Unfortunately, your access has now expired. But there’s good news—by subscribing today, you will receive 22 issues of Booklist magazine, 4 issues of Book Links, and single-login access to Booklist Online and over 200,000 reviews.
Your access to Booklist Online has expired. If you still subscribe to the print magazine, please proceed to your profile page and check your subscriber number against a current magazine mailing label. (If your print subscription has lapsed, you will need to renew.)
Free Trial, activate profile, or subscribe
Find more Classroom Connections: Maker Minds
Help foster a culture of hands-on creativity with these books and activities for the young DIY set.
Do you spend your weekends doing DIY renovations, adding stitches to a quilt, customizing your website, or knitting a few more rows? Do people look to you to bring the most artfully decorated cake to a potluck or to have the biggest pergola in the neighborhood? Were you a champion lanyard-braider at summer camp? Do you know the difference between a Phillips and a flat-head screwdriver? Can you turn a piece of copy paper into an emergency water cup? Can you think of a dozen things you could craft out of a single sheet of plywood? If you can answer yes to any of these questions, then you’re probably a maker, and chances are, your young students are makers, too.
In past generations, we often put creative acts into silos by the tools used to create them. Carpenters did different work from seamstresses; computer programmers were different from people making stained-glass windows. Mechanics and architects? They belonged to different professions. Today, the word making is an all-encompassing term to refer to America’s affection for tinkering, puttering, stitching, sawing, prototyping, snipping, and more. Using materials from 3-D printers to LEGOs, soldering irons to crochet hooks, people are creating unique items to customize our world all across America’s makerspaces, workshops, guilds, libraries, and schools. When it comes to making, amateurs mingle with professionals, kids with adults. The journey is as engaging—if not more so!—than the destination.
In June 2014, President Obama hosted the first White House Maker Faire, where kids and start-up entrepreneurs showed off their innovative inventions. Recently, Google Hangouts has partnered with MAKE magazine for a virtual Maker Camp for teens. And if you send Amazon.com your digital design, it willl ship a custom 3-D printed resin version of it. Even the U.S. Post Office is thinking about investing in projects that support making and maker tools in the future.
Best of all, the maker movement is inspiring educators to hark back to hands-on learning, tinkering, and puttering. It is recognizing the power of kids learning through their hands, naturally iterating and updating designs until they are just the way that the kids want them to be. For teachers of primary students, the maker movement brings a new umbrella under which to cluster many activities that children throughout the decades have loved and enjoyed as well as some newer, technologically empowered ones.
What is a makerspace? First and foremost, a makerspace is a place. Whether it occupies a corner of your classroom, a floor in a stand-alone building, space in a neighborhood garage or community center, or a pop-up section in an existing library or classroom, a makerspace is a physical location where tools, inspiration, and process converge.
Secondly, a makerspace is a community, a group of people with creative impulses across disciplines who are eager to create in a social context. They may come together to share costly tools or space, to gain inspiration from one another, and to learn from the experiences of others. In other words, a makerspace can be a natural extension of a positive classroom environment.
Next, makerspaces have tools that help bring our visions to life. In professional-grade makerspaces, the equipment may be a factory-quality combination of traditional shop tools and new, digital-fabrication tools like a 3-D printer and a laser cutter that turn consumers into pro-grade creators. In an elementary makerspace, tools may be computers, easels, microscopes, sewing needles, origami paper, circuit-making toys like Snap Circuits or LittleBits, clay, or collections of recycled materials waiting to be converted into new and novel creations.
Finally, making is a mind-set, and it is a mind-set we welcome back into our classrooms as an antidote to pacing guides, standardized tests, and worksheets. It is a mind-set that values open-source thinking, in which students and teachers share expertise and information with one another. It’s a mind-set that values the meandering and switchbacks of the creative process rather than hurrying to the finish line of a product. It values open-ended creation, where even the same materials might morph into different projects and outcomes for each child. Maker mind-set creates a culture where experimentation is safe and valued, where initial attempts are not failures but unanticipated results, and where students feel centered in their learning.
