In the Draper Spark!Lab at the National Museum of American History, we use books and stories to learn about inventors and their inventions and how they help people around the world. The stories tell us how the inventions came to be and what inspired the inventors. Storytelling has been around forever. Storytelling started with community members telling stories to children. Then stories were written down and illustrated. Today there are print books, audio books, and digital books. The way we tell stories evolved, and so have the materials and methods we use. There is no right way to tell a story—you can be creative and use your imagination in the story you tell and how you tell it. Maybe you can even think of a new way to tell stories!
Physical ways of recording stories have changed too. It started on stone and moved to paper. Now there are hardback, paperback, board books, cloth, e-books, and more. Some books were invented with a certain group of people in mind. For example, there are books made of fabric for babies.
What are some unique ways that you’ve heard or told stories? Can you think of a story that uses surprising materials? What materials do you have at home that you can use to tell your story?
Inventing Characters, Places, and Words
Stories often feature imaginary places and characters. They can be based on real places and people with some tweaks, or can be completely invented, just for your story. Some authors, such as Dr. Seuss, invent words to fit in their story. These words might be familiar to you—you’ve probably read them at school—but when his books were first published, these were brand new words that no one had ever used before. The “thneed,” from The Lorax is a great example of an invented word:
This thing is most useful! This thing is a 'thneed.' A thneed, a fine something-that-all-people-need! It’s a shirt. It’s a sock. It’s a glove! It’s a hat! But it has other uses, yes, far beyond that. You can use it for carpets, for pillows, for sheets, for curtains! Or covers for bicycle seats!
Dr. Seuss is not the only author that has invented words. Frindle by Andrew Clements is a story based around the invented word “frindle.” The 5th grade students in the story spend lots of time studying vocabulary and Nick decides to play with words:
From this day on and forever, I will never use the word PEN again. Instead, I will use the word FRINDLE, and I will do everything possible so others will, too.
While people today are familiar with Dr. Seuss and his made-up words, this was not always the case. When he started writing this was a new style. Dr. Seuss also used rhyme and rhythm in his stories.
Here is an example from Green Eggs and Ham:
I do not like them in a box.
I do not like them with a fox.
I do not like them in a house.
I do not like with a mouse.
I do not like them here or there.
I do not like them anywhere.
I do not like green eggs and ham.
I do not like them, Sam-I-am.
Other authors, such as Herve Tullet (Press Here), create stories that ask the reader to do something as they read. Other interactive books incorporate touch into the story—readers can feel different textures or bring characters to life using their fingers. Finally, some others, such as Robert Sabuda, tell stories using pop-up books. The 3-D illustrations jump off the page!
Artists bring their stories to life by creating pictures to help them tell the story. Some authors, such as David Wiesner (Tuesday) tell stories with no words at all. Readers follow the story through a sequence of pictures. The illustrations take the reader on the journey combining the pictures and their imaginations to complete the journey. The illustrations can be completed in many ways. Artists use paint, pencil, digital drawing, clay, and collage to tell the story.
As you work on your story, think about the best way to illustrate it. Will you use digital illustrations or paint them yourself? Will you create a collage or build puppets to tell your story? You can illustrate any way you want!
Try the invention process! Here are some materials you may want to use:
- Pencil or pen
- Computer or tablet
- Colored pencils
What story will you tell? How will you tell it?