The best picture books for kids who love to tinker

Mara Rockliff Author Of The Girl Who Could Fix Anything: Beatrice Shilling, World War II Engineer
By Mara Rockliff

The Books I Picked & Why

Galimoto

By Karen Lynn Williams, Catherine Stock

Book cover of Galimoto

Why this book?

Galimoto is the story of a boy in Malawi who wants to make his own toy from scraps of wire. The story captivated me from the first lines, which perfectly capture a child’s feelings (“Kondi opened an old shoebox and looked inside. These were his things. They belonged to him.”). When Kondi’s older brother laughs and says he is too young to make a galimoto and doesn’t have enough wire, he says he will get it—and he does, with resourcefulness and perseverance. Anyone who reads this book will definitely want to make a galimoto of their own.


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The Most Magnificent Thing

By Ashley Spires

Book cover of The Most Magnificent Thing

Why this book?

This book deals with a different kind of obstacle to invention—how it feels when our first (or second, or third) try doesn’t quite match the vision in our head. As a writer, I relate to the “regular girl” in the story who has a wonderful idea that keeps turning out all wrong. This book is a great jumping-off point for discussions of how “wonderful ideas” are just part of a creative process that also involves plenty of false starts, dead ends, lost tempers, and I quit!s on the way to an outcome that is Most Magnificent—or good enough until the next idea comes along.


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Now & Ben: The Modern Inventions of Benjamin Franklin

By Gene Barretta

Book cover of Now & Ben: The Modern Inventions of Benjamin Franklin

Why this book?

I am a big Franklin fan, as anyone knows who has read my own book about him. This is my favorite book about Franklin as an inventor. I love Gene Barretta’s bright, cartoony illustrations and cleverly written text, which juxtaposes familiar modern-day scenes with Franklin’s astonishing array of innovations (he even invented the odometer??) in a rollicking salute to a Founding Father far ahead of his time.  


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Marvelous Mattie: How Margaret E. Knight Became an Inventor

By Emily Arnold McCully

Book cover of Marvelous Mattie: How Margaret E. Knight Became an Inventor

Why this book?

Marvelous Mattie is the true story of the woman who invented a machine to make flat-bottomed paper shopping bags, the same kind we still use in supermarkets. But her story is so much more than that. I quickly warmed to this talented and determined girl whose homemade kites and sleds were the envy of all the boys. When she was only twelve, she had to leave school and go to work in the mills, where an accident led to her first major invention, a lifesaving guard to keep pieces from flying off machines. I love McCully’s illustration style—it reminds me of The Borrowers—and her account of Mattie’s patent battle against a man who stole her work had me holding my breath until the very satisfying happy ending.


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Whoosh! Lonnie Johnson's Super-Soaking Stream of Inventions

By Chris Barton, Don Tate

Book cover of Whoosh! Lonnie Johnson's Super-Soaking Stream of Inventions

Why this book?

“Every day brought a challenge for young Lonnie Johnson—the challenge of finding space for his stuff.” This beginning (along with Don Tate’s kid-friendly illustrations) drew me in, but the young inventor has more serious challenges on the way, including racism and other roadblocks. My favorite moment in this true story is when Lonnie takes a test that tells him he lacks the aptitude to be an engineer, even though he’s already built his own working robot—in the 1960s! I hope kids who love to tinker will get the message not to let anyone else decide for them what they are smart enough to do.


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