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Children's Nonfiction General

What's the Big Idea?

Inventions That Changed Life on Earth Forever

by (author) Helaine Becker

illustrated by Steve Attoe

Owlkids Books Inc.
Initial publish date
Oct 2009
General, Science & Technology
Recommended Age
8 to 12
Recommended Grade
3 to 6
  • Paperback / softback

    Publish Date
    Oct 2009
    List Price

Classroom Resources

Where to buy it

Out of print

This edition is not currently available in bookstores. Check your local library or search for used copies at Abebooks.


Beginning with inventions from long, long ago (the needle, the wheel, the water pump) moving to those from long ago (the printing press, steel, the telegraph) and ending with innovations from not so long ago (the car, the TV, mp3s), What’s the Big Idea? treats readers to an in-depth, but lighthearted look at 32 of our most important inventions. Each invention profile lists its highlights — who invented it, when, and where — and asks and answers the question “Why this invention and why now?” Author Helaine Becker pays close attention to what was going on in the world at the time of each invention — showing the timeliness of each invention and putting it in context for the reader. Fun tidbits of information are worked seamlessly and liberally into the bites of historical information to keep kids entertained and engaged. Five Big Thinkers are also profiled alongside their major inventions. Readers will learn about some of the oddities and follies of Archimedes, Leonardo da Vinci, Michael Faraday, Alexander Graham Bell, and Steve Jobs and Bill Gates. Plus, major inventions under a single theme, such as the schoolroom, the battlefield, and the doctor’s office are explored in two-page illustrations. Becker closes the book by asking readers “What’s next in the exciting world of innovation?” Inspired kids may very well reach for their thinking caps to find out.

About the authors


Helaine Becker
est l'auteure de nombreux livres jeunesse primés. Elle a écrit plus de 80
livres, dont Raconte-moi les graphiques : L'histoire de William Playfair et
l'album illustré à succès Un porc-épic dans un sapin. Helaine
habite à Toronto, en Ontario.


HELAINE BECKER is the author of numerous of books of fiction and non-fiction for children, among them the best-selling A Porcupine in a Pine Tree and its sequel, Dashing Through the Snow: A Canadian Jingle Bells, The Haunted House That Jack Built and Little Jack Horner, Live from the Corner. Her books have won the Silver Birch Award and the CBA Libris Award and have been shortlisted for the Red Cedar, the Hackmatack and the Rocky Mountain awards. Helaine lives in Toronto with her family. Visit her at

Helaine Becker's profile page

STEVE ATTOE’s illustrations appear regularly in OWL and chickaDEE magazines. He is also a well-known cartoonist - his collections were included in The 100 Best Comics of the Century. When not in his home studio creating funny characters and cartoons for children, he can be found speeding around his hometown of Calgary on his bicycle.

Steve Attoe's profile page


  • Commended, Ontario Library Association, Silver Birch Award
  • Commended, Canadian Toy Testing Council, Top 10 Great Books
  • Short-listed, Children's Literature Roundtables of Canada, Information Book Award
  • Commended, Canadian Children's Book Centre, Best Books for Kids and Teens Selection
  • Commended, Ontario Library Association, Top 10 Canadian Children's Books, Non-fiction Category, Best Bets List

Editorial Reviews

...[a] lively, colorful book...I can imagine pairs of students really enjoying reading and discussing this book together.

Canadian Teacher

The illustrations are humorous and informative and they keep the reader entertained while they learn…What’s the Big Idea? is a great resource for the classroom and at home - for the inquisitive child, teacher and parent!

Resource Links

Whether children are looking for specific information or browsing, they will find a miscellany of knowledge and fascinating facts presented in a chatty tone with readable dialogues, catchy sidebars and ‘groaner’ puns…a valuable addition for all libraries.

Canadian Children’s Book News

...the eye-popping cover, creative design, and engaging content should make it a popular choice for young would-be inventors.

Quill & Quire

Who knows — with inspiration from this book, students may be motivated to become the creators of the next big idea and line themselves up with the likes of Alexander Graham Bell, Thomas Edison or Steve Jobs.

Professionally Speaking

Written in a breezy style with lots of clever illustrations, sidebars, spinoff segments and mini-fact sections and mini-fact sections, this is a book which will repay the young reader a lot of browsing and probably send him or her off to check out some of the Internet references mentioned.

The Whitehorse Star

Librarian Reviews

What’s the Big Idea? Inventions that Changed Life on Earth Forever

Despite the extensive topic, Helaine Becker ingeniously covers the spectrum of 4,000 years of global inventions in fewer than one hundred pages. Acknowledging that all innovation grows from six basic needs, she presents the major inventions in four informal chronological sections. Detailed attention is given to such giants of creativity as Archimedes, Michael Faraday and Bill Gates and double-page spreads indicate the impact of well-known inventions on daily life in such areas as the kitchen, bathroom or doctor’s office. A “Spinoff ” sidebar reflects how further inventions were inspired by the original discovery.

Whether children are looking for specific information or browsing, they will find a miscellany of knowledge and fascinating facts presented in a chatty tone with readable dialogues, catchy sidebars and ‘groaner’ puns! From the wheel through to the computer, explanations are simple and humorous with the attractive layout making the information easy to assimilate. Brightly coloured cartoons, depicting the mechanics of the inventions, complement the light, amusing dialogue and tie the work together. The only significant omission is a bibliography that would have added value to this otherwise excellent introduction to a vast topic. What’s the Big Idea? is a valuable addition for all libraries.

Helaine Becker is a prolific, award-winning author of non-fiction for children and writes for several educational magazines. Steve Attoe, whose cartoons have been included in 100 Best Comics of the Century, is a regular contributor to OWL Magazine.

Source: The Canadian Children's Bookcentre. Spring 2010. Vol.33 No.2.

What’s the Big Idea? Inventions that Changed Life on Earth Forever

Our lives would be quite different if certain items hadn’t been invented. Find out how 32 monumental inventions fit into human beings’ desire to meet six basic needs. Learn how the need for innovation occurred. Discover how one invention led to another. Meet da Vinci, Faraday, Bell, Galileo and Edison who are five of history’s greatest inventors.

Source: The Canadian Children’s Book Centre. Best Books for Kids & Teens. 2010.

Other titles by Helaine Becker

Other titles by Steve Attoe