September 29, 2016
(++++) MAKE AND BAKE
Grow Your Own Crystal Jewelry: 7 Sparkly Projects to Make and Wear. By the editors of Klutz. Klutz. $22.99.
Make Your Own Mini Erasers with Magical, Moldable, Bakeable Eraser Clay. By the editors of Klutz. Klutz. $21.99.
There is more science than usual in a Klutz “books plus” crafts-project product in the offering called Grow Your Own Crystal Jewelry. Intended for ages eight and up, it includes both a box filled with everything needed for the experiments – yes, these are science experiments – and a book bound to the front of the box, giving instructions on what to do and explaining why the projects work the way they do. This is sufficiently serious science to inspire a more-than-usually-strong warning on the book’s cover about “chemicals that may be harmful if misused.” True, that is a typical lawyerly overreaction, intended to prevent legal difficulties in the event of problems, but there is enough truth to it so parents should be sure that kids who become intrigued by this project approach it with some care. Neatness helps, too: this can get messy. Grow Your Own Crystal Jewelry includes crystal powder, necklace cord, pipe cleaners (the base of most of the jewelry), dye tablets to color the crystals, earring wires, nylon thread, glaze to brighten the colors of the completed projects, and more. As is usual with Klutz, pretty much everything needed to do the projects is supplied, except for mundane items such as measuring spoons, a small pot, masking tape, some clear nail polish and a few other things. As is less usual with Klutz, the standard (and, again, legalistic) warnings about safety are followed in the book by a section called “Setting Up Your Lab” that makes it clear you really are doing chemistry in creating this batch of wearables. And then there is some honest-to-goodness “Crystal Science,” including the information that the “crystal powder” supplied by Klutz is actually alum – with a short discussion about what alum is, where it comes from, and how it is used. There is also a brief chapter called “Crystals vs. Gems” that explains the similarities and differences – all in all, a fairly substantial amount of scientific information to pack into a brief book whose main reason for existence is to provide instructions on growing crystals. After the introductory material – which, of course, kids can skip if they are really eager to get to the experiments – there are the usual super-clear Klutz instructions on what to do and why, explaining, for instance, the reason to use distilled water to create seeding solutions instead of using ordinary tap water. Some of the information here falls under the heading of good laboratory procedures, although it is not labeled that way – for instance, there is a section on using leftover solution and how to filter it for cleanliness (using a coffee filter). What is really neat about Grow Your Own Crystal Jewelry is how clearly it shows the way chemistry permeates everyday life. That is not, however, why kids will want the product: they will want to get to the “Projects” section and find out just how to make earrings, a pendant necklace and more – seven projects in all, just as the subtitle says. The book is careful to explain that crystals do not last forever and should not be dropped (besides which, alum dissolves in water and has to be kept dry at all times). Nevertheless, as a combination crafts project and science experiment, Grow Your Own Crystal Jewelry has a great deal of value – although, since all the finished projects are for girls, it is unlikely to have much appeal to boys.
Boys may prefer Make Your Own Mini Erasers with Magical, Moldable, Bakeable Eraser Clay, which is fun for anyone and is also intended for ages eight and up. The packaging here reverses that of the crystal-growing offering: this time the book is attached to the back of the box, not the front. What is in the box here is simpler than what is provided for crystal growing: there are eight blocks of clay in different colors, a clay-shaping tool, some paper pieces to punch out and fold for decorative purposes, and an eraserless pencil. There are no major warnings here, but a few minor ones do turn up: the oil in unbaked clay can stain furniture; bright colors can also cause stains; erasers that are too sticky can be cooled by being put in the refrigerator briefly; and so on. On the whole, this is a less-serious and easier-to-grasp project presentation than the one about crystal jewelry. The instructions explain how to knead clay, how to use large or small clay balls, how to shape ovals and cones, and so forth. There are clear drawings showing how to draw faces with a fine-tip permanent marker, how to blend specific amounts of particular clay colors to create new and different shades, and why not to worry when homemade erasers get grey spots (the pencil lead, which is actually graphite, causes the spots). There are recommendations on baking temperature for erasers (including an admonition not to use a microwave oven for these projects), a warning to let newly baked erasers cool untouched for at least an hour after they are done, and some offbeat ways to use homemade erasers: an eraser bracelet, eraser rings, even eraser key chains. The specific projects shown are whimsical and often delightful: bowling pins, roller skates, an eraser shaped like a pencil with an eraser, an ice cream sandwich, a fried egg, pizza, sushi, and all sorts of animals – a koala, a dog, a hedgehog, a parrot, a lion and more. Kids really can get super-creative with this easy-to-use clay and with easy-to-shape projects such as a cactus, a pair of lips, and even a little gnome. There is enough clay for oodles of erasers, and creative eraser-makers will soon discover that they can build things with the clay and not need to attach their projects to pencils at all – although they will still function as erasers if called into service. This is one of those Klutz offerings that are sheer enjoyment, filled with exuberance and amusing possibilities – and easy enough to do so that even kids who may be a bit less than completely neat and careful can have a lot of fun.