Sorting – A Core Math & Science Skill


At many preschools and elementary schools, you’ll see a wide variety of sorting activities, where children are asked to classify different objects into categories. Let’s look at why this classification skill is so vital.  (Note: you can see our lesson plan on Animal Classification here.)

As infants begin to experience their world, they begin trying to make sense of it. When they encounter something new, you can see the wheels turning in their head, as they try to determine whether it reminds them of anything they have seen before. You see the a-ha lightbulb when they make a connection. For example, seeing a lion on their first trip to the zoo: “A-ha! I know about dogs. This is a very strange looking dog, but it has four legs and fur all over, so it must be a dog!”

So yes, sometimes they make mistakes in their labeling and classification – don’t worry, they’ll get those figured out over time. But the important thing is that they are starting to make connections and draw conclusions. They are noticing that some things match (are the same based on some criteria) and some don’t match (are different in some way).

We want to help our child(ren) develop all their science process skills. Classification is the beginning of logical thinking – it’s about understanding relationships and seeing connections. It is absolutely core to the study of math and science. But it’s also essential for life – it’s a model for organizing things in the real world. (Sorting your laundry, splitting the silverware up into separate slots in the drawer, and putting paperwork away in file cabinets are just some of the ways we help our days function more efficiently by sorting.)

Teaching Sorting and Classification Skills

These are in approximate order from least complex to most sophisticated. Start on the easier side with your child, then gradually escalate up the complexity over time.

  • Noticing similarities: When your child sees something like something they have seen before, help them to recognize it and make a connection. “Look, it’s a cat like Grandma’s cat.” “Yes, those blocks are both blue.” “That’s like the one we have at home.”
  • Noticing differences: “Is that cat the same color as Grandma’s cat? Is it bigger or smaller?” “That blue block is a square. This blue block is a triangle.”
  • Comparing related objects: this is bigger than that; this is heavier than that.
  • Put things in order: from smallest to biggest, from lightest to heaviest.
  • Sort into categories that you tell them, such as color. First, do only two categories (separate the grapes from the strawberries.) Over time, add more categories. (Sort the plastic bears into the red, blue, yellow and green bowls.) Or separate the musical instruments from the scarves, then separate instruments, scarves, shakers, and bells.
  • To start with, use materials that are really easy to tell apart. For example, only two types of items, where ALL of group A is identical, and all of group B is identical, such as Blue Unifix cubes and Red Unifix cubes. If you want them to focus on learning their colors, then give them things that differ ONLY by color… For example, sorting M&M’s by color, not sorting red twizzlers from yellow lemonheads and green jolly ranchers. Over time you can choose more complex items, or choose things which are harder to classify. Natural materials provide a very diverse experience: even if you’re only sorting maple leaves, there’s a lot of variation from one to the next in color, size, and shape. [Note, it’s always better with small children to work with real objects than with photos of objects.]
  • Let them decide which characteristic to sort by…. This blog post on Rhythms of Play does a lovely job of describing a sorting game with a three year old.
    • “Instead of telling your child(ren) how to sort the rocks, ask them if they see any differences in the rocks.” Then let them sort based on that criteria. Her daughter first sorted by size, sequencing them from smallest to largest.
    • “Place the rocks back into a pile and ask what other differences they see. Sort again based on their answer. You don’t need to sort every last rock each time. Some rocks may be difficult to sort depending on the classification. Repeat until you run out of ways to sort and classify the rocks.” Let them know that there’s no right or wrong answer about what criteria to sort by.
    • Her daughter then sorted by color.
    • Then into one pile where all the rocks were one homogeneous color, and one of multi-colored rocks.
    • Then by shape.
    • You can suggest new ideas – if your child has been sorting by what things look like (using vision), can they sort by what things feel like (using touch to determine which are rough and which are smooth.)
  • Do multi-stage classification. First make sets of all the plastic toys and all the wooden toys. Then sort out the plastic blocks from the plastic animals. Then sort out the plastic mammals from the plastic fish.
  • Sort by two criteria. Separate into big blue, small blue, big red, and small red buttons. (This may be beyond the capabilities of a preschooler.)
  • Think about sequencing skills. At the beginning of a preschool year, the teacher might first focus on having children look at two objects and describe – what’s the same? what’s different? Then they’d move up to three objects and the game “one of these things is not like the other.” (check out YouTube for classic clips from Sesame Street). Then they’d look at groups of four objects and find the pairs – which ones match. Then sort 6 – 8 objects into two categories. Then sort 12 objects into three categories, etc.

Games and Activities to Practice Sorting

  • Puzzles and shape sorters are all about sorting by shape
  • Memory game / Concentration: This is the card game where you deal cards face down. Each player can lift one up to look at it, then look at another to see if they match. If they match, the player keeps both (“scores” them) and if not, he returns them to place, face down. Start really easy, with 6 cards / 3 pairs. Add more as your child gets better at the game. This is great for learning matching skills, and building memory, and building game strategy skills. A younger child will just pick cards at random, often picking the same ones over and over. An older child will start developing a strategic plan – start in the upper left corner, look at #1 and 2 – remember them! On the next turn, look at 3 – if it matches 1 or 2, choose those and get a match… if not, look at #4. That’s fabulous training in logical thinking. Online you can search for free printable memory games and find lots, or it’s easy to make your own card deck by just gathering a few pictures of your child’s favorite objects. (I’m thinking it may be time to make a Pokémon memory game for my son…)
  • Go Fish, Uno, and other card games: Most card games require that children learn to understand sets and different ways to sort them. Sort into suits – hearts, spades, diamonds and clubs, or by color in Uno. Sort by number / type: your king matches their king; you can play a red card OR a 6 on their red 6; you can get a “straight” of numbers 3, 4, and 5, but only if they’re all the same suit. Again, you can start by either making your own cards, or just use a sub-set from a deck of cards. For example, starting with just ace through 10 in the deck may be easier for your child than trying to understand face cards and remember how many points a jack, queen and king are. Or, when you start playing Uno, only use the number cards – leave skip, draw two and wild cards for the future.
  • Household tasks – ask your child to help you with sorting laundry, putting away silverware, putting toys away in the right basket. Label bins so they understand categories – update labels as needed. Help children notice how being organized helps us save time. (It’s faster to get dressed in the morning when all our clothes are put away in the right place, and we don’t have to rummage through a whole basket of clothes to find a matching pair of socks.)
  • Find sets – have them look around classroom (or bedroom or restaurant – wherever you find yourself) and find things that come in sets, like a box of crayons, 6 pack of soda, salt and pepper shakers.
  • Make patterns: If you give your child a bowl of beads, and ask them to make a pattern of black then white then black then white, they have to sort those colors from the bowl.
  • Read books that sort into categories: animals that live on farms and in zoos; trucks and cars; evergreen and deciduous trees, dog breeds by group.
  • Talk about it. Sorting is not just about moving objects around – It can also happen in discussion – name the people in your family and some people not in your family; look at this picture – point to all the animals in the picture.
  • Notice spontaneous sorts. If you happen to notice that your child has sorted objects into groups, comment on it. “I see you put all the dice together there.”
  • Puzzle cards: Many commercial products (like Laser MazeTumble Trax, and Snap Circuits) come with a series of instruction cards that teach skills sequentially – the child first does card #1. Then once they’ve learned that concept, they move up to card #2, which adds one element, and so on. You could create puzzle cards for a sorting activity. For example, put out a set of Counting Bears. Puzzle card #1 says / shows a picture of: Sort the bears by color: red, yellow, and green. Puzzle card #2 says: Sort the bears by size: small, medium, large. #3: Put all the small green bears here and all the big red bears there. And so on.
  • Parts and wholes: Put out several containers and several lids. Have them match the container to the lid.
  • Matching lists: Hold up one familiar object. Ask them to describe it, writing down what they say. Then hold up another object, do the same. Now compare lists. How are they like each other and how are they different? Could also do with a worksheet / form that asked questions in order: color, shape, texture, etc. That would make it easier to compare the lists side by side.
  • Recycling: Help children learn about, and follow, the rules for what gets recycled, what gets composted, and what gets thrown away.
  • Sorting Math Tokens: Teach Preschool has a great post on asking kids to bring in small items for counting games and math games. She describes how they took a big box of miscellaneous stuff, observed it to discern possible categories, then sorted it.

