Grandpa, what’s that? Over there! It’s a … craft kit! No, it’s a game! Is it a toy? It looks like a book, but … what is it?
It’s a Klutz kit!
For over thirty years, Klutz Press has been offering a little education and a whole lot of fun with its unique “multimedia” approach, combining reading, crafts, outdoor activities, old-fashioned games, trivia, family fun, science, and silliness. Each Klutz book gives simple but detailed instructions for activities as diverse as making clay beads, playing Pick Up Sticks, building a solar car, using face paints, creating rubber band-powered flying machines, and learning to juggle. Attached to almost every Klutz book is a kit of all the materials needed to embark on the specified project, be it a bubble wand, marbles, safety pins, embroidery floss, bean bags, or watercolor paints. Current bestsellers at our bookstore are Body Crayons, Capsters, Paper Stained Glass, and Foam Gliders. My nephew’s new favorites are the Sling-Chute, and Boom! Splat! Kablooey!, while my niece adores Make Your Own Twinkly Tiaras.
It all started as a student teacher’s attempt to keep his tenth grade remedial-reading class engaged. In 1977, John Cassidy, English and education major at Stanford University, tried to keep his sophomore reading class from falling asleep by throwing tennis balls out at them, following them with printed instructions on how to juggle. Not only did it help Cassidy determine how much his students were able to read when they were motivated, but his class had fun and most students learned to juggle quite capably. Inspired by this success, Cassidy asked two friends to help him earn money by offering sidewalk juggling lessons and selling Cassidy’s book, Juggling for the Complete Klutz, along with three beanbags. The first 3,000 copies of the book-with-beanbags sold from backpacks and the back of bicycles, within weeks; by the end of 1978, they had sold 50,000 copies. Darrell Lorentzen, the business major, wrote the official business plan; B.C. Rimbeaux, the psychology major, asked the bank for a loan. The three friends incorporated as Klutz Press, in Palo Alto, California, at the end of 1978.
Sales continued to be “steady [but] unspectacular”, says John Cassidy, on the “About Us” section of Klutz’s official website. In 1982, the group published their second book, The Hacky Sack Book, with instructions for several different ways to play the bean-bag kicking game which was growing in popularity. The how-to guide included, of course, a hacky sack, and buyers responded in a big way. Obviously, people liked having the fun, simple guides that came with the “equipment” needed to play. At this point, Cassidy committed himself to the company in earnest.
Since that auspicious point, Klutz has created more than 200 different kits, encompassing such broad categories as crafts, art (drawing, painting, sculpture), games and puzzles (remember Cat’s Cradle? Cootie Catchers? Jacks?), travel activities, science (solar cars, rockets, constellation guides and charts, battery activities) and so much more. In 1995, seven years before Scholastic, Inc. bought Klutz, Klutz was selling nearly 5 million books a year without spending money on advertising.
These days, Klutz continues to sell fun and learning to people of all ages. When Explorabook was first published in 1991 in conjunction with the San Francisco Exploratorium science museum, general manager Kurt Feichtmeir hoped to eventually sell 100,000 copies. Feichtmeir was stunned when, less than four years later, it had sold more than 800,000 copies. Many books appeal to adults as well as to children – for example, Watercolor for the Artistically Undiscovered sells extremely well with the retired population. At our store, when we issue monthly reminders for our Klutz craft and activity night, I joke that “children under 10 should be accompanied by an adult. Adults need not be accompanied by children.” Following the spirit of John Cassidy and the crew at Klutz, I love to invite the child in all of us to play.