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.... and if those three factors weren't enough to make you buy the book, it is educational as well. 'Crazy Concoctions' is written by Jordan D.. Brown. This is in fact, the only reason I bought this book. I had previously bought his book 'Micro Mania', and it is hands down one of the very best science books for children ever written in fact I would certainly place it n the top 5 for science books and probably for educational books as a whole as well. The book really is flawless. The author was also an educational consultant for children's tv, including Sesame Street, has written a column for the Children's Television Workshops, a few text books and some material for teachers.
I had this book on my waiting list for ages before it was actually released, and while I did end up waiting a short while, hoping for a used copy, there have been no reasonably priced used copies available, with second hand editions selling for nearly twice the price of a new copy. I couldn't wait forever on this so I splashed out the full price, which currently is £7.59 from Amazon with free super saver postage.
I had incredibly high hopes for this book. In fact I was expecting something miraculous after the first book, and while I don't like this quite as much as the first book, it certainly would not be fair to rate down a book that is head and shoulders above the competition because the author's first book was even better. This is still an exceptional book and well worth buying, not only for schools or home educators ( but I don't think any school library should be without this) but also for any family who enjoys learning in a fun and messy manner. If a bit mess drives you mad though - don't touch this book with a 10 foot pole.
"Crazy Concoctions" is a type of recipe book for gooey, slimy, messy mixtures. The recipes themselves are nothing revolutionary. You'll find most of them online for free if you look hard enough. They are also in several other books, and I have tried a number of these myself before buying this book. The book is illustrated with decent cartoon type drawings - nothing wrong with them - but nothing exceptional either. If you are looking for brilliant illustrations, I'd recommend going with the DK books instead.
What makes this book exceptional is simply the quality of the writing. Jordan Brown has a real gift for describing scientific concepts in such a way that even very young children can understand what he is talking about. He also manages to keep it very fun and light hearted, so that even my three year old sat down and listened as I read this to my older child ( age 7), commenting on which projects he wanted to make as we went through the book. This one of those books that the children think is just good fun, and it is brought out as a reward for good behaviour - like my oldest finishing his school work a bit early. He really has no idea that this is school too. That will by my little secret - I like to let him think he does far less schoolwork than he actually does. But this book would be worth it's weight in gold if you practice unschooling and have to find only activities that the children really want to do. For traditional home educators - it is brilliant way to finish off the day with a bit of fun - and it would be grand in a classroom as well. But I think this would just as much fun for families who value learning at home - even if they don't consider themselves home educators - or just enjoy a good mess.
This book has basic recipes. These include Gooey Glop - a slimy sticky non Newtonian fluid ( this means it viscosity changes depending on the amount pressure you put on it - another example would be quicksand), Oooze, a polymer slime, and Sculpting Slime - ooze with polystyrene beads . After this we get fake bodily fluids, imitation vomit - complete with a long list of words for puke, artificial boogers ( although I think this is more like snot) and fake blood. The next chapter explores gasses. You get the basic vinegar and baking soda trick, but instead of putting it in a fake volcano or a rocket, this time it just goes into a ziplock bag - and if done right will come blasting out of it as well. Swimming Raisins is another old trick, as is dropping Mentos sweets into a bottle of lemonade ( although this book says soda but I've never found bottled soda bread and I don't think it will work). You get a recipe for a short acting lava lamp with fizzy tablets ( it call's for alka seltzer but cocodamol will work just as well - or any other fizzy tablets), a colloid mixture using milk and food colour, and a few other recipes.
Next we get experiments you can eat, which includes the same glowing jelly recipe I mentioned in my DK review, but this time using American brand names, secret message muffins, and home made pickles. The book ends with suggestions for your own experiments. At the very end is a recipe which is meant to make a human stink bomb. My son's really wanted to try this, but they didn't like the idea of eating all the foods, and I told them it would take a good amount of the foods to work. The idea id to eat tons of refried beans, garlic, onions, broccoli and radishes, which is meant to give you the ability to fart repeatedly. I imagine healthy helpings of cabbage would be useful as well, but The children were hoping for something they could just take a few bites of and then gas out the house. Unfortunately they will never be able to compete with our staffy in this department.
This doesn't sound terribly educational, but while you are reading about each mixture before making it, Jordan explains all the scientific principles involves. So we learn all about Newtons laws, viscosity, and how a few mixtures defy these laws while making gooey glop. We also learned about matter, atoms, elements and all sorts of other basic science facts, all the while we were having plenty of fun. I especially liked the illustration and explanation on polymers, and this led to quite a discussion of what our lives would be like without plastics.
There are however, a few drawbacks to this book. The first is this is meant to use only common household items as ingredients. These items may all be readily available in the USA, but some are harder to come by here. One of the ingredients is Pop rock candy. You can get this on ebay, but it is a bit dear. I know occasionally things like this appear in local shops - but never when you really need them. Borax is required for two recipes. This is used as a laundry product in the USA but banned here due to the fact that it is very mildly poisonous. It takes a large amount to be harmful - in fact it is used as a food additive under the name E- 285 in some countries. It can be bought here under it's proper name - Sodium Tetraborate Decahydrate or Borax on ebay in small quantities, but expect to pay about £3 for enough to do one or two experiments. Finally the glowing jelly trick will only work with a black light, and the power of that light will determine how well it works. A very expensive one being required for really stunning results. You will also find the American brand Jello powder hard to come by here, by standard jelly cubes work just as well - the only issue really is the light. Another experiment we really wanted to try requires hydrogen peroxide - meant to be available in pharmacies, but my local chemist does not stock it. Ebay does, but it another £3.50 and all these little bits do add up. My next ebay chemical will be ammonia for stink bombs - but those are not in this book. The terminology is very American, but I don't think this is going to be a major issue. It is easy enough to figure out what is meant by "soda" for instance.
I have found that these recipes do work but occasionally a bit of tweaking is required. For instance the Gooey Glop was a complete failure when we made it carefully measuring out the correct ratios of ingredients. Simply adding extra cornstarch solved the problem though, and we really had a lot of fun with it. We cooked it when we were finished - which is not advised but I vaguely remembered an old recipe and it yields a sticky playdoh type stuff - add salt and you are even closer to play dough - in the right proportions you can dry this and make clay, but I'm still working on that - right proportions bit. It also made the mother of all messes and the food colour stained our hands just a bit as well - but this type of thing doesn't bother me. My recommendation is to be prepared with a bit of extra ingredients just in case - and expect to have a good amount of clean up afterwards.