Fiction Picture Books
The Most Magnificent Thing by Ashley Spires
A little girl and her assistant (aka dog) set out to make the most magnificent thing. They start off full of energy and zest. But as the mistakes and rejects start to pile up, the inventor and assistant start to get more fed up until one smashed finger results in an explosion. The assistant suggests a walk, which the girl doubts will help, but finds a surprisingly good idea to brighten her spirits and give her a fresh new attack on the problem.
- Creative Readers: A fantastic story about perseverance and learning through mistakes, especially during a creative process such as inventing. A great book to use when talking about making revisions, problem solving, or creative strategies.
- Realistic Fiction Fans & Animal Fans: The little girl and her assistant are sure fun to follow around, and the illustrations are fantastic. Pretty much anyone should find something to enjoy in this book.
- Compare/Contrast Fans: Read this one and Andrea Beatty’s Rosie Revere, Engineer about another little inventor.
The Guild of Geniuses by Dan Santat
Mr Pip is Fredrick Lipton's best friend. Mr Pip is a monkey. Fredrick Lipton is a famous actor. When Fredrick's birthday comes around Mr Pip gets up early to get his present ready, but then he realizes his friend has all sorts of fabulous presents from lots of famous people. Would he even want Mr Pip's gift? Fredrick realizes Mr Pip is down, so he takes him to all the vets in town and when they can't provide an answer to his despondency, he leaves him with the Guild of Geniuses to figure out what's wrong while he goes on a two week movie shoot. The Guild puts their collective genius together, but seemingly fails to solve the mystery of Mr Pip's blues.
- Friendship Story Fans: This is a sweet story about friendship and value that money can't buy.
- Humor Fans & Problem Solving Fans: The Guild of Geniuses provide humorous entertainment along the way with their various ideas and remind readers that sometimes the answer is so simple we miss it by overthinking.
This Is My Book! by Mark Pett
Mark Pett introduces himself and explains what an author and illustrator does. He creates a panda character and then the panda proceeds to mess up all of Pett's plans for the book.
- Kids Learning Parts of a Book: This is a good choice for introducing who an author is, who an illustrator is, and what a character is when teaching parts of a book.
- Humor Fans & Interactive Book Fans: Kids will likely be thrilled by how the panda messes things up and enjoy the interactive parts of the book (a pull tab and pop-up are added by the panda against Pett's wishes).
Ideas Are All Around by Philip C. Stead
Philip C. Stead and his dog Wednesday go on a walk as the author tries to decide what to write his story about. In the end, the walk and process of brainstorming becomes the story.
- Stream of Consciousness Fans: There are not many picture books that can illustrate what a stream of consciousness story is like. (In fact, I can’t think of any others besides this one.) But it also isn’t as annoying as some of the “classic” adult books written in this style. It’s a light intro.
- Those Needing a Creative Boost: This story definitely encourages readers that anything can be turned into a story, and inspiration is all around if you only look.
- Unique Art Fans: The unique illustration style that combines photographs and painted pictures fits the theme of this book. It should encourage artists to think outside the box.
If I Built a Car by Chris Van Dusen
A kid with a fantastic imagination describes to his dad his dream car.
- Rhyming Text Fans/Read Aloud Fans: Van Dusen’s spectacular rhyming makes this a very fun read aloud.
- Scifi Fans/Fantasy Fans/Imaginative Readers: A delightfully fun book that imagines the perfect car. Keep the imagination going by asking readers what they'd add, change, or do different in their dream car. And if you like this one, also snatch up Van Dusen’s similar If I Built a House.
- Easter Egg Fans: Keep an eye out, Van Dusen’s other picture book stars Mr. Magee and Dee are hiding in the illustrations somewhere in here.
In the Bag: Margaret Knight Wraps It Up by Monica Kulling, ill. by David Parkins
A picture book biography of Margaret Knight, a factory worker in the 1800s who beat the odds, made history, and went on to become a patent-holding semi-famous inventor.
- Inventor Fans/Biography Fans: Fantastic picture book about a woman inventor who holds many patents, one of which was a machine that makes paper grocery bags. If you're studying inventors, make sure you include this amazing lady along with Edison and Bell.
- Fans of Stories of Real Kids Who Changed Their World: Not only was Margaret Knight a woman not afraid to tinker around with tools when it wasn't fashionable, she's inspirational for kids too. She invented a safety device for looms when she was just a child that saved hundreds of lives. She’s a great example that being small doesn’t mean you can’t make a huge impact.
