Elem. – Franz’s Phantasmagorical Machine

Anderson, Beth. Franz’s Phantasmagorical Machine. Kids Can Press, 2022. 978-1-525-30325-8. 32 p. $18.99. Grades K-3. 

“Imagine. Discover. Create.” Throughout his childhood, these whispers call to Franz Gsellmann. The words run through his mind even as his parents rely on him to do the more practical work of helping out on the family farm. As Franz busies himself milking cows, gathering eggs, and picking apples, the whispers continue calling to him. One night, many years later, he wakes from a dream with an idea for a fantastical, magical, phantasmagorical machine. Unsure about how to make his dream machine a reality, he draws inspiration from the World’s Fair in Belgium. For the next 23 years, he visits flea markets and junkyards, filling bags and carts with odds and ends of all kinds. He hauls everything back to his workshop where he tinkers in secrecy. When he finally reveals his creation to his family and neighbors, he’s crushed when they don’t understand his vision. They want to know what the machine does, but they miss the point that sometimes, a creation doesn’t need a practical purpose. Some things can be appreciated simply for their artistic beauty, ingenuity, and creativity. Backmatter pages include a brief biography of Franz Gsellmann as well as black and white photos of him with his machine. 

THOUGHTS: This title will be a thought-provoking addition to STEAM lessons as it highlights the ideas of perseverance, experimentation, creativity, and optimism. It also draws connections between science and art and shows the value of thinking outside the box. Share this with art teachers too to kickstart units about recycled art or self-taught artists. 

621 Applied Physics          Anne Bozievich, Southern York County SD
Picture Book

Elem. – Mimic Makers: Biomimicry Inventors Inspired by Nature

Nordstrom, Kristen. Mimic Makers: Biomimicry Inventors Inspired by Nature. Charlesbridge, 2021. 978-1-580-89947-5. 44 p. $17.99. Grades 2-5.

This book describes eight inventions that were inspired by natural phenomena. From solar cells that absorb sunlight like leaves to trains that move silently and efficiently through the landscape like kingfishers, this book explains how ten scientists incorporated ideas from nature to solve various real-world problems. With end matter that includes brief biographies of each inventor, suggestions for becoming a mimic maker, and a bibliography and additional resources, this intriguing book is a solid addition to any elementary collection.

THOUGHTS: I was really impressed by the curricular connections between the natural sciences and the applied sciences presented in this book. I also think the book presents a wonderful opportunity to spark creative thinking in students. It would be interesting to have students research a plant or animal of their choice and see if they can identify any unique structures that perform specific functions for the plant or animal. Then, they could brainstorm inventions of their own using this newfound knowledge. The book is definitely thought-provoking and full of potential for classroom applications!

610.28 Biomimicry           Julie Ritter, PSLA Member

Elem. – A Life Electric: The Story of Nikola Tesla

Westergaard, Azadeh. A Life Electric: The Story of Nikola Tesla. Viking, 2021. Unpaged. 978-0-593-11460-5.  Grades 1-4. $17.99.

In this picture book biography, the author tells readers how much more Nikola Tesla contributed to science than his hair-raising Tesla coil. Born during a thunderstorm in modern day Croatia, the future scientist was interested in animals, books, and electricity as a young boy. He even designed his own inventions, like a “rotating motor powered by the fast, flapping wings of sixteen June bugs.” Tesla was a good student, excelling in many subjects, but electrical engineering was his passion. Soon he came up with an innovative way to transmit electricity over long distances by sending electric currents back and forth on a wire. Tesla traveled to the United States to share his discovery. There he met businessman George Westinghouse and they worked together to develop the electric motor. This invention was presented at the 1893 Chicago World Fair to much acclaim. Sadly, the Wizard of Electricity did not profit much from his creation due to unfortunate business decisions. Although Nikola died alone and poor in New York in 1943, over two thousand prominent scientists, businessmen, and artists attended his funeral. As one friend observed, “So far reaching is his work… should Tesla’s work be suddenly withdrawn-darkness would prevail.”  The back matter provides more biographical details, vintage photographs, and suggested readings.  Sarda’s illustrations are rendered digitally and have a folk art quality.

THOUGHTS: This is an intriguing life story of this important, but underappreciated, inventor, whose electrical discoveries are so crucial to the modern world. By revealing Tesla’s non-technical interests such as poetry and caring for hungry or injured pigeons, the author has presented a unique portrait of the man. This text works as a good introduction to electricity units and is a worthwhile purchase for elementary collections.

Biography  92, 921          Denise Medwick, Retired, PSLA Member
621.3092 Electrical Engineering

Elem. – Flip! How the Frisbee Took Flight

Muirhead, Margaret. Flip! How the Frisbee Took Flight. Charlesbridge. 978-1-580-89880-5. 32 p. $17.99. Grades K-3. 

