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The Story of Inventions

Author: Anna Claybourne, Adam Larkum (illustrator)
Lower Age: 8+
Price: $10.99
Year Added: 2017

In The Story of Inventions, Anna Claybourne provides a collection of tales about the invention of many everyday items that we often take for granted, such as wheels, chocolate, microwave, adhesive bandages, and zippers. By learning about the stories behind these common items, children are introduced to the engineering thinking and design processes that inventors use to create these kinds of products. For example, in the “Clever catseyes” story, readers get to see how the Englishman Percy Shaw solved the problem of people losing track of the road during poor visibility weather conditions. Shaw made observations in nature to see how the principle behind cats’ eyes reflecting in the dark could be used to create a device that reflects car headlights to keep drivers from running off the road. Other stories showcase for readers the importance of prototyping and redesigning. For example, George Cayley, the inventor of the glider, (which would eventually lead to the invention of the airplane), tried multiple wing shapes and designs before he found one that worked. The book also emphasizes how continuous testing and perseverance can eventually lead to successful designs. The Wright brothers - the minds behind the first sustained, powered flight - didn’t get their flyer to work on the first try, but succeeded with the second one. The Story of Inventions also introduces the concept of a client and user as part of the invention and engineering processes. For example, chips were invented because of a demanding client at a fancy restaurant in New York, who didn’t like the thick and chewy French fries he had been served. Today many of us are now consumers (or “users”) of chips. Overall, The Story of Inventions provides a great and engaging way to introduce engineering thinking and design to children. It showcases a wide variety of skills, from creative thinking to evidence-based reasoning, that are needed to solve real-world problems.


Engineering thinking and design practices the gift encourages children to do or learn about:

Define a problem, make observations, learn about the problem, idea generation, plan a solution, try the solution, create a prototype or process,test the solution, analyze a solution, redesign a solution, make improvements to their solution, refine ideas, optimize their solution, apply mathematics, work in a team


Engineering text or context explicitly provided by the gift: A problem to be solved by developing a new or improved object, tool, or process, a client, a user, criteria, constraints


Additional practices and skills needed by engineers that were addressed by the gift: Critical thinking, creative thinking, working collaboratively, evidence-based reasoning, design, problem solving, perseverance, logical thinking


Overall ratings:

  • Children Reviews
    • Rating: 5.0 out of 5.0
    • Feedback:
      • “I learned a lot about different inventions.” F, 6
      • “I liked hearing about why different inventions were made.” 7-year-old
  • Parents Reviews
    • Rating: 5.0 out of 5.0
    • Feedback:
      • “We read this a few inventions at a time. My kids really enjoyed learning about the story behind different inventions.” parent of 4- and 6- year old
      • “What a fun, well-written book!” parent of 7-year-old
  • Engineering & STEM Experts Reviews
    • Rating: 5.0 out of 5.0
    • Feedback:
      • “This book talks about many inventions that we use everyday and how they came about. Through telling the stories of the process of the inventions, the reader learns how engineering practices have been used to create the things we use all the time.”
      • “This book tells about a number of great scientists and engineers behind such inventions as planes, catseyes, bikes, and many others. While children don't actually get to do any engineering themselves, they see how great inventors of the past did it. How they started by defining the problem, made and tested prototypes and came up with multiple redesigns. Children learn that a lot of modern things that surround them exist due to perseverance and excellent design, problem solving, and critical thinking of the inventors of the past.”