Just Like Rube Goldberg: The Incredible True Story of the Man Behind the Machines by Sarah Aronson, illustrated by Robert Neubecker

  Just Like Rube Goldberg: The Incredible True Story of the Man Behind the Machines by Sarah Aronson, illustrated by Robert Neubecker, Simon & Schuster, 9781481476683, 2019

Format: Hardcover picture book

Rating: 1-5 (5 is an excellent or a Starred review) 4

What did you like about the book?  I always loved Rube Goldberg’s cartoons as a kid and was excited to learn more about his life and work, of which I knew absolutely nothing. Handsome endpapers show 8 original Goldberg machines, such as the Umbrella Alarm and the Simple Mosquito Exterminator (which is anything BUT simple, of course.) We learn how young Reuben dreamed of being a cartoonist, but went instead to engineering school to please his immigrant parents. A very clever illustration shows Goldberg as a young, dejected professional trudging through a maze of San Francisco sewers. As the text snakes through the pipes, young readers will begin to see where the cartoonist got his inspiration. He eventually decides he must follow his dreams and heads to New York where his talent and grit end up making him a successful artist. I liked Neubecker’s simplified and enlarged versions of Professor Butts’ crazy contraptions, which would be easy for children to puzzle out and unravel.

Anything you didn’t like about it? I wondered why Goldberg’s cartoon inventions were so popular and would have liked to see the author put forth a theory. As always, picture books about writers, artists or thinkers lack the visual drama of books on athletes or adventurers and so this book is short on action. I appreciated the effort put in to the back matter but it left me with questions. Aronson writes that Goldberg received so many death threats during WWII that he had to change his name to George — what had he done to cause this vitriol? Although I loved the end papers and the chance to see his actual cartoons, I’m not sure how I would tape a book jacket down without covering the drawings.

To whom would you recommend this book?  A nice addition to any biography project or invention unit in grades 3-5. I’m not sure it’s suited to read aloud, but good for reports or general interest. Readers who like Meghan Mccarthy’s books on earmuffs, bubble gum, Betty Skelton or Seabiscuit might enjoy it.

Who should buy this book? Elementary and public libraries

Where would you shelve it? Biography section

Should we (librarians/readers) put this on the top of our “to read” piles? No

Reviewer: Susan Harari, Keefe Library, Boston Latin School, Boston, MA


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