March 23, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

Great Books: Mini-Makers


Starring kids who passionately craft, construct, concoct, and dream big, these enchanting picture books celebrate creativity and innovation. Share them to inspire the next generation of makers.

cleoCleonardo: The Little Inventor. by Mary GrandPré. illus. by author. Scholastic/Arthur A. Levine. 2016. Tr $18.99. ISBN 978-0-439-35764-7.
K-Gr 4–Descended from a long line of inventors, Cleonardo Wren loves to assist her father as he tinkers in his workshop, but he blithely brushes her ideas away. While Geonarado hammers and welds grand designs out of metal, Cleo is inspired by treasures found in the nearby woods—from “golden goo bamboo” to “glitter-winged butterflies.” Working independently, each of them fashions an impressive contraption for the town’s invention festival, where a narrowly averted disaster proves the value of Cleo’s designs and reaffirms their affectionate father-daughter bond. Illustrated with jewel-toned paintings that blend fairy-tale forest with Renaissance Italy, this charming tale shows there are many different ways to create and cooperate.

a-hatA Hat for Mrs. Goldman: A Story About Knitting and Love. by Michelle Edwards. illus. by G. Brian Karas. Schwartz & Wade. Oct. 2016. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780553497106; PLB $20.99. ISBN 9780553497113.
PreS-Gr 3–Sophia proudly produces pom-poms for the hand-knit hats that Mrs. Goldman creates for friends and neighbors, spreading kindness and caring across their culturally diverse community. When the girl notices Mrs. Goldman bareheaded and shivering in the wind, she resolves to rectify the situation. After much patience and perseverance—and many dropped stitches (Sophia much prefers pom-poms to knitting)—the project is finally completed, but it’s “lumpy and bumpy” and full of holes. Never fear, Sophia finds a way to make her gift a true expression of her creativity and affection. Soft illustrations and sweet storytelling stitch together themes of intergenerational friendship, helping others, and the satisfaction of handcrafting something for loved ones.

house-thatThe House that Zack Built. by Alison Murray. illus. by author. Candlewick. 2016. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780763678449.
PreS-Gr 1–Jack is outside constructing a structure from wooden blocks when a fly buzzes by, catching the attention of a curious cat and unleashing a series of fun-to-follow events that involve numerous animals and leave the farmyard in a shambles. Fortunately, the capable boy knows how to set everything right while also putting the finishing touches on his opus (a barn, of course!). Based on the traditional cumulative rhyme, this story blends bouncy verses and clean-lined, personality-packed artwork to inspire young architects and problem solvers everywhere.

Mmaliakaalaika’s Costume. by Nadia L. Hohn. illus. by Irene Luxbacher. Groundwood. 2016. Tr $18.95. ISBN 9781554987542; ebook $16.95. ISBN 9781554987559.
PreS-Gr 2–Malaika misses her mother, who moved to Canada to find a better job, and dreams of wearing a shimmering peacock costume to the upcoming carnival festival, but money remains tight. When Grandma offers a ragged, ill-fitting costume from her own childhood, the girl is frustrated and disappointed. It will take all of Malaika’s resourcefulness and imagination—and bright-colored odds and ends—to transform the old dress into an ensemble that is nothing less than dazzling. Told in musical colloquial language and illustrated with sun-splashed collage artwork, this warmhearted tale celebrates Caribbean culture, creativity, and loving family relationships.

maybe-something-beautifulMaybe Something Beautiful: How Art Transformed a Neighborhood. by F. Isabel Campoy & Theresa Howell. illus. by Rafael López. HMH. 2016. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780544357693; ebook $16.99. ISBN 9780544866638.
PreS-Gr 2–Mira loves to “doodle, draw, color, and paint,” and tries to brighten her dreary urban surroundings by giving her brilliantly hued creations to her neighbors. Inspired by a painting of a smiling sun the girl has taped onto a gloomy wall, a muralist invites the young artist—and the rest of the community—to grab brushes and a rainbow of colors, “decorate sidewalks with poetry and shine,” and transform their world into something beautiful. Based on a true story, this book’s sparkling narrative and stunning acrylic-on-wood paintings create a block party of movement, warmth, and exuberance.

mori-gamiMore-igami. by Dori Kleber. illus. by G. Brian Karas. Candlewick. 2016. Tr $15.99. ISBN 9780763668198.
K-Gr 2–From his collection of old road maps to his cozy foldaway bed, Joey loves things that fold, so when Sarah Takimoto’s mother visits their class and transforms an ordinary piece of paper into an elegant crane, he’s bedazzled. Determined to become an origami master, the boy folds everything in sight (including his homework, the newspaper, and his sister’s sheet music), until his mother gets fed up. Disheartened, he visits the Mexican restaurant next door, where he finds delicious fajitas, comfort from Mr. Lopez, and a clever way to perfect his art—just in time to wow a new friend. A lively telling and amiable illustrations celebrate the power of perseverance and satisfaction of mastering a new skill.

