Children’s

Just Like Rube Gold­berg: The Incred­i­ble True Sto­ry of the Man Behind the Machines

Sarah Aron­son; Robert Neubeck­er, illus.

  • Review
By – December 17, 2018

Artist and inven­tor Rube Gold­berg had a zany, wild­ly inven­tive mind. This pic­ture book biog­ra­phy about his life per­fect­ly reflects his sen­si­bil­i­ty and is good, old-fash­ioned fun to read.

Gold­berg, the son of Ger­man Jew­ish immi­grants, grew up in late nine­teenth-cen­tu­ry New York City. From child­hood, he expressed his cre­ativ­i­ty by draw­ing car­toons. He hoped to become a news­pa­per car­toon­ist, but his con­cerned par­ents had a more prac­ti­cal career in mind for their son — so he stud­ied engi­neer­ing and took a job at the City of San Fran­cis­co Water and Sew­ers Department.

Engi­neer­ing didn’t sat­is­fy Gold­berg for long, though, and he returned to car­toon­ing as soon as he could. His unusu­al per­spec­tive and the quirky, com­i­cal art it inspired helped him make a name for him­self. His great­est suc­cess­es were his depic­tions of bril­liant­ly wacky machines designed to accom­plish sim­ple tasks using dozens of extra steps. Each cre­ation was high­ly com­plex but com­plete­ly log­i­cal — a unique take on the inven­tive process. Even­tu­al­ly Gold­berg became a suc­cess­ful news­pa­per car­toon­ist and colum­nist; he won a Pulitzer Prize and saw his name become an adjec­tive in the dictionary.

The Gold­berg con­trap­tions, as Sarah Aron­son points out, chal­lenged the world’s most com­pli­cat­ed machine of all — the human brain. The les­son for the read­er is clear: Chil­dren can apply their own cre­ative brains to invent unthought-of-won­ders, and enrich the world.

This book is the per­fect meld­ing of text and illus­tra­tion, both of which are used to humor­ous effect, while reflect­ing the same pre­ci­sion and log­ic as a Gold­berg cre­ation and com­mu­ni­cat­ing the impor­tance of cre­ativ­i­ty. Robert Neubecker’s illus­tra­tions, like Goldberg’s own (which appear on the end­pa­pers), are filled with amus­ing touch­es large and small. And, despite the zany approach, they are com­plete­ly coher­ent and easy to under­stand. An after­word tells curi­ous chil­dren more about Goldberg’s life, and there is a list of sources for fur­ther research about this col­or­ful char­ac­ter and his era.

This unusu­al book is high­ly rec­om­mend­ed for ages 3 to 8.

Michal Hoschan­der Malen is the edi­tor of Jew­ish Book Council’s young adult and children’s book reviews. She has lec­tured on a vari­ety of top­ics relat­ing to chil­dren and books and her great­est joy is read­ing to her grand­chil­dren on both sides of the ocean. Michal lives in Great Neck, NY and Efrat, Israel.

Discussion Questions