Tag Archives: inventions

How We Got to Now by Steven Johnson

How We Got to Now: Six Innovations That Made the Modern World by Steven Johnson. October 16, 2018. Viking Books for Young Readers, 160 p. ISBN: 9780425287781.  Int Lvl: 5-8; Rdg Lvl: 7.7.

Did you drink a glass of water today? Did you turn on a light? Did you think about how miraculous either one of those things is when you did it? Of course not–but you should, and New York Times bestselling author Steven Johnson has. This adaptation of his adult book and popular PBS series explores the fascinating and interconnected stories of innovations–like clean drinking water and electricity–that changed the way people live.

Innovation starts with a problem whose solution sets in motion all kinds of unexpected discoveries. That’s why you can draw a line from pendulums to punching the clock at a factory, from ice blocks to summer movie blockbusters, from clean water to computer chips.

In the lively storytelling style that has made him a popular, bestselling author, Steven Johnson looks at how accidental genius, brilliant mistakes, and unintended consequences shape the way we live in the modern world. Johnson’s “long zoom” approach connects history, geography, politics, and scientific advances with the deep curiousity of inventors or quirky interests of tinkerers to show how innovation truly comes about.

His fascinating account is organized into six topics: glass, cold, sound, clean, time, light. Johnson’s fresh exploration of these simple, single-syllable word concepts creates an endlessly absorbing story that moves from lightning strikes in the prehistoric desert to the herculean effort to literally raise up the city of Chicago to laser labs straight out of a sci-fi movie.

In other words, it’s the story of how we got to now!

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Author Talk

Reviews

Booklist (October 15, 2018 (Online))
Grades 5-8. Adapted for young readers from an adult book and PBS series, this volume explains six innovations that have changed the world: glass, cold, sound, clean (water), time, and light. It explores how these building blocks have inspired technological breakthroughs that have transformed our lives. The discovery of glassmaking, for example, led to the creation of clear glass, eyeglasses, microscopes, telescopes, cameras, fiberglass, laser beams, and fiber optic cables. Readers may be surprised that some technologies common today were actually developed more than 100 years ago, even if they weren’t refined until more recently (electric cars were first developed in the 1890s). Although it mostly features contributions by men from North America and Europe, Ada Lovelace and Marie Curie are mentioned. Not only does this praise scientists’ successful undertakings but it also recounts their erroneous beliefs and failures. Vintage photographs, recommended resources, and further back matter are included. The intriguing information here (Louis XIII didn’t bathe at all until he was seven!) will inform and fascinate report writers and casual browsers.

Kirkus Reviews (September 15, 2018)
Beginning with ideas that emerged thousands of years ago, Johnson tracks a series of innovations that led world culture to where it is now. In an adaption for younger readers of his adult work of the same name (2014), he tracks six pathways arranged along the following themes (which also serve as chapter titles): glass, cold, sound, clean, time, and light. The chapter on glass begins with the discovery of natural glass in the Libyan desert about 10,000 years ago and tracks it through use as jewelry, the creation of windowpanes, the development of glass that was clear, the creation of eyeglasses (necessary as books became more common), the development of other types of lenses and the scientific advances they inspired, and finally to fiber-optic cables in the digital age and creation of a massive telescope in Hawaii. Each engaging chapter remains fully grounded in the fundamental concept that advances inspire further developments, serving to present history in a nutshell that is still shown as a grand sweep of progress. A single minor gripe is that in the chapter on time, a detail on early photography is off by a few years. Excellent backmatter rounds out a balanced and thoroughly engaging presentation. Altogether, a fine exploration of technologies emerging over the eons and their remarkable interconnectedness. (Nonfiction. 11-14)

About the Author

Steven Johnson is the bestselling author of ten books, including Wonderland, How We Got to Now, Where Good Ideas Come From, The Invention of Air, The Ghost Map, and Everything Bad Is Good for You.

The founder of a variety of influential websites, he is the host and co-creator of the PBS and BBC series How We Got to Now. Johnson lives in Marin County, California, and Brooklyn, New York, with his wife and three sons.

