Inventors, Inventions, and Innovations

by Amy Broemmel and Deborah Wooten

In our fast-paced, technologically oriented society, innovative thinking is critical for the future of our world. It doesn’t matter how innovations occur––by accident, mistake, fate, or intentional plan––people who see a need and then satisfy it are the key.

In today’s classrooms, creativity and innovative thinking are often overlooked because of their nebulous nature. Creativity cannot be taught through rote learning or gleaned from science textbooks, but children can be encouraged to think critically, try new things, and take risks in their learning. To stimulate these types of behaviors, we can provide students with innovative role models who have the potential for encouraging innovative thinking.

From stone tools to global positioning systems, each and every invention has impacted society and changed the course of history. Our history is that of human innovation. Using literature in the study of science can breathe life into the dry bones of the textbook so that students can humanize the information found there. The books below can serve as beacons that illuminate textbook information, allowing the behaviors of innovative people and the impact of human invention to come alive.


Arnold, Ann.
The Adventurous Chef: Alexis Soyer. 2002. 40p. Farrar/Frances Foster, $17 (0-374-31665-1).

Gr. 1–5. This lively biography explores the life of the man who revolutionized nineteenth-century kitchen design, changed the way the military fed its soldiers in wartime, invented kitchen gadgets, and wrote socially conscious cookbooks. Arnold’s clever, colorful illustrations are complemented by a map and time line of Soyer’s extensive travels.

Brill, Marlene.
Margaret Knight, Girl Inventor. Illus. by Joanne H. Friar. 2001. 32p. Millbrook, $22.90 (0-7613-1756-2).

Gr. 1–5. This straight-forward narrative tells the story of Mattie Knight, who at the young age of 12 invented a safety arm, revolutionizing nineteenth-century millwork. Brill’s engaging text presents Knight’s life as a story that focuses on the intrepid inventor’s individuality and determination.

Brown, Don.
Mack Made Movies. 2003. 32p. Roaring Brook, $16.95 (0-7613-1538-1).

Gr. 1–5. This picture-book biography of Mack Sennett, the “King of Comedy,” showcases early moviemaking in America. The illustrations capture the historical moment and show Sennett’s innovations as the creator of the Keystone Kops, the pie in the face, and more.

Carlson, Laurie.
Boss of the Plains: The Hat That Won the West. Illus. by Molly Meade. 1998. 32p. DK, $16.95 (0-7894-2479-7); paper, $5.95 (0-7894-2657-9).

Gr. 2–6. While working in Colorado in the scorching sun, John Stetson decided to invent a durable, multifunctional hat that would provide protection from the harsh climate. In 1859, the “Boss of the Plains” was born. Meade’s colorful cut-paper collage pictures capture the rough-and-tumble excitement of the frontier. Also see Mary Christian’s chapter book
Hats Off to John Stetson (Macmillan, 1992).

Chandra, Deborah, and Madeleine Comora.
George Washington’s Teeth. Illus. by Brock Cole. 2003. 40p. Farrar, $16 (0-374-32534-0).

K–Gr. 5. The story of George Washington’s losing his teeth and his quest to develop a painless set of dentures is told here in sprightly verse that’s perfect for reading aloud. Cole’s illustrations cleverly combine humor and historical information.

Corey, Shana.
You Forgot Your Skirt, Amelia Bloomer! Illus. by Chesley McLaren. 2000. 32p. Scholastic, $16.95 (0-439-07819-9).

Gr. 1–6. Hating the confining, street-dragging clothing of her time, Amelia Bloomer started a fashion rebellion when she developed a pattern for a short skirt with voluminous pantaloons underneath, a garment that eventually became known as bloomers. The lively illustrations match the personality of the heroine who paved the way for independent-thinking women everywhere.

Edwards, Pamela Duncan.
The Wright Brothers. Illus. by Henry Cole. 2003. 40p. Hyperion, $15.99 (0-7868-1951-0).

K–Gr. 4. This cumulative, vividly illustrated story walks the reader through the events that led to the Wright brothers’ first powered flight in 1903. For more titles on the Wright brothers, see “Dreams Really Do Come True” in the September 2003 issue of
Book Links.

Lasky, Kathryn.
The Man Who Made Time Travel. Illus. by Kevin Hawkes. 2003. 48p. Farrar/Melanie Kroupa, $17 (0-374-34788-3).

