the directions will be learning a bit about how things work while creating action items that are involving as well as amusing.

     Klutz also offers “books-plus” projects involving inaction items, things made to be put on display rather than to toss or fly about. These projects have such titles as Tissue Paper Crafts and My Style Studio. They are pretty much what they sound like: cute and stylish, respectively. Tissue Paper Crafts includes 100 sheets of tissue paper in multiple colors, a stencil to make multiple shapes, wire, string, bead eyes, a small tube of glue, and even a cute punch-out birdcage to hold any adorable little birdies that kids may choose to make to decorate a room or locker. The “Tips & Techniques” section that opens the instructions is particularly important here for anyone not accustomed to working with tissue paper, and the projects themselves vary significantly in difficulty, giving kids a chance to become accustomed to handling the materials before they try any of the more-complex undertakings. Most of the projects are flowers of one sort or another, but the book eventually shows how to make “pretty potted plants” and then several different birds – any of which looks cute in the little cage.  As for My Style Studio, this is a fashion instruction kit, providing figure art to trace, eight colored pencils, a drawing pencil, a pencil sharpener (a nice touch), an artist’s eraser, a fine-line pen and more. There are some interesting real-world connections here, for instance in the description of the basic model with “a longer neck, a shorter torso, and thinner limbs than you see on most people. Do you know anyone who looks like this? We don’t. But this is a book about fashion, not real life. Fashion designers like to exaggerate the long, lean lines of their looks.” In addition to the fashions themselves, kids can use the instructions here to create accessories, embellishments, custom fabrics, and more; and there are specific designs and colors for each of the four seasons. Intended for budding fashion designers, My Style Studio even suggests that “it’s time to create a label for your looks” after completing the instructions – a bit of exaggeration, to be sure, but one that kids who enjoy the way Klutz handles this topic may seriously consider.

     Designer clothes need designer labels, of course, so how about making some from washi tape? This is patterned paper tape that, like masking tape, sticks just about anywhere and peels off easily. Unlike typical masking tape, though, it is brightly colored and patterned, and Klutz provides more than 100 feet of it in Make Your Own Washi Tape Stickers. Of course, there is more: a fine-line felt-tip pen to use for tracing the abundance of art in the book, and peel-off backing paper onto which to trace the art. This project takes a little getting used to: you trace the art onto the backing paper, cover the traced shape with pieces of one or more of the six provided rolls of washi tape, cut the sticker out, peel it, and put it just about anywhere – binders, cards, windows, mirrors, lockers, and so on. There are a few tricks here, though, so following the instruction book carefully is important. For example, there are folds in the backing paper, and the placement of the tape is important: if the fold and tape run in the same direction, the sticker is more likely to tear when removed from the backing. The book shows how to prevent that – and also, typically for a Klutz offering, shows what to do if the sticker does tear. When the traced art is small, the ease or difficulty of peeling also depends on whether the folded section of backing paper runs inside the art. Illustrations show both the better and less-good way to do things, and paying close attention to the pictures is important to ensure that these projects are as enjoyable as they can be. Washi tape, which originated in Japan, will likely be less familiar to kids than many other Klutz crafts items, but Make Your Own Washi Tape Stickers is still quite appropriate for ages eight and up – it just requires a little more attentiveness than some other Klutz “books-plus” productions, and may have a slightly steeper learning curve.

     Klutz does have some “books-plus” offerings that are somewhat more complicated and therefore are intended for older crafts fanciers. Felted Friends is one of them: a set of instructions for kids ages 10 and up to use in creating five “super-cute critters” that really are adorable and that are made with the included materials – natural wool roving, a needle-felting tool, a foam work surface, and the usual clear, step-by-step instructions. The five little “animal friends” are a cat, rabbit, squirrel, fox and mouse, the last of which can alternatively be a hedgehog. Felting is likely to be less familiar to most kids than drawing or using tissue paper, so the explanatory material here is particularly important; and it is, as usual with Klutz, quite well done, showing how loose wool is transformed into felt with a simple needle-containing tool that is held like a pencil. There are clear instructions on measuring and tearing wool, picking out just a pinch or a skinny strand, and making round or flat shapes – and putting the various techniques together to produce adorable little felt animals as cute as anything you will find in a gift shop. But they are self-produced, not mass produced, and that is really the whole point of Felted Friends and the other Klutz “books-plus” crafts projects: yes, you can buy many of the things Klutz shows how to make, but creating something with one’s own hands has benefits that go well beyond those of simply getting something at a store or online. Just deciding whether to give your felt kitten spots or stripes – and then making those details on your own – is a delightful experience, and Klutz makes it easy in this book, just as it makes it step-by-step simple to create straw-powered jets, balloon-powered vehicles, tissue-paper birds, high-fashion designs or washi-tape stickers in its other new offerings.

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