August 31 – It’s National Inventor’s Month

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About the Holiday

Established in 1998 by the United Inventors Association of the USA, the Academy of Applied Science, and Inventors’ Digest magazine, this month-long holiday celebrates the imagination and talent of individuals who dare to think differently and create new products, services, and ways of doing things that make a positive contribution to the world. To join in, enjoy your favorite new inventions, and if you harbor dreams of being an inventor—on a large or small scale—look for opportunities to share your ideas.

Who Invented This? Smart People and Their Bright Ideas

Written by Anne Ameri-Siemens | Illustrated by Becky Thorns

 

When you jump in the car or turn on a lamp, the idea that these were someone’s inventions (and even the names Henry Ford and Thomas Edison) may flash through your mind. But what about when you slurp up delicious Raman noodles, watch your pet fish through the aquarium glass, or squeeze out the last bit of toothpaste in the tube? In Who Invented This? Anne Ameri-Siemens introduces young readers to the brilliant minds behind some of the things we use every day.

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Image copyright Becky Thorns, 2021, text copyright Anne Ameri-Siemans, 2021. Courtesy of Little Gestalten.

Take bicycles, for instance. You’ve probably seen pictures of those old bikes with a huge front wheel and a tiny back wheel. Was this the first bike? Not at all! Ameri-Siemens reveals that the first bicycle—called a “running machine”—had two wheels but didn’t have pedals. Invented by Karl von Drais in 1817, it had a steering bar in the front and was powered by the rider sitting on the seat and “running along the ground.” It may seem comical, but this invention led to more and more improvements until Pierre Michaux designed the first bike with pedals in the 1860s. You can read about all of the advancements in bikes and the other products it inspired too.

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Image copyright Becky Thorns, 2021, text copyright Anne Ameri-Siemans, 2021. Courtesy of Little Gestalten.

As long as we’re talking about things that transport people here and there, have you ever thought about what drivers did before there were modern traffic lights? While the idea of indicating “stop” and “go” in red and green is universal across the world, the use of yellow for the transition came later from American policeman William Potts. “The first traffic lights in the world were built in London in 1868.” But they weren’t automatic. A policeman standing in the road had to move arms up and down to regulate the flow of traffic. “At night the arms were lit up in red and green.” Readers will find out more about how traffic lights progressed as well as how the timing of stop and go is controlled.

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Image copyright Becky Thorns, 2021, text copyright Anne Ameri-Siemans, 2021. Courtesy of Little Gestalten.

Sometimes inventors get their ideas from nature—this is called bionics—and kids will learn how George de Mestral was ingeniously inspired by those sticky burrs that cling to socks to create a product most of them use all the time. There are other everyday products that are so important that they were invented long, long, long ago. One of these? Toothpaste! While Washington Sheffield invented the first smooth paste in 1850 by adding glycerin to the powder then used—“a mixture of pumice stone, powdered marble, grated oyster shells, ashes, peppermint oil or sage, and some soap power”—and his son realized the toothpaste could be packed in tubes like artists’ paints instead of sold in foil bags, prehistoric humans also brushed their teeth. Kids will be fascinated to learn more about the history of this morning and nighttime routine and even examples from the animal kingdom.

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Image copyright Becky Thorns, 2021, text copyright Anne Ameri-Siemans, 2021. Courtesy of Little Gestalten.

Readers will be excited to learn about these inventions and many more that make up the fabric of our everyday lives and were conceived by talented inventors, scientists, and engineers. Some are the result of teamwork while some are the product of many years spent alone in a laboratory or even simply chance. In all, kids learn about 34 inventions that fall into diverse categories from transportation to communications, clothing to food, music to science and high-tech marvels.

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Image copyright Becky Thorns, 2021, text copyright Anne Ameri-Siemans, 2021. Courtesy of Little Gestalten.

Anne Ameri-Siemens’ conversational and engaging text will captivate readers interested in learning about how the world they know came to be. Ameri-Siemen’s storytelling beautifully balances the scientific and personal details of each invention to deliver compelling profiles. Interesting asides on each page reveal more about the inventions and the people who created them.

Accompanying each subject are Becky Thorns’ eye-catching illustrations that depict not only the invention but its creator or creators as well as how it is used or where it can be found. Thorns also employs clever ways to connect images on a page-spread that reinforcing their purpose and history. Each page spread offers plenty of ideas to spur research projects or extended lessons for classrooms and homeschoolers.

Packed with information on products, ideas, world-changing inventions, and the brilliant minds behind them, Who Invented This? Smart People and Their Bright Ideas will fascinate kids and spark an interest in further research, science, engineering, and technical studies. The book is highly recommended for young inventors, history buffs, and other creative thinkers as well as for classrooms and school and public library collections.

Ages 9 – 12 and up

Little Gestalten, 2021 | ISBN 978-3899551334

To learn more about Becky Thorns, her books, and her art, visit her website.