Check out all my other posts on this blog about teaching STEM concepts. They are organized around weekly theme, but almost all the themes include a sorting activity! Examples: Solid, Liquid, or Gas? Can the Wind Move It? Rock sorting and dinosaur sorting.


Peaceful Parenting has a great collection of ideas for things to sort: coins, buttons, straws cut to different lengths, sorting by weight or sound, and more.

Sorting Activities for Preschoolers by NAEYC

Developing Classification Skills on Design a Study.

Zero to Three has a great collection of ideas for how to Help Your Child Develop Early Math Skills.

Science Process Skills

img_20160614_192612976In our Family Inventors’ Lab, the topics we teach (our weekly themes) are from the fields of science and engineering. There are some basic scientific concepts we hope to teach each week. That’s the “what” kids are learning. But at least as important is

  • the attitudes we try to convey about science – the “why”

The [attitudes about science] include such things as being curious and imaginative…  enthusiastic about asking questions and solving problems. (Source)

  • and our process of learning – the “how”

The processes of doing science are the science process skills that scientists use… Since science is about asking questions and finding answers to questions, these are actually the same skills that we all use in our daily lives as we try to figure out everyday questions. When we teach students to use these skills in science, we are also teaching them skills that they will use in the future in every area of their lives. (Source. Italics are mine.)

There are thirteen science process skills, six of which are appropriate for young children. In order from least to most sophisticated, they are: Observation, Communication, Measurement, Classification, Inference, and Prediction.


Observation is the fundamental skill of science. We observe with all our senses.

One of the best things we can do for our children’s science learning is to help them observe more closely – look for more details. We do this by asking questions.

When a child is looking at something new, we can ask them to tell us what they notice about it. They may begin with only the simplest observation – often a label, if they know what the object is called. “It’s a leaf.” If we ask them to describe it, they might just choose one way to describe it: “it’s green.” We can encourage them to think about it in more depth by asking them what they can observe with each of their five senses: what does it look like? smell like? taste like? sound like? feel like? We can show them more ways to explore it… pick it up, turn it over to look at it from all sides, take it apart (what happens if you tear the leaf), see how it interacts with other things (can you cut the leaf with scissors?), shake it or crumple it to see if that changes the noise it is (or isn’t) making. We can introduce them to tools they can use to enhance their observation, such as a magnifying glass or microscope. We can encourage them to draw a picture of it or write a description. The process of trying to draw an object usually brings up questions for the child which motivate them to look more closely to figure out how to get the drawing right. As they write or draw, we can ask more questions to help them notice finer details. We can ask them to break it into parts and make observations about just one part: instead of describing the whole cat, can they just describe a cat’s paw?

We did a full unit on the five senses and observation. Find our lesson plan here.


Observing and communicating those observations go hand-in-hand. Children need to learn lots of adjectives… lots of commonly agreed upon ways to describe what we observe so that others can understand us. When talking with a child about what they observe, we often teach new vocabulary. If we ask them to describe a color and they think it’s kind of blue-ish, kind of green-ish, we can teach words like teal and turquoise. When I show children how to identify an Oregon grape plant, they need to learn the words serrated and glossy. When describing different types of music, we can talk about tempo, mood, etc.

When we’re sitting side by side with someone looking at the same thing, it’s easier to use a made-up word to describe something we can both see… last night, I was working on a jigsaw puzzle with my husband and son. I said “why can’t I find this piece?” They asked what I was looking for, and I said – “this kind of brownish-beige-ish donut color with this hooked dog leg kind of shape coming off of it.” In context, where they could see the rest of the donut, and see the space into which that shape would fit, that made sense. But out of that context it means almost nothing.

So, to communicate, not only do we need to know the words, we also need to be able to understand the perspective of our listener. What do they already know about what we are trying to describe? If I’m talking to an outdoorsy kid from the Pacific NW, and I say that I saw a banana slug, they know what I mean and can visualize it. But if I was talking to a kid in Arizona, I would need to describe it in detail. If I describe a tree as “big”, that also might conjure a different image for each of those two kids.


Measuring is a special case of observing and communicating. Observing how big something is by measuring it against something else, and then communicating that information to someone else using commonly agreed upon units. So, I could describe my big tree as being 12 foot tall, or as being 40 feet tall. Counting and weighing are part of measurement.

We can show kids that sometimes it is entertaining or even useful to use non-standard measurements. But they also have to know standard units. In our house, my son could probably tell you that a snake puppet he has is 12 Shopkins long. If you know what a Shopkin is and how big they are, you’d have a guess that the snake was around 10 – 12 inches long. But if you don’t know what a Shopkin is, we’d have to do that translation into standard units for you.

Here’s a lesson plan full of activities about measurement.

Classifying Into Groups / Sorting

Sorting is a way of creating order, or making sense out of a large collection of objects by using your observation skills to notice what things have in common with each other and how they are different from each other.

A simple method of classifying is putting things in serial order: lining them up from smallest to biggest, or arranging them by color in the order of the rainbow (Roy G. Biv), or smoothest to roughest.