Toss, glide, catch, repeat! Frisbees are some of the top-selling toys of all time, and this title explores their history. In the 1920s, east-coast college kids began flinging empty pie plates from the Frisbie bakery. The fad soon spread from campus to campus. Around the same time, in California, a high school football player named Fred Morrison began tossing a flat, tin popcorn lid with his girlfriend. They were amazed how the lid hovered, dipped, and glided through the air. When the tin lid became too dented to fly straight, the pair experimented with pie plates and cake pans. When someone offered to buy the cake pan from Fred after seeing him tossing it around on the beach, Fred was hooked with the idea of introducing the fun to others. Over the next several years, Fred tweaked the materials for the flying discs and capitalized on America’s obsession with aliens and flying saucers. Eventually, he sold his design to the Wham-O toy company who helped give the toy national recognition. Full-page retro-style gouache illustrations capture the excitement of a game of frisbee from all angles, making readers feel like they are ready to fling the flying disc themselves. An Author’s Note includes details about other colleges that claim to have invented the game of frisbee as well as additional information about Fred’s persistence and creative energy. 

THOUGHTS: This title will be an asset to units about inventions, and it also highlights STEM concepts, particularly ideas about creating prototypes and perfecting designs. It also can be integrated into social-emotional discussions, particularly those centering on resilience and perseverance. 

Picture Book          Anne Bozievich, Southern York County SD
796.2 Activities and Games

Elem. – Eureka! The Biography of an Idea (Series NF)

Eureka! The Biography of an Idea. Kane Press, 2021. $17.99 ea.  32 p. Grades PK-3.

Driscoll, Laura. Camera. Illustrated by Hector Borlasca. 978-1-635-92428-2.
Haskins, Lori Houran. Bicycle. Illustrated by Aaron Cushley. 978-1-635-92394-0.
—.  Glasses. Illustrated by John Joven. 978-1-63592-424-4.
Zoehfeld, Kathleen Widener. Lightbulb. Illustrated by Stephanie Dehennin. 978-1-635-92395-7.

Camera is a colorfully illustrated history of the development of the camera from the first observations of a natural phenomenon up to the invention and use of lenses, special papers, and chemicals to create a photographic image. Technical facts clearly are explained in simple language for an elementary audience. Includes two pages of quick facts and some helpful tips for taking better photos.

THOUGHTS: This series provides an engaging introduction for early elementary students into the development of many of our popular inventions or technologies.

771.3 Cameras & Accessories          Nancy Summers, Abington SD

Elem. – Fascinating Facts (Series NF)

Fascinating Facts. The Child’s World, 2021. $19.95 ea. $239.40 set of 12. 24 p. Grades 2-5. 

Kruesi, Liz. Inventions. 978-1503844698.
—. Space. 978-1503844636.
Lassieur, Allison. Natural Disasters. 978-1503844681.
—. Scary Stuff. 978-1503844704.
Pearson, Marie. Dogs. 978-1503844629.
Peterson, Sheryl. U.S. Presidents. 978-1503844599.
Smibert, Angie. Engineering. 978-1503844612.
—. Math. 978-1503844643.
York, M.J. Dinosaurs. 978-11503844667.
. Earth. 978-1503844650.
—. History. 978-1503844605.
—. Human Body. 978-1503844674.

Did you know that Theodore Roosevelt had a photographic memory? Or that Chester Arthur was a clotheshorse who owned 80 pairs of shoes? These are just some of the presidential tidbits shared in the U.S. Presidents volume of the Fascinating Facts series. Each volume explores unusual and unique facts and stories on a given subject. Facts are grouped together by chapter (for example, the U.S. Presidents book chapters included “Life in the White House,” “First Families,” and “Strange but True Tales.”) The text is accompanied by numerous sidebars as well as photos on each page. A glossary as well as links to web resources are also included.

THOUGHTS: Perfect for aficionados of fact-style books, this series is a worthwhile additional purchase for elementary collections.

363.34-973.09 Science, Math, Animals, History          Elizabeth Henry, Lampeter-Strasburg SD  

The world is a mysterious place, filled with lots of unique and bizarre stories! This series focuses on some of the most odd stories of the world, including stories about the human body, space, natural disasters, and scary stuff. The Reviewer read Natural Disasters and Scary Stuff. Natural Disasters showcases some of the most iconic types of natural disasters, including earthquakes and tsunamis, volcanoes, tornadoes, and hurricanes. Each section of this book describes what the natural disaster is, in addition to presenting unique stories about each. Scary Stuff displays some of the most iconic scary items found throughout the world, such as vampires and werewolves! Scary Stuff shares some legends of these scary items, in addition to ways to prevent and/or save yourself from the monsters that go bump in the night.

THOUGHTS: This series is very well done. It includes a lot of information that is presented with colorful visuals and pictures, both photographs and illustrations.

363.34-973.09                    Rachel Burkhouse, Otto-Eldred SD

Elem. – Ninja Kid: From Nerd to Ninja

Do, Anh. Ninja Kid: From Nerd to Ninja!  Scholastic, 2021. 978-1-338-58523-0. $6.99. 192 p. Grades 2-5.

