Friday, November 23, 2012

Book #328: Lights Out by Arthur Geisert

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The piglet in this book is scared to go to sleep when the lights are off, but his parents tell him his bedroom light has to be off by 8pm. His parents say, “If you can figure something out—go ahead.” And so the piglet does. He creates a Rube Goldberg inspired machine that begins in his bedroom, goes up to the attic and onto the roof, hurdles into the backyard, rolls into the basement, and finally back up to the attic where a cord is pulled, which turns off the light on the bed stand next to the sleeping pig.

The book is almost completely wordless, with just a few sentences to provide context on the first page. The rest of the book is devoted to the workings of the piglet’s ingenious machine that uses household objects – scissors, dominoes, a baseball bat, a tricycle, a broom – to achieve the seemingly simple task of turning off the lights. The etched illustrations are detailed and make great use of light and shadow. Geisert uses wide shots and close ups to illustrate how the pieces and parts of the machine interact with one another. The last two page spread shows a cross section of the house and yard and small circular numbered thumbnails of each moving part of the machine.

Pair this book with So You Want to Be an Inventor? for a storytime about inventing. You could also read one of Geisert’s other books that feature mechanical inventions, such as Hogwash, Oops, or The Giant Ball of String. When you read this book out loud have the audience help you describe the movements of the machine. Ask them to guess what will happen (cause and effect) on the next page. 
Divide kids into groups of 3 or 4 and have them design and build their own Rube Goldberg-like machines. You can choose a task to accomplish, such as pouring a cup of water or turning off a light, or let kids come up with their own ideas. For elementary school aged students ask them to have at least 2 steps to their design. The older the kids/teens, the more steps and more elaborate the machine. Bring in a variety of building materials. Try items such as wood or metal slats for ramps, tubing, ball bearings or marbles, balls, cups, string, rope, springs, rubber bands, kitchen utensils, etc. Give each team a designated area to build their machine, such as a taped off part of the room, a table, or for younger kids, a shallow cardboard box, which keeps items from rolling away. Have each group write out a step-by-step description of their machine.

For more ideas, read about the machines invented by kid watchers of the PBS Kids show, Zoom, the Rube Goldberg lesson plan from Teach Engineering (6-8 grade) or the teaching guide (5-8 grade) from the PBS TV show, Scientific American Frontiers.

For more information on Geisert’s etching technique, read the 3rd and 4th paragraph of Patricia Newman’s article. You can also follow up with a reading of The Etcher’s Studio, also by Geisert, which shows the process of creating etchings through the story of a young boy helping his grandfather in his studio.


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