For the past few years, in our work with the University of Michigan School of Information’s Michigan Makers project, we’ve watched students from kindergarten to grade 12 engage with maker tools, and we’ve come to believe that it is mind-set, above all, that sets the tone for maker culture in schools. When students feel a sense of agency, they’re “in the zone,” productive and motivated. They handle bumps in their design with more grace, struggle less to stay on task, and feel more pride in their designs. Is it time to add—or restore—a makerspace in your early elementary classroom?
In this feature, we suggest books that can help your elementary learners find role models and inspiration as they work toward their own maker mind-sets. In the accompanying activities, you’ll find a few maker ideas to take for a spin in your classroom. We also took care to include diversity in our selections. Although much of popular culture’s narrative about making features middle-class, Caucasian men, we see far more diverse makers in our work, so many of the books listed feature urban, minority, and female makers to help more students see themselves as creators and change agents.
Balloons over Broadway: The True Story of the Puppeteer of Macy’s Parade. By Melissa Sweet. Illus. by the author. 2011. 40p. HMH, $16.99 (9780547199450). 791.5. K–Gr. 2.
The iconic Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade balloons and their descendants owe their existence to Tony Sarg, a puppeteer whose story is told in picture-book format in this multi-award-winning title. An innovator from an early age, he came up with creative ways to do his chores and solve other problems before he went on to create puppets for Macy’s window displays and the balloons that take to the sky in parades across the country. Sarg was able to create these marvels through lots of experimentation. Sweet’s collage illustrations are influenced by toy making and add to the portrayal of Sarg’s maker spirit.
The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind. By William Kamkwamba and Bryan Mealer. Illus. by Elizabeth Zunon. 2012. 32p. Dial, $17.99 (9780803735118). 621.4. Gr. 1–3.
William Kamkwamba made international headlines when, as a teenager, he built his own windmill generator to bring electricity to his family and his community in Malawi. The boy found inspiration in a library, where he could read about science and engineering. He decided to use the miscellaneous junk he found around his home to find a way to bring water to the drought-stricken village—and to try to bring his family out of poverty. This picture book exposes more readers to Kamkwamba’s story of tinkering and ingenuity and provides a glimpse of the transformational power of making, especially in developing areas of the world.
Crafty Chloe. By Kelly DiPucchio. Illus. by Heather Ross. 2012. 40p. Atheneum, $16.99 (9781442421233). Gr. 1–3.
Chloe is not good at everything, but she is a maker through and through: she uses the things she finds around the house (sometimes without her parents’ permission) to create whatever she can imagine. When she can’t buy her best friend a desired gift, she decides, instead, to make her something special. A more popular girl picks on Chloe for not being able to purchase a gift, but that bully has to rely on Chloe once her own gift is ruined. This book gives young readers an image of a girl who is both clever and giving and whose independent vision is undaunted by those around her.
The Day-Glo Brothers: The True Story of Bob and Joe Switzer’s Bright Ideas and Brand-New Colors. By Chris Barton. Illus. by Tony Persiani. 2009. 44p. Charlesbridge, $19.95 (9781570916731). 535. Gr. 2–5.
If your school Safety Patrol or Service Squad members wear bright-yellow vests, they can thank the Day-Glo brothers. This biography tells the little-known story of the inventors of Day-Glo colors, who developed the fluorescent colors after much trial and error. Their creation has gone on to be featured on many different products to enhance visibility for safety reasons or just to get attention. The brothers have different ways of going about their making—one plans things out, while the other just tries things as he goes—but they work together to create these new colors. This title’s illustrations pop with the Day-Glo colors created by its subjects and will catch any reader’s attention while reinforcing that there are many pathways to making and that making as a team can create a powerful synergy.
Extra Yarn. By Mac Barnett. Illus. by Jon Klassen. 2012. 40p. HarperCollins/Balzer + Bray, $16.99 (9780061953385). K–Gr. 2.
