January 19, 2017

Reading inspires making

One of the hottest topics in education today is makerspaces. Everyone seems to have an idea about what you should do with yours. At NoveList, we know books have a place in all makerspaces, not just as how-tos, but to inspire innovation and creativity.

After hearing media specialist and children’s author Megan Frazer Blakemore speak at a School Library Journal webinar on makerspaces, we asked her to name some of her favorite books that can serve as prompts to get kids started on excited projects. She eagerly gave us selections for grades K-5 and 6-8, each paired with an example activity that can serve as a catalyst for your students. Be sure to let us know how this list inspires you! 

For grades K-5:

Rosie Revere, Engingeer by Andrea Beaty, grades 2-4
An essential disposition for making is perseverance in the face of setbacks. When Rosie's invention doesn't work as expected, she deems herself a failure and vows never to create again. Her aunt, though, convinces her that the only way to fail is by not trying. This feel-good story in rhyme will encourage kids to see their own setbacks as opportunities for growth.

Activity: Rosie's aunt, a former pilot, wants to fly again. Provide some basic materials such as paper, glue, and craft sticks, and ask students to build a flying machine. If those inventions don't fly, remind the kids that it's all a part of the process!

Beautiful Oops! by Barney Saltzberg, grades K-2
Mistakes like crumpled or torn paper or a badly-drawn shape can stop young creators in their tracks. This inspiring pop-up book urges readers to keep those so-called mistakes out of the trash. Take a second look: with creative thinking, any error can be turned into a beautiful oops. That torn paper? It can be turned into a dog's smile. The paper fold? A penguin's beak. The creation might not be what you originally intended, but the outcome can be just as amazing. Saltzberg is also a performer, and there's a terrific video of him singing the book available on YouTube.

Activity: Raid the recycle bin for torn, crumpled, and scribbled upon paper. Challenge kids to turn these mistakes into beautiful oopses.

Earmuffs for Everyone! by Meghan McCarthy, grades 3-5
Chester Greenwood didn't invent the earmuffs, but he did improve and popularize them. Frequently, innovation is about improvement rather than invention. McCarthy uses her trademark humor and cartoony illustrations to tell Greenwood's story. Use this upbeat picture book to inspire and encourage your students to improve objects in the world around them.

Activity: Challenge children to build a better cell phone, sandwich, or spoon.

For grades 6-8:

Steve Jobs: Insanely Great by Jessie Hartland
Jobs is perhaps the best-known innovator of the last century, responsible for much of the tech your young patrons rely on. This fast-paced, engaging biographical comic tells the full life story of the tech giant. Readers will see the design process in action, as well as the economic side of innovation. Jobs was notoriously difficult, and this book does not hide that aspect of his personality. The graphic novel may inspire the next Steve Jobs – or give kids a better understanding of how every innovation starts with people.

Activity: Jobs' designs were highly user-centered, right down to the packaging, and this aspect is emphasized in the book. Once your patrons have started making, challenge them to design packaging for their innovations.

Stronger Than Steel: Spider DNA and the Quest for Better Bulletproof Vests, Sutures, and Parachute Rope by Bridget Heos
In easy-to-understand language, Heos introduces golden orb weaver spiders and the amazing qualities and potential of their silk. The inspiration here isn't for kids to follow in the genetic engineering footsteps of scientist Randy Lewis. Rather, this animal book provides an example of how scientists turn to nature for inspiration when they work to improve designs.

Activity: Challenge students to look to animals as inspiration for the redesign of a common object. Check out some examples from the Biomimicry Institute, then challenge students to come up with their own designs inspired by animals. You may want to give some parameters to the challenge to help the kids to focus, such as, "Use an animal as inspiration for a new or improved vehicle."

For more selections, try searching in NoveList using keywords such as inventions, inventors, engineers, engineering, design, and problem-solving. Use the limiters on the left to refine your search by audience, appeal, and more!

Lindsey Dunn is an Editor/Bibliographer at NoveList. She's a kidlit expert and creates resources for all the librarians out there grappling with keeping up with what books kids are reading. Want to hear more from her? Sign up for Lindsey's Book Squad email updates.


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