Objects can be sorted into binary categories: magnetic or not magnetic; plastic or wood, vertebrate or non-vertebrate. These sort by a single criteria – you could also have more than two categories, such as sorting into: red, yellow, green or blue or reptile, mammal, bird, fish, insect. You can also do a multi-stage classification. First, sort out the plastic from the wood, then sort the plastic ones by color, then sort the red plastic ones by size. Or sort out the mammals from other categories, then find the canines, then find the dogs. Or sort out mom’s clean laundry from kid’s laundry, then sort kid’s socks from kid’s underwear, then find the matching pairs of socks.

Check out this link to learn a lot more about: sorting and classification. Or check out our lesson plan on Animal Classification.


An inference is an explanation or interpretation that follows an observation. We observe with all five senses, but we interpret what we sense based on our prior experience and knowledge. Observation results can be called data or facts. The inference is what those facts mean.

On our walk to school, we observe that this plant dropped things sort of like pinecones. But as they dry out, they open up and reveal bright red berries that we can observe. But, we had to infer that the red color probably attracts birds who eat the berries and carry them other places to spread the plant. We can infer that because we know that is often the evolutionary purpose of brightly colored fruit. Also on our walk, there was a sign about a lost cat. We can observe that the sign has been there for a long time. My son infers that is because the owners are still hoping to find their lost cat. I infer that the owners have given up on the cat, but either forgot about the sign, or find it too depressing to take it down.

Ask your child about their assumptions: why do they think that? Ask: what does this remind you of? Help them sort out the difference between facts – anyone looking at this object would see the same thing – and inferences – different people could interpret this data in different ways, based on their experiences.


A prediction is an educated guess, based on our observations and inferences, about future events. It is always based on data. We identify trends in the data which let us predict what will happen. Predictions can be tested: if I do X, does Y happen?

Our mail usually arrives after 2:00 pm but before 4:00 pm. If our son asks to go check the mail at 3:00, we tell him that it may or may not be there. His grandma sends him the Sunday comics each week (it’s a tradition going back almost 20 years to when my oldest child was in preschool). So, if he asks whether he has mail on any given day, we can ask him to think about whether he’s gotten this week’s comics yet or not. If not, it’s more likely there will be mail for him (the comics). If so, then it is less likely that he will be receiving a random unpredictable piece of mail. Each time we check the mail, we have a chance to check our assumptions (inferences) and adjust our prediction about future phenomena.

How do children benefit from learning science process skills (source)

First, they learn science better. Hands-on process based learning is much more effective than textbook-based science. The hands-on experience also builds small motor skills as they manipulate a wide variety of materials.

Math is the language of science. The more science kids do, the more proficient they become with the language of math. But hands-on science also teaches literacy skills: as they communicate about their experience, they are building vocabulary, building oral and written language skills, and learning how to describe detail in depth.

They also learn critical thinking skills.

These include inductive reasoning, formulation of hypotheses, deductive reasoning, and a variety of mental skills such as analogy, extrapolation, synthesis, and evaluation. (source)

Every one of the science process skills is a skill we can use in many contexts in our lives. They are all about much more than learning “science.”

Read more about process here and about tinkering here.

Resources for learning more:

Parents in a Kids’ Class

I teach a Saturday class for families with kids age 3 – 7, called Family Inventor’s Lab. The parents are required to attend class one day a month when we have our parent education session, and they’re required to work in the classroom once a month. On other days, they can choose to drop off or they can choose to stay and play. Many stay and play.

How Parents Can Support Learning in Class

In order to learn, kids need a balance of: formal “teaching”, guided learning, free play, and rest. (Learn more:

Free play: In class, we have several “stations” around the room with activities for kids to try. Some will test out everything in the room, and others will spend the full time doing one activity. Both choices are totally OK with us!!! We figure children spend the most time where they’re learning the most. So, if a child  is engaged in an activity and learning and discovering, parents can either 1) sit back and watch them 2) “play” on their own – doing an activity next to their child – making their own project, or 3) play along with them, but letting them guide the play. (I prefer that parents not spend a lot of class time on their phone… paying attention and participating in class shows the child that the class is fun and valuable… paying attention to your phone shows the child that the important and fun things are on the screen.)

Guided learning: When kids hit the edge of their abilities and are ready to grow, parents might 1) scaffold: notice what they’ve been doing, then teach them a new concept to test out (like the new way to stack a cup pyramid) and then sit back and let them explore, 2) make a suggestion for how to extend their activity (“I see you made a pattern with the Unifix cubes of red, green, red, green… could you make a pattern with black and white?”) or 3) ask them a question about what they are doing. I have a list of questions to ask to extend learning, and an article on play-based learning which includes discussion of the parent or teacher’s role in that.

Formal teaching: Circle time is when my co-teacher and I do our formal teaching. We ask the parents that are there to participate. If the parents pay attention to the story, and sing along with the songs, it encourages the children to do so. Having a role model for appropriate group participation really helps!

Parents Play Along

I love that in my class, parents play too. Often they play with their kids, but sometimes when their kids are fully engaged in an activity, the parents know to let the kids play on their own and discover on their own. Parents take that as an opportunity to play too. Here are three creations from dads from our Towers class. (FYI, the structure on the right is the Space Needle in big blocks.) An aunt and a grandma also did lots of fun work at the Watts Tower project, but I unfortunately didn’t catch any pictures of that.

mag  watts  FIL 045

I think it’s fabulous when the parents play. First, because it makes class more fun for all of us. It’s Saturday, we should all be having fun!!

Second, parents’ work is generally more inventive or more sophisticated than children’s. Taking a project to a higher level, sets some examples for the kids of what things are possible with the materials. (Note, we need to be careful with this… it’s important that the parent is just playing, and NOT hinting to the any child that THEIR creation should look like the parent’s creation… we don’t want to hint that there is one right way of doing something and we don’t want to hint that their work is not as good as ours.)

But, most importantly, it sets an example for the child that even as an adult, you can have fun learning. When I was a kid, my mom was always learning new crafts and working on lots of projects she enjoyed. My dad also had an on-going collection of projects – bodywork on the car, building cabinets in the kitchen… But my dad “played” more than mom – he had a certain glee in experimenting and testing and discovering. I think that passion for learning in our parents helped keep the passion for learning aflame in me and my siblings.

It’s especially good when parents are doing something new and figuring something out for the first time, and even when parents make mistakes, because then our kids see us go through the same process of trial and error they do all the time.

Taking It Home

When parents spend time in the classroom, they get to see all our activities in person, and see which ones most engage their children. Sometimes they decide to do those activities at home – we have a few specialty toys and building materials we use that parents choose to buy for home, but as much as possible, we try to use household materials and recycled goods that they have easy and free access to. Parents will also sometimes take ideas we used in class and take them to a higher level at home, where they can work one-on-one with their child.

Participating in class also means that they hear the concepts we teach in circle time, and can take those home as well – in the next week, they can help their children notice where those concepts appear in their day-to-day life…they can point out the moving truck with the inclined plane ramp, and the dolly on wheels to make work easier to do. They can help their child notice a problem / challenge, and ask them if they can invent something to fix it. Reinforcing the class concepts in multiple environments really helps the child to grasp them.