National Inventor’s Month Activity

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Share Your Bright Idea! Page

 

Do you sometimes have a lightbulb moment when an idea seems just right? Use this printable Share Your Bright Idea! Page to write about or draw your idea!

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You can find Who Invented This? Smart People and Their Bright Ideas at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

June 17 – National Week of Making

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About the Holiday

In 2016 President Barack Obama instituted June 17 – 23 as the National Week of Making to celebrate the spirit of American ingenuity and invention and ensure that future generations receive the support they need to continue this proud tradition. In his official proclamation, President Obama stated: “Since our earliest days, makers, artists, and inventors have driven our economy and transformed how we live by taking risks, collaborating, and drawing on their talents and imaginations to make our Nation more dynamic and interconnected. During National Week of Making, we recommit to sparking the creative confidence of all Americans and to giving them the skills, mentors, and resources they need to harness their passion and tackle some of our planet’s greatest challenges.” Today, makerspaces can be found across the country in studios, libraries, schools, and community venues to encourage kids and adults to explore their ideas and the feasibility of bringing their creations to market. To learn more about this week-long holiday, visit the Nation of Makers website.

Goldilocks and the Three Engineers

Written by Sue Fliess | Illustrated by Petros Bouloubasis

 

“In a tiny bungalow, / there lived a clever thinker. / Young Goldilocks invented things. She’d make and craft and tinker.” Goldilocks made lots of useful things, like machines to help you tie your shoes, to a self-zipping zipper to a hat outfitted with a flashlight, magnifying glass, and itty-bitty satellite dish to help you find the things you’ve lost. But one day, Goldilocks found that she had “inventor’s block,” so she decided to take a walk.

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Image copyright Petros Bouloubasis, 2021, text copyright Sue Fleiss, 2021. Courtesy of Albert Whitman & Company.

At the same time, the Bear family was out gathering nuts and berries for their pre-hibernation celebration. Baby Bear had a nifty contraption that knocked fruit and nuts into a basket with a tennis racquet. Papa Bear had an ingenious wheelbarrow with mechanical arms and hands that picked berries one by one and deposited them in the cart—but only after tossing them through a tiny basketball hoop. Swish! And Mama Bear’s handy vacuum sucked fruit right off the bushes and collected them in a tank.

Their next stop was the beehive at the top of a hill. After they’d eaten all their goodies, Baby Bear spied a little bungalow. The Bears thought it was just the place to spend the winter. When they went inside, they found “the room was full of strange devices, / widgets, tools, and more!” Looking more closely, Papa Bear found a chair that was perfect for Baby Bear. He marveled that “it feed you and it wipes your mouth, / and reads you stories, too!” Meanwhile, Mama Bear had discovered a bowl that stirred porridge and a bed that automatically rocked you to sleep.

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Image copyright Petros Bouloubasis, 2021, text copyright Sue Fleiss, 2021. Courtesy of Albert Whitman & Company.

Baby Bear loved the chair but wished for one more innovation that would make it just right. Papa Bear found parts and tools and fixed the chair to Baby Bear’s specifications. Mama Bear tasted the porridge and found it lacking one ingredient, so Papa Bear created a porridge-stirrer accessory to add it drop by drop. By now it was dark, and even though Papa Bear thought it wasn’t right to stay, Baby Bear convinced him that one night would be okay.

But when they crawled into bed and turned it on, it rocked so much that it tipped the Bears right onto the floor. There was only one thing to do: “Baby fixed the engine block. / Replace the gears that burned. / Soon the bears were fast asleep… / Then Goldilocks returned.” She saw the chair, tasted the porridge, and then… “heard snoring sounds.” Wide awake now, the bears began to explain. But Goldilocks was not upset. Instead she said, “‘You’ve improved my projects here, / and made them much more fun. / Proving that four brains, by far, / are better than just one!’”

Excited to be inventing again with the bears on board to lend their smart innovations, Goldilocks sends the family off amid promises to “‘…meet up in the spring’” when they will “‘…make the next big thing!’”

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Image copyright Petros Bouloubasis, 2021, text copyright Sue Fleiss, 2021. Courtesy of Albert Whitman & Company.

With her fun flip on the Goldilocks story, Sue Fleiss invites kids to indulge their inner inventor with wacky contraptions that can make getting dressed, cooking, going to bed, and chores more exciting. Fleiss’s clever takes on the well-known “just right” chair, porridge, and bed get readers thinking creatively—perhaps even about their own household appliances. While the original story ends with the interloper being chased away, Fleiss’s version shines with the benefits of cooperation, collaboration, and being open to new ideas.

With so many cool inventions to discover on every page, readers will love taking extra time to find and talk about them all. Any young maker would swoon over Petros Bouloubasis’s well-stocked workbench, and readers would have a blast drawing their own gadgets using the tools and supplies depicted. Quirky, abstract landscapes add to the kid-centric ambiance, and just like the Bear family, who drives away in a new vehicle with their full wheelbarrow in tow, readers will look forward to returning to Goldilocks’ little bungalow again and again.

