Ruby Goldberg's Bright Idea

Book review by
Barbara Schultz, Common Sense Media
Ruby Goldberg's Bright Idea Book Poster Image
Warm story of science-lover learning to be a good friend.

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A lot or a little?

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

Educational Value

Ruby Goldberg's Bright Idea is full of facts about science, nature, inventors, and inventions. Readers will learn about the powers of gravity, momentum, electricity, and friction and the procedure kids use to create an elementary school-level science fair project.

Positive Messages

Ruby learns that although science and achievement are important, kindness and friendship are more meaningful. Science is no substitute for love.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Ruby has helpful, encouraging parents; her devoted grandfather shares his time and wisdom with Ruby and her friends. Her middle school-age sister, Sarah, offers the voice of slightly more experience, which helps Ruby get her priorities straight and renew her friendships.

Violence & Scariness

Ruby accidentally sticks herself with the end of a coat hanger and gives herself a small cut that bleeds.


What parents need to know

Parents need to know that famed cartoonist-inventor Reuben "Rube" Goldberg is both namesake and inspiration to the title character in Anna Humphrey's Ruby Goldberg's Bright Idea. Science-obsessed and somewhat self-involved, the fifth grader sets her heart on winning first prize at the science fair -- and helping her grandpa -- with a Rube Goldberg-type machine. The book presents plenty of scientific facts and ideas, as well as warm friendships and loving families. Parents of young children should note, however, that a beloved pet dies, causing sadness and concern for its owner.

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What's the story?

True to her namesake, cartoonist-inventor Reuben Goldberg, the narrator of RUBY GOLDBERG'S BRIGHT IDEA decides to build a Rube Goldberg machine -- a complex system of actions and reactions that accomplish a simple task -- for her school science fair project. She suspects her most serious rival, a boy named Dominic, is only friendly to her because he's out to steal her ideas. As Ruby struggles to come up with a great concept, a family member's personal loss brings unexpected inspiration. But, as she focuses on the project, she begins to neglect her friendships. Her sister, Sarah, and Dominic help her become a better friend and gain a new perspective on what she's learned.

Is it any good?

A heartwarming story with little character development or depth, Ruby Goldberg's Bright Idea offers great values and lots of good fun with science. Ruby and her grandfather have some tender moments, and there's a sweet encounter with a grumpy neighbor. Kids who enjoy scientific experiments and engineering-type projects will have fun following Ruby's process of invention, trial-and-error, and success as she builds her Rube Goldberg machine. Vanessa Brantley Newton's cheerful black-and-white illustrations help readers visualize the characters and inventions.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about science fairs. What kind of experiment or project might you make for a science fair?

  • What other books have you read about kids who love science? Do they make science more appealing to you?

  • Try building your own Rube Goldberg machine. What task do you want it to perform?

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