Kids’ Books about the Ocean


One of our themes was “Under the Sea” – submarines, fish, and coral reef. Here are some recommended books for preschool and elementary age kids about the ocean.

Coral Reefs, Fish and More

Over in the Ocean: In a Coral Reef by Berkes and Canyon. This is an absolutely delightful book – perhaps one of my favorite kids’ non-fiction books ever. It’s so good that I wrote a whole post all about it and other books by the same author. There’s text set to a familiar tune you can sing, amazing illustrations, nice collection of facts, fun counting book. Highly recommended! Age 3 – 7.

Fish, Swish! Splash, Dash!: Counting Round and Round by Suse MacDonald. A terribly clever design for a counting book. As you read forward in the book, it counts up from one to ten. Then when you reach the end, you flip it over and count down from ten to one. Nice illustration style, with cool see-thru die cuts that are intriguing in both directions. Age 3 – 7.

Ten Little Fish by Wood and Wood. Age 2 – 5. A counting book with cute illustrations, simple text. Nice rhythm and rhyme to text (it’s a classic counting game rhythm that goes as far back as Ten Little Injuns from 1868): “Ten little fish, swimming in a line. One dives down and now there are… ” and as you read it, the children will, of course, shout “nine!”  It counts down to one, then there’s an interesting twist at the end. “One little fish. What will he do? Along comes another fish, and that makes… two little fish in love with one another. Soon one is a father, and the other is a mother! But mother and father don’t count. Just ten little fish – swimming in a line.”

Coral Reefs by Chin. Ages 6 – 9. Non-fiction book with a touch of fantasy. In the illustrations, we see a girl reading in a library while the text tells us about coral and reef structure. As we move through the pages, learning more facts about coral, the illustrations show coral appearing in the library, then water rushes in, and the girl and her book are carried away into the ocean, where she swims around a reef and with the sea creatures as we continue to learn more about fish, eels, sea turtles, and more. At the end of the book, we see her on the steps of the library (NYPL) sharing the book with friends. The text is too high level for my class of 3 – 6 year olds, but for older kids, it’s an engaging presentation of lots of factual information. (The illustration at the top of this post is from this book.)

Swim Fish!: Explore the Coral Reef by Neuman, a National Geographic reader. Age 2  -5. Very simple pre-reader non-fiction with gorgeous photography. Worth getting from the library just for the pictures.

Coral Reefs by Gibbons. Age 6 – 9. Gibbons has written over 50 non-fiction books. They’re all full of great information, well organized, with colorful illustrations. It’s a reference book for the shelf more than it is something you’d sit and read in one sitting.

Coral Reef by Parker, from the Smart Kids series. Ages 5 – 8. Some people love the bright, dynamic graphic design. I personally find it visually overwhelming. It’s a little difficult to read when it highlights words in bright colors… sometimes they’re the most important words or vocabulary words – sometimes they seem chosen at random for highlighting. I might have it on the shelf to look at, but I’m not likely to read it to anyone.

Sponges and Puffer Fish by Rake. Sea Turtles by Lindeen. All part of the “Under the Sea” series. 3 – 6 years. Basic introduction to the facts about sponges (or puffer fish or sea turtles) with more great photos. I like having books about some of the other creatures that make up an ocean environment, to get kids thinking about all the things animals can look like / be like. Each include a glossary and recommended books / websites for more info.

Old Shell, New Shell by Ward. Ages 5 – 7. A story of a hermit crab who lives in a coral reef. He has outgrown his shell, and goes looking for a new one. Along the way, we see beautiful illustrations of coral reef life and he speaks with puffer fish, angelfish. clownfish, spiny lobsters, etc. Engaging story – I don’t love it, but it’s fine as a read-aloud. At the back of the book, in adult-level language, there are indexes to each and every page, where it shows a thumbnail of the illustration, with numbers on each fish, and below, there’s a description of each fish. “Coral rabbitfish (siganus corallinus). Despite their pretty colors, these fish have venomous spines within their fins that can inflict a nasty wound. They like to live among rocks in warm shallow waters.”

Sea Bones by Barner. Each page has a line of big text that’s written for 4 – 5 year olds, and also has a paragraph of information written at an upper elementary to grown-up level.. I don’t love the kids’ text as a read-aloud…. it’s fine, but not great… “…there are animals without bones that drift with the waves. Some creatures cling to plants, rocks, or caves, A skeleton helps a speedy shark swim, fish shine down deep where the light is dim. Skeletons or not, there is much life to see. They all live together in the salty sea.” I do like the illustrations, particularly the ones that show “x-rays” of the creature’s skeleton, and I do like the chart in the back (common to many of Barner’s books) where there are 8 columns (for jelly, rays, clown fish and more) and 4 rows of facts: is it a fish, does it have a backbone, what kind of skeleton, and what does it eat.

Diving Under the Sea / Deep Sea Life

The Berenstain Bears Under the Sea by Berenstain. Ages 5 – 8. Like all …Bears books, it’s pretty wordy for this age group, but the characters / illustrations are fun and engaging, so they keep kids’ interests for that longer read. (But too long for a group circle, I find.) The family goes to the aquarium, then out to sea. Their host first shows them the birds that fly above the water (illustrations include seagulls, osprey, terns, and cormorants) and flying fish. Then the submarine dives, and we first see shallow water creatures (sharks, marlins, sea mammals) and coral reef inhabitants. They dive to deeper waters: sperm whale and giant squid, deeper to angler fish and gulper eels, then down to bottom dwellers: tube worms, and more. Good, accessible book.

Mysteries of the Sea: How Divers Explore the Ocean Depths by Morrison. A National geographic chapter book, for ages 6 – 9. Great photos. A nice overview of the history of deep sea exploration covering diving helmets, aqualungs, bathyspheres and submersibles, with an engaging dramatic story to go with each. Note: the copyright is 2006, but the most recent invention / mission described was in 1986.

Down, Down, Down: A Journey to the Bottom of the Sea by Jenkins. The concept is very cool – we start above the surface of the water with a bird, then “out of the water” where sharks, dolphins and flying fish appear, then the sunlit zone (73 degrees, 10 feet down) with mackerel and krill, sea turtles and rays. Then deeper, and deeper… to the dark zone 3300 feet below the surface, with deep sea jellies and angler fish. Then as far as the Marianas Trench, over 35,000 feet below the surface and the creatures that live there. Both the text and the concept though are way over the head of my students. The product details on Amazon say it’s for kids 4 – 7… I would say 6 to 9. Maybe with an adult reading one-on-one it would appeal to a younger child with an interest in ocean life.

You can also find my recommendations for books about the beach, and books to go with a Sink-Float theme and a Submarines / Scuba theme.