Imagination, creativity, teamwork, and friendship all wrapped up in a clever fractured fairytale—what could be better?! Goldilocks and the Three Engineers is one to add to home, classroom, and public library bookshelves.

Ages 4 – 8

Albert Whitman & Company, 2021 | ISBN 978-0807529973

Discover more about Sue Fleiss and her books on her website.

To learn more about Petros Bouloubasis, his books, and his art, visit his website.

National Week of Making Activity

CPB - Inventor's Tool Kit II (2)

Inventor’s Tool Kit

 

Every idea begins as a jumble of seemingly unrelated parts. Gathering whatever types of material inspires you and keeping it in a box ready to go when inspiration hits is a great way to support innovation and spark experimentation.

Supplies

  • Small parts organizer with drawers or compartments, available at hardware stores and craft stores
  • A variety of parts or craft materials that can be combined, built with, or built on
  • Some hardware ideas—pulleys, wheels, small to medium pieces of wood, wire, nuts, bolts, screws, hooks, knobs, hinges, recyclable materials
  • Some craft ideas—clay, beads, wooden pieces, sticks, paints, pipe cleaners, string, spools, buttons, glitter, scraps of material, recyclable materials

Directions

  1. Fill the organizer with the materials of your choice
  2. Let your imagination go to work! Build something cool, crazy, silly, useful—Amazing!

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You can find Goldilocks and the Three Engineers at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

February 16 – Innovation Day

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About the Holiday

Today we celebrate all those people who look at a problem and design a solution, or who just ask, “What if…?” and search for answers. The holiday was established by the Science History Institute in conjunction with the Society of Chemical Industry to help bring attention to those people who were not only producing technology, but were also pushing the envelope on what was possible. Each year, these two organizations coordinate to host Innovation Day. This year, restrictions and life-changing alterations needed to combat COVID-19, have sparked innovations both large and small at home, for business, at schools, and for medical researchers. Creative individuals have kept us entertained, given us hope, and kept things going even in the most difficult of times. To celebrate today, put on your thinking cap, look around you, and do something new, novel, and completely unexpected. Who knows…you may be the next great inventor!

Maxine and the Greatest Garden Ever!

Written by Ruth Spiro | Illustrated by Holly Hatam

 

Maxine and her goldfish, Milton, were best friends, and Maxine loved thinking up creative scientific or technical ways to keep him fed, safe, and happy. “Maxine liked making things, and she especially liked making things for Milton. ‘If I can dream it, I can build it!’ she said.” Maxine’s other friend Leo also liked making things, but his creations were more arty.

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Image copyright Holly Hatam, 2021, text copyright Ruth Spiro, 2021. Courtesy of Dial Books.

One day when Leo was visiting Maxine, they found packets of seeds and decided to build “‘The Greatest Garden Ever!’” Milton hoped the garden would have a pond just for him. Leo and Maxine drew up their plans. “Leo’s was pretty. Maxine’s was practical.” When they planted the seeds, Leo planted them far apart in large beds of soil. Maxine’s seeds were packed close together in pots made from old tires, barrels, toys, and even a chandelier. They both looked askance at the other’s seeds. They did, however, agree on Milton’s pond.

Every day they watered, weeded, and waited. At last, they truly did have “The Greatest Garden Ever!” There were vegetables and flowers, birdfeeders and a gazebo. The wild animals thought the garden was great too. One day, Maxine and Leo came to the garden to find nibbled carrots, radishes, and eggplants; pots were knocked over and little footprints were everywhere. Maxine wanted to make something to keep the animals away. “‘Something that looks nice?’ asked Leo. ‘Something that works.,’” said Maxine.

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Image copyright Holly Hatam, 2021, text copyright Ruth Spiro, 2021. Courtesy of Dial Books.

They decided to make a scarecrow. While Leo stuffed overalls and made a shirt, Maxine built a mechanical body for the big teddy bear that would wear them. But the animals didn’t think the scarecrow was very scary. While Leo thought the bear had done nothing, Maxine said that it had helped them know what didn’t work. They gathered new supplies and “then while Leo sewed, Maxine wrote some code.” This time the bear had laser eyes, moving parts, loud sounds, a shiny helmet, and a scary black dress. That night, though, the scarecrow was so scary that it made babies cry, dogs howl, and kept neighbors awake.

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Image copyright Holly Hatam, 2021, text copyright Ruth Spiro, 2021. Courtesy of Dial Books.

Leo blamed Maxine, and Maxine blamed Leo. At home, Maxine and Leo thought about the garden and what they’d said. Maxine wanted “to make things better, and she wanted to start with Leo. Because it takes a long time to grow a garden… but even longer to grow a friend.” When they met the next day, they both apologized. As they cleaned up the garden and shared the last of the lettuce, Maxine had an idea. She and Leo repaired, repainted, and replanted, and when they were finished, they invited their new animals friends to enjoy the garden with them.