Annabelle starts knitting with a never-ending box of yarn, even though she faces the disapproval of her peers and teachers. They change their tune once she starts making sweaters for every person, animal, and house in the town. An archduke offers to buy the yarn off her, but Annabelle refuses. Klassen earned a Caldecott Honor for this title’s artwork, which makes the knitting stitches stand out and helps to illustrate the colorful transformation of the town as Annabelle warms her community. This tale focuses attention on needle crafts and exemplifies the generosity of maker culture.
Harness It: Invent New Ways to Harness Energy and Nature. By Tammy Enz. 2012. 32p. illus. Capstone, lib. ed., $26.65 (9781429676335). 621.042. Gr. 3–6.
This title is part of the Invent It series, in which each title promotes the idea that inventing is a process and explains construction steps for several projects. Each book in the series has a different theme, and Harness It features nature and energy. Other titles include Build It: Invent New Structures and Contraptions (about structures), Repurpose It: Invent New Uses for Old Stuff (about new ideas for how to use old items), and Zoom It: Invent New Machines That Move (about movement and machines). The activities in each book would be fun to do with small groups of children, although the process of inventing is not clearly represented in all projects. These books could spark imaginations and get students tinkering with their own inventions.
Lunch Walks among Us. By Jim Benton. Illus. by the author. 2005. 448p. Simon & Schuster, $16.99 (9780689862915). Gr. 1–3.
In this early chapter book, along with other titles in the Franny K. Stein’s Crate of Danger series, Franny is a mad scientist, making all sorts of things to fix her problems. However, her solutions sometimes create mad messes that she has to figure out how to clean up. Far from the stereotypical sweet little girl, she is devious and not afraid to get messy. Great for reading aloud, this is perfect for young inventors ready for a dark-humored chapter-book heroine with more spunk than syrup. Other titles in Benton’s series include Attack of the 50-Ft. Cupid (2004), The Invisible Fran (2004), and The Fran That Time Forgot (2005).
Magic Trash: A Story of Tyree Guyton and His Art. By J. H. Shapiro. Illus. by Vanessa Brantley-Newton. 2011. 32p. Charlesbridge, $15.95 (9781580893855). 709.2. Gr. 2–4.
News reports often focus on Detroit’s blighted neighborhoods, but Tyree Guyton sees them as untapped opportunity. It was a struggle for Guyton to become an artist, even though it was his dream growing up in Detroit and painting with his grandfather. As an adult, he began to make art in his neighborhood, but he had to fight for his masterpieces to be preserved and not destroyed. This work was published to mark the twenty-fifth anniversary of Guyton’s art journey, known as the Heidelberg Project. Guyton is another urban maker, and he shows us the importance of being dedicated to a project and of using art to brighten our lives.
The Most Magnificent Thing. By Ashley Spires. Illus. by the author. 2014. 32p. Kids Can, $16.95 (9781554537044). K–Gr. 2.
Follow along as a girl struggles to make a scooter for herself and her dog. She sketches and tries to prototype her vision, but none of the iterations work as planned. When she gets upset and vents her feelings on one of her prototypes, she takes a much-needed break and comes back to the project with new eyes. The story emphasizes the perseverance needed to see a project through to the end. It also helps to illustrate that females are makers, too.
Mouse and Mole: Fine Feathered Friends. By Wong Herbert Yee. Illus. by the author. 2009. 48p. HMH, $15 (9780547152226). K–Gr. 3.
Mouse and Mole have a problem: they want to watch the birds in the spring, but they keep scaring them away. The friends decide to make bird costumes out of leaves and old clothes, repurposing materials that weren’t being used. The disguises work, and they go on to cocreate a book about birds that is illustrated by Mole and written by Mouse. These two easy-reader characters are great examples of collaborative makers who share their talents to solve their problems.
Rosie Revere, Engineer. By Andrea Beaty. Illus. by David Roberts. 2013. 32p. Abrams, $16.95 (9781419708459). K–Gr. 2.