Over in the Ocean book


I was working on a post about “Kids’ Books about the Ocean” and my review of this one book became so long that I’m making this its own post!

Over in the Ocean: In a Coral Reef by Berkes and Canyon is an absolutely delightful book – perhaps one of my favorite kids’ non-fiction books ever. What’s to love about it?

  • The text – great rhyme and rhythm you can sing – it’s based on the song “Over in the Meadow.” (In the back of the book, there’s sheet music and all verses on one page.)
  • The pictures are stunning. Beautiful at first glance, even better when you pay attention to all the fine details. The illustrator uses polymer clay (e.g. Sculpey or Fimo) to create these incredible illustrations. (see detailed illustrations below) There’s even a page in the back that describes how they were made. (I’m debating for next year’s class about putting out some play-dough and some close-ups like this one of the clown fish to encourage kids to try rolling snakes of play-dough and balls of play-dough to create something a little like the background of this picture.)

IMG_20160614_211820104 parrotfish

  • The factual information about sea life and how it’s offered. In some books, they have the main text for little ones on the page, then a box or sidebar with more detailed info for older kids on the same page. I find this visually distracting, and it’s odd when reading aloud to skip over these boxes, but if you read them, they interrupt the rhyme and rhtyhm of the story. This book has a better solution. The main page has the basic info: “squirt” says the mother octopus, “grind” says the parrotfish, and “stir” says the stingray. Then in the back, there’s a paragraph of info about octopi, that explains how they squirt dark ink, and a paragraph about parrotfish whose teeth are fused into a beak that grinds coral, and info about how rays use their fins to stir the sandy ocean floor to find mussels and small crustaceans. There is also a section on “how many babies do they really have” (the book says “a mother octopus and her octopus one” but really an octopus may lay thousands of eggs at a time) and on the coral reef community. So, a parent or older child can find lots more info, but it doesn’t interrupt the flow of the main picture book.
  • The fact that it’s a great counting book. For example, on the five page, not only are their five pufferfish in the picture, there’s also five pieces of coral, and five starfish with the text. And after we’ve reached ten, the final page says “over in the ocean where the sea creatures play while their parents all were resting, they up and swam away. ‘Find us’ said the children, ‘From ten to one!’ When you find all the creatures, then this rhyme is done.” It then shows a small picture of 10 seahorses, 9 grunts, 8 needlefish and so on next to an illustration of a coral reef where you can find all the creatures on the list who you have seen throughout the book, now all swimming together.
  • In the back, there’s tips from the author on how to use in circle time, suggesting the kids could make sea creature puppets to go with the book, and offering fingerplay gestures for each verse.
  • Finally, there is an app for IPad based on this book, a counting and musical app that has won multiple awards. The image at the top of this post is from the app. (I haven’t played it because we don’t own any Apple devices…)

The author has written several other books. So far, I’ve checked out:

Over in a River: Flowing Out to the Sea. It’s also to the tune of Over in a Meadow: “Over in a river, in the warm sunshine lived a mother tree frog and her froglets nine. Hop said the mother…”. Also a counting book. Each page includes a basic map of the United States, and shows the location of the river where the animals on that page could be found, and on the last page of the story, you find/count the creatures on a map that shows all the rivers. In the back of the book, there’s info about the rivers, the animals, suggested class activities, and recommended books. Also an excellent book. The illustrations made with cut paper, pastels and colored pencils are truly lovely, but not as unique.

IMG_20160614_232723761  IMG_20160614_232748723

Going Around the Sun: Some Planetary Fun. Same tune. Not really a counting book, though it does refer to the number of each planet in order out from the sun: “Up in outer space, many moons in its heaven, is the planet Uranus. This is planet number seven.” It also includes facts about each planet in the back, and ideas for classroom activities. So, a lot of strengths, but truthfully I don’t like it as much as the others. To fit the musical structure, she had to include commands that Mother Sun gives to the planets (my co-teacher hates anthropomorphized stars and planets…) and the commands are stretching things: She tells Neptune “‘Move’ said the Mother. ‘I move,’ said Eight. So it moved – oh, so slowly and the Sun had to wait.” The note on the page explains that “Neptune takes 165 Earth-years to go around the Sun – it needs to move!” For Mars: “‘Turn’ said the Mother. ‘I turn’ said Four. So it turned and we learned there was iron in its core.” It works, but it’s not great. However, the illustrations by Mason are beautiful. They’re done with melted crayon for the background – she covers a griddle with foil and heats it, then lays paper on it and draws with crayon, which melts as you draw. (We used this simple technique in our Chemistry Reactions week.) Then she uses acrylic paint, color pencils and computers to create the planets.


What’s in the Garden, which I review in the Seeds and Plants theme.

All these books are published by Dawn Publications, which is “dedicated to inspiring in children a deeper understanding and appreciation for all life on Earth.” At their website, they have a blog about their books, which includes class activities for each that meet Common Core standards. And, they have a huge collection of downloadable activities to connect kids and nature: I’ve only just begun to look at this, but it looks great!! It’s on my to-do list to explore this summer!

Kids’ Books about the Beach

Our Sink-Float week was also an opportunity to bring in a beach theme, with our décor and imaginary play materials. We checked out from the library several books about the beach. Sadly, I didn’t love any of them.

Many of them (starred below) are part of a series of books about a particular character and they feel like the authors / publishers said “it’s time to write our next book about this character… what should the theme be?” “Hey, I know, let’s have them go to the beach!” So, they’re all OK books, but nothing special. (Unless your child happens to love that particular stock character.)

Beach books

Here they are in order from the ones I liked the best / would most recommend to the ones I liked the least. To see the Amazon page for any item, just click on the picture of the book cover (Amazon affiliate link).

Seashells by the Seashore by Berkes and Noreika. A counting book, where Sue walks along the shore picking up seashells. Each time she picks one up, a picture of it is added to the left sidebar of the page, so you can keep an eye on all the shells she has collected. At the end, she and her brother Ben bring the shells to their grandmother. I like the concept a lot. The art is OK. The text is OK – “So many seashells that we can mix. If we find a Whelk Shell there will be six… The tide is rolling in and it’s getting pretty late. This shell looks like a slipper! Now we have eight.” I like that at the end, there’s a description of each of the shells. You could put the book out open to these pages with a shell observation station to help kids identify shells.

Down to the Sea with Mr. Magee by Van Dusen. Not quite a beach book, but I like it better than the beach books… Fun art style, nice writing: “Mr. Magee and his little dog, Dee loved spending time in their boat on the sea. So early one morning at 6:32, they made a decision: that’s just what they’d do.” They motor out to sea, then a mischievous whale blows water out of its blowhole till their boat is blown 50 feet high and lands in a tree. Other whales come to their rescue.

