Did you know that May is National Inventors Month?
Celebrate all things innovative by learning the true stories behind inventions that changed the world for better (and for worse!). Read about kid inventors and even try some fun STEM projects at home.
“Mr. Ferris and His Wheel”
By Kathryn Gibbs Davis, illustrated by Gilbert Ford
When Paris hosted the World’s Fair, they built a large tower as the centerpiece. In 1893, it was Chicago’s turn, but with only 10 months to go, they still didn’t have anything that could outshine the Eiffel Tower. Then George Washington Gale Ferris Jr. had an idea: what if he built something large like a tower, but it moved? Facing challenges at every turn, Ferris managed to build his wheel, a design that has since been reproduced all over the world.
By Pip Jones, illustrated by Sara Ogilvie
Meet Izzy Gizmo, who loves to invent things and carries her toolbelt everywhere she goes, just in case. One day, she finds a bird with a broken wing and is determined to invent something to help. Unfortunately, her first idea doesn’t work. Neither does her second nor her third. Will she ever be able to make an invention to help the bird fly?
“Sweet Dreams Sarah: From Slavery to Inventor”
By Vivian Kirkfield, illustrated by Chris Ewald
After slavery was abolished, Sarah E. Goode moved to Chicago and opened a furniture store. Many of her customers needed furniture to fit their small living spaces and budgets, so Sarah invented a bed that folds up during the day, earning one of the first patents awarded to an African American woman.
“Hedy Lamarr’s Double Life”
By Laurie Wallmark, illustrated by Katy Wu
Hedy Lamarr was a popular movie star, but despite her international fame, most people didn’t know that she was also an inventor who developed technologies to help the United States during World War II. Even though some of her biggest breakthroughs were ignored at the time, they’re now used in our personal electronics.
“The Invention Hunters Discover How Machines Work”
By Korwin Briggs
The Invention Hunters fly around the world seeking out the world’s greatest inventions. When they land in a construction site, they discover — and misidentify, to great comedic effect — a series of wonderful inventions. This fun story explores simple machines and how they’re used. In later volumes, the Invention Hunters learn several other STEM concepts, such as electricity.
“Truth or Lie: Inventors!”
By Erica S. Perl, illustrated by Michael H. Slack
From Velcro to the airplane, this book uses the fun children’s game three truths and a lie to teach the backstory behind inventions that are now part of our everyday lives.
“What Color is My World? The Lost History of African-American Inventors”
By Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Raymond Obstfeld, illustrated by Ben Boos and A. G. Ford
Twins Herbie and Ella aren’t happy about their new house — it needs so much work! While talking with their parents’ handyman, they learn about 16 Black individuals who invented many of the things around their house. With sidebars, fun flaps and some comic-style pages, this book is a fun one to flip through.
“STEM Lab: 25 Super Cool Projects: Build, Invent, Create, Discover”
By Jack Challoner
Kids can create items like homemade instruments and wind-up cars by following the clear instructions in this DIY book. The scientific concepts behind each of the 25 projects are clearly explained as well as their real-world applications.
“Elements of Genius: Nikki Tesla and the Ferret-Proof Death Ray”
By Jess Keating
The first book in the Elements of Genius series introduces readers to Nikki Tesla, kid inventor extraordinaire. Unfortunately, her inventions tend to cause destruction and mayhem. When her pet ferret sets off her death ray and explodes her bedroom, Nikki’s mother packs her off to the Genius Academy. Nikki isn’t certain about the other kids there, but she’ll have to make friends and learn to work with others when someone steals her death ray.
“Bomb: The Race to Build — And Steal — The World’s Most Powerful Weapon”
By Steve Sheinkin
During World War II, both sides raced to invent a new type of weapon that used nuclear energy to create maximum destruction. In this gripping book, readers not only learn about the science behind nuclear weapons, but also the high-stakes story surrounding its invention, complete with daring raids by saboteurs and secret labs hidden in the desert. Sheinkin doesn’t shy away from the devastating consequences of the invention and will explore these issues even further in his upcoming September release, “Fallout.”
“The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind”
By William Kamkwamba and Bryan Mealer, illustrated by Anna Hymas
After a flood devastated his family’s crops and left them with nothing to eat, 14-year-old William Kamkwamba went to the library to see if he could find a solution. Using the information he learned in books, he built a windmill out of bicycle parts and scrap metal to electrify his family’s home and help pump water from deep underground to use on the fields. Older teens may be interested in reading the original version of this book, first published for adults.
“CRISPR: A Powerful Way to Change DNA”
By Yolanda Ridge
This book offers a clear, concise introduction to CRISPR, the gene-editing technology. In addition to explaining the science, Ridge explores the exciting developments that could result from using CRISPR as well as its unknown consequences. Each chapter ends with questions for further thought, inviting the reader to critically engage with the issues at play. This thought-provoking book makes an excellent read for teens, especially those considering a career in medical science.
This story first appeared in our May 2021 issue.