Gr. 3–8. Hawkes’ oversize paintings mark this picture-book biography of John Harrison, an eighteenth-century clock maker who solved the problem of tracking longitude in shipboard navigation. Interested older readers may enjoy Joan Dash’s
Longitude Prize (Farrar/Frances Foster, 2000).

Martin, Jacqueline Briggs.
Snowflake Bentley. Illus. by Mary Azarian. 1998. 32p. Houghton, $16 (0-395-86162-4).

K–Gr. 6. Wilson Bentley, born in 1865 in Vermont, discovered not only that each snowflake is different but also how to photograph the tiny flakes. Azarian’s Caldecott Medal–winning woodcuts grace this stylish biography.

McPherson, Stephanie Sammartino.
Ordinary Genius: The Story of Albert Einstein. 1995. 88p. Carolrhoda, $25.26 (0-87614-788-0); paper, $7.95 (1-57505-067-6).

Gr. 5–8. This title from the Trailblazers Biographies series includes Einstein’s major accomplishments and also describes a man who loved sailing and always found time for children. Personal photos serve as excellent support in documenting Einstein’s human side.

Schanzer, Rosalyn.
How Ben Franklin Stole the Lightning. 2003. 40p. HarperCollins, $16.99


Gr. 1–6. In this lively account of Franklin’s life as an inventor, Schanzer provides hints of his “greatest” invention, the lightning rod, but doesn’t reveal the story behind it until the end of the book, after detailing some of his other innovations. The tall-tale telling and whimsical illustrations effectively portray Franklin’s curiosity and energy.

Seymour, Tres.
Our Neighbor Is a Strange, Strange Man. Illus. by Walter Lyon Krudop. 1999. 32p. Orchard, $15.95 (0-531-30107-9).

K–Gr. 4. Melville Murrell received the first patent for a flying machine in 1877, and this picture book tells of his invention as seen through the eyes of his young neighbor. Bold, full-page illustrations complement the simple narrative.

Sís, Peter.
Starry Messenger. 1996. 40p. Farrar/Frances Foster, $16 (0-374-37191-1); Sunburst, paper, $5.95 (0-374-47027-8).

Gr. 2–up. Sís describes Galileo’s life in a simple but poignant narrative, and his complex, intricate art invites the reader to imaginatively connect with and learn from this genius’ inventive life.

Towle, Wendy.
The Real McCoy: The Life of an African-American Inventor. Illus. by Wil Clay. 1993. 32p. Scholastic, paper, $5.99 (0-590-48102-9).

Gr. 3–6. Elijah McCoy, an African American who lived during the 1860s, invented the lawn sprinkler, the portable ironing board, an improvement for rubber shoe heels, and more. The phrase
the real McCoy is thought to refer to a superior oil cup he invented, which was used to lubricate train parts.


Carlson, Laurie.
Queen of Inventions: How the Sewing Machine Changed the World. 2003. 32p. Millbrook, $22.90 (0-7613-2706-1).

Gr. 2–6. This in-depth look at the story of Isaac Singer’s sewing machine includes information on how and why it came to be and its impact on nineteenth-century society. Photos and period-style illustrations add to the book’s authenticity.

Curlee, Lynn.
Brooklyn Bridge. 2001. 32p. Simon & Schuster/Atheneum, $18 (0-689-83183-8).

Gr. 2–6. Curlee introduces the stories of both the bridge and the family that took it from idea to reality in this title marked by dramatic acrylic paintings reproduced from photographs. Diagrams, bridge specifications, and a construction time line complement the text.

Driscoll, Dan, and others.
The Inventor’s Times: Real-Life Stories of 30 Amazing Creations. 2002. 64p. Scholastic, paper, $9.99 (0-439-38474-5).

Gr. 3–up. Each page of this book is arranged in newspaper format, containing articles, descriptions, and experiments dealing with inventions. The changes in the format of the newspaper as the book moves from 1876 to 1999 are visually intriguing.

Greenstein, Elaine.
Ice-Cream Cones for Sale! 2003. 32p. Scholastic/Arthur A. Levine, $15.95 (0-439-32728-8).

K–Gr. 4. The invention of the ice-cream cone is shrouded in mystery, and here Greenstein introduces all the contenders for the cone title and briefly tells their stories. For a history of ice cream, including the inventions of sundaes and banana splits, as well as ice-cream cones, see Jules Older’s
Ice Cream: Including Great Moments in Ice Cream History (Charlesbridge, 2002).