Some Writer!: the Story of E.B. White by Melissa Sweet
Melissa Sweet introduces readers to the author of Stuart Little and Charlotte's Web through her own text and illustrations describing his life from childhood through college at Cornell on to his rambling years, work at The New Yorker and eventually his retreat to Maine and a quieter writing life until his death. Included are numerous photographs of White and his family, primary sources (such as manuscripts and childhood notes) and quotes from both White and other famous writers who knew him.
- Biography Fans: This is an exemplary biography in many ways. It is attractively designed. The writing flows so well. It is highly readable, aimed at the middle grade crowd but could be read aloud to kids younger or enjoyed by those older too because of the engrossing in content. Sweet balances both information about the man's life and the background on his work.
- Future Authors: There's lots of tantalizing details about the inspiration, setting, and process of writing all of his children's classics. Along the way readers not only get to learn about a cherished author and his creative process, but they’ll likely pick up some valuable writing advice too. Sweet found some exceptional quotes about writing that came straight from E.B. White's pen.
- E.B. White Fans: If you love this author’s works, you should love learning about how they each came to be.
Middle Grade Fiction
Robot Revolution (House of Robots, #3) by James Patterson with Chris Grabenstein, ill. by Juliana Neufeld
This is the third and final book about Sammy and his family, which thanks to his mother’s robotics skills, has many robots. In this one all the robots at the Hayes-Rodriguez household are all going beserk. Mom is absorbed in a new project so deeply that she's been neglecting regular maintenance of the household robots. Dad is in a deadline crunch for his graphic novel, so it seems it is up to Sammy and E to get the robots back to normal (E is a robot Mom created so Sammy’s sister Maddy who has SCID can go to school virtually). But trying to keep the robots at home from burning the place down or starting a revolution means Sammy’s grades are slipping and he can't spend any time thinking up a good science fair project. Will Mom finish before everything gets super out of control?
- Creative Types: Inventors, graphic novelists, and problem solving kids. Lots of creative juices are flowing and there’s a good message and perseverance and learning through mistakes woven in.
- Loving Families in Lit Fans: I really like the Hayes-Rodriguez family. I like that Sammy and Maddy get along so well, and that the entire family usually works as a team. This one shows how they aren't perfect, but they work through their issues and are stronger for it.
- Reluctant Readers/Scifi Fans: Of course, all the robots going wacky will be what really thrills most middle grade readers. With the topics covered, all the illustrations throughout, and slightly larger font size, this entire series is good for reluctant readers.
Young Adult Fiction
Mechanica by Betsy Cornwell
Nicolette had a happy childhood learning to tinker with mechanical devices with her mother, but that ended with her mother's death of Fey's croup. It was made all the worse by the fact that the disease had a known cure, but the cure was a Faerie plant. And after the Queen's death of an overdose of the same plant, all Faerie items were banned and the Fey themselves were no longer welcome. Nicolette's father quickly remarried, a widow with two daughters of her own (and money to save the house). Nicollete dreamed of the fun she'd have with sisters, but it was quickly all too clear that that was never to be. Chastity and Piety couldn't have been any meaner or colder. And after father died, Stepmother made it abundantly clear Nicolette's place was as family servant. Nicolette didn't have it nearly as bad as her stepmother thought, though. Prior to her father's death, the family had a Fey servant, Mr. Candery who deeply cared for Nicolette and had some perception of her future fate. He left her hidden enchantments in the house, as her mother had left her little machines, and combined they helped to make life easier than it would have been. On her 16th birthday, Nicolette found a further gift left for her by her mother; the secret to how to get into her mother's hidden study and workshop in the cellar. The workshop proved to be well stocked and Nicolette was able to start dreaming about inventions to get her out of her role as family servant. The King has announced a grand Exhibition of the Arts & Sciences preceded by a ball where the Heir will make his first public appearance since his older brother's assassination many years earlier. While her stepsisters obsess about the Heir who is finally of age, Nicolette dreams of making a contraption that will capture her an investor at the Exhibition.
- Cinderella Rewrite Fans/Fractured Fairy Tale Fans: Obviously, the plot borrows a lot from Cinderella. The ending of this one doesn't quite follow the typical Cinderella tale formula though. At first I was disappointed, but then I decided I liked it for the different ending and the little spins it took on the typical story. (Hint: Those looking for non-mushy YA reads should also like this.)
- Creative Character Fans: If you like creative genius characters, you should techy inventor Nicolette who is slightly socially inept (but in a lovable way). She’s an enjoyable creative genius to follow around. The sequel Venturess just came out and I’m eager to follow her around some more.
- Steampunk/Scifi/Fantasy Fans: The world building is a mixture of steampunk (all the mechanical gizmos in a historical-ish setting) and fantasy (mostly the Fey and their magic). That mixture usually satisfies fans of both scifi and fantasy.