Rosie loves inventing things, but after her invention fails spectacularly (but delights her uncle), she hides her passion for making for fear of future failures. Her great-aunt, a throwback to Rosie the Riveter, inspires her to share these creations. However, Rosie’s plans for a flying machine don’t quite work on the first try, and so she is afraid about making more things. This is another story that emphasizes the importance of never giving up on an invention: “The only true failure can come if you quit.”
The Scraps Book: Notes from a Colorful Life. By Lois Ehlert. Illus. by the author. 2014. 72p. Simon & Schuster/Beach Lane, $17.99 (9781442435711). 741.6. Gr. 1–4.
In this gorgeously illustrated book, Ehlert shares how she came to be an artist. Her parents, who were makers in their own right, gave her a space where she could paint and create as she pleased. This love of art eventually became the basis of her career as an illustrator. After Ehlert lets readers in on her background, she walks them through her creative process. She finds inspiration in everything, from leaves she finds around her home to her sister’s cat, who escaped during a visit. Her collages seem fairly simple at first glance, but a tremendous amount of thought goes into the composition of the images and the materials used. Ehlert’s illustrations—many of which echo her published works—may inspire young artists to create collages of their own.
A Splash of Red: The Life and Art of Horace Pippin. By Jen Bryant. Illus. by Melissa Sweet. 2013. 40p. Knopf, $17.99 (9780375867125). 759.13. Gr. 1–4.
Horace Pippin was a painter in the early-twentieth century who doodled and created from a young age. When his right arm was injured during his service in WWI, putting a temporary damper on his art, Pippin taught himself a way to paint and draw with his injured arm. He painted the things he saw in his life, and eventually, his art found its way into museums, where the artist, having created for so many years in his life, finally received the praise he deserved. This biography depicts an African American maker, and as in Balloons over Broadway, Melissa Sweet provides collage illustrations that help emphasize the energy behind making.
Violet the Pilot. By Steve Breen. Illus. by the author. 2008. 32p. Dial, $16.99 (9780803731257). Gr. 1–3.
As early as two years old, Violet showed signs of her talent for engineering. At eight, she decides to build flying machines out of materials from her parents’ junkyard. She wants to impress her classmates, who make fun of her interest in tinkering by entering the local air show. When she comes across an emergency on her way to the show, she has to decide between her pride and the safety of others. Violet shows readers a female maker-engineer who uses her inventions to help people in need, and she also demonstrates the value of prioritizing community over self.
When the Beat Was Born: DJ Kool Herc and the Creation of Hip Hop. By Laban Carrick Hill. Illus. by Theodore Taylor III. 2013. 32p. Roaring Brook, $17.99 (9781596435407). 782.421649092. Gr. 2–4.
DJ Kool Herc, born Clive Campbell, took his lifelong love of music and went on to create the genre of hip-hop as we know it, finding ways to make new beats and keep people moving on the dance floor. Depicting an urban maker, an underrepresented segment of makers in the media, DJ Kool Herc’s music remains a continual source of inspiration for musicians, dancers, and creators of all kinds.
The following Common Core–linked activities encourage students to put their maker mind-sets to work and then reflect on their processes by thinking about the characters they encountered in the accompanying feature’s bibliography. You can find more information about the standards at www.corestandards.org.
In the Classroom: Israeli artist Hanoch Piven creates portraits and illustrations by arranging and then photographing everyday objects, from deflated balloons to plastic spoons. In advance, gather a large “junk box” of miscellaneous items—such as bottle caps, plastic toys, coins, buttons, twist ties, stickers, empty spools, yarn, or paper scraps—and also large pieces of construction paper. Then share one or all of the following titles about repurposing materials: Crafty Chloe, by Kelly DiPucchio; Magic Trash: A Story of Tyree Guyton and His Art, by J. H. Shapiro; or The Scraps Book: Notes from a Colorful Life, by Lois Ehlert. You can also read students one of Piven’s picture books (see a list at http://bit.ly/pivenbooks) and show students the following YouTube video in which Piven explains his technique: http://bit.ly/1CV4rl9. (Note: if YouTube is blocked in your school, you can download the file in advance with a tool such as clipconverter.cc.) Let students work in pairs or alone to create self-portraits. No adhesives required: just arrange the pieces on the floor, then stand above the object to photograph the finished product! For a technology alternative, download Piven’s free Faces iMake or Faces iMake Lite apps for Apple handheld devices (hint: turn off the sound for classroom use).
