November 07, 2019
(++++) SHOP TILL YOU SMILE
Mini Grocery Store. By the editors of Klutz. Klutz. $21.99.
Leave it to Klutz to have happy groceries. The purveyor of “books-plus” crafts has come up with another winner, an unusual one, in Mini Grocery Store. There is nothing profound or technological about this offering, as there is about some other Klutz products – this one is simple, straightforward, and purely for fun. It is just a clay-modeling kit, but with the typical Klutz slant on things, which means it is amusing, does not take itself seriously, and is easy to do – but just complicated enough to keep kids ages six and up (and their parents) engaged for quite a while.
As usual with Klutz, Mini Grocery Store is both a book and a box. The book contains 52 pages of step-by-step instructions and guidance for creating 20 different foods out of clay – everything from a pineapple to a frozen pizza (and, separately, a pizza box!). The clay is included, of course – in eight vivid colors – and it is all air-dry, so no heat curing is needed. But of course that is not all. Klutz also provides 42 bead eyes, 42 sequin cheeks, 89 punch-out decorations, paper to make a shopping basket and that pizza box, and the basic tools needed to make everything: a clay roller and double-tipped clay tool. What makes the whole offering particularly Klutzish is the notion of how upbeat the groceries are: when complete, they have big eyes, smiling mouths, cute little cheeks, even eyeglasses. They are more adorable (although less edible) than anything to be found in real-world grocery stores.
The instruction book intelligently starts with the absolute basics, including exactly how the two included implements are used and precisely how to make the clay balls that are the basic ingredients in every one of the grocery items. The words are accompanied by super-clear illustrations. For instance, “At the beginning of each project, there is a chart that shows how many balls of clay you need and how big each ball should be” – and just beneath those words is an example of how big to make a clay ball and how far to flatten it so it becomes the right size. Before even making the clay cuties, Klutz suggests assembling the shopping basket from the paper, handles and brads included, plus “glue or clear tape from home” – glue and tape being so readily available that Klutz does not bother to include them. Then it is time to make things to put in the basket, starting with a tomato: a simple red clay ball with five tiny green clay balls rolled a bit to look like leaves and one more shaped into a stem, and with an expression added using the included bead eyes and tools.
From this point, kids can decide how to progress: if they find the basic shapes of produce fun to create, they can make broccoli, an eggplant, and a pineapple, and then move on to slightly more complicated projects, such as leaf lettuce and corn on the cob (which can become harvest corn by simply making clay kernels in several different colors). But if just a couple of fruits or vegetables are enough, it may be time to move on to make meats (such as spiral ham and a T-bone steak – with a tray included for the steak that can be covered with plastic wrap presumably already on hand at home). Other types of groceries that are easy to make with the super-soft clay include cheese wedges (yellow, orange, or marbled), a milk carton (a carton form is provided to help in the shaping), and smiling-faced jars of peanut butter and jelly. Klutz invites kids to think beyond the specifics of the step-by-step projects by displaying similar grocery-type items that can be made in essentially the same way. For example, “You can create all kinds of canned cuties by changing up [sic] the color of the jars and adding different labels” – at which point an illustration shows everything from grape juice to ketchup to a jar of jelly beans.
More-elaborate grocery items are reserved for the latter part of the instruction book, which is where kids will find cereal, sliced bread and an entire sandwich. In truth, none of these projects is particularly difficult, but the ones later in the book build on skills developed earlier, and may have some requirements that are a touch more complex (such as rolling really tiny multicolored clay balls and poking each in the middle with a toothpick to create O-shaped cereal). Klutz carefully reminds kids to keep unused clay in air-tight storage bags so it does not dry out and can be used for future projects – nobody says Mini Grocery Store needs to be done all at once, and in fact it will be even more fun to create some of the shopping odds-and-ends at one time, then come back and do others at another time. And kids who want to make even more than the 20 projects explained in the book can simply get more air-dry clay from an arts-and-crafts store – as Klutz helpfully mentions. As a rainy-day activity or simply something to do indoors when the weather is cold or otherwise uninviting, Mini Grocery Store offers a big helping of delicious (although not-to-be-eaten) enjoyment.