October 06, 2016


Neon Chalk Lettering: Draw Letters with Personal Style. By the editors of Klutz. Klutz. $18.99.

Design Your Dream Room. By the editors of Klutz. Klutz. $19.99.

     The folks at Klutz create “books-plus” products rather than straightforward books: yes, books are involved, but these clever supplies-included packages are really crafts projects, in which the books are guides to what to do with the crafts materials provided, and how to do it. There are plenty of chances to follow instructions for those so inclined – and also plenty of opportunities to expand one’s horizons beyond the basics of what Klutz offers. The “learn and go beyond” approach is especially clear in two new Klutz offerings that teach different elements of design and encourage kids ages eight and up to go beyond the basics after absorbing them. Neon Chalk Lettering combines a spiral-bound, lie-flat 64-page book with four neon chalk markers, a white pencil for highlighting and other tasks, a black pencil for adding shadows or drawing over extraneous marks, and a ruler to help make guidelines for letters. To make those guidelines, kids supply their own pencil and eraser, and a few other supplies that are likely to be readily at hand are suggested as well. What Klutz includes here, as usual, are the items you would not likely have at a desk or in a toy box. Neon Chalk Lettering can become a guide for creating anything from posters to computer fonts. The instruction book explains what different letter styles are used for – condensed ones for getting longer words into smaller spaces, expanded ones to do the reverse, drop-shadowed ones to heighten impact, and so on – and shows what to do to make the different types of letters. From the beginning here, the book urges kids to “think of letters as starting with a bone structure, like a skeleton,” and then being built into all sorts of different appearances depending on how they are “dressed up.” There are some basic design tips: in block letters, for example, the crossbar in capital A is low, and the one in capital F is lower than the one in capital E. There are explanations of serifs, high-contrast and low-contrast letters (ones in which thicks and thins are very different or are close in weight, respectively), bubble letters, overlapping, italics, and more. On the page facing each discussion of an aspect of lettering is a page on which to use the included drawing materials to try things out. There are some interesting hints here ( for instance, to make script letters look like calligraphy, “the trick is to make the downstrokes all thicker”); and there are some excellent layout tips, including suggestions on ways to make specific words stand out (through size or color, by drawing on a slant or curve, etc.). Neon Chalk Lettering gives very specific instructions on how to do everything being discussed, plus places to practice – and dotted lines on the practice pages so kids who like the way they come out can cut them out and display them. Letters will never look the same again when kids have finished Neon Chalk Lettering and learned just how many elements a set of letters can contain. And the whole point of the book is to take the learning and find other places to apply it, using the neon markers on labels, notebooks, chalkboards and other places suggested at the end – or places that kids discover for themselves. The entire book is an invitation to creativity.

     So is Design Your Dream Room, but in a very different way. Here the spiral-bound instruction book (78 pages this time) comes with five fold-out paper rooms, hundreds of punch-out paper accessories and decorations, a batch of pattern papers, and a tape sheet from which kids peel off small bits that they use to stick paper pieces into the book. The book is essentially a practice area for learning the techniques to use when designing the five fold-out rooms. And there is a lot in the book – plenty of participatory material as well as instructions. There is a full page of tiny swatches, for instance, to be torn out and used to figure out which room colors go together in ways you like. There are quizzes to help kids discover what their own personal room style is likely to be, with questions such as, “My dream business would be having my own: A. art gallery; B. cupcake bakery; C. vintage boutique; D. dance studio; E. doggy daycare.” There are seven of these questions, and the pattern that emerges from them leads to room patterns that the book suggests kids with those answers will like – and they can check that easily by turning to specified pages. But there are other ways to approach Design Your Dream Room. There are all sorts of cutouts, colors and furnishings to be used in room creation, and suggestions on when to use specific approaches: “Bright colors create energy and excitement in a small room.” The sheer amount of personalization here is immense, and may even be overwhelming – kids will do well to get into the book gradually and create parts of rooms carefully instead of trying to do everything at once (or, heck, just do everything at once, throw it all out and start over!). The spaces to design here include a “cozy nook” in which “to hide away with a good book, listen to music, or just daydream;” a “study in style” location as “a place to inspire and motivate you;” and so forth. The fold-out rooms, which are made of stronger paper than the rest of the book, are labeled “Modern,” “Princess,” “Vintage,” “Glam Rock” and “Boho Chic,” but there is nothing to stop kids from taking elements that seem best for one of the rooms and putting them in a different one – for extra personalization, deliberate clashing of styles, or just for fun. In fact, Design Your Dream Room is, um, designed, like Klutz books-plus offerings in general, to be fun: kids will learn a lot here about space, proportion, colors, and other elements of style, and will find a wide variety of ways to express themselves spatially. And then – this is really the point of the whole thing – kids can take the lessons learned here and find ways to apply them in their own real-world rooms, honing their own sense of style and adapting the Klutz elements to their everyday life. The whole setup is empowering – and just the sort of education kids do not get in school but can get from books. Or, more accurately, from books-plus.

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