These non-fiction picture books about inventors are the perfect inspiration for kids who love to tinker, build, and have grand plans to change the world!
My middle child is an inventor. I could say “He wants to be an inventor,” but the truth is that he already is one. He has a mind that is constantly whirring with ideas and hands that are constantly building and tinkering with whatever happens to be nearby. Sticks, cardboard boxes, Lego bricks…he’s not picky. He’s a bit of a hoarder, in truth, and he has claimed the closet under the stairs in our basement as his “lab.”
I love it. And I can’t wait to see what he invents as he gets older.
In the meantime, I’m doing everything I can to fuel his creativity and give him the tools to pursue his big dreams.
One way we can support our creative kids is by introducing them to stories of real-life inventors. You might be surprised by how many fabulous non-fiction picture books have been written about inventing (I was!). I love that these stories bring history to life, educating and inspiring kids to dream big.
They also teach grit. Inventing is messy, and it’s good for kids to see that failure is often part of the bumpy journey toward success and that those who succeed are those who don’t give up.
That’s a message I want my kids to hear over and over again.
Plus, as an adult, I think it’s fascinating to learn the origin stories behind some of the common items I use every day. So, double-win!
Ready for the books? Here we go!
Non-fiction picture books about inventors and inventing
Kids use crayons all the time, but they probably don’t know the story behind their invention. My boys all loved this book, especially the bright and colorful illustrations. Also, it isn’t as text-heavy as some non-fiction books, so it’s a story that even preschoolers would enjoy.
Would you want to travel over 800 feet underwater in a metal sphere less than five feet across? That’s exactly what engineer Otis Barton and explorer Will Beebe accomplished on June 6, 1930. And this picture book tells the fascinating (and suspenseful) tale with gorgeous illustrations and brilliant storytelling. Highly recommend!
Necessity is the mother of invention, they say, and the story of the bandaid proves it’s true! My favorite part about this charming story is that bandaids didn’t really catch on until they started giving them to Boy Scouts! If anyone needs bandaids, it’s young, adventurous boys. As a boy mom, I can relate!
For any child who has ever felt like they didn’t fit in, this is an outstanding and uplifting biography that teaches kids that it’s okay to be different. Lower word count, rhyming text, and sweet illustrations also make it accessible to even the youngest readers.
This book was a big hit with my boys, who loved learning about the NASA engineer who invented the coolest water gun ever! The author does a great job focusing on Johnson’s perseverance, despite his many setbacks (including a career test that indicated he wouldn’t make a good engineer…hmm).
Rube Goldberg machines are so much fun, and this book tells the story of the engineer turned cartoonist who started it all. (P.S. – If you want some great inspiration to build your own, watch this video)
This is the story of an inventor who created a pneumatic tunnel passenger train to help alleviate New York’s traffic problems (40 years before the modern subway system was built!) is both interesting and entertaining. With a unique illustration style and a little-known story, this one is definitely worth a read.
Did you know that two of the most famous American inventors, Thomas Edison and Henry Ford, were good friends? In fact, Edison’s encouragement helped lead to Ford’s success in inventing the Model T! This book tells the story of their friendship and teaches kids the secret to becoming a real inventor.
We often think of Ben Franklin as one of the founding fathers of America, but many kids don’t know that he was an inventor, too (among many other pursuits)! This book presents Franklin as a true Renaissance Man, and it does a great job highlighting many of his inventions, not just the famous electricity one.
I LOVE this story about how a competition to create a main attraction for the 1893 World’s Fair led to the most iconic carnival ride today. The illustrations are beautiful, and the fast-paced storytelling captivated my kids’ attention. It’s a great pick for school-age kids (might be a tad long for preschoolers).
Slinkys…you can love ’em or hate ’em, but they’re an iconic childhood toy for many of us, and this is the story of how they (accidentally) came to be! It’s by the same author as Mr. Ferris and His Wheel (above), and it’s equally as good.
At just twelve years old, Mattie Knight invented a metal guard textile factory workers–girls who were her age–from being injured by rogue shuttles shooting off the looms. She later invented the box-bottom paper bag as well. The book is a little text heavy, but it’s a great choice for elementary age and up.
What do you want to be when you grow up? Kids get asked this all the time, and sometimes we mistakenly think that we can only be ONE thing. But the story of Hedy Lamarr proves that you can follow more than one dream. Kids will be inspired by this strong woman who was a movie star by day and a brilliant inventor by night.
This picture book version of the best-selling book tells the story of a fourteen-year-old Malawi boy who built a functioning windmill out of junkyard scraps, and thus became the local hero who harnessed the wind and brough electricity to his village. I love that this story teaches kids that even young people can make a difference with a little creativity and a lot of perseverence.
Do your kids like ramen? If so, they’ll love the story of Momofuku Ando, the inventor of the famous instant noodle soup. I love the way this book depicts all the failed attempts it took for him to find the right solution to the problem.
If it’s about video games, my three boys are all in, so they loved this story of the humble beginnings of the first video game console (even before Atari!). I love that it’s not a quick discovery story. It took Ralph Baer decades to gain the skills and knowledge he needed to create the Odyssey, a good reminder to kids who are hoping to invent something world-changing right now.
The origin story of the doughnut involves a young cabin boy, an ocean voyage, and some seriously undercooked fried pastries. This book makes the history of the doughnut intriguing and humorous, and kids will love the sailor lore about sinkers and storms that became “alternative” versions of how doughnuts came to be!
Bubble gum was invented by an accountant! That makes me love this book all the more because I’m married to an accountant. The story itself is simple, light-hearted, and such fun. When you’re finished, you’ll probably want to have a bubble blowing contest!
This book is so cool! Not only does it cleverly tell the story of the two brothers who invented fluorescent colors, the book itself is printed using ink that glows under a black light so kids can see their invention in action.
Want more book ideas? Try these:
- Favorite Short Chapter Book Series for Kids that Will Keep them Reading
- The Best Train Books for Kids of all Ages
- 12 Awesome Alphabet Books to Start the School Year Right
- Terrific Dinosaur Books for Kids (that actually teach you about dinosaurs)
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