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Rube Goldberg's Simple Normal Humdrum School Day

Book review by
Mandie Caroll, Common Sense Media
Rube Goldberg's Simple Normal Humdrum School Day Book Poster Image
Funny, STEM-inspired story about reaction contraptions.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

STEM concepts are behind each "invention" in the book; some readers will be inspired to create their own reaction contraptions. Extended learning opportunities about Rube Goldberg, a cartoonist, author, and engineer, famous for his cartoons of complicated gadgets performing simple tasks, as seen in the book.

Positive Messages

Even though simple tasks don't require a complex machine to complete, it can be satisfying to tinker around and build funny gadgets. Doing science, technology, engineering, and math involve creativity and humor.

Positive Role Models & Representations

While Rube is wildly creative, and his machines reflect a lot of STEM knowledge, his contraptions are often messy, and involve him getting out of his responsibilities, like being on time for class or doing his homework. Rube isn't shown cleaning up, and there are no consequences to the negative impacts of his tinkering. Rube and most of the other characters appear white.

Violence & Scariness
Language

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Rube Goldberg's Simple Normal Humdrum School Day, by Jennifer George (granddaughter of the real Rube Goldberg) and illustrated by Ed Steckley, is a tribute to Goldberg's famous invention cartoons. Young Rube can't be bothered to take the simple route, when he can overcomplicate his daily routine with reaction contraptions of wild scale. Lots of STEM content about levers, pulleys, springs, etc. for creative minds. Positive messages emphasize the fun and satisfaction that results from inventing. Rube is smart and creative, but mischievous as well. For example, he uses his machines to get out of class early and he's not seen cleaning up the messes his contraptions create, so he's a mixed bag as a role model. Parents can expect that kids will enjoy following the diagram-like cartoon pictures while being read to. Don't be too surprised if youngsters want to make their own Goldberg machines after reading this book.

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What's the story?

In RUBE GOLDBERG'S SIMPLE NORMAL HUMDRUM SCHOOL DAY, young Rube has created an invention for each of 14 mundane daily tasks. Each key element of the contraption is represented in the text and illustration by a corresponding letter of the alphabet, so that readers can follow the progression of the task. In "An easy way to get dressed," for example, "Rube slides down RAILING (A) into pants and sneakers, landing on a BELLOWS (B), which blasts puff of air onto SLEEPING CAT (C)," who leaps off the scale it was asleep on, and so forth. There's a system to delay the school bus, one that helps Rube sneak into class late, one that protects him from baby-brother-thrown food at the dinner table, and so much more. When he finally goes to bed, a pull-out spread reveals the past and future inventions Rube is dreaming about. An end page has resources for classroom use.

Is it any good?

This funny book, with diagram-like text, cartoonish illustrations, and integrated STEM concepts, is likely to be popular with young readers who like to invent. Rube Goldberg's Simple Normal Humdrum School Day sure does manage to make the boring more interesting, with often hilarious results. See the toast sliding down a butter-soaked sling chair for Rube to catch on his way out the door or the goat whose head-bobbing while cashew-munching pokes holes in a sandbag that then sets a pulley system into motion as it lightens. Some readers may be baffled about why these inventions exist, but that's what makes them funny. The fact that there are no consequences for Rube's mess-making, sneaking into class late or not really doing his homework might prompt some discussion with young inventors about how they will be responsible for their creations. All in all, any book that could get kids to give STEM-based activities a shot is a good one to have on hand.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the machines in Rube Goldberg's Simple Normal Humdrum School Day. What do you think about how Rube gets things done? Are they funny? If so, why? Who should clean up all his messes?

  • How do the illustrations add to the experience of reading this book? Could this book work without pictures? Why or why not?

  • How are science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) ideas behind Rube's inventions? Can you identify where he might have needed to use math or science concepts to create a working machine?

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