This illustrated novel for younger readers tells the story of Nelson, a nerd from Duck Creek. Nelson wakes up on his tenth birthday and discovers that he’s a ninja! The last ninja on earth! With the help of his grandmother’s inventions, Nelson finds a way to save the day from giant hairy spiders invading his town. He even learns of family secrets about his father’s ninja past and disappearance. This is the first book in a new series.

THOUGHTS: This illustrated novel is action packed and will appeal to reluctant readers. The humor and common theme of not fitting in will resonate.

Early Chapter Book          Krista Fitzpatrick, Wissahickon Charter School

Elem. – The Thingity-Jig

Doherty, Kathleen. The Thingity-Jig. Peachtree Publishing Company, 2021. 978-1-7972-0282-2 p. 32. $17.95. Grades K-3. 

What happens when you make a curious discovery? A discovery that is springy, bouncy, and oh-so joyous to sit and jump on! It is so special that you run home to tell all of your friends that you discovered a Thingity-Thing! However, the discovery is so cumbersome to move that Bear, the main character in this story, needs help from his friends to get the exquisite piece home. So when no one in Bear’s life wants to be bothered, Bear takes matters into his own hands (or paws) and builds a Rolly-Rumpity to wheel the Thingity-Jig home. But of course, there are bumps in the road, and Bear needs to invent the Lifty-Uppity to overcome the next obstacle. Author Kathleen Doherty creates an adorable, curious, and inventive character in her picture book The Thingity-Jig and cleverly combines wordplay and STEAM into her storyline. A delightful read-aloud for young children, The Thingity-Jig is both quirky and hilarious and so fun to read!

THOUGHTS: Author Katleen Doherty is a reading specialist and former classroom teacher for over 30 years. The Illustrator, Kristyna Litten, studied art at the Edinburgh College of Art and has illustrated several children’s books. Her style, heavily influenced by animation and illustrative art, is the perfect vibe for this charming picture book. An ideal read-aloud for STEAM or growth mindset!

Picture Book          Marie Mengel, Reading SD

Elem. – Fun STEM Challenges (Series Nonfiction)

Ventura, Marne. Fun STEM Challenges. Pebble, 2020. $20.49 ea. Set of 6 $122.94. 24 p. Grades K-3.

Building Boats that Float.  978-1-977-11297-2.
Building Marble Runs 978-1-977-11300-9.
Building Simple Traps. 
978-1-977-11298-9.
Building Strong Bridges. 978-1-977-11299-6.
Building Sunshades. 978-1-977-11301-6.
Building Tough Towers. 978-1-977-11296-5.

In this book, we learn all about Marble Runs! In text young readers can understand, this book informs us as to what a marble run is, why we can build them, how we make our own, and a review of what we learned! This book also contains a glossary for important key words, both text and Internet sites where we can obtain more information, and even some critical thinking questions. This informative book will have young readers creating their own marble runs out of a variety of materials!

THOUGHTS: This is a must have for any STEM/STEAM teacher who works with young grades! A simple book to allow students to begin thinking about his/her own marble run and how to make it work. (Title Reviewed: Building Marble Runs)

507.8 Inventions          Rachel Burkhouse, Otto-Eldred SD

Elem. – Izzy Gizmo and the Invention Convention

Jones, Pip, and Sara Ogilvie. Izzy Gizmo and the Invention Convention. Peachtree, 2020. 978-1-682-63164-5. Unpaged. $17.99. PreK-3.

Young inventor Izzy Gizmo returns for a second outing (Izzy Gizmo 2018), showcasing her creative mind and determined spirit. Izzy is delighted to receive an invitation to Technoff Isle’s Invention Convention. She arrives at Technoff Isle with grandpa and pet crow, Fixer, in tow, and meets her fierce, determined competition. With only one day to create an amazing invention, Izzy gets to work, but is quickly stymied at every turn by the ultra-aggressive Abi von Lavish. Left with limited supplies, Izzy’s frustration grows as each idea is quickly discarded. However, watching (obviously spoiled) Abi discard broken tools and supplies, Izzy becomes inspired to build a tool-recycling machine and gets to work. As the hours tick down, her temper flares when the invention fails to work, and Izzy snaps at those attempting to help her. Eventually she gets the message, and Fixer’s advice saves the machine and the day. The book is a credible entry in the STEM market, nicely emphasizing the need for trial and error when inventing. Ogilvie’s illustrations are charming, imbuing all the characters with delightful personalities and clearly, amusingly, displaying Izzy’s emotions. While the story is cute, the narration is hindered by unnecessary rhyming; a prose text would better suit the theme and message of the story (like Ashley Spires’ The Most Magnificent Thing).

THOUGHTS: A fun addition to a STEM collection, introducing several themes, including recycling, creating, and accepting help. This book could generate discussion prior to starting a Maker Space unit.

Picture Book          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD