Summer Reading for Maker Kids

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Summer Reading for Maker Kids
Maker siblings turn their backyard summer staycation into a journey through time and space with a few well-chosen novels.
In their backyard in Canada, these two maker siblings turn their summer staycation into a journey through time and space with a few well-chosen novels.

I was reminded recently of The Swiss Family Robinson (free), a book which I never read, but whose treehouse at Disneyland I loved–all those pulleys and bridges and funny little rooms. It got me to thinking about summer reading and what I would recommend to young makers who’d like to take a break from making, curl up under a tree or teepee to read about characters like them.

Make a space for your read: "In-tents"ive reader Jet L. pitched a teepee in the backyard to get some time alone to dive into a stack of books.
Make a space for your read: “In-tents”ive reader Jet L. pitched a teepee in the backyard to get some time alone to dive into a stack of books.

What books made us into the makers we are today?

borrowers Appropriately enough, I discovered a copy of Mary Norton’s The Borrowers on a dusty bottom shelf of a Goodwill when I was about 8, and I was instantly enchanted by its cover illustration: a collection of odds and ends surrounding this family of clever little repurposers. Hiding under the floor and between the studs of the walls, The Clocks whisk away all kinds of lost and forgotten detritus of our “big people” homes and transform them into handy gadgets. Their story was adapted into a beautiful film a few years ago, The Secret World of Arrietty, co-written by animation giant Hayao Miyazaki.

© 1964 Universal Pictures

bluedolphinsThe Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell transported me from my concrete-grid mid-childhood life in Orange County across a long leap in history and a short hop to the Channel Islands off the coast of California, where a girl named Karana lived alone for many years. There she rebuilt a solitary life, all the while sustaining her family’s traditions of spear-making and canoe-sculpting. I remember vividly how she tightly and painstakingly wove a skirt out of plant fibers at night, by the light cast by burning tiny fish she dried by hanging them from the ceiling of her cave, a home she protected with a wall she built of whale bones.

boxcardumpThe Boxcar Children by Gertrude Chandler Warner made me love trash as a medium. I thank my second-grade teacher Bea Okerman in Fitchburg, Mass., for reading it out loud to us. After that I read it again to myself at least a dozen times. I can’t forget that great scene where the kids are hunting for treasures in the landfill near their boxcar home (which reminds me now of all the art collectives organized as shipping container camps.) Also, those kids came up with some clever innovations: the little refrigerator they set up between stones in the cold stream, writing with charred sticks, hanging a cup from a stick to make a ladle, and just generally making do with what they had.

Adventures in Cartooning, a new favorite from my own kids’ bookshelves, is a very quick romp through a knight and dragon tale, best for younger readers transitioning from picture books to longer works. It slips in a little bit of lighthearted instruction about the visual language of the comic book genre to help aspiring graphic novelists launch into their writing careers.

For another transitional graphic novel, check out A Wrinkle in Time beautifully illustrated by Hope Larson to adapt Madeline L’Engle’s sci-fi classic.

EncyclopediaBrown-WPDonald J. Sobol’s Encyclopedia Brown, while not a maker, led me on his adventures on many a summer day. With simple mysteries to solve, these stories are a good pick for most budding makers who like a good puzzle!

terrificIn E.B. White’s The Trumpet of the Swan, young Louis is a cygnet without a voice, but he uses a tool–a trumpet–to communicate with the world and to move both humans and pretty swans alike as his career as a great musician grows. I recommend two other classics from the White bookshelf: Stuart Little‘s canoeing and sailing scenes, and Charlotte’s Web as a classic example of how one spider’s art can change the world!

Roald Dahl makes my list with at least two of his ever-popular canon: Fantastic Mr. Fox and James and the Giant Peach. Clever inventiveness abounds in Dahl’s writing, but also plenty of wicked good comedy. And every maker needs a good sense of humor!

