Though Funny Machines for George the Sheep by Geraldine Elschner and Remi Saillard is a book to introduce elementary students to the genius and inventions of Leonardo da Vinci, it is one with potential for more than just that.
First, meet George. He’s a sheep. He’s a sheep with a problem. His problem is shrinking to the size of a mouse every time he gets wet when it rains. When the sun comes out – phfff! – he’s big again. Leo, the shepherd, resolves to find a solution to help George with his problem.
After stocking up on the various implements he needs to begin designing his new invention, we see Leo’s struggle to come up with a device that will help George. Eventually he settles on an umbrella shaped like a tall pyramid. Great design but there’s a flaw.
The first big gust of wind to come along whisks poor, old George off into the wild blue yonder. Seemingly unperturbed, George enjoys his aeriel view of the countryside and better still, the image of a pretty female sheep composed of fluffy clouds.
And, Leo? He’s back at the drawing board looking for a way to find his lost, high-flying sheep.
The devices or machines that Leo devises are all based on Leonardo da Vinci’s designs which we can learn more about from the back of the book. Included are the self-propelled car, the army tank, the ornithopter, the paddleboat and the pyramidal parachute. Additional information is included about da Vinci, his genius and his inventions.
The book itself is OK. It’s been translated from French which I think accounts for some of the clunkiness. The ending is pretty abrupt with no resolution other than Leo happily dreaming up some invention to help him find George with oddly, no sense of urgency. I guess George will be found all in good time. I like the cartoony illustrations which have a European flavor and depict a landscape that remind me of paintings of northern Europe – Holland or northern France, maybe.
What I really like about this book is it's potential in a STEM classroom as a way to introduce the concept of design thinking, innovation, problem solving, and perseverance.
In design thinking there are five stages of development starting with fully understanding the problem (empathy). Leo is in a position to learn all about George’s problem and why it needs to be fixed. The second stage is defining the problem more fully leading to step three where the designer begins coming up with ideas, all sorts of ideas with no limitations (the crazier the better) that might begin to address the problem. These two stages are represented in the book as Leo begins working out and drawing up plans for different machines. The last stages are more concrete, as a prototype is constructed and then further refined as the designer gets feedback on the suitability of the final product.
Does Leo construct a device for George that works at keeping him dry? We never do find out as George remains missing in action and the book ends. But this provides an opportunity to have your students take up the challenge and come up with their own solutions to prevent George from shrinking every time it rains.
If you’re interested in learning more about design thinking visit the Doucette Library’s library subject guide. Also, visit the blog Doucette Ed Tech written by my colleague, Paula Hollohan. I’ve linked to the tag for design thinking.