His website is www.stevenberlinjohnson.com

Teacher Resources

How We Got to Now Classroom via PBS

Around the Web

How We Got to Now on Amazon

How We Got to Now on Barnes and Noble

How We Got to Now on Goodreads

How We Got to Now Publisher Page

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Calling All Minds by Temple Grandin

Calling All Minds: How to Think and Create Like an Inventor by Temple Grandin. May 15, 2018. Philomel Books, 240 p. ISBN: 9781524738204.  Int Lvl: 3-6; Rdg Lvl: 6.7; Lexile: 1060.

From world-renowned autism spokesperson, scientist, and inventor Temple Grandin — a book of personal stories, inventions, and facts that will blow young inventors’ minds and make them soar.

Have you ever wondered what makes a kite fly or a boat float? Have you ever thought about why snowflakes are symmetrical, or why golf balls have dimples? Have you ever tried to make a kaleidoscope or build a pair of stilts?

In Calling All Minds, Temple Grandin explores the ideas behind all of those questions and more. She delves into the science behind inventions, the steps various people took to create and improve upon ideas as they evolved, and the ways in which young inventors can continue to think about and understand what it means to tinker, to fiddle, and to innovate. And laced throughout it all, Temple gives us glimpses into her own childhood tinkering, building, and inventing.

More than a blueprint for how to build things, in Calling All Minds Temple Grandin creates a blueprint for different ways to look at the world. And more than a call to action, she gives a call to imagination, and shows readers that there is truly no single way to approach any given problem–but that an open and inquisitive mind is always key.

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Book Trailer

Reviews

Booklist (April 15, 2018 (Vol. 114, No. 16))
Grades 4-7. Grandin, renowned as a scientist, author, and adult with autism, has created a miscellany in which she claims to share “the soul of invention.” To do this, she integrates anecdotes from her life as a curious tinkerer with stories of important inventions and activities, such as pairing the history of paper and scissors with instructions for making paper snowflakes. Organized by broad categories (“Things Made of Wood,” “Things That Fly,” etc.), the book touches on ideas such as the Fibonacci sequence and optical illusions, encourages creativity by making a water bomb or a plant stand, and provides short background on additional inventions from crayons to hydraulic jacks. Famous inventors are profiled, from Gutenberg to the Wright brothers, who she thinks “might today be diagnosed as somewhere on the autism or Asperger’s spectrum.” To all of that, she tosses in references to the Flying Nun and golf ball dimples. The design is dull, dated, and distant, with reproductions of patents and portraits of dead white men, but the myriad topics and personal text are certainly mind-expanding.

Kirkus Reviews starred (March 1, 2018)
Celebrated inventor Grandin shares her experiences and insights into her processes of tinkering and building, offering excellent advice to aspiring young inventors for realizing their own innovative ideas. Grandin explores the history of inventions from the ancient to the contemporary, the science behind them, and the steps various people took to create and improve upon ideas as they evolved, and she also suggests ways in which young inventors can think about and understand what it means to innovate. What makes Grandin’s narrative particularly engaging are the many anecdotes she shares about her own childhood fascination with questioning, investigating, building, and inventing. She shares how her autism enabled her to see things in unique ways, paving the way for her innovative work in animal behavior. Grandin describes herself as a visual, “bottom-up thinker,” the type of scientist who gathers data and then arrives at a hypothesis. She passionately encourages young people to use their imaginations, stressing inquisitiveness and open-mindedness as the keys to problem-solving as well as the importance of tactile experiences and hands-on experimentation. Included in the text are 25 kid-friendly projects to help develop those skills. Mixing history, science, and memoir makes for an occasionally digressive narrative that is sometimes unwieldy but never boring. An impassioned call to look at the world in unique ways with plenty of practical advice on how to cultivate a curious, inquiring, imaginative mind. (diagrams, photos, bibliography) (Nonfiction. 8-12)

About the Author

Temple Grandin, Ph.D., didn’t talk until she was three and a half years old, communicating her frustration instead by screaming, peeping, and humming. In 1950, she was diagnosed with autism and her parents were told she should be institutionalized. She tells her story of “groping her way from the far side of darkness” in her book Emergence: Labeled Autistic, a book which stunned the world because, until its publication, most professionals and parents assumed that an autism diagnosis was virtually a death sentence to achievement or productivity in life.

Even though she was considered “weird” in her young school years, she eventually found a mentor, who recognized her interests and abilities. Dr. Grandin later developed her talents into a successful career as a livestock-handling equipment designer, one of very few in the world. She has now designed the facilities in which half the cattle are handled in the United States, consulting for firms such as Burger King, McDonald’s, Swift, and others.

