October 28, 2010


The Hand Book. By Pat Murphy and the Scientists of Klutz Labs. Klutz. $19.99.

Make Your Own Music Video. By Kaitlyn Nichols. Klutz. $16.99.

Doctor Frankensketch’s Monster Drawing Machine. By the Editors of Klutz. Klutz. $16.99.

The Truth about My Name and What It Reveals about Me! By Karen Phillips. Illustrations by Hennie Haworth. Klutz. $16.99.

     Klutz does not publish books. It publishes activity kits that just happen to include, or be built around, books. Call them “books-plus” and you will have an idea of the approach. All three of these new wire-bound Klutz offerings are – as usual with Klutz – well researched, well designed, well produced, well packaged and fun. And The Hand Book is educational as well. It presents information about the human hand accurately and with the usual Klutz flair – for example, by showing how the skeletal structure of the limb of a box turtle, a bat and a dolphin is similar to or different from that of a human being. The correct scientific names of hand bones are given, along with interesting things your hand can do or not do – in the latter category would be trying to raise your ring finger when your had is on a flat surface, palm down, and your middle finger is folded under your hand so the finger’s tip touches your palm (the same muscle lifts the middle and ring fingers, and the palm-down position stretches it – so it is not available for moving the ring finger). There are challenges to try when using only one hand, experiments to do to find out if you have a steady hand, and a test to show how sensitive your fingertips are. And of course there is something to create: a skeleton hand, from 22 snap-together pieces packaged in a plastic case bound into The Hand Book. The book explains just how to build the hand (it is not difficult – everything snaps together with just a slight twist here and there), and also shows how to use the pieces to invent new sorts of hands, such as one with fewer but much longer fingers or one with a thumb with extra-long reach (the better to play video games or send text messages). Big, bright illustrations, clear explanations, hands-on (so to speak) learning, and amusing features such as “The Klutz All-Purpose Mix-and-Match Personality and Fortune Teller” (based on finger shapes and palm lines) add up to a book that is equal parts information and sheer enjoyment. And that is frequently the Klutz formula.

     It works very well in Make Your Own Music Video, too. In the deep, dark days of the dim, desolate past – that would be before MTV, then known as Music Television, went on the air in 1981 – few people even knew what a music video was, and fewer cared. But these onetime throwaway showcases for new pop songs exploded into the entertainment world with the advent of MTV and quickly became a huge business of their own – to the point that every 21st-century would-be rock, pop, country or hip-hop star knows you have to make one, if not several, to get your career going, and get the video(s) out to the world in any way possible (most of those ways, such as Facebook and YouTube, not even being in the idea stage when MTV started). Klutz cannot guarantee that its book will turn anyone into a rock star – it probably helps to have some musical ability, you know? – but Make Your Own Music Video is certainly packed with material showing how to give the video presentation of music your best shot. The book omits “the hard parts,” such as “endless practicing [and] playing at a concert where nobody shows up,” and focuses on “the fun stuff,” such as “film tricks, rock star costumes, [and] rock star moves.” Included is a green screen – essential for making you seem to be someone or somewhere that you are not – plus downloadable backgrounds and editing software. Those are the “sizzle” of the book. Its meat includes a set of suggestions for music-video themes, a series of storyboards for planning out the video, and suggestions for everything from costumes to use for different music styles to the best way to lip-sync. There are even a couple of pages of air-guitar lessons, ending with one being smashed (“never try this with a real guitar”). Make Your Own Music Video is in some ways a quintessential Klutz books-plus offering, since it is packed with educational information, teaches a real skill, includes the essentials needed to do what you want to do, and is tremendously enjoyable (although not always easy) to read through and figure out.

     But information-plus-fun is not always the Klutz recipe. Some Klutz books are just about 100% enjoyment, such as Doctor Frankensketch’s Monster Drawing Machine (which will likely appeal more to boys) and The Truth about My Name and What It Reveals about Me! (which is designed specifically for girls). The first of these comes with three two-color pencils and a graphite pencil; the second, with materials to make five fashion-jewelry charms to wear on a bracelet or necklace. Monster Drawing Machine is a Klutzish variation on mix-and-match-bodies books. There are 20 monsters depicted on cardboard pages, each page perforated for easy removal from the book – and also perforated horizontally in two places, so the monsters can be divided into top of head, middle of face and body. The idea is to take the monsters apart (the book contains a bound-in pouch in which to store the pieces for safekeeping), then mix and match to create, well, mix-and-match monsters. And then you take your mixed monster to the “machine” at the back of the book, which has a place for each of the parts and a plastic flap to fit over everything. You close that flap, put a sheet of tracing paper (included, of course) over the closed machine, trace the hybrid monster, then tear out and color the tracing paper to make your very own individual mixed-up monster thingy. The original (pre-taken-apart) monsters range from a toothy, one-eyed tentacled thing to a robot with scissors for hands, a skeleton with nasty-looking eyes, and a really angry-looking baby with huge teeth – wearing a diaper with skull designs all over it. All right, they are so overdone as to be more silly than scary, but that’s part of the Klutz approach: nothing too frightening. True, there is a zombie that has lost one hand and part of an arm, but it is holding a skateboard under the other arm, so everything is fine. The book urges kids to “Be Weird!” when creating the monsters – and shows how, sometimes, it can be fun to make a creature out of only two parts, not three. Klutz specializes in guiding kids toward creativity, not mandating what they do with it.

     The My Name book is considerably gentler, although it does contain a wheel you can turn to find out your “vampire name” by using your ordinary one – “so simple and yet so evil,” says the text. This is only one of several wheels in the book: there is one to find your “candy name,” one to find what your name would be if you were a guy (remember that the book is for girls), and one to find an appropriate title based on your name (such as High Priestess, Monarch, Prima Donna, Diva or Czarina). This is a book that plays with numbers as well as names: in addition to saying how to interpret your signature, it creates numbers from your name and the name of your crush to test your compatibility, develops a “countdown number” using the vowels in your first name, and shows how to find a “friendship number” that will tell you something about you and your BFF. There are also pages on “the power of your initials” and on using the number of letters in your name to find an answer to questions by reading specified sentences from random books (and if it doesn’t work, “try again with a different book”). My Name is silly, yes, but in a mentally amusing way. And for a bit of physical activity, there are five blank, square charms with clear overlays, 30 patterned stickers and 164 letter stickers of all styles and sizes – which can be combined in about a zillion ways to make personalized charms, including ones to give as gifts. Like many Klutz “books-plus,” this one is itself a gift – of creativity and enjoyment, with enough silliness folded in to keep hands as well as minds occupied and interested.

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