Written by Candace Fleming, Illustrated by Boris Kulikov
Farrar Straus Giroux, 2013
This is my papa. And this is his backyard workshop, where he spends his days thinking…tinkering…and inventing things.
The plot in a nutshell: An inventor tries to perfect an underwater transportation machine
The narrator, a little girl named Virena, tells us all about her father’s inventions, especially the fact that he hasn’t invented anything that works perfectly. While the family is fishing at Lake Michigan, Virena asks her father if he’s ever wondered what it’s like to be a fish. He rushes back to his workshop and starts working on an underwater vessel. He makes several different models, but they each have major problems. Finally, he builds a working submarine and takes the whole family for a ride. After their ride, they enjoy a picnic on the beach and Virena asks her father if he’s ever wondered what it’s like to be a bird, starting him off on a new inventing quest.
Author Candace Fleming does a lot of things to keep this story interesting to younger kids, like including a lot of onomatopoeia for the sounds coming from Papa’s workshop and keeping a rhythm that repeats as each new invention is tried. For older kids, she includes a biographical note in the back of the book with information about Lodner Phillips, the man who inspired this story. Apparently, Mr. Phillips built his own submarine, with a lot of design improvements such as an air purifier and boiler system. I had never heard of him before, so this ‘back story’ information really increased my interest in the book’s fictionalized version.
The artwork, from Boris Kulikov, combines traditional painting with collages of his pictures in graphite and colored pencil. Some of the neat touches he includes in his illustrations are enormous colorful fish in the waters of Lake Michigan and an expressive family dog who is along for the whole adventure, including the submarine ride (which he seems a little worried about). I loved the support that the whole family shows and the message about continuing to move forward is always good to hear. This would be a great way to encourage kids who like to build or tinker.
And what did we learn? What I take away from this book is that every failure provides an opportunity to learn more about your eventual path to success.