Dr. Grandin presently works as a Professor of Animal Science at Colorado State University. She also speaks around the world on both autism and cattle handling.

Her website is www.templegrandin.com/

Around the Web

Calling All Minds on Amazon

Calling All Minds on Goodreads

Calling All Minds Publisher Page

The Inventors at No. 8 by A.M. Morgen

The Inventors at No. 8 by A.M. Morgen. May 8, 2018. Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 352 p. ISBN: 9780316471497.  Int Lvl: 3-6; Rdg Lvl: 5.3.

Brimming with mystery and treasure, this action-packed tale sends a boy in need of luck and girl in need of a friend on an adventure that will change their lives forever.

Meet George, the third Lord of Devonshire and the unluckiest boy in London. Why is George so unlucky? First, he’s an orphan. Second, unless he sells everything, he’s about to lose his house. So when his family’s last heirloom, a priceless map to the Star of Victory (a unique gem said to bring its owner success in any battle) is stolen by a nefarious group of criminals, George knows that there is no one less lucky–or more alone–than he is.

That is until Ada Byron, the future Countess of Lovelace, bursts into his life. She promises to help George recover his family legacy, and is determined to find her own father along the way–all in a flying machine she built herself. Joined by a mischievous orangutan and the long-lost son of an infamous pirate, Ada and George take off on a cross-continent journey through the skies that will change their lives, and perhaps the world, forever.

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Reviews

Booklist (April 15, 2018 (Vol. 114, No. 16))
Grades 3-6. After a string of misfortunes, humorless young George is utterly convinced he’s cursed with bad luck, and to stave off his inevitable demise, he’s stayed inside his quickly crumbling home for several years, with only his manservant, Frobisher, for company. That all changes when Frobisher gets kidnapped, and George enlists the help of the brilliant, irascible young inventor across the street, young Ada Byron. Armed with George’s heirloom treasure map, Ada’s homemade bird-shaped plane, and the assistance of their friends Oscar (a painter) and Ruthie (an orangutan), the ragtag group of kids hunts down a valuable jewel. But Ada’s secretive behavior rankles worrywart George, and soon fractures grow among their team. Morgen pulls off some handy misdirection in her fast-paced debut, and the combination of comical antics, miraculous machines, and a historical setting adds to the appeal. While she certainly takes liberties with Ada’s character, Morgen’s emphasis on such a savvy, capable girl engineer will please many readers. A closing note about the real Ada Byron makes this even better for STEM tie-ins, too.

School Library Journal (February 1, 2018)
Gr 3-6-Due to a series of extraordinarily unfortunate events (his mother died giving birth to him and his father died roller skating out an upstairs window), 12-year-old George, the third Lord Devonshire, is alone in the world, save for his trusty manservant Frobisher. The pair is scraping by, selling everything left in the family home. Young George has resigned himself to selling his prized possession: his grandfather’s map to the Star of Victory, when it is stolen by a mechanical bird. Leaving his house for the first time in two years to pursue the bird, he meets young Ada Byron, intrepid scientist, inventor, and explorer. Ada informs George of a mysterious group, called the Organization, seeking to locate the Star of Victory. She convinces timid George that they need to decipher the map and locate the Star, and the pair, accompanied by Oscar, the son of a pirate, and Ruthie the orangutan, take off in Ada’s flying machine. The disparate team moves from London to France, Geneva, and Venice (where they drop in on Charles Darwin) on the trail of the nefarious Organization. But George begins to suspect that Ada may have her own agenda. This raucous adventure keeps a frenetic pace as young George, whose father called him spineless, attempts to justify Ada’s faith in him, while Ada secretively battles her own demons. Eventually, both Ada and George find strength through their friendship. -Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor School District, Lancaster, PA

About the Author

A.M. Morgen comes from a long line of engineers and researchers but chose to pursue literature over the laboratory. To her family’s surprise, she has managed to make a decent living as an editor with her English degree. In her spare time, A.M. enjoys taking long walks in the forest, trying out new hobbies (then abandoning them), and complaining about her mean cat. Despite what you may think, A.M. is not a morning person.