Scaredy Squirrel at the Beach* by Watt. Age 5 – 8. S.S. would rather vacation at home than risk a trip to the beach. So he builds his own beach with a crayon drawing of the water, a flashlight sun, an inflatable pool and kitty litter sand. He misses the sound of the ocean though, and mounts an expedition to the real beach to find a shell. He gathers all his protective gear and safety equipment then makes an elaborate plan for his journey. He ends up having a fabulous time at the beach. Some fun and wacky humor with some spy-style hijinks. One of 8 Scaredy Squirrel books.

Ladybug Girl at the Beach* by Soman and Davis. Age 4 – 6. Lulu is looking forward to the beach till they arrive and she discovers how big and noisy it is. Anxious, she stays on the beach, building sand castles, flying a kite, eating ice cream and more. She finally tests the water, but then a wave comes in and almost knocks her over. She retreats to the land. They play on shore until her bucket gets swept away by the tide. She rescues it then decides she’s not afraid of the waves after all, and spends the rest of the day splashing around. Nice illustrations, relatable and likeable lead character. One of 20 or so Ladybug Girl books.

Duck and Goose at the Beach* by Hills. Age 4 – 6. Goose loves the meadow and says he never wants to leave. Duck immediately decides to go on an adventure – a trip to the beach! Goose reluctantly follows. But then when they arrive at the beach, Goose loves it, but Duck feels worried. They return home to their meadow. #10 in the Duck & Goose series.

Curious George Goes to the Beach*. by Rey. Age 5 – 7, too long for a circle time. George goes to the beach with the man with the yellow swimsuit. They run into a friend (Betsy) who is scared to swim. George plays ball, digs in the sand and plays. The seagulls steal his food. He and Betsy feed the gulls. The picnic basket is swept out to sea and George rescues it, then he and Betsy swim. One of countless Curious George books.

Spot goes to the Beach* by Hill. Age 3 – 4. A lift the flap book. Spot goes to the beach. His dad buys him lots of toys. He plays with a ball, builds sand castles, goes fishing and finds a friend. Little kids like hte lift the flaps, but this book is nothing special. One of countless Spot books.


Paddington at the Beach* by Bond and Alley. Age 4 – 6. Paddington goes to the beach. Seagulls watch him and make random observations: “He’s made a sand castle. Look how pleased he is.” “Now he’s lost his bucket.” Then they notice he has a bun in his pocket, wait till there’s a few more birds gathered, then they steal his bun. Not a great story. Sort of a counting book, in that there’s seagull number 1 and so on, and your kid could count the number of seagulls on each page. But there’s many better counting books out there. One of many Paddington books.

Sea Rex by Idle. Age 3 – 5. The third in a dinosaur inspired series. I LOVE the illustrations. But the text… there’s just not much to the story, The words are things like “station yourself near a lifeguard will keep an eye on you. Use plenty of sunscreen. Everyone loves a picnic. Bring plenty to share.” The fact that there are dinosaurs in each of the drawings I think is supposed to make it silly and wacky, but somehow it’s just a nice little book about dinos and kids at the beach.

Pete the Cat at the Beach* by Dean. Ages 3 – 6. Pete goes to the beach. His brother Bob goes surfing, but Pete says “maybe later.” Pete builds a sand castle, finds seashells and a crab, eats lunch, and plays ball, all the while watching Bob with envy, Finally he goes in the water, then ends up having a great time surfing. One of many Pete the Cats. I have to say I think Pete the Cat’s I Love My White Shoes is fabulous and a quality I consider “classic”. Pete’s Groovy Buttons is pretty good. But all the early reader Pete books are just typical early reader fare and don’t compare to Shoes.

For something a little different, there’s Waiting for High Tide by McClure. It’s not at the bottom of my list because it’s my least favorite, but just because it’s so different from the others that it’s hard to compare….

Waiting for High Tide is beautiful in a way that’s unusual for kids’ books. Cut paper illustrations are just gorgeous. It tells of a family building a raft of logs and a boy playing on the beach during low tide, waiting impatiently for high tide to come in so they can take the raft out. He studies the barnacles. finds clamshells, crab parts and seaweed, watches the gulls crack clam shells open on the rock, and herons try to catch sculpin. This book isn’t a good fit for my Saturday STEM class. However, if I was planning a beach trip to the San Juan islands or anywhere else on the Salish Sea, I would ABSOLUTELY bring this along to read to my child before and after our days on the beach. Ages 5 – 8, too long for a circle time read-aloud.

My recommendation for a book about the beach / ocean

So, after reading all these library books, I’d say nothing comes close to a book I already own. The Big Big Sea by Martin Waddell. This is a truly gorgeous book that honors the beauty of nature, and the magic of parents sharing nature at night with their children.

A mother takes a child out after dark. They see the moon, they run into the sea, they walk on the beach… “We just stayed for a while by the sea. And mama said to me, ‘remember this time. It’s the way life should be.'” It ends with “We sat by the fire, Mama and me, and ate hot buttered toast and I went to sleep on her knee. I’ll always remember just Mama and me and the night that we walked by the big big sea.” Ages 3 – 5. Wonderful bedtime book. To see the illustration style, do a google image search for “big big sea waddell“.

Kids’ Books about Inventors and Makers


On this site, you’ll find LOTS of recommended children’s books for kids age 3 – 7 (preschool to second grade). In each weekly blog post, I cover one particular STEM topic and all the activities we did to teach it, including books specific to that theme. So, be sure to check those out. On this page, I’ve collected some of my favorite books about people who dream, invent and build. Our Inventors class strives to inspire kids to explore and to “make things”, and the stories we tell are definitely an important part of that.

Most Highly Recommended Stories (Fiction)

ifhouseIf I Built a House by Van Dusen. A boy designs a house (we see his drawing, and the model he’s built with Legos, Tinker Toys and cardboard). Then we get to tour the inside of  the house he imagines. The Kitchen-o-Mat cooks and cleans, there’s trampolines and ball pits in the living room, and more. Groovy retro art, fun text for reading aloud, great flights of imagination, and great modeling of a kid with maker dreams. This is probably my favorite book for my kids’ inventors class! We read it on Build a House week. (Also  check out If I Built a Car by Van Dusen. The boy imagines then builds a fabulous car, with a swimming pool, fireplace, and instant snack bar. We read it in Build a Car week, along with Galimoto, another great maker book about a boy in Malawi who collects scraps of wire to build a toy car.)

rosierevereRosie Revere, Engineer by Beaty. Rosie dreams of being an engineer, and builds cool stuff out of trash, but then her uncle laughs at her and she stops inventing till Aunt Rose (Rosie the Riveter in her later years) comes to visit. They build a heli-o-cheese-copter. It only flies for a moment and Rosie is discouraged, till Aunt Rose says “it’s the perfect first try! This great flop is over, it’s time for the next”. They keep building together. (Great read for any of our Engineering classes or for Flight week, although there’s lots of other great flight books to choose from, like Violet the Pilot.) You might also enjoy two other books by Beaty:  Iggy Peck, Architect – we read it in Bridges week and Ada Twist, Scientist.

