Teen Librarian Toolbox
Inside Teen Librarian Toolbox

Nonfiction Roundup: MakerSpace Edition

Today I’m sharing with you some of the new nonfiction that I’m loving for Teen MakerSpace and making ideas. As you know, I believe making is a combination of traditional arts and crafts or technology, it doesn’t have to be one or the other. There are lots of great titles out there. And when it comes to making with teens, I have been known to find inspiration in books that are geared and marketed for younger kids even, because you can find inspiration anywhere and just adapt the activities accordingly. So here are some fun titles that I am exploring as we speak. Have fun making!

MakerSpace: Taking Bristlebots on the Road or, How I keep re-defining and re-purposing a simple Bristlebot activity to get teens making


The best part about working with teens, but also sometimes the hardest, is that every few years you get a whole new crop of teens to work with. This means that you can repeat programs, expanding on what you learned the first time(s) you did a program. With a new set of a teens an older program can be new again! So I recently repeated a Bristlebot program incorporating what I’ve learned along the way and it was an awesome experience for all.






Many of your tweens and teens will be very familiar with Hexbug Nano. These are small bugs that you can buy in the toy department of most stores and they are an example of a simple robot that works using a vibrating motor. This is essentially what you are making. Hexbug Nano also sells a variety of “battle ground” kits, for a large sum of money, but you can get kits to make their own using Legos, old scraps of cardboard, or whatever else you have on hand. They can race their bristlebots, set up a thematic environment, or build a maze and see if their bristlebot can make it all the way through.


To Make Your Bristlebot

  1. Use the large wire cutters to cut the head off of a toothbrush
  2. Use the scissors to cut a foam adhesive square down to size
  3. You will use a foam adhesive square to attach a battery to the toothbrush head. You will use a second foam adhesive square to attach the vibrating motor to the battery. So you’ve just made a toothbrush-battery-vibrating motor sandwich. Use the small wire strippers to strip the ends of both lead lines on the vibrating motor so that you have enough exposed wire to conduct a current. You will make sure that one wire is firmly attached to the battery and the other is firmly attached to the vibrating motor. Tuck it under the foam squares to hold it in place. Note, there is no on/off switch for this simple vibrating robot, when the wires are attached correctly it just starts moving and a shaking.

They have really good instructions with pictures at Instructables

Talking Points


If you purchase the battery pack that I referred to in the supplies, you will see that it comes with batteries in a variety of sizes. This is a unique twist because the size of your battery matters; it creates the energy you need to move your bristlebot and the size of the battery impacts whether or not a toothbrush will move. Think about a car. Smaller cars have smaller engines and bigger cars need bigger engines to get them moving. This is true when making something with a simple battery and vibrating motor as well. The size of your battery and motor will impact what size you can create your small robot. Part of making and inventing involves trial and error; challenging teens to use other objects to make different types of robots using the same mechanism challenges them to consider how much energy is needed to make an object move depending on its size and weight.


After your participants make a bristlebot, have them try again using Legos. You can use the same vibrating motor mechanism to make small Lego cars and have them move. But the size of your car will definitely matter. Almost every teen will start by building a car that is way too big to be moved by the motor. The challenge then becomes, how do you build a small enough car that your “engine” can get it to move?

What else can you make move using a small vibrating motor? Many of the teens suggested you could buy packs of plastic cockroaches and make them move for the most ultimate prank.


Another interesting thing the teens learned and taught me is that the size and shape of the toothbrush matters. One teen discovered that if she left more of the handle on the toothbrush, it changed the dynamics of the toothbrush. If it was too short, the bristlebot was more likely to spin. Whereas if you left more of the handle on, it was more likely to move in a forwards or backwards direction. Trial and error conducted by a curious teen helped us to gain valuable insight. If you give teen participants the time and space to explore, independent learning happens and it’s literally like magic.

Bristlebot Kits as Outreach Tools


At a conference I attended, a vendor of maker toys was distributing small plastic resealable bags that contained the 4 components you need to make a bristlebot with a small business card that had instructions on one side and vendor information on the other. This is a genius outreach idea that libraries can take and hand out at school visits or other outreach events. Or, put a card in each kit that says “Bring this kit into the Teen Makerspace and our staff will help you turn it into a robot!” Each bristlebot kit would cost roughly $1.50 to $2.00 and you could make your own business cards pretty easily in house using cardstock, Publisher, and a printer. You could also pre-make kits to hand out at a program if you don’t want to give people wire strippers and cutters.

Will a small vibrating motor make a roach move? Teens suggest the ultimate prank!

Will a small vibrating motor make a roach move? Teens suggest the ultimate prank!

I have a small, easy carry to box with all the bristlebot supplies I need (minus the Legos) for a quick and easy program that I can take anywhere and with a moments notice. Stripped down to nothing but the bristlebot, it’s still an enjoyable program with a wide range of possibilities.

This is the third time I have done a bristlebots program and it’s quick, easy and yet a source of limitless fun and learning. I have yet to do this program and not have teens get really invested in seeing what they can create and how they can (or can’t) make it move.

MakerSpace Madness: Mod-A-Tee @ Your Library – Fun with T-Shirts

Makerspace Madness

Like most teen services/ya librarians, I’m heavy in the midst of planning my teen summer reading programming. This will be the second year of planning that incorporates our Teen MakerSpace at The Public Library of Mount Vernon and Knox County (OH) and we know based on our experience from last year that our current model works pretty well.

This year, we are going to do some thematic making in our Teen MakerSpace involving t-shirts. I was going to call it T-Shirt Tuesdays because I like alliteration, but the reality is that we have the most staff on Mondays, so now we are calling it Mod-A-Tee Mondays, as in modify a t-shirt. I will probably get bonus points if I mention that our Assistant Director came up with the name after I discussed my staffing concerns.

