When my son, Dylan, was in second grade, every book he was reading seemed to involve impertinent, mischievous boys, and potty humour. A LOT of potty humour. I was glad that he loved to read, and his giggles told me that he was greatly entertained, but I began to think that broadening his horizons wouldn't be a bad thing.
When I popped by my local children’s bookstore in search of inspiration, I explained what I was looking for. The sales clerk knew instantly.
“Something with characters who are smart, and not smart-alecky?” she asked. Yes, that was it. She pulled Star Jumper: Journal of a Cardboard Genius, by Frank Asch, from the shelf. It’s the first of a three-part series.
It was perfect.
The Cardboard Genius is a young boy named Alex, who considers himself the smartest human being on Earth. He builds amazing gadgets from ordinary household items. His preferred material of choice, cardboard, is “the least appreciated, most underrated building material ever invented."
Alex decides to construct a spaceship so he can blast off to another planet. He has to get away from his annoying brother, Jonathan. What child can’t relate to this scenario?
It’s no easy feat to journey through space, however, and Alex needs all kinds of equipment to make the trip a success. The book includes sketches of his designs. He builds an oxygen generator with a shoebox, forks and rubber bands. His innovative spacesuit design uses a snowsuit, helmet, and tubing from a vacuum. He also needs a micro blaster to protect himself from danger, and a duplicator, because “I’d still want a dozen or so me’s around”.
Readers will delight in the fact that these creations are actually put to use, thanks to Alex's incredible imagination. What I loved most is how Alex’s ingenuity inspired the same from Dylan. After reading Star Jumper, Dylan gathered aluminum foil, straws, wire, and an old toy clock, and built his own radar dish. He deviated a little bit from Alex’s blueprint, but that’s what creativity is about, isn’t it?
Star Jumper was written in 2006 but it is very relevant today. Educators are emphasizing the importance of encouraging kids to freely design, innovate and create. Dylan's school recently hosted a Cardboard Challenge. Makerspaces are growing in popularity, and there's never been a greater focus on the need for the next generation to develop STEM skills.
The Journal of a Cardboard Genius series is an excellent way to inspire kids to look at ordinary items from a new perspective, and to develop creativity, critical thinking and problem-solving skills. Plus, it's simply fun to read.
Books in series: 3
Journal of a Cardboard Genius #1: Star Jumper
Journal of a Cardboard Genius #2: Gravity Buster
Journal of a Cardboard Genius #3: Time Twister
Two kids, two cats, and a house full of books. We share our favourite picks for young readers.