How to foster a budding inventor

posted in: 2. Illustrators and Authors | 20

Today sees the start of National Science & Engineering Week in the UK. I’ll be celebrating it with books of course, and so the focus for the next couple of posts here on the blog is… INVENTIONS!

This afternoon I’m in school doing a book+craft session based on Wouter van Reek‘s Coppernickel: The Invention. After reading the book together, the kids and I will be making our own inventions using the piles and piles of recycling I’ve been hoarding since Christmas. I’ll be letting each of them loose with a roll of masking tape and asking them to invent something they’d like to see in their school. Should be chaotic and fun! To give you a flavour of the book you might enjoy this animation based on it:

At home this week, however, we’ve been reading Usborne’s The Story of Inventions, by Anna Claybourne, illustrated by Adam Larkum and designed by Steve Wood.

With the look and feel of a notebook full of doodles and scribbled notes on ideas (just the sort of thing a budding inventor might carry around to record their bright ideas in), The Story of Inventions covers everything from aeroplanes to zips, writing to radar, and candles to crisp bags, looking at how they were invented, who came up with the idea, and how the ideas developed.

This is a book that makes you want to read it! Every page has a fascinating story on it; you’ll meet characters who were often either slightly crazy, or incredibly bright, or just plain brave. You’ll learn new words (eg celerifere, Gossamer Condor), you’ll learn about history, and you’ll end up looking afresh at the things around you which we often take for granted nowadays.

There are no long chunks of text in this book; rather, there are lots of short paragraphs of just a sentence or two. And everywhere you turn there are fun illustrations (drawings, rather than photographs) of inventions (some look like simplified technical drawings, others show the invention in development or use).

Content, illustration and design all add up to a book M has returned to again and again. I’ll certainly be recommending it to school, and especially for older kids who may be a little reluctant to read for pleasure.

Having been inspired by all the inventors we had been reading about, M wanted to invent something for herself. Something real, something she could actually use. We brainstormed a little to come up with something that she really wanted – and in the end decided on a bed-top table so she can draw and read big picture books easily in bed.

First she measured her bed…

…and created a mini model (you can see it on her duvet), out of cardboard.

We then raided our shed to find materials. M worked out that the table would need to be light so she could get it on and off her bed easily, and this is why we decided to use plywood. Once the table and sides were sawn, M sanded them and helped me screw them all together. She then painted a design on her table top, and eventually sealed it all with a couple of coats of PVA glue (a little more child friendly than wood varnish).

Her bed-top table is now in fully functioning use and is a huge hit with both girls! I’m just grateful M hasn’t yet asked to have her breakfast in bed on it 😉

You might argue that rather than really inventing something new, M simply designed something new. I’m not going to argue between inventing and designing – either way The Story of Inventions got M excited and making something that she’s now very proud of. If design, rather than invention, really is your thing, then you should get hold of one of M’s favourite books at the moment D.E.S.I.G.N. by Ewa Solarz, illustrated by Aleksandra & Daniel Mizielinski – a fabulous book if you’re interested in innovative household items. We have to thank Zac who sent it to us all the way from Christchurch, New Zealand!

Whilst making M’s bed-top table we listened to:

  • Know Your Inventors, Part I by The Board of Education
  • Great Inventions, Groovy Solutions from the TV series Balamory. Terribly cheesy but sometimes needs must…
  • The Greatest Inventor (Of Them All) by Nat King Cole


  • Instead of making M’s own invention we could have:

  • tried our hand at inventing a new writing system or numbering system. Here’s a pdf guide to making up a new numbering system. Alternatively, look at this homework assignment to get some ideas. If you create a new writing system you could turn it into a font to use on your computer. Here’s an article about free font creation sites.
  • made a roman lamp with a wick. Here’s a detailed tutorial for a lamp that looks a little different but works on the same basis. If you’ve got access to clay, this tutorial might be right for you.
  • invented a new dish for supper! Give the kitchen over to the kids and see if they can come up with something new (and hopefully tasty) to eat…. I dare you 🙂

  • What would you like to invent for yourself? What invention would make your family life richer?


    Today I’m joining the weekly STEM roundup. This week’s host is Practically Paradise – I do hope you’ll pop over to discover more children’s books with a science, technology, engineering or maths theme.
    Disclosure: I received my copy of this book from the publisher. This review remains my own and honest opinion.

    20 Responses

    1. Barbara

      Zoe, I don’t know how you get so much done in a day/week. I think you’ve already got that wonder woman costume! What a brilliant idea well done M. I’m sure you could market your new product. Every little boy and girl in the country will want one!
      Barbara recently posted..The Cecil Aldin painting book and a gay dog

    2. Zoe

      Hi Barbara, I’m very lucky to have inherited from my father a “can-do” attitude! That certainly helps with getting stuff done 🙂

      Thanks Se7en – I can imagine a bed-desk being quite popular in your home too!

    3. Polly

      More great ideas that I shall be nicking for boy entertainment! Thanks Zoe. Speaking of nicked ideas I’m booked to go into Reception on Monday with a whole heap of vegetable matter, grains and crackers to try our hands at some Carl Warner edible landscapes…
      M.’s paintwork on that table is really lovely- reminds me of Sara Fanelli’s ‘My Map Book’. Be a Proud Mummy sticker award.
      Polly recently posted..Poetry Friday

      • Zoe

        Ha! Ali, i don’t think there’s anything that can help with that – this week m has been swimming with school everyday, and had her normal swimming lesson, so I thought she’d be exhausted by Friday, but NO! She still wanted to stay up chatting late…

    4. Myra from GatheringBooks

      Hi Zoe, another book that you might be interested to look at as a supplement to these fabulous reading materials (which I have only heard of now, thanks for the recommendation) is “So you want to be an inventor” by Judith St. George and David Small – have you heard of that one? This is a book that I have for several years now and I have used it with my high ability learners in several bibliotherapy sessions. It’s beautiful too. 🙂
      Myra from GatheringBooks recently posted..March AWB Reviews

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