January 26, 2017


My Clay Critters. By the editors of Klutz. Klutz. $14.99.

My Egg Carton Animals. By the editors of Klutz. Klutz. $12.99.

     There is nothing particularly complimentary about being called a klutz – derived from Yiddish, the word means someone who is awkward or clumsy. But the charm of calling a company Klutz lay in the implicit notion that we are all klutzes, one way or another, and can nevertheless make interesting things with our hands if guided carefully enough and given all the things we need for our projects. Maybe “Un-Klutz” would have fit the concept better, but it would not have been as much fun as a name. And now that Klutz operates within Scholastic rather than as a separate, independent company, it is showing that even very young children can be klutzes – or Klutzes, or Un-Klutzes, as you wish – by offering crafts-project kits intended for kids as young as age four. (Traditional Klutz products are generally best for ages eight and up.) My Clay Critters and My Egg Carton Animals adhere to the basic Klutz philosophy of simplicity and amusement – with a touch of additional cuteness thrown in. And, like Klutz “books-plus” products for older kids, these contain clear, easy-to-read-and-follow instructions plus all the items necessary to create a batch of adorable homemade playthings.

     My Clay Critters starts, not surprisingly, with clay – the air-dry type, not the kind that needs to be baked. Six rolls are included, in different colors, along with a 28-page book that gives typically simple Klutz instructions for making 10 different ocean-dwelling creatures: sea turtle, crab, fish, octopus and more. In deference to the age range for which My Clay Critters is intended, the focus here is on manipulating, working with and forming the clay, using the included shaping tool: the potentially over-challenging elements of these brightly colored projects, such as fins and tails, are provided as pre-cut shapes, and screw-on eyes (with insertion points not sharp enough to injure young craftspeople) are included as well. In making the octopus, for example, kids actually make only the octopus’ body, then attach pre-cut tentacles to it and press eyes into the clay to give this critter a more wide-eyed expression than any octopus outside a cartoon will ever have. As it typically does, Klutz throws in an offbeat fact here and there to enliven the proceedings further – for instance, that a group of crabs is called a cast. For each critter, the book shows the finished project, the specific items needed to make it, and then how those items are put together – with everything in easy-to-read language and big, bright illustrations. The clay-working techniques that kids learn here will stand them in good stead when they move on to do other, self-guided projects on their own or in school: My Clay Critters can be a good foundation for further adventures in simple sculpture.

     You would think that if My Clay Critters starts with clay, then My Egg Carton Animals would start with an egg carton. But that is not quite the case. Egg cartons vary a lot, after all: some are cardboard, some are foam, and they come in different colors, with different sorts of printing on them – and may be easy or difficult to cut apart into individual egg cups. So in this case, Klutz provides a kind of idealized egg carton for kids’ projects, in the form of 12 cups that look a lot like the ones in which eggs are packed but that have no printing on them at all and are designed to be easy to break apart and use to build the six farm-animal projects explained in the instruction book (sheep, chicken, goat, cow, and so forth). The plainness of the egg-carton-like basic cups here is wholly intentional, since My Egg Carton Animals includes four colors of paint (and a paintbrush), cotton balls for wool and such, a tube of glue, a dozen googly eyes, and – as in My Clay Critters – lots of punch-out items for animal features that would otherwise be difficult for young children to make, such as wings, ears, tails and horns. The reason the 12 included cups make only six animals is that all the projects here start with gluing two cups together by attaching their rims to each other. That provides the basic shape that kids then decorate with paint, cotton and punch-outs. There is typical, age-appropriate Klutz humor here to keep things interesting, such as the suggestion to make a goatee for the goat. And there is nothing stopping ambitious kids from moving on from the Klutz egg cups to actual pieces of egg cartons in order to create additional creatures – although ambitious young craftspeople will quickly find that everyday egg cartons do not come apart or go together in paired cups as neatly as do the ones that Klutz provides. Still, by the time they finish My Egg Carton Animals and My Clay Critters, young children will know enough about doing these crafts projects so they can strike out on their own with a reasonable expectation of success – and not feel like klutzes at all.

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