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What's the Big Idea? focuses on those inventions that help fulfill people's six basic needs: food, sleep, security, shelter, companionship, and good health. Main spreads feature a specific invention such as the wheel and axle, paper, bicycles, or the Internet. Each one starts with a "What’s the Big Idea?" box that explains the problem the inventors were trying to solve. It answers the pertinent questions: Why this invention and why now? "Fast Facts" and "Big Ideas" sidebars give young readers quick blasts of information reference-style. Twelve special spreads scattered throughout the book highlight either a famous inventor or a specific theme. The "Inventor Biography" spreads profile inventors such as da Vinci, Galileo, and Thomas Edison, and summarize their main inventions. Comic strips deliver an added snippet of information and a humorous punch. Helaine Becker's witty, inventive text and Steve Attoe's wonderfully whimsical art make this a book children can enjoy while they learn. Mapletree Press/Owlkids Books ISBN:978-1897349601

Kids! Looking for more nifty invento-facts that aren't in the book?
Look for them here.


"Boredom Blasters and The Insecto-Files author Helaine Becker delves into the history of technology in What’s the Big Idea? Split into four chronological sections spanning 4,000 years, the book examines groundbreaking innovations and highlights a few “Big Thinkers.” Becker infuses her explanations with an engaging conversational tone, catchy quips, and occasionally obscure puns (e.g., “A Newcomen on the Scene”). She also makes a point of noting some of the many lesser-known women innovators, crediting them in the handy highlights bar that runs across the bottom of most pages...

Steve Attoe’s cartoonish illustrations fill the pages with humorous and helpful visuals. Where the text is lengthy and complicated, Attoe’s drawings capture the workings of various devices...the eye-popping cover, creative design, and engaging content should make it a popular choice for young would-be inventors."

                - Quill and Quire

"The author begins by introducing the basic needs of human existence, such as food and security, showing how each led to inventions that satisfied these needs. She then illustrates how these early discoveries were developed over time into more sophisticated applications. A typically attractive, informative and highly readable new title from this popular author."

- Ontario Library Association Best Bets Committee

"In her introduction, Becket says that she was inspired to write this lighthearted history of technology after reading a single "cool, weird" fact: bicycles were invented, in part, because of a huge nineteenth-century volcanic eruption in Indonesia. Such isolated events or questions that spurred the creation of world-changing inventions are the focus of this title's information-packed spreads, which move chronologically from a stone wheel to an MP3 player. Illustrated with full-color cartoons of multicultural characters through the ages, the short paragraphs have a casual, colloquial tone ("mathematician John Venn invented the--wait for it Venn diagram"), even as they explain complex concepts with clear language and examples designed to hook kids' interest...the language and images, both serious and goofy, will easily attract browsers, who will want to collect the bizarre stories behind everyday objects, while young inventors and scientists will find ideas on every page."

        - Booklist

"This lighthearted look at dozens of inventions moves from “Long, Long Ago…” to “Not So Long Ago….” Plentifully illustrated spreads offer overviews of major developments along with significant accomplishments, key figures, and dollops of humor. Cartoon illustrations add comic relief while also effectively illustrating basic concepts."

-Library Journal

"The pages of this book are packed with informative anecdotes and crisp, humorous pictures of more than 30 inventions that have changed life on earth, from the early times of the hunter-gatherer to the high-tech humans of today.

The world of inventors and inventions is an odd and quirky one. What may have started out as an invention made specifically for one purpose often spins off into quite a different surprising or entirely unexpected application. Shouting “Eureka!” and then reaping the benefits in fame and fortune is not always the lot of an inventor. Many toil in their laboratories for years only to have someone else claim the credit. Yet inventors persevere, with the hope of creating the next great innovation.

What is clear is that all inventors share a few key characteristics. They are keen observers of natural phenomena and see connections that may not be evident to others. They test and retest their theories and hypotheses. They collaborate with others, magnifying their chances of success. Who knows – with inspiration from this book, students may be motivated to become the creators of the next big idea and line themselves up with the likes of Alexander Graham Bell, Thomas Edison or Steve Jobs."

- Professionally Speaking (Journal of Ontario College of Teachers)

"Despite the extensive topic, Helaine Becker ingeniously covers the spectrum of 4,000 years of global inventions in fewer than one hundred pages. Acknowledging that all innovation grows from six basic needs, she presents the major inventions in four informal chronological sections. Detailed attention is given to such giants of creativity as Archimedes, Michael Faraday and Bill Gates and double-page spreads indicate the impact of well-known inventions on daily life in such areas as the kitchen, bathroom or doctor's office. A "Spinoff " sidebar reflects how further inventions were inspired by the original discovery.

Whether children are looking for specific information or browsing, they will find a miscellany of knowledge and fascinating facts presented in a chatty tone with readable dialogues, catchy sidebars and 'groaner' puns! From the wheel through to the computer, explanations are simple and humorous with the attractive layout making the information easy to assimilate. Brightly coloured cartoons, depicting the mechanics of the inventions, complement the light, amusing dialogue and tie the work together. The only significant omission is a bibliography that would have added value to this otherwise excellent introduction to a vast topic. What's the Big Idea? is a valuable addition for all libraries."

- Canadian Children's Book News

"A great resource for the classroom and at home - for the inquisitive child, teacher and parent!"

- Resource Links

"This lively, fully illustrated fact book provides an engaging history of how important inventions came to be – such as the wheel, plow, needles, compass, engine, telephone, radio, television, computers and more. The book also features “big thinkers” like Archimedes, Alexander Graham Bell, and Steve
Jobs and Bill Gates. If the big idea is to get more boys and girls reading, then this book will help!
  - Canadian Toy Testing Council 2011 Great Books List

"If you had cereal this morning, you probably poured it from a box with a recloseable lid. You might not know that an eight-year-old dreamed up this invention. This is just one of the things you can read about in What’s the Big Idea? The author looks at 32 inventions from long, long ago as well as long ago and asks who invented it, and when, where, and, why.

The book’s topic was interesting because I am very into learning all about how things work and how they were invented. My favorite part of the book was the section on Alexander Graham Bell and his invention of the telephone. I learned little known facts about him. I also learned that the Internet was invented in 1962 by the military. I would have liked some activities and experiments to try, but I enjoyed this book very much and will likely read it again."

- Know Magazine Kid Reviewer Cooper Collins,age 10

"A typically attractive, informative and highly readable new title from this popular author."

Shortlisted for the 2011 Silver Birch Award
Long-listed for the 2010 Information Book Award