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Image copyright Holly Hatam, 2021, text copyright Ruth Spiro, 2021. Courtesy of Dial Books.

Ruth Spiro’s celebration of creativity, gardening, and friendship will enchant kids and show them that sometimes projects lead to try and try again cooperation before the original vision or a new idea is perfected. Through Maxine’s talent for engineering, coding, and inventing and Leo’s artistic abilities, Spiro shows readers that whatever their skills are, they can contribute to the success of any endeavor. When Maxine and Leo’s frustrations over the garden spill out into their relationship and an argument ensues, Spiro reminds kids that people and enduring friendships are more important than plans, projects, or events and that apologies and understanding keep relationships strong. Her charming narration, realistic dialogue, and periodic rhymes create a story that’s a joy to read aloud.

Holly Hatam’s vivid illustrations will keep kids lingering over the pages to catch all of her puns, Maxine’s inventions, and Leo’s crafts—many of which enterprising kids may want to try to replicate. Cheery Maxine with her red-and-blue streaked hair, bright eyes, and quick imagination is enthusiastic and confident, and Leo, wearing a dragon shirt any kid would love, is equally as confident and passionate about his talents. The garden is a visual treat, from its first planting to its early stages to its full-grown glory. Hatam’s vision for both of Maxine and Leo’s scarecrows is original and gleefully kid-centric. The final image of the shared garden at night is a spectacular celebration for all.

Both fans of Maxine and Milton’s first adventure in Made by Maxine and new readers of this little series will ask to hear Maxine and the Greatest Garden Ever! again and again. A rousing friendship story to engage kids in STEAM-related activities or to jumpstart ideas for those times when they’re are looking for something to do at home, Maxine and the Greatest Garden Ever! Is highly recommended for home, school, and public library collections.

Ages 4 – 8

Dial Books, 2021 | ISBN 978-0399186301

Discover more about Ruth Spiro and her books on her website.

To learn more about Holly Hatam, her books, and her art, visit her website.

Innovation Day Activity

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Spoon Flowers Craft

 

It may not be time for gardening, but that doesn’t mean you can’t “grow” some flowers. With a little innovation, you can give anyone a bouquet with this easy craft!

Supplies

  • Colorful plastic spoons
  • Heavy stock paper or construction paper in various colors, including green for leaves
  • Multi-surface glue or hot glue gun

Directions

  1. Cut petals from the heavy stock paper or construction paper
  2. Glue the petals to the bowl of the spoon
  3. Cut leaves from the green paper (optional)
  4. Glue leaves to the handle of the spoon (optional)

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You can find Maxine and the Greatest Garden Ever! at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

August 14 – It’s National Crayon Collection Month

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About the Holiday

Kids love going to restaurants that provide a fun placemat and crayons to color with while they wait. But what happens to those crayons when the meal is over? Most times they’re thrown in the trash with the napkins and straws and other items left behind. Wouldn’t it be great if those gently used crayons could go on to be used by other kids at schools that can’t afford such supplies? They can! Begun by Crayon Collection, National Crayon Collection Month encourages restaurants, hotels, and other organizations that provide free crayons to collect the ones left behind and donate them to under-serviced schools. As school arts programs are threatened with budget cuts, these important supplies can make a big difference in the lives of students. The ability of children to express their creativity is a crucial part of their education and growth.  You can get involved too! To learn how you can make an impact, visit CrayonCollection.org. Or look into donating crayons (and other supplies) to a school in your area.

The Crayon Man: The True Story of the Invention of Crayola Crayons

Written by Natascha Biebow | Illustrated by Steven Salerno

Edwin Binney was an inventor who truly appreciated all the colors around him. In fact, “color made him really, really HAPPY!” Perhaps he loved color so much because all day long in the mill where he worked he was surrounded by nothing but black: “black dust, black tar, black smoke, black ink, black dye, black shoe polish. His company sold carbon black, a new kind of pigment, or colored substance, make from the soot of burning oil and natural gas.” Edwin worked with his cousin C. Harold Smith, and their company was called Binney and Smith.

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Image copyright Steven Salerno, 2019, text copyright Natascha Biebow, 2019. Courtesy of HMH Books for Young Readers.

While Harold was the salesman, Edwin was the tinkerer who had made better pencils for writing on slate and a wax crayon that wrote on both paper and wood. His wife, Alice, thought he was just the person to create better crayons for kids. The existing crayons were too big and clunky, and artists’ crayons were too expensive.

Edwin gave it some thought and started experimenting with wax for substance and rocks and minerals for color. Then he and his workers fine-tuned their batches, adding only “a pinch of this pigment, a sploosh of that one, a little hotter, a little cooler…and voilà, LOTS of different shades!” Now, instead of being covered in black dust at the end of the day, “Edwin came home covered in color.”

