“Great Ancient China Projects” in the news

A profile on myself and Steven Weinberg about our new book, “Great Ancient China Projects,” in this week’s Bethesda Gazette (our hometown newspaper). Give it a read if ya get a sec!

From the Entertainment Section, The Gazette, 7/16/08, by Brooke Kenny:

Bethesda native Steven Weinberg remembers his first day of second grade at Bethesda Elementary, when his teacher showed the class a picture of herself bungee jumping. Classmate Lance Kramer was apparently equally impressed, and when the two bonded over how cool they thought it was, a friendship was born.

Their new book ‘‘Great Ancient China Projects You Can Build Yourself” is candy for the eyes and the brain.

Intended for ages 9 and up, the book walks the reader through 25 different projects step by step. A list of materials needed for each activity begins each section. Activities include making a Chinese puppet, an abacus, a mini-yurt, a compass, a paper snowflake, ice cream and a Chinese string instrument.

The book is part of a build-it-yourself series from Nomad Press, which includes such titles as ‘‘Tools of Timekeeping,” ‘‘Ben Franklin Inventions” and ‘‘Kitchen Chemistry.”

The book has history and trivia about China and interesting anecdotes about such things as who is believed to have invented the fortune cookie. Each chapter offers a ‘‘Words to Know” vocabulary section, where readers can learn the meaning of everything from topography to jingmai.

Kramer hopes the book will give kids an understanding about different facets of Chinese society. He says it is easy for kids to get the wrong idea about any far-away country that is frequently in the news because of crises.

‘‘…There’s a lot of opportunities for misunderstanding,” he says.

Kramer says his research for the book came from multiple sources — his own experience and education, his travels and other books about Ancient China.

In developing the activities, Kramer says he would test them out on his friends, who are all in their 20s and 30s.

‘‘I would sit with friends on the weekends and have them build things too,” he says. He was happy to find that his friends seemed to enjoy the activities.

Kramer describes himself as a voracious reader, and admits to having bought nearly every book on Ancient China at his local bookstore.

‘‘I probably spent half the amount I made on the book on buying other books for research,” he says.

Both men have spent time in China. Kramer first became interested in the country as a child whose well-traveled uncle brought him back gifts from the country. His favorites were a handmade print and an engraved stamp, both bearing his name in Chinese.

‘‘All of the cool and wonderful gifts he brought back from China always fascinated me, and I wondered what kind of incredible place they must have come from,” Kramer says.

Kramer went on to study Asian and Middle Eastern history at Dartmouth College and visited China in 2006.

Weinberg taught English in Beijing for six months the same year. When he lived there, he was really struck by what Chinese artists could create using just black and white.

‘‘I really love their art,” he says.

Weinberg would spend his weekends going to markets and poring over old calligraphy. Although he had a strong background in oil painting – he double majored in art and government at Colby College – he tried to take a different approach to illustrating the book.

‘‘I really wanted to make this in the style of calligraphy [and] Chinese brush painting,” he says.

Weinberg would do the activities himself so he could figure out the best way to illustrate them.

Kramer interned at Nomad Press, the company that published the book, when he was in college. He found the publisher very open to his interest in writing a book, and Kramer’s subsequent proposal was approved. Upon learning he had gotten the gig, he wanted to spread the good luck by inviting Weinberg to illustrate book.

Kramer had always liked Weinberg’s artwork in high school when both attended Walt Whitman. When Weinberg submitted some pieces to an online magazine that Kramer runs, Kramer knew he had found his illustrator.

‘‘I just fell in love with the drawings,” Kramer says.

Weinberg is currently working on a graphic novel, set to be published by Roaring Brook Press. Kramer is open to the idea of writing another book one day, but this project took a lot more out of him than he expected.

Still, Kramer describes the experience of working with a good childhood friend on a children’s book was ‘‘irreplaceable.”

‘‘Great Ancient China Projects You Can Build Yourself” is available online at http://www.amazon.com, http://www.borders.com andwww.barnesandnoble.com.

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