going-places-9781442466081_hrGoing Places by Reynolds. A class is challenged to a “Going Places” contest, then all given identical go kart kits. Rafael is very excited about the project, and assembles the kit PERFECTLY, according to the directions. Then he discovers his neighbor Maya is dreamily watching birds and not building her kit. She builds a fabulous contraption, but it’s not a go-kart. She and Rafael team up to build an amazing and unique go-kart… that FLIES! At the end, they get an even wilder idea for what to build next! This is a very engaging story, not just about building but also about inventing. Bonus points for ethnically diverse characters and gender balance. Age 4 – 7. A good option for Build a Car theme, or Contraptions or Flight.

papaPapa’s Mechanical Fish by Fleming and Kulikoff. A really well-written and enjoyable book that shares the adventures of a family where the father is an tinkerer. His inventions are never quite successful – they “almost work”. He is inspired to make a mechanical fish, and after several failed attempts makes a submarine the whole family can ride in. We read it when studying Sink or Float or Submarines.

Most-Magnificent-Thing-coverThe Most Magnificent Thing  by Spires. A little girl wants to make the most MAGNIFICENT thing. She draws it out, and knows exactly how it will work. But when she tries to make it she fails again and again and gets very discouraged. But then she looks at all the things she made, finds the best thing about each, tries again and succeeds. People love all her “failed” experiments and take them home to use. Great read-aloud for ages 3 – 7. I appreciate that it really shows her emotions and how she deals with them, and lets kids know it’s OK to make mistakes. (This could be a good read for Contraptions week, which also included some other great books, like Mechanimals.)

moatWhat Floats in a Moat? by Berry & Cordell. Very silly and entertaining, great read-aloud that tells about Archie the Goat (named for Archimedes) and teaches about the science of Sink and Float. “Archie the Goat stopped short at a moat. He measured and mapped. He doodled and drew. He sketched and scribbled and scrawled. ‘Aha. To cross the moat,’ announced the goat, “we build a contraption to float!” When Skinny Hen suggests they could take the drawbridge, Archie says “Bah… This is no time for a drawbridge. This is a time for science!” He proceeds through 3 attempts (“he hammered and nailed, clanged and banged”) till he successfully gets across the moat on a half full barrel of buttermilk.

fraidyzooFraidyzoo by Heder. Little T is feeling afraid of going to the zoo, but she can’t remember which animal she is afraid of. Her family says they won’t go to the zoo till they figure it out. They then spend THE REST of the day going through the alphabet, asking “does it start with an A (miming an alligator) or B (holding a red scarf for a bull) or C (using a blanket and three people to form a two humped camel). It gets more and more complex, as they build animals from bubble wrap, cardboard, oven mitts, mops, umbrellas, empty water bottles and more. By the end of it all, little T is excited to plan a zoo trip for the next day. But then at the zoo, her big sister is frightened away by the ticket sales lady. So, they go home and role play that out too! Nice book about a family playing together, building together and empathizing with each other’s fears. Age 3 – 7. May be a good read for Adaptations week, when we’ll be talking about various animals. Could be fun to try to build some animal costumes from our recycled materials supplies!

Also, check out the books from Robots week, like Awesome Dawson and Clink.

Other Good Stories That Didn’t Quite Make “Highest Recommendation”

Inventor McGregor by Pelley and Chesworth. A story of a man who lived in a higgledy-piggledy house with a cheery wife, five children, and a hen called Hattie.
They call him Mend-It McGregor because he fixes everything that breaks in his village. He also invents new things to fix his neighbor’s challenges. He is a very happy man. But then he’s recruited by the Royal Society of Inventors and taken to work in a lovely, quiet, well-furnished lab. Away from the chaos of his community’s life, he is lonely and sad, and also can’t come up with any ideas for what to invent, and returns to his village. Ages 4 – 8, but too long for circle in a group setting.

Anything Is Possible by Belloni and Trevisan. Age 4 – 6. A sheep watches birds flying. She runs to her friend wolf who is a scientist / inventor and asks him to build a flying machine. After initial reluctance, he gets out his triangle and protractor and they starts to sketch (cool DaVinci style sketches of gears, screws, wheels….) They gather materials and build. They launch and fail, rebuild, launch and fail, rebuild, launch… and fly! It’s a fun read, great illustrations (though I find adults like them better than kids do), and good modelling of trying again. Not much explanation of any science of how the thing is supposed to actually fly…. kids won’t care, but some adults prefer more practical books.

11exp11 Experiments That Failed by Offill and Carpenter. Here is a sample experiment: “Experiments with Perfume. Question: Will seedlings grow if given Eau La La instead of water? Hypothesis: Seedlings will like Eau La La better than water. What you need: pots, dirt, seedlings, water, fancy perfume. What to Do: Place dirt in pots. Plant seedlings in dirt. Water one pot with water. Water other pot with perfume. Watch. What happened: Mom cried. Seedlings died.” This is fun and silly and would be my recommended book to read on a week when you discuss the scientific method. We read it when talking about Chemical Reactions.

Henry’s Amazing Machine by Dodds and Brooker. About a boy who invents from the day he is born till his house is filled beyond overflowing with an “amazing machine” with “dripping things, dropping things, pushing, pulling, stopping things… you sure know ho to build things. But Henry, what does it do?” Henry hasn’t a clue until the local carnival announces it is closing down and he moves his machine there. This is a fun read that kids will engage in. Age 4 – 8. Could read for Contraptions week.

The Big Ideas of Buster Bickles by Wasson. A child is full of big ideas and invents crazy stuff. He takes it to show and tell and kids laugh at him. But then his Uncle Roswell has invented the “What If Machine” that can make any idea into reality, but Uncle can’t come up with any big ideas. So Buster shares plenty of his. Great read-aloud for ages 3 – 6.

The Dumpster Diver by Wong and Roberts. Tells the story of Steve the Electrician the dumpster diver, and his assistants: Hose Handler, Hose Handler 2 and Fauceteer. After he dives, they help hose him off. Then they build: they first draw, then measure, drill, and saw and build fabulous things. They turn a blender into a lamp, an old lamp into a table and so on. Pros of this book: encourages building and inventiveness, encourages re-use of used materials instead of sending to landfill. Possible concerns for some children / families: When Steve dives in a dumpster, LOTS of beetles, roaches, and spiders splash out. There may be some people who are troubled by this illustration. In the end, Steve gets cut up by broken glass and rusted metal in a dumpster. One Amazon reviewer liked that this was a cautionary tale that told kids that it wasn’t maybe such a good idea to dumpster dive. Another Amazon reviewer said her children found it very frightening. My 5 year old loved it – no worries for him. Would be a good addition to Contraptions week.