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Image copyright Steven Salerno, 2019, text copyright Natascha Biebow, 2019. Courtesy of HMH Books for Young Readers.

At the factory, Edwin’s team worked on their top-secret formula and finally poured the mixtures into “thin, crayon-shaped molds” to make crayons that were just the right size for children. Finally, in 1903, Edwin had the product he wanted. “He’d invented a new kind of colored crayon” and wanted a new name to go with it. Alice had just the right suggestion, and Crayola crayons were born.

The first boxes contained eight colors and sold for a nickel. As they shipped out to stores, Edwin wondered if the kids would like them. Children loved their fine points, clear lines, and long-lasting color. By this time, inexpensive paper was also available, so kids didn’t have to draw or write on slate tablets anymore.

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Image copyright Steven Salerno, 2019, text copyright Natascha Biebow, 2019. Courtesy of HMH Books for Young Readers.

At the St. Louis World’s Fair in 1904, Edwin’s Crayola crayons won a gold medal. As time went on, Edwin and his team made even more colors, many inspired by nature and even the flowers in Edwin’s own garden. Some of the colors you’ll find in a box today were given their names by children, including “macaroni and cheese” and “robin’s egg blue.” Now, kids all around the world can create just the picture they want, with lots and lots of color.

Back matter includes an illustrated description of the process of making Crayola crayons, an extended biography of Edwin Binney, and a bibliography of resources.

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Image copyright Steven Salerno, 2019, text copyright Natascha Biebow, 2019. Courtesy of HMH Books for Young Readers.

Natascha Biebow’s quickly paced biography of Edwin Binney and the invention of Crayola crayons is a deft portrait of the man and his times that were on the cusp of and central to so many innovations that created the modern world. Biebow’s emphasis on Binney’s willingness to listen and match his inventions to people’s needs is a lesson on collaboration and the true spirit of invention for today’s future pioneers. In her fascinating and accessible text, Biebow relates the problems with late 1800s writing and drawing mediums while also building suspense on how Binney and his team created the new crayons. Children will be awed to discover the thought, experiments, and materials that went into those first thin sticks of color. Short paragraphs that explain more factual information about topics in the story, including carbon black, the availability of paper, European crayons, and pigments are sprinkled throughout the pages.

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Image copyright Steven Salerno, 2019, text copyright Natascha Biebow, 2019. Courtesy of HMH Books for Young Readers.

Steven Salerno’s color-drenched pages are beautiful tributes to the man who brought a new age of color into children’s lives. In a clever page turn, Edwin Binney stands in his garden with his arms outstretched appreciating the rainbow of flowers, the deep-blue sea, the light-blue sky, and a fiery red cardinal flying by. The next page takes kids into Binney’s mill, where he stands in the same position, but now seeming to bemoan the sooty environment. Salerno brings the time period alive for kids through hair and clothing styles and school and home furnishings. Several pages give readers a field trip into Binney’s secret lab to see the mechanics of making crayons at work. The front and end papers invite kids to give the wrapper-less crayons pictured a name based on their colors and then to make a drawing of their own.

A high-interest biography of the man who changed the way kids could interpret their world, The Crayon Man is a must for young inventors, artists, and thinkers as well as for classroom story times, social studies lessons, and art classes. The book would be a welcome addition to home, school, and public libraries.

Ages 6 – 9

HMH Books for Young Readers, 2019 | ISBN 978-1328866844

Discover more about Natascha Biebow and her books on her website.

To learn more about Steven Salerno, his books, and his art, visit his website.

National Coloring Book Day Activity

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Cool Coloring Pages

You know what to do during Crayon Collection Month! Collect some crayons and enjoy these printable coloring pages for you to print and enjoy!

Cave kid Coloring Page | Dragon Coloring Page | Mermaid Coloring Page

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You can find The Crayon Man: The True Story of the Invention of Crayola Crayons at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

March 5 – It’s International Ideas Month

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About the Holiday

The onset of spring with its  wide-open sunny days seems to beckon to us to open our minds to all sorts of new possibilities. Perhaps that’s why International Ideas Month is celebrated in March. This creative holiday invites would-be inventors and clever folk of all stripes to think differently and pay attention to your brainstorms. You never know––there may be a book, a work of art, a new invention, or a solution to a need inside you just waiting to be let out!

I received a copy of The Story of Inventions from Frances Lincoln Books for review consideration. All opinions on the book are my own.

The Story of Inventions: A First Book about World-Changing Discoveries

Written by Catherine Barr and Steve Williams | Illustrated by Amy Husband

 

It might be said that inventions have been around as long as there was a need. But which invention really got things rolling? That would be the wheel, and that’s where The Story of Inventions begins. The wheel dates back to the Bronze Age––3500 BCE. Laid flat, stone wheels helped potters make pots faster and in different shapes. Wheels for vehicles took longer to be developed.

