Reviews /

Once Upon a Big Idea: The Story of Inventions

Authored by James Carter
Illustrated by Margaux Carpentier
Published by Little Tiger

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If you have to think of an invention, what springs to mind? Often, the same few – lightbulb, wheel, telephone – are our first thoughts. But readers of this creative, engaging introduction will find a much more eclectic range; even the cover has wheels but also ink and a toothpaste tube.

James Carter is a poet and this book is a poem, even though children may not recognise it as such at first. Immediately, it calls out to be read aloud, opening with a tongue-twisting listing of invention-related onomatopoeia. The book exudes an energy that suits its subject; it even defines invention inventively. Carter’s unusual slants are refreshing. His poem is rooted in history; it is easy to forget that pyramids and tools were once inventions, innovations of huge significance. He also sees links, connecting materials with inventions, and seeing how each invention spawns another.

This book will be an excellent discussion stimulus. Both words and pictures are thought-provoking, certain to generate questions. The poem employs a whole range of poetic tools to create a fast-paced piece that directly engages the reader and requires a response. The illustrations, including the intriguing endpapers, are bold, clever and eye-catching, complementing and extending the text.

I was initially unsure about the sudden introduction of recycling in the final pages. But on reflection, I realised it is a clever link and a perfect rounding off. It shows how recycling is essentially invention; if children recycle creatively, they are inventors! On the very last page, I remain unconvinced by the acrostic; each paragraph’s opening word seems tenuous at best. But this is a minor point; the paragraphs themselves are intriguing – I loved the link between the ubiquitous wheel and the dung beetle rolling poo. The various snippets here will stimulate curious children and spark a multitude of questions to research.

This book is an excellent introduction to the topic of inventions and earns its place on the classroom shelf for that alone. But it offers much more. Readers will need to follow a whirling tour of history and make sense of some quite compressed ideas; it is a poem that requires attention. Fortunately, it is also a poem that engages that attention and repays it. It works extremely well read aloud and would make an excellent performance piece. James Carter has shown that both inventions and poetry share an essential creativity; both take something familiar and reshape it into something unique and new.