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The Picture Book Buzz

Franz's Phantasmagorical Machine - Perfect Picture Book Friday #PPBF

I remember this beautiful book as young, strapping manuscript. Even then, Beth had found the spark and imagination, and most of all the whisper of the heart of this biography. Using a dose of creativity, a pound of persistence, and wallop of faith, Beth followed in Franz' footprints and created an amazing tribute to his whimsical, quirky, and fun creation.

Franz's Phantasmagorical Machine

Author: Beth Anderson

Illustrator: Caroline Hamel

Publisher: Kids Can Press (2022)

Ages: 5-8



Invention, creativity, exploration, tinkering, and perserverance.


For every child who longs to make the most amazing thing, here's a delightful picture book biography of a determined self-taught inventor who never stops following the call to imagine, discover, create.

From the time he is a small boy, Franz is curious about machines and how they work. He wants to try to build his own. Even though he's needed to work on the family farm, and later marries and has a family of his own, Franz never gives up on his dream. He learns and tries and tests his ideas all on his own. And though many people don't understand or appreciate Franz's work, when his fantastic, complex creation is completed at long last, he finally finds an audience that recognizes his genius.

Beth Anderson's uplifting picture book biography offers an engaging look at the inspiring life of Franz Gsellmann, an inventor from rural Austria who, with no formal artistic or engineering training, built an elaborate, intricate machine called the Weltmaschine (World Machine). The well-told story extols the joy of curiosity and inventing for inventing's sake, and explores the concept of mechanical-kinetic sculptures, in which art and science intersect. Whimsical illustrations by Caroline Hamel help bring the subject to life. Supporting backmatter includes an author's note, resources, a biography of Franz, an explanation of the machine, a search-and-find activity and questions to get children thinking about their own ideas that could lead to fun classroom activities. This book has strong STEAM curriculum links, particularly in technology and structures, and valuable character education lessons in courage, perseverance and resilience.

Opening Lines:

Franz’s eyes twinkled with wonder as the little bird popped out

of the cuckoo clock.

He put his ear close to the chirping bird. What makes the sound?

He peered at the gears. What makes them move?

He peeked behind the small door. What’s going on in there?

A tiny whisper called him to imagine, discover,

create. But his mother had no time for Franz’s

playing. “Go help your father in the barn.”

What I LOVED about this book:

Using bright, and slightly unusual colors - such a Franz's blue hair and the pink and blue cats - as well as the fun representations of the questions and whispers of creativity which followed Franz day and night, Caroline Hamel immediately and perfectly sets the reader into the fantastical whimsy and creativity buzzing about in Franz's life. While also representing the everyday normality of the working on a farm.

Text © Beth Anderson, 2022. Image © Caroline Hamel, 2022.

What began as a childhood curiosity about how a cuckoo-cuckoo clock functioned grew in Franz's subconscious until it refused to remain contained. Yet try as he might, each night, the whispers and dreams refused to congeal into a plan. Until he saw an ad for a "structure at the world’s fair in Belgium" and realized that "ordinary shapes and lights could become something extraordinary."

Text © Beth Anderson, 2022. Image © Caroline Hamel, 2022.

I love, how in addition to the whimsical color of the sky and the trees, Franz's dreams and creative ideas now take over a significant portion of the illustrations and the "whispers rose to a shout." When he returned home, Franz locked himself away and gave free reign to his imagination, creativity, and uncontrollable drive to build. Here, Beth creates such a wonderful onomatopoeia refrain - "Rattle Clatter Clang!" - as family and neighbors tried to peek and guess what he was doing. He ignored them. He played, learned, imagined, created, and made many mistakes. Franz wasn't sure what he was building, but he knew it would be amazing.

The whimsical element of his creation is brilliantly enhanced and played with throughout the book as Beth alludes to pieces and parts which he acquires from junkyards and markets. And Caroline shows backpacks, carts, and piles of wonderfully eclectic, unusual, and diverse items. And the illustrations offer what feel like random, seemingly unconnected spot illustrations of parts of the Franz's machine. As if the reader is peeking through knotholes in the walls.

Text © Beth Anderson, 2022. Image © Caroline Hamel, 2022.

But despite failures, setbacks, jeers, and misunderstandings, Franz persists in playing with his imagination and creativity for twenty-three years. And finally, after a false start and crushing doubts, Franz discovered that the purpose of his machine was to . . . [spoilers!] I hope you read the book and learn the purpose of this phantasmagorical machine and discover who figured it out. Back matter includes wonderful notes on Franz, his machine, and some thought provoking questions. As well as a search-and-find full spread look at the "World Machine" and a link to see it actually working.

Overall, this is a wonderful and whimsical celebration of creativity, determination, and listening to one's heart. All the more amazing because it is real and still working. A great book for inspiring kids and adults to tinker, imagine, and see what they can create.


- build your own tinker space and add all sorts of recycled, stray, unusual, and whimsical items. Find old things to take apart and see how they work. Now, play with combining things. What can you create?

- using a sketch book, notebook, or stapled pieces of paper record your ideas, creations, successes, and failures. How many attempts did it take for your idea to work? Could you do it another way?

- Try making a couple of invention ideas, simple machines, or your own machine idea.

If you missed the interview of Beth Anderson on Monday, find it (here).

This post is part of a series by authors and KidLit bloggers called Perfect Picture Book Fridays. For more picture book suggestions see Susanna Leonard Hill's Perfect Picture Books.


Maria Marshall

 Photograph © A. Marshall

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