Once horse-drawn chariots came into being, though, what was one of the first things they were used for? “They bumped across Asia to Egypt, where they carried Egyptian archers into war.” The Romans built roads and suspension and smoothed out the ride. Eventually, rubber tires were invented, highways were built, and tires thick, thin, threaded, large, and small “roll around Earth and rove off-road on Mars.”

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Image copyright Amy Husband, 2020, text copyright Catherine Barr and Steve Williams, 2020. Courtesy of Frances Lincoln Children’s Books.

Today’s GPS can be traced back to 270 BCE with the invention of the lodestone compass in China. China was also the place where paper had its beginning under a mulberry tree. This first paper, invented in 105 AD, was a messy concoction of mulberry bark mashed up and combined with rags and water. Pressed flat and dried, this early paper was used for wrapping and for writing. Today, of course, paper is used for our newspapers, artwork, and even this book.

Telling time by sundial used to rely on the weather, but as bigger and better clocks were invented—beginning in 725 CE and using some pretty amazing technology—it became easier and easier to make it to school, to the office, to meet friends…. Now there are atomic clocks that, in space, are so accurate they lose “only a second every 15 billion years.” In 850 CE, gunpowder was invented by mistake, but it changed the face of war forever.

Jumping ahead to 1712, “water, wind, and horse power” were replaced when the invention of the coal-powered steam engine revolutionized transportation and how and where people worked. “Today coal and oil still power most electricity on Earth. But these fossil fuels are polluting our skies, so sun, water, and wind are once again being used to help us survive this threatening climate change.”

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Image copyright Amy Husband, 2020, text copyright Catherine Barr and Steve Williams, 2020. Courtesy of Frances Lincoln Children’s Books.

The invention of vaccinations in 1798, computers in the 1830s, electricity in 1832, the telephone in 1876, the automobile in 1886, and the airplane in 1903, bring us to 1907 and the invention of plastic. With its many traits and uses, plastic “quickly became one of the most useful materials people had ever seen.” But now plastic is “piling up, polluting and poisoning the planet. By recycling and other measures, “we can help wildlife and protect the environment too.”

As World War II raged in 1945, scientists discovered how to split the atom, leading to the development of the nuclear bomb. “Just two nuclear bombs killed hundreds of thousands of people in Japan at the end of World War II. These explosions shocked the world and people everywhere marched for peace to ban the bomb.” Today efforts to keep the world safe from nuclear weapons continues. The relatively recent invention of the internet and today’s focus on nanotechnology are changing the world every day. How will we use them “to care for each other and the planet Earth? One day you may decide.”

A glossary of words used throughout the book follows the text.

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Image copyright Amy Husband, 2020, text copyright Catherine Barr and Steve Williams, 2020. Courtesy of Frances Lincoln Children’s Books.

Focusing on revolutionary inventions, how they work, and what effect they have had on the earth instead of particular inventors, Catherine Barr and Steve Williams weave together a fast-paced survey of life-changing technologies throughout history. Brief descriptions of each invention follow its trajectory from its development date through improvements over time to today’s version. Fascinating nuggets of information are found within each account and will entice readers to learn more. But this book contains more than just a list of inventions. The thread of a cautionary tale also runs through the text, engaging readers to think not only about how inventions can positively change the world but also to consider their deleterious effects. Highlighting new innovation, Barr and Williams offer the promise of new innovation and invite readers to lend their creativity and voice to finding solutions. 

Through her charming cartoon illustrations Amy Husband takes readers from Bronze Age brick buildings to the surface of Mars, with tours past the Roman Colosseum, down dusty hoof-trodden lanes, along four-lane highways, and even with a pitstop at an electric car charging station. Her ship captains from various eras navigate by the stars, a lodestone, a compass, and GPS. Husband’s detailed images help readers envision early versions of inventions and how they have changed over time as well as the problems that precipitated some inventions. In the case of pollution, plastics, war, and climate change, Husband depicts examples of both the causes and how people are trying to make things better.

Offering a dual way for readers at home and in the classroom to learn about and from inventions of the past and today, The Story of Inventions will spark discussions on and further research into the innovations that have influenced and made modern times.

Ages 5 – 8

Frances Lincoln Children’s Books, 2020 | ISBN 978-0711245365

Discover more about Catherine Barr and her books on her website.

To learn more about Amy Husband, her books, and her art, visit her website.

International Ideas Month Activity

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Share Your Bright Idea! Page

 

Do you sometimes have a lightbulb moment when an idea seems just right? Use this printable Share Your Bright Idea! Page to write about or draw your idea!

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You can find The Story of Inventions at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

February 11 – National Inventors Day

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About the Holiday

Today’s holiday was established in 1983 and falls on the birthday of Thomas Edison. The day honors all of those thinkers and tinkerers from the past as well as today who, through ingenuity and persistence, design inventions that advance our world. To celebrate, take your kids to a museum or explore more about the creative minds involved in their favorite subjects.

