Volcanic Talent Turns Teen Author


Teen Scientist Has Book On Experiments

November 03, 1991|By Dolly Merritt

Alan Kramer is the master of fizz and pop.

He knows what happens when you take a jar and add a little bit of vinegar, warm water and baking soda: a volcano-like eruption that foams and sputters out of its container.

"It's the oldest chemical experiment there is," said the 15-year-old Cooksville resident.

That experiment and 29 others are the stuff of Alan's book, "How to Make a Chemical Volcano . . . and Other Mysterious Experiments." The hardback book, published two years ago, has so far sold 15,000 copies. It was published in a paperback edition last spring.

The book is the culmination of four years of work that Alan began when he was 9 as part of the gifted and talented programat Bushy Park Elementary School in Glenwood.

His interest in chemistry surfaced when he got a chemistry set for Christmas in 1984.

"I loved playing around with that; it was something that just clickedwith me," said Alan, now a junior at Glenelg High School. He delved into old chemistry books for experiments. The family kitchen became his laboratory, and on at least one occasion the ceiling provided a barrier for an experiment that backfired.

When Alan's teacher gave him a list of project ideas, Alan chose to write a book about the chemistry experiments he had begun to collect.

After researching other"outdated" science books (without pictures or information about why certain chemicals created certain effects) Alan came up with the ideaof making experiments more fun for young chemists. His idea was to write a short mystery at the preface of each experiment to spark the interest of other young chemists and bring it to their level.

"The twist of the detective story is solved by doing the experiment," he said.

As a sixth-grader at Glenwood Middle School, Alan spent a year trying to find a publisher for his book, which is for students in

grades four through eight. The young writer sent out letters with samples of the experiments to about 25 publishers. Most sent back rejection letters and cards.

But in April 1987, Alan came home from school to find a letter from Franklin Watts publishers in New York City. As he read the first sentence, which humorously reprimanded him formisspelling an editor's name, he learned that Franklin Watts was interested in his book.

"I like their books because I am impressed with the illustrations. . . . I thought to myself, 'Oh well, this is great. What happens next?' " Alan said.

The next year, he spent muchof his time as a seventh-grader working on "the hardest part of the book" -- revisions.

Each experiment was tested twice by Alan. In addition, he says that the publisher hired a chemist to check each project for accuracy and safety. Caution symbols for experiments that require adult supervision are noted. But all of the experiments can be done with household products.

"I had to come up with reasons why certain things happened (in the experiments)," Alan said. And wheneverthere was a new experiment, he had to write another mystery.

As an eighth-grader, he spent another year waiting for the publisher to release the book. By the time it came out, in October 1989, Alan was afreshman at Glenelg High School.

"The biggest thing was when I came home from school and saw the first three copies of the book," he said. He was particularly thrilled with the illustrations by Paul Harvey, a well-known children's book artist.

Alan didn't say much about the book to his friends.

"I thought to myself, 'What happens if it's a big flop?' But then I realized later that it was actually selling . . . and there I was in the ninth grade making money."

Today,Alan is enjoying the profits from a project started seven long yearsago. Besides the nearly $6,000 in royalties he has so far received, he also got a $500 advance when he submitted the book and $500 when he signed the contract with his publisher. With a little "arm twisting" from his parents -- Carole, a homemaker, and Fulton, who is in locomotive repair with the CSX railroad -- the money is in the bank in a certificate of deposit.

"It's going toward my first Mercedes," said Alan. He receives 37 cents for every hardback sold, but isn't sure how much he is likely to make from the paperback. There have been three printings of the book, which has sold throughout the U.S. and Canada. It is available at Junior Editions Inc. in The Mall in Columbia and sells for $11.95. The paperback version sells for $6.95.

Another book is not on Alan's schedule right now.

"When I finished this book, I breathed a big sigh of relief. The thought of doing it again wasn't that great of an idea to me," Alan said, although his editor has broached the idea of writing a series of science books.

Alan ison the cross country and track team at Glenelg High School and runs every day after school and on Saturdays. Also a patrol leader for Troop No. 757 in Glenelg, he already has earned all 33 merit badges and is working toward Eagle Scout honors. He is working on building a nature trail at the Triadelphia Reservoir as his service project.

Alan's other interests are hiking, biking, camping and the outdoors. After graduation, he hopes to attend the Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, where he will take courses in the environment and chemistry.

In spite of the amount of time that went into the book, Alan is savoring his satisfaction with it.

"The more I look at the book, themore gratifying it has become. At first, it seemed to be no more than a school project. Now I feel like, wow, people are actually readingthis."

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