nanobotsNanoBots. by Chris Gall. illus. by author. Little, Brown. 2016. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780316375528; ebook $16.99. ISBN 9780316375528.
PreS-Gr 2–Hard at work in his musty basement, a brilliant young inventor constructs a crew of microscopic NanoBots, each with its own personality and functionality. Gall’s dynamic artwork zooms in to show MechanoBots repairing a computer with their built-in tool arrays, ChewBots gobbling down the “nasty, icky stuff” ground into the carpet, MediBot patrolling the boy’s body to repel germs, and more. When the youngster enters his creations in the science fair, they prove that despite their minute size, they have the mighty ability to save the day. A note about real-life nano-robotics ends this clever amalgamation of imagination, STEM concepts, and superhero-style storytelling.

six-dotsSix Dots: A Story of Young Louis Braille. by Jen Bryant. illus. by Boris Kulikov. Knopf. Sept. 2016. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780449813379; PLB $20.99. ISBN 9780449813386.
Gr 1-4–Told from an intimate first-person perspective, this picture book describes the early childhood of Louis Braille (1809–1852), the accident that left him blind by age five, and his unwavering determination to continue learning. Louis left home and entered the Royal School in Paris at age 10, where resources for visually impaired children resources were available, but heartbreakingly disappointing (“Words as large as my hand! Sentences that took up half a page…Even if I read a hundred books like this, how much could I learn?”). Yet he remained resolute, and by age 15, had transformed a complicated fingertip military code into the accessible system for reading and writing still used today. Vivid narration and dramatic mixed-media illustrations draw readers into Louise’s world while underscoring his intelligence, perseverance, and amazing accomplishment.

this-is-my-dollhouseThis Is My Dollhouse. by Giselle Potter. illus. by author. Schwartz & Wade. 2016. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780553521535; PLB $20.99. ISBN 9780553521542; ebook $10.99. ISBN 9780553521559.
K-Gr 3–Constructed from a cardboard carton, filled with cleverly cobbled-together furniture, and peopled with an impromptu family of mismatched toys, a ponytailed girl’s cozy dollhouse inspires hours of adventure-filled pretend play. In contrast, her friend Sophie’s dollhouse, with its pristine furniture and painted plastic family, is “all perfect,” but does little to stir Sophie’s imagination. When her friend visits, the young narrator is at first shy about sharing her box-turned-dollhouse, even hiding it away, but Sophie soon discovers the inviting abode and wholeheartedly falls under its spell. Soft-hued, folksy illustrations and insightful text convey a powerful message about creativity and play, and inspire readers to try their own hand at crafting miniatures (ideas included under the book jacket).

typewriterThe Typewriter. by Bill Thompson. illus. by author. Two Lions. 2016. Tr $17.99. ISBN 978-1477849750.
PreS-Gr 3–Riding their bikes on a wintery day, three friends follow a monarch butterfly to a closed-down carousel where a mysterious black case rests atop a ride-on bumblebee. It’s an old-fashioned manual typewriter, and the youngsters quickly discover that any word they type instantly becomes reality—“Beach” transports them to a sunny seashore; “Ball” results in a bouncy toy; and “Ice Cream” arrives in a big-as-a-kid orange pail. The playful tone turns menacing, however, when the girl types “Crab,” conjuring a giant-size crustacean with claws raised, and must quickly implement a solution (“Big Wave”) before “The End” brings the trio back home. The action in this otherwise wordless picture book is conveyed via Thompson’s superb photo-realistic paintings, which invite readers to look closely, interpret extraordinary events, and craft their own tale. See also SLJ‘s standards-aligned lesson plan for this book.

what-to-do-with-a-boxWhat to Do with a Box. by Jane Yolen. illus. by Chris Sheban. Creative Editions. 2016. Tr $17.99. ISBN 978-1-56846-289-9.
PreS-Gr 1–It can be a cozy library, grandiose palace, tea party nook, racing car, ocean-going vessel, or launch pad for fantastical adventures. Simple rhyming text and engaging illustrations filled with corrugated textures depict a pig-tailed girl, red-headed boy, and floppy-eared dog as they explore the possibilities packed away in an empty cardboard box and unleashed by imagination.

whooshWhoosh! Lonnie Johnson’s Super-Soaking Stream of Inventions. by Chris Barton. illus. by Don Tate. Charlesbridge. 2016. $16.95. ISBN 978-1-58089-297-1; ebook $9.99. ISBN 978-1-60734-640-1.
Gr 1-5–This offering about the real-life creator of a kid-favorite water toy begins during Lonnie’s childhood in Mobile, Alabama, where he constantly fiddled with junkyard finds, made rockets from scratch, and built his own robot from scrap metal, always forging forward despite challenges (Linex took first place in “a 1968 science fair at the University of Alabama—where only five years earlier, African American students hadn’t even been allowed”). Lively text and sherbet-hued illustrations follow this determined engineer and problem-solver extraordinaire into his adult years, work for NASA, conceptualization of the Super Soaker, and hard-to-launch but ultimately successful career as a full-time inventor. This tale of perseverance, problem solving, and the joy of tinkering will inspire young scientists and innovators.

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Joy Fleishhacker About Joy Fleishhacker

Joy Fleishhacker is a librarian, former SLJ staffer, and freelance editor and writer who works at the Pikes Peak Library District in southern Colorado.