Finally, print out the photos and invite students to write an accompanying description of themselves. First- and second-graders might focus on replacing simple words with juicier ones provided by a word wall. Mix up the portraits and the descriptions. Can the students match the scrambled words and images?
Common Core Connections
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.K.2. Use a combination of drawing, dictating, and writing to compose informative/explanatory texts in which they name what they are writing about and supply some information about the topic.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.2.2. Write informative/explanatory texts in which they introduce a topic, use facts and definitions to develop points, and provide a concluding statement or section.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.K.1.a. Follow agreed-upon rules for discussions (e.g., listening to others and taking turns speaking about the topics and texts under discussion).
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.2.2. Recount or describe key ideas or details from a text read aloud or information presented orally or through other media.
In the Classroom: After reading one of the biographies from the list, such as The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind, by William Kamkwamba and Bryan Mealer; The Day-Glo Brothers: The True Story of Bob and Joe Switzer’s Bright Ideas and Brand-New Colors, by Chris Barton; or A Splash of Red: The Life and Art of Horace Pippin, by Jen Bryant, work together as a class to create a sequence of the subjects’ life events. Then divide the class into groups, and give them each one life event from the sequence to inspire a sculpture out of clay, LEGO pieces, pipe cleaners, Wikki Stix, or recycled materials. The sculpture can represent an object, place, or feeling from that period of the person’s life. When the groups have created their sculptures, ask them to place a sticky note next to their work that includes a title of their sculpture and an explanation of what their sculpture represents in the subjects’ lives. Place the sculptures in sequence along the tops of library shelves or on a classroom table and invite students to gallery walk to view the creations.
Finally, using the sculptures—or a photograph of them—as inspiration, invite students to retell the person’s life. Share a chart of sequencing words and phrases (e.g., earlier, later, then, next, finally, at last) to help students signal changes in time.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.3.2. Write informative/explanatory texts to examine a topic and convey ideas and information clearly.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.4.3.a. Orient the reader by establishing a situation and introducing a narrator and/or characters; organize an event sequence that unfolds naturally.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.4.3.b. Use dialogue and description to develop experiences and events or show the responses of characters to situations.
In the Classroom: After sharing Balloons over Broadway: The True Story of the Puppeteer of Macy’s Parade, by Melissa Sweet, create a center where students can explore creating an inflatable origami ball out of precut copy-paper squares following the easy-to-follow photos and videos for young learners on the following website: www.wikihow.com/Make-an-Origami-Balloon.
Ask students to brainstorm an imaginary purpose for the object. Is the sphere actually a balloon missing its string? A collapsible basketball? The latest hair accessory? A button for a clown? If students are stumped, invite them to work in teams or visit a classroom junk box that you’ve created to accessorize their ball. Finally, invite students to outline and write opinion pieces in which they try to convince their classmates to believe that their creation is what they claim it to be.
Common Core Connections:
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.3.1. Write opinion pieces on topics or texts, supporting a point of view with reasons.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.4.1.a. Introduce a topic or text clearly, state an opinion, and create an organizational structure in which related ideas are grouped to support the writer’s purpose.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.5.1.c. Link opinion and reasons using words, phrases, and clauses (e.g., consequently, specifically).
Kristin Fontichiaro is a clinical assistant professor at the University of Michigan School of Information and a Book Links Advisory Board member. Mollie Hall is a graduate student at the University of Michigan School of Information and a site coordinator for the Michigan Makers program.
Free Trial, activate profile, or subscribe