Hudson, Wade.
Scientists, Healers, and Inventors. 2003. 72p. Just Us, paper, $9.95 (0-940975-97-1).

Gr. 5–8. The page-long biographies in this title from the Book of Black Heroes series includes information on inventors such as George Washington Carver, as well as those who may not be generally known, such as Andrew Beard, a freed slave who invented the automatic railroad coupler.

Jones, Charlotte Foltz.
Accidents May Happen: Fifty Inventions Discovered by Mistake. Illus. by John O’Brien. 1998. 96p. Delacorte, paper, $11.95 (0-385-32240-2).

Gr. 3–6. A follow-up to Foltz’s excellent
Mistakes That Worked (Doubleday, 1991), which describes a wide variety of inventions created by accident, this title summarizes the oddball origins of a variety of household items, foodstuffs, medicines, and more. Both books are full of short pieces and quirky facts that will pique kids’ interest, and O’Brien’s cartoons add just the right touch of levity.

St. George, Judith.
So You Want to Be an Inventor? Illus. by David Small. 2002. 56p. Philomel, $16.99 (0-399-23593-0).

Gr. 3–6. The award-winning author-illustrator team uses a clever, witty style to introduce more than 40 inventors and their inventions. St. George strings her narrative together by noting characteristics of inventors, and Small’s ink, watercolor, and pastel chalk illustrations are charming.

Thimmesh, Catherine.
Girls Think of Everything: Stories of Ingenious Inventions by Women. Illus. by Melissa Sweet. 2000. 64p. Houghton, $16 (0-395-93744-2); paper, $6.95 (0-618-19563-7).

Gr. 2–up. Women are active in the inventing business, and this book provides tightly written biographies of a dozen female inventors. Sweet’s mixed-media collages bring vibrancy to the text.

Tomecek, Stephen M.
What a Great Idea: Inventions That Changed the World! Illus. by Dan Stuckenschneider. 2003. 112p. Scholastic Reference, $18.95


Gr. 3–up. Using five broad time periods, Tomecek describes 45 inventions, including the hand ax, the wheel, the clock, writing, clothing, mathematics, and the computer. The informal yet

straightforward style is engaging, and detailed, attractive color

illustrations add both information and visual appeal. Lists of inventors’ contests and Web sites are included.

Tucker, Tom.
Brainstorm! The Stories of Twenty American Kid Inventors. 1995. 144p. Farrar, $16 (0-374-30944-2); Sunburst, paper, $6.95 (0-374-40928-5).

Gr. 4–7. The 20 stories Tucker tells show children’s passion for creative tinkering in many forms. Drawn from the eighteenth, nineteenth, and twentieth centuries, they record the invention of such things as earmuffs, Popsicles, waterskiing, and colored car wax.

Wulffson, Don.
Toys! Amazing Stories behind Some Great Inventions. Illus. by Laurie Keller. 2000. 144p. Holt, $15.95 (0-8050-6196-7).

Gr. 3–8. Short chapters provide an appealing look at the stories behind great toys, and bulleted items at the end of each chapter provide trivia related to each invention. The book is arranged in seemingly random order, but a table of contents is included for easy browsing.

Wyatt, Valerie.
Inventions FAQ. Illus. by Matthew Fernandes. 2003. 40p. Kids Can, $12.95 (1-55337-403-7).

Gr. 2–6. Using a Frequently Asked Questions format, this book provides background about all sorts of inventors and inventions. Lots of information is packed into the visually stimulating but consistent layout. A helpful time line and index are included.

Fiction about Innovators

Clements, Andrew.
Frindle. Illus. by Brian Selznick. 1996. 112p. Simon & Schuster, $15.95 (0-689-

80669-8); Aladdin, paper, $4.99 (0-689-81876-9).

Gr. 3–6. Fifth-grader Nick Allen is constantly trying to outsmart everyone, including his teacher, Mrs. Granger. But amazing things start to happen when he invents
frindle, a new word for a pen, in an attempt to outwit her.

Compestine, Ying Chang.
The Story of Chopsticks. Illus. by YongSheng Xuan. 2001. 32p. Holiday, $16.95 (0-8234-1526-0).

K–Gr. 3. Presented in folktale fashion, this story shows how the antics of the three Kang brothers lead to the invention of chopsticks. Striking black lines and cut-paper illustrations enhance the tale. The brothers’ adventures and innovations continue in
The Story of Noodles (Holiday, 2002),
The Story of Kites, (Holiday, 2003), and
The Story of Paper (Holiday, 2003). Author’s notes are included in all the books, explaining what is known about each invention.

