Engineer Jennifer has always been a builder. LEGOs were a right of passage for me – probably for most kids headed for a career in Civil Engineering. Among my peers, there were two schools of thought regarding those LEGO kit directions. I fell strongly into Camp Toss-The-Directions-To-Build-Something-Better. For me, “something better” always resulted in a creative structure. I still build them with my LEGO CREATOR EXPERT modular building sets.
Now I look back and wonder if Young Jennifer was ever actually a builder. My mother would probably still insist I am too stubborn to listen to directions on HOW to build anything. She is not wrong – and that might be exactly why I’m a maker. My constant need to modify the directions for everything from LEGOs to craft kits to quilt patterns may have been the first clue. The string of projects abandoned whenever I was pressured to follow the directions may have been another.
My first exposure to this concept of being a maker was a commercial for Goldie Blox toys from April of 2014. You can check it out on YouTube here:
I loved this Rube Goldberg machine constructed with all the stereotypical “girl” toys these young ladies had little interest in. Young Jennifer felt the same way about most of these toys. Writer Jennifer was inspired to create a picture book manuscript centered around a similar Rube Goldberg machine made with household items. Engineer Jennifer appreciated the marketing efforts to expose kids of all genders to STEM toys. What I didn’t understand then was the actual difference between a builder and a maker.
A builder usually constructs something according to a set of plans or directions.
A maker uses the items available to solve a problem or create something new.
This distinction became clear to me when my daughter received the Keva Maker Bot Maze last Christmas. My first instinct was to set aside the booklet the kit came with and build our own maze. My daughter is very different than Young Jennifer, though, so I opened the plan sheet to look for the numbered directions. What I found instead were suggestions.
The young maker was encouraged to decorate her two bots any way she wanted with the glue, felt, pipe cleaners, pom poms, and eyeballs provided. Several maze obstacles were detailed using these same supplies, but in picture format rather than numbered directions. Makers were encouraged to invent their own maze obstacles with items found around the house. A few maze layouts were pictured on the plan sheet, but the maker was encouraged to create her own designs.
My afternoon of being a maker with my daughter inspired me to take a closer look at the books on my shelves. Makers already existed in KidLit before the catch phrase “Be A Maker” was coined. The first character to come to mind: Kate and her bucket from The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Scott. I had recommended that book to an engineering co-worker’s middle-grade daughter years ago because she, like Kate, was a maker.
The current “Be A Maker” trend has become evident in fiction STEM picture books. Three of my favorites include:
Rosie Revere, Engineer by Andrea Beaty
Made by Maxine by Ruth Spiro
Be A Maker by Katey Howes
I’d love to read more of these great Maker characters (any gender or age). If you have book recommendations, please share.