Earmuffs for Everyone! by Meghan McCarthy is a nonfiction picture book covering so much more than earmuffs. While examining “How Chester Greenwood Became Known as the Inventor of Earmuffs”, McCarthy teaches the process of invention, patents and the historical record.
Greenwood’s patent (no. 188,292) was for “Improvement in Ear-mufflers,” not their invention, yet Maine celebrates Chester Greenwood Day on December 21 each year and the original inventor’s name has been lost. McCarthy highlights Edison’s longer-lasting lightbulb as another example of an improvement that led to Edison surpassing earlier lightbulb inventors in the fame department (she steers clear of Tesla vs. Edison).
The business side of invention is not often explored in children’s books which tend to stress the critical roles of creativity, curiosity and perseverance. McCarthy clearly explains patents and their importance for inventors’ business success which, in turn, is often critical to widespread adoption. The endnotes also provide examples of when a patent is not the smart business choice. This discussion could be expanded to include the open source movement, the foundation for many successful innovative businesses today.
With delightful illustrations and clear writing, McCarthy conveys a tremendous amount of information. While Earmuffs for Everyone is unlikely to be self-selected by many children, in the hands of science, business and history teachers, it will find its way to an engaged audience. Youth entrepreneurship programs like the Jacobsen Institute at the University of Iowa will also benefit.
The “terrible, wicked yarns” told in the campaign to create Chester Greenwood Day live on while the actual earmuff inventor has been forgotten. A lesson for youth inventors: All inventions have interesting beginnings. Getting the story out is essential to their long-term success!