Hopkinson, Deborah.
Sweet Clara and the Freedom Quilt. Illus. by James Ransome. 1993. 32p. Knopf, $15.95 (0-679-82311-5); Dragonfly, paper, $6.99 (0-679-87472-0).

Gr. 2–6. Clara, a young slave, learns to sew and is taken to the “big house” as a seamstress. Piece by piece, stitch by stitch, she maps out the route to Canada and freedom on a brightly colored quilt. With illustrations as beautiful as Clara’s innovative quilt, this book makes a great read-aloud.

Levitin, Sonia.
Boom Town. Illus. by Cat Bowman Smith. 1998. 40p. Orchard, $16.95 (0-531-30043-9); paper, $6.95 (0-439-06309-4).

K–Gr. 3. Whimsical illustrations complement this fictionalized account of a young girl who makes a steady income during the California gold rush by developing a way to bake homemade pies in an iron skillet. Based on a brief reference in a California history book.

Lottridge, Celia Barker.
The Wind Wagon. Illus. by Daniel Clifford. 2001. 48p. Groundwood, paper, $5.95 (0-88899-234-3).

Gr. 1–5. A restless and innovative blacksmith, Sam Peppard builds a “wind wagon” that he hopes will shorten the ride across the nineteenth-century Kansas prairie to the silver mines of Colorado. Scattered black-and-white illustrations document this fictionalized account of an actual journey, which ended a mere 80 miles from the destination.

Reynolds, Peter H.
Sydney’s Star. 2001. 32p. Simon & Schuster, $14 (0-689-83184-6).

K–Gr. 2. Unusual watercolor-and-tea illustrations beautifully depict the story of clever Sydney, a young mouse who loves to create just about anything. When Sydney’s greatest accomplishment fizzles in front of everyone at the science fair, she is humiliated, but ultimately her invention saves the day.

Williams, Karen Lynn.
Galimoto. Illus. by Catherine Stock. 1990. 32p. HarperCollins, $16.95

(0-688-08789-2); HarperTrophy, paper, $5.95 (0-688-10991-8).

K–Gr. 3. Kondi, a young boy in Malawi, spends his day in pursuit of wire, so he can create a
galimoto, or toy truck. His ingenuity and perseverance come through in Stock’s understated illustrations.


Harper, Charise Mericle.
Imaginative Inventions: The Who, What, Where, When, and Why of Roller Skates, Potato Chips, Marbles, and Pie (and More!). 2001. 32p. Little, Brown, $14.95


K–Gr. 3. With spunky, witty factual rhymes, occasionally creatively embellished, Harper investigates the origins of some of the most cherished of childhood artifacts. The boldly colored double-page spreads will draw younger readers and listeners, while lists of quick facts will satisfy those who want to know more.

Nelson, Marilyn.
Carver: A Life in Poems. 2001. 112p. Front Street, $16.95 (1-886910-53-7).

Gr. 4–up. Nelson’s series of 59 compelling, lyrical poems describes revered African American botanist and inventor George Washington Carver. Historic photos illustrate Nelson’s work with modest beauty. For a biography of Carver aimed at younger readers, see
A Picture Book of George Washington Carver by David A. Adler (Holiday, 1999).

Perry, Andrea.
Here’s What You Do When You Can’t Find Your Shoe (Ingenious Inventions for Pesky Problems). Illus. by Alan Snow. 2003. 40p. Simon & Schuster/Atheneum, $16.95 (0-689-83067-X).

Gr. 1–6. This whimsical collection of poems humorously describes such inventions as the sure-footed shoe finder, the maximumbrella, and footsie floss, among others. Snow’s pen-and-ink cartoon drawings will activate readers’ imaginations, adding validity and possibilities to the silliest of ideas.

Sidman, Joyce.
Eureka! Poems about Inventors. Illus. by K. Bennett Chavez. 2002. 48p. Millbrook, $24.90 (0-7613-1665-5).

Gr. 4–up. Written in the voices of such inventors as Leonard da Vinci and Marie Curie, as well as other, lesser-known creators, these free-verse poems spotlight moments of innovation. Chronologically arranged, the 16 poems are accompanied by biographical notes and Chavez’s full-color artwork.

Amy Broemmel and
Deborah Wooten are assistant professors of reading education at the University