Dream Big, Little Scientists: A Bedtime Book

Written by Michelle Schaub | Illustrated by Alice Potter

 

So many young scientists are ready for bed; they yawn and sigh and close their eyes. A brown-skinned girl, having stepped from her solar-system rug to sit on her space-themed comforter gazes out her window to see “the sun has tucked itself in bed; the moon is on the rise.” She’s surrounded by reminders of her favorite subject, including posters of Carl Sagan, the phases of the moon, a telescope, and her nighttime reading: Stars and Planets.

In other places children get ready for bed in rooms that reflect their personalities and love of various sciences too. A future geologist lounges in a room decorated with images of mountains, volcanoes, a poster of Jess Phoenix, and lots and lots of books on rocks. For a child who dreams of being an oceanographer, “the oceans rock the world to sleep; the waves whisper, ‘Good night.’” Jacques Cousteau is the hero here, and two little fish also drift off to sleep in this ocean-themed room.

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Image copyright Alice Potter, 2020, text copyright Michelle Schaub, 2020. Courtesy of Charlesbridge.

Twins are ready to put their heads together to fight climate change. Their bunk beds sport pictures of weather events and posters of Gabriel Fahrenheit and Anders Celsius. “While mossy carpets stretch out wide, tree limbs yawn up high, ” another child, who wears a hearing aid and is inspired by botany, tends to potted seedlings. The pictures of George Washington Carver and Thomas Meehan on the wall show their approval

Snuggled in fuzzy bear footy pajamas, the next child huddles in a blanket tent as other “daytime creatures settle down in den or hole or nest.” Wangari Maathai smiles from her poster on the wall, which is also decorated with a mural of a deer, tiger, and giraffe among greenery, flowers, and mushrooms. A girl who uses a wheelchair finds physics fascinating. Among her mentors are Donna Strickland and Stephen Hawking, and books about the laws of science are her bedtime reading.

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Image copyright Alice Potter, 2020, text copyright Michelle Schaub, 2020. Courtesy of Charlesbridge.

For a future paleontologist mindful that “slumber’s been a part of life since prehistoric days,” the past sparks her imagination. A microscope, a fossil kit, bones, and dinosaur pictures join a poster of Mary Anning in this room where current projects and future projects fill this busy child’s desk. A doctor in the making relaxes before sleep with yoga, knowing, from the books on medicine, physiology, and health on the bookshelves, of the connection between mind and body.

From slime to the periodic table, the elements of chemistry excite a child who looks to Marie Curie and Alice Ball for inspiration as she experiments with her chemistry kit and ponders the make-up of matter. As these children from “all around the world bed down in different ways,” they are united in their love of science. So, “dream away young scientists, tomorrow you’ll learn more—when you awake and venture out to ask, observe, explore.”

Back matter encourages readers to think like a scientist with short descriptions of all the sciences presented in the story and a link to the Science Kids website. Children are further invited to visit Michelle Schaub’s website to learn about the scientists who appear in each of the posters.

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Image copyright Alice Potter, 2020, text copyright Michelle Schaub, 2020. Courtesy of Charlesbridge.

Michelle Schaub’s meditative poem tucks sleepy children into bed as the world outside also quiets and renews itself for another day. Schaub’s smart verses deftly weave together this nightly process with the dreams that spark many children’s daytime passions now and for their futures. Beautiful language and elegant, flowing rhythms bring to life the joys of science and the wonder of our natural world while also touching the heart of every young visionary.

For young readers, turning each page is an invitation to one fun sleepover after another. In her vibrant, cartoon-inspired illustrations, Alice Potter creates rooms that any child would love to call their own. Decorated with comforters, curtains, rugs, and accessories that reflect each child’s chosen science, each bedroom offers plenty of details for children to linger over and explore. One clever detail that readers will love searching for in each child’s room is the photograph of all of these future scientists gathered together. Potter’s depictions of this diverse group of kids is a welcome reflection of our communities and friends.

Dream Big, Little Scientists: A Bedtime Book is an inspiring read for any time of the day and will be asked for often. The book is highly recommended for home, classroom, and public library collections.

Ages 3 – 7 

Charlesbridge, 2020 | ISBN 978-1580899345

Discover more about Michelle Schaub and her books on her website.

To learn more about Alice Potter, her books, and her art, visit her website.

Watch this dreamy Dream Big, Little Scientists book trailer!

