Thomas Jefferson invented macaroni and cheese. That fact alone can interest kids in our Founding Fathers quicker than tickets to “Hamilton.” It turns out that many members of America’s Gen A and Gen B were inventors, as well as patriots (and women and immigrants!).
I learned that and a whole smorgasbord of other delightfully random history of science facts while reading animal scientist and autism advocate Temple Grandin’s new book for kids, “Calling All Minds: How to Think and Create Like an Inventor.”
Grandin is a world-famous adult with autism, a professor at Colorado State University, the author of 12 books about animal behavior and autism and the subject of an Emmy-winning HBO movie. She was formerly a high-functioning child with autism, a student often teased by classmates for her awkward social skills and obsessive interest in horses and building things, a daughter whose learning differences were accepted and supported by her family, and a motivated mentee challenged by an encouraging mentor (her high school science teacher), to develop her special gifts.
Grandin has written “Calling All Minds” to act, in turn, as a mentor to a new generation of kids, not just those with autism, to encourage them to put down their phones and tablets and use their hands and brains to make things.
The author will discuss her new book at 7 p.m. Tuesday, May 29 at Mountain View High School in Mesa, hosted by Changing Hands Bookstore and Southwest Autism Research & Resource Center.
Frankly, I was curious about how someone who was a late talker and freely admits to autism-related communications difficulties would conduct a presentation in front of a large audience, so I watched her TED Talk.
Grandin was energetic, plainspoken, funny and direct. Dressed in jeans and a go-to-meetin’ Western shirt, she described her unusual photo-realistic visual thinking style, pattern and verbal thinking styles and the benefits and drawbacks of each. She was informed and opinionated. This TED appearance was in front of sci-tech adults, but I can imagine that she would be much the same in a mixed audience of kids and parents — unpretentious, intelligent and enthusiastic.
Her book is like this, too; like it was written by your super-smart 12-year-old sibling who earnestly wants you to live up to your potential and gives you a million reasons why you should. Not counting the fascinating and very personal, heartfelt introduction and epilogue, it’s divided into five deceptively simple-sounding chapters loosely based around a particular class of things that you can make, interspersed with stories, humor, short biographies, fun facts, science principles and simple building instructions.
But my description dries Grandin’s meaty mixture into jerky. Better to give an example. Take Chapter One: “Things Made of Paper.” In it you’ll find snowflakes, Gutenberg, handmade paper, magic crystals, “qwerty,” kaleidoscopes, Fibonacci and the Golden Ratio, the joys and sorrows of blueprints and patents, scissors, water bombs, Crayolas and the checkered history of the Linotype machine. This grand goulash is neatly divided up into bite-sized portions easily digested by today’s tech-infused kids. It’s attention-grabbing and offers lots of active, hands-on fun.
Grandin’s aim is to tempt kids into careers fueled by curiosity, experimentation and satisfaction, whether in science and technology or the arts. I’d be thrilled if she just encouraged someone to invent a soap-filled, dishwashing sponge thingee that didn’t drip.