March 09, 2017


Make Your Own Soap. By the editors of Klutz. Klutz. $21.99.

Circuit Clay: The Easiest Way to Learn about Electricity. By the editors of Klutz. Klutz. $21.99.

     Klutz, now the “books-plus” crafts-project division of Scholastic, has specialized in good, clean fun for many years, ever since it was a scrappy little independent West Coast company. So it was probably inevitable that there would eventually be a crafts-project offering such as Make Your Own Soap. After all, what could be better and cleaner fun than this? Intended for kids as young as six – but fun, really, for all ages, and that includes adult ages – this kit contains, as always with Klutz, both the instructions for doing the projects and essentially all the items needed to complete them. In this case, that means there is a box bound to the back of the instruction book and containing soap base, a soap mold with six shapes, a pleasant coconut-papaya scent, color tablets, cosmetic-grade glitter, even stickers to dress up the soap bars – and a gift box and ribbon to use in giving them away. But why would you do that? After all the work, kids and parents alike will probably want to keep and use the soaps themselves. Well, all right, not “all the work” – as usual with Klutz offerings, the projects are not especially difficult. But doing them is really satisfying. Parents should know that the soap projects are best done by child and adult together, or at least with the adult hovering nearby, since soap making requires heat (microwave or stovetop heat in this case), rubbing alcohol in a spray bottle (not included), and a cutting board and knife. In fact, the instructions specifically tell kids to find “a responsible adult assistant” for soap-making. Klutz provides its usual bit of science along with its how-to-do-it narrative – noting, for example: “Bubbles are just pockets of air wrapped in layers of water and soap. The soap makes a kind of water sandwich (water is the filling and the soap is the bread).” And while kids, ahem, digest that, they can proceed to learn how to make seven slightly larger soaps or 10 smaller ones, in multiple colors and with great shapes such as a star, an emoji cat, and a cupcake. Along the way, the instruction book explains how soap works and why you need it rather than plain water to get clean (soap “is like the chemistry cool kid who hangs out with everyone, to mingle and wash away the dirt”). There are a few surprising and delightful extras here, too, such as “soap-powered experiments” using two included paper boats in a race, with whatever liquid soap you may have at home as fuel. An unusually involving project, this soap-making one has only one flaw: kids are likely to enjoy it so much that they will want to make even more Klutz-style soaps after they use up the ingredients here. Hmm. Could that be a Klutzian sales strategy?

     Of course, parents can always distract their soap-loving kids, at least those ages eight and up, with a different Klutz offering – for instance, Circuit Clay. This is, in its way, every bit as clever as the soap-making kit. Electricity and water do not mix, of course; and interestingly, the packaging of this “books-plus” offering is opposite that of the soap project, with the electricity instruction book bound to the back of the box of needed items rather than the front. What is inside the Circuit Clay box is some really amazing stuff that makes this one of the cleverest Klutz offering of recent times. Instead of wires, this electricity-use creation uses conductive clay, which is pretty much what it sounds like: clay that conducts electricity. Four colors of this special clay are provided, along with white insulating clay and, as a source of electricity, a battery pack powered by four AA batteries (which Klutz does not include). With what is included, plus some household items – dental floss to cut the clay, toothpick and pencil to shape it, plastic bags or containers to store it, and so on – kids can make clay sculptures that they can decorate with paper punch-outs (included) and illuminate with LEDs (20 included, in five colors). As always, there is science as well as fun here, and in fact Circuit Clay is pretty much all science, packaged enjoyably so learning becomes fun: “A circuit is a loop that allows an electric current to flow through it. …So what is electricity? When a bunch of electrons start moving in the same direction, they create an electric current.” There is a wonderful hands-on demonstration here of what a short circuit is and how it works, and there is a well-written troubleshooting checklist to go through if the suggested projects do not go as planned. The projects themselves include a few spacey ones (rocket, UFO, shooting star, astronaut) and some down-to-earth ideas (flower, jack-o’-lantern). Kids can even make a cupcake with flashing light on top or a snowman with illuminated eyes. As in many Klutz crafts-project offerings, there are somewhat-more-complex things to make later in the instruction book, including a window showing a nighttime scene with twinkling stars; a police car topped with red and blue lights; and, at the very end, a dragon with glowing eyes and tongue. Unlike the elements of the Klutz soap projects, which will be used up by the time kids finish the instruction book, the ones in Circuit Clay will have some remnants that can be stored – and the clay can be reworked to do new things, allowing kids to have their own flights of fancy after completing the specific ideas suggested in the instruction guide. In both soap-making and circuit design, though, what is klear is the kontinuing kleverness of Klutz.

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