Everything I Know How to Do, I Owe to the Klutz Books
How else would I have learned to do magic tricks, make friendship bracelets, or braid hair?
When I close my eyes I can see my childhood bookshelf. There’s the light blue Laura Ingalls Wilder box set, the copy of Anne of Green Gables, Little Women, the “Dear America” books with the built-in fabric bookmarks (in retrospect, possibly problematic or at least historically questionable), the copy of the The Care And Keeping Of You, an American Girl book that was wordlessly handed to me when I was 9 years old. There’s all of my dad’s old cartoon and comic books that got passed down to me, a stack of Judy Blume paperbacks, and years of Highlights magazines.
But there’s a part of the bookshelf where the books don’t sit nicely side by side. The books are slightly oversized and jut out at odd angles because of the plastic pouches attached to the spiral wire that binds the book. That’s right, it’s my collection of Klutz books.
The first book Klutz Press ever published was Juggling for the Complete Klutz, which arrived in the world in 1977 and came with an attached mesh bag full of little beanbags. I did not own the juggling book, but I did come into possession of several other books in the Klutz family, including Klutz: Cat’s Cradle, Klutz Nail Art, Klutz: Painted Rocks, Klutz: Potholders and other Loopy Projects, and probably a bunch of others I’ve since forgotten.
I started to get the Klutz books as gifts in the late 1990s, around the time we moved to Pennsylvania and I was the new kid in school. They were ubiquitous at Scholastic book fairs, but I remember getting them as birthday or Christmas or Easter gifts mostly — they were books for special occasions. As the oldest child, I didn’t have the benefit of learning all of the small but still incredibly meaningful crafts and hobbies that serve as symbols of girlhood that my younger sister would eventually learn from me—like how to braid your hair or cut your own bangs (it turns out you should never do this. Klutz books filled that void.
Each Klutz book felt like a secret guide to some mysterious craft or hobby, something to teach me a very small thing about how the world worked with the added bonus of learning how to be more interesting to a crowd of my seven-year-old colleagues at recess. I’d certainly never had a manicure before, but the Klutz nail art book taught me how to use little bottles and brushes to adorn my nails with colorful polka dots and flowers.
The origami book taught me how to make paper cranes from the attached colorful sheets of paper. After mastering it myself in my bedroom at home, I brought the book, a crane, and the rest of the paper to school, and taught my classmates how to fold and crease the paper just so to make their own cranes one day at indoor recess. Everyone was briefly captivated by the little papery pieces of art they could make with their own hands. “These ori-gammies are such a mess,” our extremely Central Pennsylvania-accented indoor recess supervisor lamented. I didn’t care!
I could easily slip the Klutz Cat’s Cradle loop of string into my backpack and bring it to school with me, showing off a Jacob’s Ladder or Cat Whiskers to friends on the bus. I never went to sleepaway camp or learned how to weave plastic lace to make boondoggle bracelets, but finally I had a contribution to make. I felt like I belonged, like I was making myself a part of some bigger whole. I felt — dare I say it? — cool, or at least noticed.
Like so many children of divorce, I was one of those kids who moved around a lot, and my books always moved with us. I rarely had the things everyone else had — we certainly didn’t have the means to be a video game household, we had dial-up internet until I was practically in high-school — but my mom always made sure I could have my books. I learned how to do magic tricks, and make rainbow catchers, paper airplanes and potholders. Once I ran out of the materials the books came with, I realized I could just use regular printer paper or buy embroidery thread at the store to keep making my own crafts.
If I hadn’t eventually discovered the internet, there’s an alternate universe in which I probably could have been a tradwife. By the time I was 10, I was sewing and hand-weaving, crocheting, stuffing stuffed animals, and French-braiding my hair; weird skills for a middle schooler living in the suburbs, but definitely less weird considering my general state of unpopularity. (It turns out the stuff that appealed to my classmates when I was younger made me a freak in middle school, and bringing an embroidery circle kit with you for your bus ride to school is not really a conversation starter). From there, the kinds of life skills I learned grew out of necessity. After school, when my mom was still at work, I’d get dinner ready for us to eat together and watch my little sisters.
A lot of these little hobbies, crafts and tasks have sort of metastasized into normal adult life skills. I still cook and bake a lot, and my muscle memory would probably kick in if I had to do a French braid right now or make a friendship bracelet. At the start of the pandemic, when you couldn’t swipe down your Instagram feed without seeing a loaf of sourdough bread, and everyone seemed newly committed to making stuff and learning new skills, it f dawned on me that I should buy a Klutz book.
But I was overwhelmed by the options available to Klutz-heads now — did I want the Klutz Marvelous Book of Magical Horses, or the Klutz LEGO Gadgets Science/STEM Activity Kit? I never made a decision. And then last week, when I was doing the final dregs of my Christmas shopping, I was on Bookshop.org’s website and typed in “Klutz book,” just to see what I’d find. Lo and behold, the iconic Klutz Friendship Bracelets book — complete with skeins of embroidery floss, beads, and even a workspace and plastic Klutz clip — showed up, mine for the low, low price of $15.59. How could I pass on that? It’s going to be a long winter. I might as well do something to appeal to that tactile side of my lizard brain. I guess it’s time for the Klutzaissance.