Kids Books about Inventing and Engineering:
Rosie Revere, Engineer is one of my favorite new books of 2013 and it’s from the author of Iggy Peck, Architect. Imaginative Rosie loves to tinker, build and invent. She gets discouraged when her inventions flop on the first try. Her wonderfully eccentric great-great-great aunt, however, explains to her that a flop is a successes because it paves the way for the next step in the inventive process. I love this message because it encourages kids to keep trying and trying – that genius talent is not necessary for success. It’s perseverence that helps us improve. The rhyming, winsome text is infectious and the illustrations are full of imaginative inventions that will get kids chatting. Also available as an ebook.
Violet the Pilot. I was excited to find a second book about creative kids with a girl protagonist. I was rather afraid most books would star boys with tool belts! Violet Van Winkle is a mechanical genius. At the age of 2 she was fixing appliances, at the age of 8 she was inventing elaborate machines like the Tub-bubbler, a flying bathtub. She wants to win over her skeptical classmates and so builds a flying machine to enter into the Air Show. On the way to the show, Violet makes a decision that shows she is not just about engineering but she has a strong character as well. Kids will love the illustrations of all the flying machines Violet invents.
Papa’s Mechanical Fish. This book was inspired by inventor Lodner Phillips, the creator of one of the first modern submarines. His family took an underwater trip in his invention in Lake Michigan in 1851. In this picture book the children observe their father inventing one “mechanical fish” after another. Determined to make a workable submarine, he tests each new invention out, adding improvements and starting over again. The narrator asks her father questions about fish, such as how they swim, how they see, etc. and each question inspires a new improvement of the machine. I love the way the whole family shows support and enthusiasm for the father’s work, even though it is a bit eccentric. The onomonopoetic text adds a nice touch and kids will join in each “Clankety-bang!” and “Clacketa-claketa-clacketa!” Also available as an ebook.
Awesome Dawson. I originally checked this one out from the library because the author wrote Dinotrux, a book my 4 year old adores. Dawson is a kid who has been inventing things since birth. He upcycles everything he can get his hands on and has a secret workshop in the basement. One day he realizes he needs to invent something to do his chores for him or his mom’s nagging will never stop interfering with his work! (It’s always the mom, isn’t it.) Thus, the Vacu-maniac is born. The Vacu-maniac gets a bit out of control, however, and Dawson must find a way to reign it in. There is tons of stuff to look at in every illustration and my sons both loved how Gall labels all the different items strewn over the pages. I liked how Dawson deliberately reuses junk and parts of discarded items for his creations. This would be a fun book to read in conjunction with an upcycling craft project.
If I Built a Car. Young Jack has grand ideas for his fantasy car and he relates them all in fast-paced rhyme. Would you like a car that has a built in swimming pool? One that drives itself without sacrificing safety? One that goes underwater? That flies? Well, Jack’s car is made just for you. There’s no plot per se, but the ride is certainly wild! If your child is more domestic then check out If I Built a House. Both books can be followed up with discussion about how your child would design his or her dream car and home. Also available as an ebook.
Anything Is Possible. Jealous of the birds’ ability to see life from different perspectives, a sheep decides he wants to build a flying contraption. The wolf (gotta love the sheep-wolf pairing!) is not convinced it’s possible. The motto of this book is “if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again,” a saying we are all familiar with and which is worth teaching our kids. I really liked the illustrations, which are mixed media collage with an interesting contrast between the simple animals and the elaborate inventions. I agree with many of the reviews that the book seemed a little incomplete, but I think it’s worth getting from the library.
How to Bicycle to the Moon to Plant Sunflowers: A Simple but Brilliant Plan in 24 Easy Steps. This book was also on my list of fiction picture books about the moon but it’s such a fun read for older kids it’s worth including here, too. Using a garden hose, a slingshot, a NASA spacesuit and lots of imagination, a boy lays out his plan to travel to the moon…. by bike. This is a very enjoyable book with a lot of humor and also a bit of magic with an ending that will bring a smile to your face. Also available as an ebook.
Galimoto. The first time I read this book, I kept waiting for the explanation of what “galimoto” means. I thought it was odd that my kids never asked what a galimoto was until I realized that it was my adult sensibility getting in the way. A galimoto is simply a push toy crafted out of found material. I was hung up on the word, whereas my kids were just listening and following the story! D’oh! (There’s actually an explanation of the word at the beginning of the book which I missed.) Kondi decides he wants to make a galimoto out of wire, he’s been saving up in his shoebox. Undeterred by his short supply he wanders around his village in search of more wire. I love how his determination to make a galimoto is also admired by the others he meets during his search and that despite a few obstacles he remains persistent. Even when he finally completes his toy, he looks to the future, imagining what he will make next.
Monkey with a Tool Belt. Let’s put aside for a moment the issue of this monkey’s bizarre name, Chico Bon Bon. Instead we will focus on his love of tools and tinkering. Chico Bon Bon’s mad tinkering skills come in handy when he is captured by an organ grinder and hauled around town to a secret lair. Fortunately, the organ grinder failed to remove the monkey’s tool belt and our hero is able to escape. This is just a quirky story all around and Chico’s impromptu escape mechanism had my boys giggling.
Coppernickel, The Invention. Coppernickel the bird and Tungsten the dog decide to invent an elderberry-picking machine. Coppernickel draws a diagram of his invention which fills his work surface and starts to spill over until he is caught in his own invention! Tungsten’s invention is a bit more sedate: a fork on a stick. This book was a bit of crazy, silly fun and my 8 year old really liked pouring over the diagrams to see how the invention would work.