There's a reason school science fairs and invention contests are so popular, and it's not because mom and dad want to see their little darlings win an award. Kids like to create stuff. When it comes right down to it, playing is a form of inventing: children turn sticks and trash can lids into swords and shields; a car up on blocks becomes an interstellar spaceship; a mound of dirt can be turned into a tiny city. Let's face it the first anti-gravity device will probably be dreamed up by a 10-year-old.

If your incipient inventor needs some inspiration, What a Great Idea! provides a delightful excursion into the history of those eureka moments that altered the course of civilization. Author Stephen M. Tomecek and illustrator Dan Stuckenschneider have created a fascinating book that covers everything from the plow to the personal computer. The task of singling out really significant inventions sounds daunting, but Tomecek has done it, and like the integrated circuit, he has created an integrated book, simultaneously linking invention with history and the march of civilization.

Some of his choices might surprise you. The wheel, for instance, is not included. Instead, Tomecek cleverly focuses on the axle, and he makes a very good case for it. Other offbeat choices are the invention of fertilizer, art and anesthesia. Throughout, Tomecek not only describes how each idea came to fruition, and how each invention works, he devotes considerable space to the impact each had on our culture, and on the ideas that followed as direct or indirect results of the invention.

It's too bad there's not an adult version of this book, but then it wouldn't have the clear and colorful illustrations by Dan Stuckenschneider. Stephen M. Tomecek's What a Great Idea! should be required reading for the little scientist in your household. And for you as well.

James Neal Webb would like to invent a way to cram more hours into the day.

 

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