5 Picture Books That Will Inspire Tinkering and Creating

A list of thought-provoking picture books curated by Beth Anderson to inspire experimentation, tinkering, and creating.
The Children’s Book Review

5 Picture Books featuring Joy and Inspiration at the Intersection of Science and Art

As I worked on revising FRANZ’S PHANTASMAGORICAL MACHINE, I explored the intersection and interconnection of science and art. I was fascinated! And that’s where FRANZ’s story fit—a story of a person obsessed with tinkering and creating. His “World Machine” didn’t meet traditional expectations, but for those ready to embrace the wonder, it was a mesmerizing, inspiring, mechanical masterpiece.

Here’s a bit about FRANZ’S PHANTASMAGORICAL MACHINE, along with more thought-provoking picture books to inspire experimentation, tinkering, and creating—and spark the maker in all of us. These books feature engaging stories matched with amazing and varied styles of illustration.

Franzs Phantasmagorical Machine: Book Cover

As soon as I viewed the whirling, blinking, magical machine constructed of discards, scraps, and flea market treasures, I had to know more. Franz Gsellmann’s story rang with the child I was, a basement tinkerer. I understood the joy he felt and loved how he persevered past critics and nay-sayers. This story is fun, quirky, and inspiring! And in the back matter, there’s a search and find activity identifying pieces of the machine.

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Just Like Rube Goldberg- The Incredible True Story of the Man Behind the Machines

This biography shares how a boy with an interest in art, became a young man who studied engineering and eventually became a cartoonist who drew crazy, convoluted, ridiculous machines to accomplish mundane tasks. He drew his pictures to make people think and laugh.

Like Franz, he followed his joy and challenged people to think differently.

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The Most Magnificent Thing

Another long-time favorite, this story is the only one of my picks not based on a real person. It features a girl, her dog sidekick, and a plan to create…the most magnificent thing. She experiences a lot of disappointment and frustration in the process, but finally, after a walk, is able to see positive aspects of her attempts. And with this new perspective, she completes her project—and it is, indeed, magnificent! Like Franz’s story, this tale shares the ups and downs of the creative process, easily applicable to many things in life.

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Dream Something Big- The Story of the Watts Towers: Book Cover

Dream Something Big has been one of my favorite picture books since I discovered it as a beginning author. Told in the first person, the narrator shares a childhood story of watching Simon Rodia, known to the neighborhood as Uncle Sam, build his towers. Like Franz, this mysterious man used discards to build his creation. “Some people called him crazy, but he wasn’t. He was a magician.” Another outside-the-box thinker, he found beauty in unexpected places and envisioned possibility. His creation still stands, over six stories tall, the Watts Towers. This book also has a great back matter activity, an art project to make your own “Watts Tower.”

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It Jes' Happened- When Bill Traylor Started to Draw: Book Cover

As I worked on Franz’s story, I realized that what he had created would be called “outsider art” today. That reminded me of this book about a man who felt the urge from within (at age 81!) to create his own style of art and share his life experiences. He wasn’t trained, just naturally driven—like Franz—and Traylor’s work, too, challenged traditional thinking. While this book doesn’t feature science like the others I’ve mentioned, it combines art with social justice.

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Kids will delight in how all these characters defied expectations, used what they had, and found a way to make their ideas happen. Though all of these books tap into the inner desire to create and share themes of perseverance, resilience, creative thinking, and resourcefulness, they are all very different stories. Enjoy!

Beth Anderson: Author Headshot

About Beth Anderson

Beth Anderson, a former basement tinkerer and English as a Second Language teacher, has always marveled at the power of books. With curiosity and a love for words, she writes untold tales, hoping to inspire kids to laugh, ponder, and question. She’s the award-winning author of REVOLUTIONARY PRUDENCE WRIGHT, TAD LINCOLN’S RESTLESS WRIGGLE, “SMELLY” KELLY AND HIS SUPER SENSES, LIZZIE DEMANDS A SEAT!, and AN INCONVENIENT ALPHABET.

Beth has more historical picture books on the way, including CLOAKED IN COURAGE: UNCOVERING DEBORAH SAMPSON, PATRIOT SOLDIER, now available for pre-order.

For more information, visit https://bethandersonwriter.com/.

The booklist 5 Picture Books That Will Inspire Tinkering and Creating was curated by Beth Anderson. Follow along with our articles and reviews tagged with Art, Books About Machines, Creativity, Engineering Books, Imagination, Picture Books, and Science.

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