For her picture book Mazie’s Amazing Machines (Penguin/Paulsen, out now), Haft slipped on her STEAM educator hat to invent a young engineer with creative problem-solving skills. We spoke with her about Mazie’s mission, and her own passion for encouraging kids to explore how things work.
How did this book come about?
I teach STEAM through my Let’s Engineer workshops and was looking for a book that would inspire kids to be imaginative, resourceful inventors, so I wrote Mazie’s Amazing Machines. Mazie McGear, a kid engineer, loves to help her family by building them zany, machine-based inventions. In Mazie, kids see a science-minded, can-do girl who encourages them to be inventive problem solvers too.
Knowing the book needed to be an engaging, fun readaloud, I gave it rhythm: “think blink ribble scribble bing bang boom”—and inventive names and words: the Waker-Upper Rocket Machine, the Pulley-Powered Save Our Dog Tower. “Engineering is engi-noying!” complains Mazie’s big brother Jake. In both its action and language, it was important to me that the book inspire creative out-of-the-box thinking.
I also wanted the story to celebrate how when a family needs each other, they can come together to collaborate and problem-solve. Mazie’s family not only learns to engineer a kinetic contraption to save their dog, Doodle, but to create their own version of a Hug-a-Love Machine too.
Can you tell us more about your Let’s Engineer program? Why did you want to establish it?
As kids, my brother and I were natural makers, building go-carts, forts, and contraptions in our garage and front yard. That freeform fun loaded us with confidence and self-reliance. When raising my own three daughters in New York City, I discovered few opportunities for hands-on building and experimentation. After working in product design for many years, one day I read about a new elementary school curriculum called Engineering Is Elementary, and I knew right then what I was meant to do next.
I established Let’s Engineer [originally Kids Engineer] in 2011 as an afterschool program at three all-girls schools in New York City. I now run my Let’s Engineer workshops at elementary schools and at the Jackson Hole Children’s Museum camp programs in Wyoming where I live most of the year. Kids love the excitement of working with tools, box fans, simple machines, circuits, and more to meet design challenges with creativity and imagination. I guess I’m still always channeling my childhood “maker-garage” into the classroom.
What do you hope kids and educators take away from this book? How do you see it being used in the classroom or at home?
Mazie models how problems can be opportunities to create solutions. From the start of the book, Mazie notices her family’s problems: Doodle, her dog, wants to eat early—too early. It’s hard for Mom to carry a load of heavy boxes. Dad can’t lift a tire up high. Big brother Jake can never wake up in the morning. Mazie leaps into action. Engineering to the rescue!
At the end of the book, Mazie asks readers, “What problems would you like to solve? What inventions can you imagine?” In my Let’s Engineer workshops, kids apply a Mazie mindset to their own lives. “My little brother always drops cereal all over the floor. I want to invent a cereal picker-upper machine!” says one girl. “Me and my brother are always bored. I want to invent a cool lever launcher game!” says a boy.
Educators can follow a reading of Mazie’s Amazing Machines with any one of my STEAM and SEL lessons, many of which align with Common Core and Next Generation Science standards. All activities are free to download on my website. There’s a Teeter-Lever Game Lesson Plan, Zipline Design Challenge, Pulley-Powered Lightbulb Hat Activity, and more. These add enriching, creative activities to the classroom, and they could easily be used at home, in bookstores, and even for birthday parties too.
Is there anything else about the book you’d like to share?
There are lots of exciting bonuses that come with Mazie’s Amazing Machines. There’s a surprise pop-up, a glossary of the six simple machines, plus, on the back of the book, there’s a QR code that when scanned with a smartphone lets readers meet Mazie in augmented-reality 3D.
And to supplement the book, there’s a fun song, “I’m an Engineer” by Rebecca Schoffer, as well as STEAM and SEL lessons, all of which are free to download via my website, sherylhaft.com.
What are you working on next? Will we see Mazie in any future books?
My Let’s Engineer workshops incorporate a breadth of engineering: mechanical, wind and solar power, simple circuits, and more, so I am already working on other fun Mazie stories that will introduce young children to the many aspects of engineering and inventing.
In what I hope will be my next book or books, we will get to meet Mazie’s diverse group of friends, who will help others in their neighborhood with can-do problem-solving and invention building that will incorporate repurposing and recycling.