Ziggy’s Big Idea by Long and Joni. About a boy on a shtetl who loves to invent things – though they don’t always work, His father sells rolls for the baker, and Ziggy comes up with the idea of putting a hole in the middle of the boiled and baked rolls to help them cook evenly – inventing the bagel. It’s a fine story which highlights Jewish culture.

Marveltown by McCall. I LOVE how this book starts out: “In Marveltown… we were born to brainstorm: in a city created by inventors, we saw man-made wonders wherever we looked… from rocket-jumping by moonlight to fishing from a mile-high tower, Marveltown kids thought fun without a challenge was no fun at all.” Then it tells of the cool things it invents. So far – fabulous… but then it becomes another story about rampaging robots and how the kids defeat them with their inventions. If I read this in class, I might just read the first half, as there’s only so many rampaging robots stories you want to read in a year.

The Girl Who Never Made Mistakes by Pett and Rubinstein. This tells of Beatrice Bottomwell who is famed far and wide for never making mistakes. One day she slips and almost makes a mistake, but in the end catches four falling eggs before they hit the ground. She worries all that day about her “Almost Mistake.” She watches friends ice skating but is afraid to join them because she doesn’t want to risk falling. Then at the talent show: “for the first time in as long as anyone could remember, Beatrice made a mistake. And it was a big one!” She ends up laughing about it, then after that starts taking more risks, and trying things like ice skating – where yes, she falls down a lot, but she also has lots of fun. Great read-aloud for age 5 – 8. Good for a day when I discuss Willingness to Fail or the Growth Based Mindset in parent education. (The only reason this one is not in my top category of “highest recommendation” is that it’s not about an inventor / maker.)

Non-Fiction Biographies of Inventors

The Fantastic Undersea Life of Jacques Cousteau by Yaccarino. I love this book! The illustrations are fabulous, there are quotes from Cousteau mixed in that capture the magic of his work (“The sea, once it casts its spell, holds one in its net of wonder forever”), it starts with Jacques as a young boy who likes to tinker and then moves us through the history of all of his inventions and research in a way that engages us in his dreams and his motivation to keep pushing science forward in pursuit of his dreams. Best for age 4 – 7.

Balloons over Broadway: The True Story of the Puppeteer of Macy’s Parade by Sweet. A Caldecott Honor winner. Great story that starts with a child who “loved to figure out how to make things move….” As an adult, he becomes a marionette and makes his way to New York City, where he then makes window displays for Macy’s, and eventually invents the giant helium balloons that first appeared in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade in 1928. Engaging story-telling, nice illustrations and graphic design, and a celebration of both imagination and hard work. Plus, some American cultural history. Best for ages 6 – 8.

The Great Idea Series, includes books such as In the Bag!: Margaret Knight Wraps It Up and All Aboard!: Elijah McCoy’s Steam Engine by Kulling. Very nice biographies, that start with the inventor as a child, which helps students to relate to them, focus on one early invention, and then briefly address the inventor’s longer career. They’re pretty wordy. Best for 6 – 8 year olds. With my class of 3 – 7 year olds, I write my own abridged version of the story that’s only about 30 – 40% as long as the original, I print it up, and I tape it to the back of the book so I can hold up the book to show the pictures, but read a much shorter and simpler language story. Bonus: includes female and African-American inventors.

Now & Ben: The Modern Inventions of Benjamin Franklin by Barretta. (And his other books, Neo Leo: the ageless ideas of Leonardo da Vinci and Timeless Thomas: How Thomas Edison changed our lives.) These books are well written, with nice illustrations and an engaging style. They’re best for ages 6 – 9, and a bit long, so I don’t use them as read-alouds in my class for 3 – 7 year olds.  Now and Ben has a fun approach where the left page in each spread talks about “Now” – something we do or use now, and the right page talks about “Ben” – what Ben had to do with the invention or implementation of that idea.

Great Imagination Books

These are great books! They’re more about imagination than they are about actually building and inventing real physical objects, so they don’t make my cut of books for inventors and makers, but are well worth the read.

Not a Box and Not a Stick by Antoinette Portis. These two books have an unseen adult asking questions like “What are you doing on top of that box?” “Are you still standing around in that box?” “Hey be careful with that stick.” “Look where you’re going with that stick.” And our protagonist (bunny in Box, piglet in Stick) repeatedly responds “It’s not a box / stick.” And we then get to see what they are imagining it is. (A pirate ship, hot air balloon basket, drum major’s baton, caveman’s spear). Very fun books about imagination, and about the idea that a simple toy can inspire all sorts of imaginative play.  If you like these books, read 5 Best Toys of All Time.

Roxaboxen by McLerran and Cooney. A story of a place that to adults might appear to be a rocky hill in the desert with some trash in it. But to the children, it’s a magical village. “A town of Roxaboxen began to grow, traced in lines of stone… the old wooden boxes could be shelves or tables or anything you wanted…. Frances built herself a new house outlined in desert glass… Later on, there was a town hall. Marian was mayor, of course, that was just the way she was. Nobody minded.” A celebration of imagination and children’s creations when left to unsupervised play. Ages 4 – 8.

The Tin Forest by Ward and Anderson. The books on this list tend to be energetic and rollicking adventure stories. The Tin Forest is something very different. It’s a quiet, gentle parable of an isolated man who lives alone by a junkyard who dreams of forests, then builds a forest from junk, then the real animals and plants come to live there. Lovely. Ages 4 – 8. Great read-aloud. Could perhaps read in Plants and Seeds week?

Another classic is Harold and the Purple Crayon (Purple Crayon Books)

Non-Fiction Biographies of Inventors


Inventor / Maker Books I’m Not a Fan Of:

    • The Greatest Inventor of All Time: Flint Lockwood is based on The Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs movie, and just isn’t that great a book.
    • The Extraordinary Mr. Qwerty. I want to love this book. But it’s just too metaphorical, and although kids are fine with reading the book, I just don’t think they grasp the meaning it or really engage with the story.
    • Sydney’s Star by Reynolds. Another one I want to love. It starts so delightfully: “Sydney loved to build things. She made brilliant birdhouses, charming cheesecakes, and all sorts of wonderful inventions. Sydney was inspired by the world around her.” Sydney invents a great mechanical star that floats and blinks and spins. She takes it to the science fair. Great book up to here. But then somehow, the star hears a distress call out at sea, flies out, communicates with the captain using Morse code and leads him safely to shore. There’s absolutely no reason for us to think the star she invented could do any of these things, so the lack of logic means the book doesn’t work for me.
    • What You Do With An Idea. Some people love it. It feels to me like a book that’s trying to inspire discouraged youth / adults to follow their dreams, not something that resonates with small kids.

Note: I’ve included Amazon Affiliate links for all the books I recommend, so you can learn more about them, and either purchase them (I get a small referral fee) or check them out from your local library.