A Tuesday Ten: Invention in Picture Books

Something slightly off the usual, I’m looking at inventors in the picture book side of things.  These are the books our youngest readers will encounter–what better way to kick off an interest in science and technology? While not all the books are science fiction, they all serve to draw attention and interest to the field of invention.


Oh No!: Or How My Science Project Destroyed the World by Mac Barnett, illustrated Dan Santat (Disney-Hyperion, 2010)

Girl builds monster robot for science fair.  Robot naturally runs amok in the city and now she must put a stop to her creation.  How to do this? A giant attack toad . . .  hilarity and wild science ensue in this picture book offering from the incredible duo of Barnett and Santat.  With the atmosphere of a 1950s monster movie, this is a funny and fantastic story.  Our heroine is back for a second story of science and mayhem in Oh No! Not Again!: (Or How I Built a Time Machine to Save History) (Or at Least My History Grade) (2012). 


Inventor McGregor by Kathleen T. Pelley, illustrated by Michael Chesworth

In his small town, surrounded by his family, Hector McGregor invents the most amazing gizmos and gadgets and useful things for people.  But when he’s invited to come to the city and invent in a place without all the distractions and clutter of his home, the ideas for new inventions quickly dry up.  A bit on the wordy side, but a tale with a message on the nature of invention.


Papa’s Mechanical Fish by Candace Fleming, illustrated by Boris Kulikov (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2013)

A fictional account of a father-inventor based on the life of real-life inventor Lodner Philips.  This little girl’s papa is always inventing, but doesn’t have much success with his inventions.  Until the day he takes his family to Lake Michigan and the little girl speculates what it would be like to be a fish.  This sets Papa off on a crazy round of invention as he tries, and fails, and tries again to create a mechanical fish to take them under the water.  In the end, he succeeds.  Despite being historical fiction, this is a lovely example of the persistence necessary for invention and how problem solving comes into the equation.  A clever and unusual book!


Marveltown by Bruce McCall (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2008)

Marvel town is an entire town of inventors in this futuristic science fiction romp.  Kids are invited on Saturdays to go to the Invent-o-Drome and dream up whatever they can.  All sorts of marvelous inventions are created.  But when the town’s giant worker bots go on a rampage (it seems they do that a lot in stories . . .), the kids will have to come up with their best inventions yet!


Randy Riley’s Really Big Hit by Chris Van Dusen (Candlewick, 2012)

Randy is much better at science than he is at baseball.  He tries, but keeps messing up on the baseball diamond.  Then Randy spots a giant fireball headed towards  his hometown . . . and it’s going to be up to him and his giant robot to knock this one out of the solar system! I included this in part to have a giant robot that doesn’t go on a rampage.  It’s a fun and funny little story that also features sports!


11 Experiments that Failed by Jenny Offill and Nancy Carpenter (Schwartz & Wade, 2011)

This is the second book featuring our young budding scientist and experimenter, and it’s the one I prefer of the two.  In this unusual picture book our central character tries out all sorts of wild and wacky experiments like is it possible to eat nothing but snowballs doused in ketchup all winter?  Is it possible to wash dishes in the laundry machine?  Although every experiment fails, the results and observations are hilarious (as are the accompanying pictures).  But what truly puts this book on my list is it uses actual scientific investigation.  Each experiment begins with a hypothesis, a list of what is needed, what is done and what happens.  This is a great way to spark some experiments with any young reader.  The first book 17 Things I’m Not Allowed to Do Anymore (2006), I’m less enamored of, since some of the things our young protagonist does are downright dangerous .


A Day with Wilbur Robinson by William Joyce (HarperCollins, 1990)

I debated a bit about including this one.  The book has our character visiting Wilbur Robinson at his home and helping his friend look for his grandfather’s lost teeth.  The search leads them through a gamut of whimsical inventions and inventive people who live with Wilbur, but not much happens in the story.  That said, there’s a movie that came out based loosely on the book.   In the movie Meet the Robinsons (2007)  our main character is an orphan boy who is also an inventor.  He gets whisked through time by a kid with a time-travel  device and winds up in a future where he meets the whole Robinson clan and their inventions.  The movie is a real spark for showing the importance of invention and creativity–with a big dollop of family and belonging thrown in for good measure!


Awesome Dawson by Chris Gall (Little, Brown Books, 2013)

Yes, admittedly, there’s another rampaging robot in this story, too.  Dawson is an inventor who also recycles and reuses!  He takes scraps that others would have thrown away and turns them into different gadgets and gizmos.  But the giant robot he invents to do his chores gets out of control, and it’s up to Dawson to stop his creation!  The message of recycling and reuse in this book is worthwhile, though  the robot cliche does get a bit much after a while.


Henry’s Amazing Machine by Dayle Ann Dodds, illustrated by Kyrsten Brooker (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2004)

Henry spends his life building an incredible machine . . . but what does his machine actually do?  A book on the drive and wonder of invention and what it can accomplish.


Rosie Revere, Engineer by Andrea Beaty, illustrated by David Roberts

Rosie may seem quiet by day, but by night she’s a busy inventor!  When her great-great aunt Rose (Rosie the Riveter) comes to visit,  young Rosie sets about helping her aunt achieve her dream  of flying.  But when Rosie’s invention doesn’t quite work out, it’s Rose who explains that it’s giving up that’s failing and that to keep trying is the success.

So there are my ten (a little late this week sorry!) on invention.  What books inspired you to explore science and technology?

About Stephanie Whelan

I'm a children's librarian with a life-long love of all things science fiction and fantasy.

Posted on December 27, 2013, in Lists and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. What a fun list! We’ve recently enjoyed Awesome Dawson, too. But in graphic novels, we’ve also found “The Secret Science Alliance and the Copycat Crook” and Mal and Chad (we started with “Bellyflop!”, but it’s the third in the series.)

    • Good graphic novel titles! I’ve kept this list purely to picture books, but there’s no reason others can’t chime in with their own faves. (Plus who knows? I haven’t done a graphic novel list yet . . .)

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