Grab your Free Guide - 3 sTEps to stem success

STEM Projects Inspired by a Picture Book

Do picture books work with STEM? One day I read a roomful of second graders this delightful book – What Do You Do with a Tail Like This? Then we talked about what we could build in STEM!

This was magic with the youngest engineers. They loved having books read to them and I often let the class decide what we could build. I have 5 books and corresponding projects to share with you!

Picture books and STEM Challenges work perfectly with your youngest engineers. Book recommendations and STEM ideas are in the blog post!

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An Overview

For these small engineers, I choose books I know will be attention-getting. TIP: If you can project the book’s pages on your whiteboard so all students can see the pages!

Here are the books and projects we have tried!

  • Big Smelly Bear – We built Bear Cages
  • Rosie Revere Engineer – We built Zookeeper Hats
  • The Most Magnificent Thing – We built Robot Dogs.
  • What Do You Do with a Tail Like This? – We built animal models.
  • How I Became a Pirate – We built Treasure Boxes.

Big Smelly Bear by Britta Teckentrup

Big Smelly Bear - It’s never bath time for Big Smelly Bear: he doesn’t brush, he doesn’t wash, and he’s simply unBEARable. No one can stand to come close!
Picture books and STEM Challenges work perfectly with your youngest engineers. Book recommendations and STEM ideas are in the blog post!

THE BOOK: This precious book is about a bear that doesn’t bathe and another bear finally convinces him to do so. He does and they become great friends.

The first graders LOVED this book!

STEM Challenge: The challenge was to build a cage for the bear. The kids had counting bears, craft sticks, construction paper, pipe cleaners, tape, and scissors.

Rosie Revere, Engineer  by Andrea Beaty

Rosie Revere Engineer - Rosie dreams of becoming a great engineer, and her room becomes a secret workshop where she constructs ingenious inventions from odds and ends. From hot dog dispensers to helium pants and python-repelling cheese hats, Rosie's creations would astound anyone—if only she'd let them see.
STEM Challenge- for first and second grade- Build a hat for a zookeeper that will help the keeper does his or her job. Read "Zookeepers Hat" first.

THE BOOK: This is the story of Rosie, a young lady that takes absolute junk and makes things. She loves to use canned puffy cheese in her inventions. Everyone laughs at her work- even her uncle, who just happens to be a zookeeper. The rest of the book ties her story all neatly together, but we went back to the zookeeper part. Rosie designed a hat for her uncle that suited his job. So……

STEM CHALLENGE: The story for these second graders was this: You work for a zoo and you make hats for each zookeeper. The hat must be functional and not just a pretty thing on their heads. Design a hat that has a purpose for a particular zookeeper. For example, an elephant keeper might need a hat with a long water hose as a part of it in order to wash down the elephants.

The students had newspaper pieces, construction paper, tape, cardboard tubes, a piece of foil, and round pieces of cardboard. I did not cut a hole in the round cardboard, but you could. (The round cardboard came from the cake decorating part of Hobby Lobby but is not essential. A square piece of cardboard will work fine.)   In the photo above the team made a hat for the monkey keeper. It comes with banana trees so the keeper can feed the monkeys!

The Most Magnificent Thing by Ashley Spires

The Most Magnificent Thing - Ashley Spires has created a charming picture book about an unnamed girl and her very best friend, who happens to be a dog. The girl has a wonderful idea. “She is going to make the most MAGNIFICENT thing! She knows just how it will look. She knows just how it will work. All she has to do is make it, and she makes things all the time. Easy-peasy!
STEM Challenge- for first and second grade- Build a robot dog- Read "The Most Magnificent Thing" first.

THE BOOK: In this fabulous little book, you meet a little girl who gathers a huge amount of junk and begins to make things. Yet she is never satisfied with the things that she makes. She is unhappy and begins looking at all her things and decides to make something magnificent.

I let the first graders suggest what we could build and they unanimously said: ROBOT DOGS!

STEM CHALLENGE: The materials they had were small cups, craft sticks, straws, construction paper, foil, and tape. And they set to work building dog models!   Aren’t their little dogs just the best! So cute. So easy!

What Do You Do with a Tail Like This?  by Steve Jenkins and Robin Page

What Do You Do with a Tail Like This - A nose for digging? Ears for seeing? Eyes that squirt blood? Turn the page to find out which marvelous animal these attributes belong to.

With six full spreads illustrated in cut-paper collage and an end glossary with even more fantastic facts, readers will learn about species of birds, amphibians, reptiles, fish, mammals, and arthropods.
STEM Challenge- for first and second grade- Build ana animal showing its adaptation- Read "What Do you Do with a Tail Like This?" first.

THE BOOK: This book was so fun for the first graders and my upper elementary students as well! The first page shows several animal noses and then the next page reveals which animals were pictured and what they can do with their noses. The next page does the same for ears and subsequent pages tell about tails, eyes, mouths, and feet. All of the students loved trying to guess the animals, plus we learned a lot!

 STEM CHALLENGE: The materials for this challenge were: construction paper, straws, and tape! That’s all! In the photo, you have a Turtle whose special long toe nails help him climb up muddy banks of rivers.

How I Became a Pirate by Melinda Long and David Shannon

How I Became a Pirate - When Braid Beard’s pirate crew invites Jeremy Jacob to join their voyage, he jumps right on board. Buried treasure, sea chanteys, pirate curses—who wouldn’t go along?

Soon Jeremy Jacob knows all about being a pirate.
STEM Challenge- for first and second grade- Build a treasure box for treasure like a pirate- Read "How I Became a Pirate" first.

THE BOOK: This is the story of Jeremy who is at the beach with his family. The family is not paying attention and they don’t see the pirate ship approaching and pirates rowing to shore. Jeremy decides to join the pirates and is soon learning some pirate vocabulary, like “Down the hatch!” After a storm, the pirates decide to get Jeremy to bury their treasure box for them and he does— in his own backyard! These second graders loved the book and set about making a small treasure box!

STEM CHALLENGE: The materials for this one included: beads and buttons (the treasure), construction paper, and tape. If you don’t have beads you can use any small item you do have! These second graders built their treasure boxes and then when we had our sharing time they dumped the treasure into the boxes to show us the box would work. The only rule to this task was: The box had to hold the treasure- no leaking!  

See how easy this was!  

Read your little ones a picture book. Tell them what they will build using an idea from the book. Give them some simple materials that you already have.  STEM and Reading together- it’s magic!


Picture books and STEM Challenges work perfectly with your youngest engineers. Book recommendations and STEM ideas are in the blog post!

Best Books for Older Students


  1. I love the ideas you shared for What Do You Do with a Tail Like This?! I can only imagine how much fun that was for your students!

  2. Oh, I absolutely love the bear cage challenge!
    I'm so glad I have found your blog and Pinterest page. Your ideas are amazing!
    Thank you for sharing your creativity!

    Ilinca from GrumpyDumpling

  3. Thanks so much for visiting! First and second graders are pretty easy! They love anything we read and they love building!

  4. You are so sweet! I love your ideas! Isn't it amazing how creative littles are! We make places for our animals to hibernate after reading Time to Sleep this week! Science concept, engineering, and a good book! That is the way to go!

    Renee from Science School Yard

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