Rutgers University Project on Economics and Children

Top Five Books on Innovation

Click on the title for each book to see book cover and more details.


Title: Alfred Nobel: The Man Behind the Peace Prize
Author:  Kathy-Jo Wargin
Illustrator:  Zachary Pullen
Publisher:  Sleeping Bear Press
ISBN:  978-1-58536-281-3
Year:  2009

Concepts: innovation, invention, social justice

Review:  Early in his career as a scientist and inventor, Alfred Nobel felt drawn to the field of explosives.  He was particularly interested in developing methods that would make nitroglycerin safer to handle when constructing roads and bridges and when manufacturing weapons.  The experiments were extremely dangerous and even caused a fatal workshop accident that killed five people, including Alfred’s brother Emil. One of Alfred’s subsequent breakthroughs led to the creation of dynamite, which ultimately made him a very rich man. 

Over time, Alfred apparently felt growing remorse that others viewed his invention and its applications in the military primarily as a means of injuring and killing people. He bequeathed almost his entire fortune to the creation of a fund that would finance generous annual prizes in physics, chemistry, medicine, literature, and peace.  (The prize in economics was added decades later.) 

This book brings to life an interesting story that children will enjoy hearing, particularly with the direct text that crisply presents important highlights, and the fabulous illustrations that magnify the characters’ facial features. Children and adults alike will walk away with a new understanding of the invention of dynamite, the establishment of the Nobel Prizes, and the ironic link between these two events.

Review by:
  Rutgers University Project on Economics and Children

How to Get This Book

Title:  Stormy's Hat: Just Right for a Railroad Man
Author:  Eric A. Kimmel
Illustrator:  Andrea U'Ren
Publisher:  Farrar, Straus and Giroux
ISBN:  0-374-37262-4
Year:  2008
Flesch-Kinkaid Grade Level: 3.2

Concepts:  human resources, jobs, innovation, invention, entrepreneur, gender equality

  Although Stormy Kromer enjoyed his job as a railroad engineer, he had a persistent problem: he could not find an appropriate hat to withstand the rather harsh and varied conditions of operating a locomotive.  A light derby hat blew off, a wide cowboy hat got in the way, a paper pressman’s hat caught on fire, and a heavy fireman’s hat gave him a headache. Unfortunately Stormy listened only to his friends’ suggestions and initially failed to notice that Ida, his wife and a skilled seamstress, had some excellent ideas for putting an end to his difficulties. Ida’s ideas led her to create a new canvas hat that satisfied Stormy’s criteria and became the foundation of a new business producing hats for railroad workers everywhere. 

This unique book, based on actual events, has a light-hearted tone but a serious set of lessons in economics about innovation, entrepreneurship, human resources, and jobs. Ida saw a need, thought creatively about how to design a product to meet that need, and together with Stormy adopted a business plan to mass-produce that item. The story also teaches children about a variety of jobs within and outside the railroad industry.  Not to be lost in the mix is an important lesson about gender equality. Stormy’s dismissive treatment of Ida proved counterproductive; only when he listened to her demands to be heard did the problem get resolved.
Review by:  Rutgers University Project on Economics and Children

How to Get This Book

Now & Ben: The Modern Inventions of Benjamin Franklin
Author and Illustrator:  Gene Barretta
Publisher: Henry Holt and Company
ISBN: 0-8050-7917-3
Year: 2006
Flesch-Kinkaid Grade Level:  6.8

Concepts: Inventors, innovation, human resources, capital resources

  Everyone knows that Ben Franklin discovered the electric nature of lightning by flying a kite in a storm and developing the lightning rod.  It is also common knowledge that he invented bifocals and a new kind of stove for heating houses.  But did you know that he also invented the odometer, swim fins, the writing chair, and the “long arm” (we know it as a grabber today)?  What about the glass armonica?  You may remember that he helped organize the first public library, post office, fire department, and sanitation department.  But did you know that he was also the first to suggest daylight saving time?

You will learn all this and more in Gene Barretta’s charming book.  Barretta tells us about Ben Franklin through delightful cartoon-like illustrations and clear text.  The familiar “now” illustrations are on the left side of each two-page spread with the two-hundred-year-old “Ben” illustrations on the right. 

This clever book provides a charming way for parents and teachers to show young children the value of inventors and the many ways their inventions improve our lives.  After hearing this story, you might want to visit the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia or learn more about the armonica.  You can even try “playing” the armonica on line.

Review by: Rutgers University Project on Economics and Children 

How to Get This Book

Title:  Violet the Pilot
Author and Illustrator:  Steve Breen
Publisher:  Dial Books for Young Readers
ISBN:  978-0-8037-3125-7
Year:  2008
Flesch-Kinkaid Grade Level:  5.9

Concepts:  human resources, capital resources, innovation, women in science

  Violet, a mechanical genius, could repair almost any appliance by the time she was two.  At age eight she started to build elaborate flying contraptions from spare parts and machinery that she salvaged from the family business, a junkyard next door.  Accompanied by her faithful and fearless dog (aptly named Orville), Violet flies the local skies in her innovative flying machines. She reads Popular Science Monthly for new ideas and dreams about winning a prize at the upcoming air show. Perhaps a blue ribbon would end the relentless teasing from the children at school and garner her some newfound respect.  En route to the air show, Violet uses her latest flying invention to become a hero in an entirely unexpected way.

This book is superb. With its gifted female protagonist and clever storyline, Violet the Pilot packs a powerful punch with lessons about innovation, human resources, and women in science.  Steve Breen’s delightful illustrations are marked by a sense of humor, expressive facial features, and skillful attention to detail (witness the posters of Charles Lindbergh and Amelia Earhart in Violet’s bedroom).  The blend of entertainment, emotional fluctuations, and substantive content make this book an utterly satisfying read for children and adults alike.

Review by:
 Rutgers University Project on Economics and Children

How to Get This Book

Marvelous Mattie: How Margaret E. Knight Became an Inventor
Author and Illustrator:  Emily Arnold McCully
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
ISBN: 0-374-34810-3
Year: 2006
Flesch-Kinkaid Grade Level:  4.2

Concepts:  patents, courts, economics and gender, discrimination, innovation, invention, production

  Mattie Knight loved to make things ranging from a foot warmer for her mother or toys for her older brothers. Or, when she was 12, a metal guard to prevent shuttles from shooting off looms and hurting workers. Later, Mattie invented a machine that could cut and glue the square-bottomed paper bags we still use today. Meet the woman known as "the Lady Edison."

Source of Summary:   Publisher