Laura Cochrane and I asked around the Maker Media offices for other books our colleagues would recommend to young makers. Here are a few more to add to your list:

  • Jean Craighead George, My Side of the Mountain
    “I learned a lot about wilderness survival and resourcefulness from this book – but be careful, you may want to get a pet falcon and live in a tree after reading it.” — Michael Castor
  • Ted Hughes, The Iron Giant
  • Captain Frederick Marryat, Masterman Ready and The Children of the New Forest
    “Very didactic Victorian children’s lit with great how-to descriptions on self-sufficiency.” — Arwen O. Griffith
  • Gary Paulsen, Hatchet
    “An engaging book about a boy stranded in the Canadian wilderness after a plane crash. In learning to survive, both his failures and successes are chronicled. There’s even a rampaging moose!” — Michael Colombo
  • Arthur Ransome, Swallows and Amazons
    “The Swallows and Amazons books are the 20th century version [of Captain Marryat’s books] — kids camping out on a British lake island and doing everything themselves.” — Arwen O. Griffith
  • J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit
    “We’ve just had the first big movie, and will get the second this fall. It’s a great time to get kids excited about the story, and invested in reading this classic story.” — Ken Denmead
  • Mark Twain, Huckleberry Finn
  • Laura Ingalls Wilder, Farm Boy
    “A DIY book if there ever was one. All about the joys and challenges of self-reliance.” — Stett Holbrook

Lastly, my friend to the left in the picture up top suggests I add the following books and series to our list:

Please add your suggestions for additions to our list in the comments below.

12 thoughts on “Summer Reading for Maker Kids

  1. Laura Cochrane says:

    @ProfTucker on Twitter says:
    “I would add all of John Dennis Fitzgerald’s “Great Brain” books (esp. GB at the Academy) to the “Summer Reading for #Maker Kids” list”

  2. Laura Cochrane says:

    Abigail Williams on the Maker Camp Google+ Community page says:
    “A Single Shard. An orphan living under a bridge in 12th-century Korea is enthralled by the work of Min, a celadon potter in his village. One day he sneaks into Min’s yard and, when caught at the scene, accidentally drops and breaks a clay box. He promises to repay the aging potter by helping him with his work. He endures the tutelage of Min in hopes that someday he will rise above his social standing and make a pot of his own. The Newbery Medal winner in 2002.”

    1. Laura Cochrane says:

      Abigail also suggests:
      “Afternoon of the Elves. Hillary, who belongs to the popular crowd at school, befriends her outcast neighbor when the two build (or rather, “expand”) an elf village made of leaves, rocks, an old bicycle wheel, and other trash in Sara-Kate’s overgrown backyard. Are the elves real like Sara-Kate claims? Why doesn’t Hillary ever see Sara-Kate’s parents?

      The Witch of Blackbird Pond. A young woman of high society is forced to leave plantation life in Barbados to begin Puritan life in Wethersfield, Connecticut. Kit learns how to card wool, dip bayberry candles, and mix a disaster version of corn pudding. The Newbery Medal winner in 1959.

      And of course, let us not forget all the making that happens in The Hunger Games trilogy, especially in Catching Fire when — oh, no spoilers. :-) The Hunger Games books are better-suited for young adults, as some of the themes are quite mature.”

  3. My Word with Douglas E. Welch » My Favorite Things for August 2013 – Douglas E. Welch says:

    […] Technology / MAKE | Summer reading for maker kids […]

  4. Summer Reading for Maker Kids – HCS Learning Commons says:

    […] See on […]

  5. Jane Lin says:

    One of my favorite reads of the summer was The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster. Milo is a bored boy who discovers a Tollbooth that takes him to the Land Beyond. Reading this book was in no way boring, Milo happens upon absurd situations and constantly weighs the consequences of his next step… typical for Makers. This fantasy full of good puns will pull you out of the Doldrums (part of the Land Beyond).

  6. J.C. Sommerman says:

    Fire Hunter, by Jim Kjelgaard, Has to be one of my all time favorite survival/maker stories as a kid. Hawk (the prehistoric main character) basically gets kicked out of his tribe for inventing an atlall (spear chucker). Here’s a goodreads review:

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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.

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