National Inventors’ Day Activity

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Big Dreams, Little Scientists Activity Guide

 

Explore your own love of science with this awesome activity guide! With lots of ideas, suggestions for further study, links, and even trading cards, this guide will have kids observing, doing, and learning with enthusiasm. Cross-curricular activities make this a perfect accompaniment to the book for teachers and homeschoolers. You can download  from Michelle Schaub’s website here:

Big Dreams, Little Scientists Activity Guide

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You can find Dream Big, Little Scientists at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

February 7 – National Bubble Gum Day

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About the Holiday

In 2006, Ruth Spiro, a children’s author and mother, established National Bubble Gum Day as a way for children to raise funds for their school and the charities it supports while having a little fun in the process. For this one day a year, students can earn permission to chew gum in class by donating 50 cents to the cause. Another fun and educational way to celebrate the day is by reading today’s book that tells the story of Walter Diemer and how he came up with the formula for bubble gum.

POP! The Invention of Bubble Gum

By Meghan McCarthy

In the 1920s, the Fleer family of Philadelphia was known for their factory where candy and gum were made. In an office upstairs the company’s accountant, Walter Diemer worked on the books and balanced the budgets. “He knew lots about math but not much about gum.” As the company outgrew its laboratory space downstairs, a new, experimental laboratory was set up in a room next to Walter’s office. Walter watched with curiosity as beakers, tubes, pots, and other equipment were moved into the lab.

Soon he learned that “the company was trying to make a new kind of chewing gum.” Chewing gum had been around in various forms for centuries and used for fun and also for medicinal purposes. Gum, the Fleers thought had become kind of boring. “But what if gum chewers could blow bubbles?”

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Copyright Meghan McCarthy, 2010, courtesy of Simon and Schuster.

In the experimental laboratory, Walter watched as the scientists tinkered and tested. Not much progress was made. Then one day Walter’s boss asked him to watch one of the experimental batches. Walter became so intrigued that he began experimenting with it himself, adding this and that. Still nothing happened. Finally, Walter’s boss gave up.

Walter, however, kept trying. Months later he had a bubbling concoction. All it needed, Walter thought, was some flavor. He “added a bit of cinnamon, a dash of wintergreen, a drop of vanilla…” and wondered if this could be bubble gum at last. He “put a wad into his mouth and began to chew.” Then “he blew a magnificent bubble!” He gave some to his coworkers, and as Walter remembered it, “‘We were blowing bubbles and prancing all over the place!’”

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Copyright Meghan McCarthy, 2010, courtesy of Simon and Schuster.

But the next day when Walter came to work, his batch of bubble gum was as hard as a rock. Walter went back to work on his invention. Months—and some top-secret ingredients—later, Walter had just the consistency he wanted. The gum now needed some color. Pink was the only food coloring he had, so he poured it in.

On the day after Christmas, a batch of the bubble gum was cut into pieces and delivered to a small candy store. The people who came in were given a piece to chew and became “the first people in the world to try a bubble gum that worked.” Walter even “gave lessons on how to blow bubbles.” Soon, truckloads of Walter’s Double Bubble were being delivered to stores, big and small, all over.

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Copyright Meghan McCarthy, 2010, courtesy of Simon and Schuster.

Walter went on to become the vice president of the Fleer company. When he retired, Walter spent his time riding his giant tricycle and engaging the neighborhood kids in bubble gum blowing contests. Walter didn’t get rich from his invention, but knowing that he had made kids all over the world happy was enough reward for him.

Extensive back matter includes more information on Walter Diemer, facts about gum, and resources on the quotes found in the story.

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Copyright Meghan McCarthy, 2010, courtesy of Simon and Schuster.

Kids who love bubble gum and inventing will find lots of information to chew on as they follow Walter’s journey from accountant to inventor. His stick-to-itivness in the face of defeat and even after the scientists and his boss had given up offers inspiration and a good lesson that sometimes success takes longer than you think. The included bits of history may spur readers to learn more about how gum was used by our ancestors and other cultures, and chemists in the making may want to investigate and compare Walter’s flavor and color ingredients against today’s bubble gum.

Meghan McCarthy’s storytelling is delightfully conversational and sprinkled with quotes from Walter Diemer, creating a personal narrative that will resonate with kids.McCarthy’s cartoon-inspired illustrations match the light-hearted tone of her story, and the laboratory scenes froth and bubble mysteriously as Walter adds and stirs up the secret ingredients that finally succeeded in bringing the world this long-favorite treat.

A charming, quick-paced look at the creation of a best-loved treat, POP! The Invention of Bubble Gum will engage kids in history and inspire them to keep trying even when everyone else has given up. The book would also make an entertaining and accessible lead in to chemistry lessons in the classroom.

Ages 4 – 8

Simon and Schuster, 2010 | ISBN 978-1416979708

To learn more about Meghan McCarthy, her books, and her art, visit her website

National Bubble Gum Day Activity

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Gumball Machine Coloring Page

Where’s a great place to get some bubble gum? A gumball machine, of course! Have fun adding all of your favorite colors to this printable Gumball Machine Coloring Page.

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You can find POP! The Invention of Bubble Gum at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million | IndieBound

Picture Book Review