10 Years of “Tools of Mass Construction” with Howtoons


When I was a little kid, my family got a few magazines that were a bit beyond my grasp, but I still felt like those subscriptions were mine. I didn’t understand all the jokes in MAD magazine, but I still pawed through the pages, ran the Spy vs. Spy flipbook, and spent many a minute folding and unfolding the back covers with their hilariously adroit visual trickery. With GAMES magazine, I could solve some of the one- and two-star puzzles, plus many of the Mixed Bags, but I would always ace the Eyeball Benders and nearly always “Find the Fake Ad.”


howtoonslogoAs subscribers to Make: magazine well know, we’ve got a similarly fantastic gift to kids of all ages nestled in the pages of our issues, going all the way back to Volume 01. Howtoons is a distinct feature of Make:, combining the form of comic books with some friendly how-to and girded up with some solid real-life science and engineering principles. In these ‘toons, we follow siblings Celine and Tucker as they learn through play. “Challenged to make something ‘other than trouble,'” the pair use everyday objects to invent toys and change the world around them.

howtoons-coverFans of Howtoons could revisit the cartoons by hunting through the pages of Make: to find them, but now you can dive into 10 years of these Easter eggs all in one place, because the book Howtoons: Tools of Mass Construction was published last month. This remastered collection contains 360 pages with over 70 projects of the “best of” Howtoons over those years, along with new material, photos, and essays by the creators of the series. Projects include soda bottle rockets, origami robots, marshmallow shooters, ziplines, zoetropes and more!

My son Ion, now 6, has grown up with Howtoons. It’s the page he turns to during his longer visits to our bathroom-based Make: library, which I know because he comes out revved up to start on projects. Like many kids his age, he’s graduating from picture books by binging on longer form graphic novels, so this book had his name written all over it.

When I was able to wrench this book out of his hands, I saw that alongside all of Nick Dragotta’s gorgeous full-color drawings, in this edition author Saul Griffith and company also include real-life photographs of the projects. These are so helpful!

sub-comic sub-pic

rocket-comic rocket-pic

cutting-comic cutting-pic

We also appreciated the table of contents for each section, which my younger son Q (who isn’t quite reading yet) could use to tell me which project he wanted me to read next.

Born at MIT over a decade ago, Howtoons has also been featured in WIRED, Harper Collins, the Cooper Hewitt and Smithsonian, and even Maker Camp. (I’m not quite sure what we would have done without Howtoons! From the Rola Bola Balance Board to Shake Ice Cream, so many of the projects are so well placed at the intersection of interesting + cheap-and-easy materials + happily challenging.)

The creators of Howtoons told me a little about their inspiration:

We created this series to inspire children to be active participants in the future, to teach them skills and inspire them to invent, engineer, problem-solve and create, not just consume. The books are wonderful for mediated play between parents, mentors and kids of ages 5-8, and as stand-alone project books for kids 9-12. We believe that inspiring stories of imaginative adventure, and rewarding hands-on projects build intuition in children that will be useful throughout their lives. We aim to hook kids as young as possible on the notion that you can create the world around you, starting with toys, activities, and play.

reignitionWhile you are on the hunt for Howtoons, keep an eye out for Howtoons [Re]Ignition, a new mini-series featuring a new all-star creative team: Fred Van Lente (writer), Tom Fowler (artist), and Jordie Belliare (colors). Howtoons’ largest story yet, it centers on energy literacy. Comic book stores have been carrying it for a little over a month, and you’ll be able to buy the full collection by the end of the year.

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Michelle, or Binka, makes . While at Maker Media, she oversaw publications, outreach, and programming for kids, families, and schools. Before joining Maker Media in 2007, she worked at the Exploratorium, in Mitchel Resnick’s Lifelong Kindergarten group at the MIT Media Lab, and as a curriculum designer for various publishers and educational researchers. When she’s not supporting future makers, including her two young sons, Binka does some making of her own, most often as a visual artist.

View more articles by Michelle "Binka" Hlubinka


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