Her website is ammorgen.com

Around the Web

The Inventors at No. 8 on Amazon

The Inventors at No. 8 on Goodreads

The Inventors at No. 8 Publisher Page

Elon Musk and the Quest for a Fantastic Future by Ashlee Vance

Elon Musk and the Quest for a Fantastic Future: Young Readers Edition by Tina Connolly. January 24, 2017. HarperCollins, 288 p. ISBN: 9780062463289.  Int Lvl: 5-8; Rdg Lvl: 6.6.

An in-depth look into the extraordinary life of the world’s most important entrepreneur, Elon Musk

This fascinating and easily accessible young readers’ adaptation of Ashlee Vance’s New York Times bestselling Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future features black-and-white photographs throughout and an epilogue. The version for adults has been praised as “riveting” (The Financial Times), “spirited” (The Wall Street Journal), and “masterful” (Vice). Now younger readers can read about this innovative leader who is revolutionizing three industries at once: space, automotive, and energy.

There are few people in history who could match Elon Musk’s relentless drive and vision. A modern combination of famous inventors and industrialists like Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, and Steve Jobs, Elon is the man behind companies such as SpaceX, Tesla Motors, SolarCity, and PayPal that are transforming the way we live.

Written with exclusive access to Elon, his family, and his friends, this book traces Elon’s journey from a kid in South Africa to a young man in the United States, his dramatic technical inventions, and his world-changing companies. Elon has sparked new levels of innovation in the world, and this book gives young readers a detailed but fast-paced look at his story.

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Reviews

Booklist (December 1, 2016 (Vol. 113, No. 7))
Grades 8-11. “I would like to die thinking that humanity has a bright future.” Elon Musk’s view on the world is unlike many others, and this version of the best-selling adult biography cites influences in Musk’s life that led to his work-centered, risk-laden, yet unparalleled success in the fields of space exploration, electric cars, and clean energy. Influences range from his mother’s father, an adventuresome pilot, to The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Musk’s childhood featured plenty of reading and dreaming (and the occasional round of Dungeons & Dragons), but also its share of strife: his parents’ divorce; his father’s bullying, which often led to injuries and even hospitalization; and a personality and intellectual gift few truly understood. Today, Musk still deals with people’s skepticism, but his success supersedes his aloof personality and unprecedented ideas. As Vance reports, “It’s Elon’s world, and the rest of us live in it.” An informative and easy-to-follow biography of one of today’s top innovators for young readers.

Kirkus Reviews (November 1, 2016)
Vance slims down his 2015 portrait of an entrepreneur who has made and spent several eye-watering fortunes on the way to restarting our country’s space program and possibly revolutionizing the auto industry.In Vance’s view, Musk, afflicted with that vision thing, has always had his eyes on the prize—not of making bazillions but of providing humanity with the means to move beyond our confinement on a single, fragile planet. He has made bazillions nonetheless. Noting the big payoffs as well as his propensity to follow up compelling promises with scandalously late delivery dates, Vance takes readers through his booms and busts with several enterprises—notably PayPal, Tesla Motors, SolarCity, and what has the potential to shape up to be his grandest triumph of all, SpaceX. Along with views of youth and early geekdom (“It’s remarkable how many things you can get to explode,” Musk recalls), he relates suspenseful accounts of technical and financial crises, conducts tours of Musk’s factories (which are, pointedly, all in the U.S.), and brings his story up to early 2016. Overall, the author offers a picture of a brilliant, driven man: “He almost hypnotizes you,” says an associate. “He gives you the crazy eye, and it’s like, yes, we can get to Mars.” Illustrated with small, rare, dispensable photos. A modern American success story, neither overly earnest nor unreservedly adulatory. (timeline) (Biography. 11-14)

About the Author

Ashlee Vance is an award winning feature writer for Bloomberg Businessweek magazine. Vance is also the host of the “Hello World” TV show. Previously, he worked for The New York Times and The Register.

Vance was born in South Africa, grew up in Texas and attended Pomona College. He has spent more than a decade covering the technology industry from San Francisco and is a noted Silicon Valley historian.

His website is www.ashleevance.com.

Around the Web

Elon Musk and the Quest for a Fantastic Future on Amazon

Elon Musk and the Quest for a Fantastic Future on Goodreads

Elon Musk and the Quest for a Fantastic Future on JLG

Elon Musk and the Quest for a Fantastic Future Publisher Page