Have you ever wandered through an antique shop, intrigued by the strange machinery and wondering what it all did? Do you know a young person fascinated by gadgets? Or do you teach about inventions and inventing? If so, Jim Murphy’s books Weird and Wacky Inventions and Bizarre and Baffling Inventions, are for you. Set up in the form of a guessing game, the books showcase real applications from the U. S. Patent and Trademark Office. Inventions range from a haircutting machine intended to suck hair up into tiny holes where electrical coils would burn it off (ouch!) to the swimming tutor machine seen on the cover of Weird and Wonderful Inventions.
I love wacky inventions, both as examples of problem finding the rest of us never envisioned, and reminders that creative ideas aren’t always successful. Without a few wacky ideas, important ideas will never come to fruition. Consider spending some time in the world of inventions, either current and wacky or from days gone by. I enjoy comparing catalogs past and present, comparing the problems inventions try to solve. Compare old holiday catalogs or vintage catalog reproductions to current sources of gadgets. If your house is anything like mine, you are flooded with possibilities in the fall mail! I love comparing my reproduction of the 1895 Montgomery Wards catalog to catalogs today, and imagining what someone 100 years from now will thing of our current favorites.
You might challenge the young people around you to find something around the house that needs a new (and possible wacky) solution, or to imagine what future students may see as wacky when they look at today’s catalogs. What knows what may emerge?
PS Jim Murphy is also well known for his award-winning nonfiction on historical topics irresistible to young people, including plagues, fires, and giant humbugs. His website, subtitled “Making History Come Alive,” includes answers to questions from young readers. He didn’t like reading until he discovered history as a real-life source of action and adventure. Perhaps some of your students will find the same in his books.