We chose t-shirts because we know that we work in a lower-income area where food and clothing can be a challenge for our teens so we wanted to teach our teens how they could easily make and modify t-shirts to engage in creative, self-expression at low or no cost to them. Later this year we will be doing a series of Make it in the Kitchen programs to address some of the food issues (more on that in a later series of posts). Blank t-shirts can be purchased pretty cheaply and used t-shirts can be purchased for next to nothing at a thrift store; both can be modified in a variety of ways to make not only new clothing, but things like pillows, book bags, and accessories.


Because our Teen Summer Reading Challenge lasts for 6 weeks, we scoured, researched and tested a variety of ways to modify t-shirts and came up with the 6 that worked the best for us in our space and within our budget. Over the next couple of weeks I’ll be sharing those ways with you, telling you what worked, what didn’t, and what I learned. As always, I did a lot of testing at home as well. In fact, the idea for doing t-shirts came as we began making t-shirts and tote bags in my home with the teens that come in and out of our house. After seeing how much they loved both the process and the results, I knew this would be a successful activity for our Teen MakerSpace.


Week 1: Sharpie Tye-Dye

My assistant director also has really been a proponent of trying to do tye dye with our teens for quite a while. Being the mom to teens who has done tie dye several times at home, I am not a big fan of doing traditional tye-dye in the library (yes, not even outside) because of the amount of color and wet that it involves. But I have successfully done Sharpie tye-dye several times so we will be doing that. I will admit that it doesn’t have the long lasting staying power of traditional tye-dye, but teens enjoy it and I feel that it is a good, library friendly approach. You can find information on how to do Sharpie tie-dye here: TYE-DYE Made With Sharpies – Instructables.

For my example t-shirt, I used a template and Sharpies to make a small tye-dyed phrase on my t-shirt. You then spritz it with rubbing alchohol to make it “bleed” and give it that tye-dye effect.



Several teens helped us make sample t-shirts and test our processes and they gave it a solid thumbs up.

Week 2: Screen Printing

I desperately wanted to do traditional screen printing in my Teen MakerSpace, I thought the teens would enjoy it and I wanted to learn how to do it as well. We even went and visited a local screen printing shop to learn more about the process. It turns out that we don’t really have the space or budget needed to make screen printing one of our stations as we had hoped. But there ARE a few creative ways that you can teach teens to do low tech, low cost screen printing(ish). We’ll be talking about those soon.

Week 3: Puff Paint

And yes, you read that right, we are in fact doing some good old fashion puff painting of t-shirts. We have found that teens love a lot of traditional arts and crafts AND that they love anything retro.

We’ll talk about weeks 4, 5 and 6 soon. Wednesday, I’m going to talk low cost, low tech screen printing.

Take 5: YA Lit Titles for Makers and MakerSpaces

Collection development is an active process in which I, like all librarians, actively seek to build balanced collections of all types of books. Because we have an active and popular Teen MakerSpace, one of the things I actively look for are “maker” related books. These can be books that include any type of maker related activity, including djing and music production, coding, hacking, robotics, film making and more. Here are 5 new (and newish) books that somehow relate to the concept of making.

Dotwav by Mike A. Lancaster

dotwavPublisher’s Book Description

Fifteen-year-old Ani Lee is a skilled hacker researching a strange .wav file that she’s downloaded when it behaves as no file ever should.

Joe Dyson is a seventeen-year-old American transplant recruited into secret teen division of the British intelligence service who’s looking into the disappearance of a friend caught up in an underground music scene that might be more than it appears.

When Ani and Joe’s investigations intertwine, they discover that the .wav file and the music are linked—someone’s embedding the file into tracks to create a mind-controlled teen army.

But who’s behind it? And why? And how do you stop a sound? (Sky Pony Press, September 2016)

Karen’s Thoughts

If you love books where teens act as spies or secret agents, this book is for you. It is also a fascinating look at how technology can be combined with music production to . . . what exactly? Control populations? Subvert? Like I said, fascinating. Lancaster writes interesting premises, and given the leaps and bounds being made with technology these days they terrify as well as fascinate. Also, there is a female hacker in this book (whom I adore) and this would be a good companion novel with the Find Me series by Romily Bernard, which also features a female hacker.

Titans by Victoria Scott

titansPublishers Book Description

Ever since the Titans first appeared in her Detroit neighborhood, Astrid Sullivan’s world has revolved around the mechanical horses. She and her best friend have spent countless hours watching them and their jockeys practice on the track. It’s not just the thrill of the race. It’s the engineering of the horses and the way they’re programmed to seem so lifelike. The Titans are everything that fascinates Astrid, and nothing she’ll ever touch.

She hates them a little, too. Her dad lost everything betting on the Titans. And the races are a reminder of the gap between the rich jockeys who can afford the expensive machines to ride, and the working class friends and neighbors of Astrid’s who wager on them.

But when Astrid’s offered a chance to enter an early model Titan in this year’s derby, well, she decides to risk it all. Because for a girl from the wrong side of the tracks, it’s more than a chance at fame or money. Betting on herself is the only way she can see to hang on to everyone in the world she cares about. (Scholastic, February 2016)

Karen’s Thoughts

Teenage girls that build mechanical creatures to race while smashing the patriarchy? Why yes please. I loved so much about this book from premise to characters, and it is the most classicly maker feeling book on the list. From problem solving to hands on building, this book is maker culture on full display.

Replica by Lauren Oliver

replicaPublishers Book Description

Gemma has been in and out of hospitals since she was born. ‘A sickly child’, her lonely life to date has revolved around her home, school and one best friend, Alice. But when she discovers her father’s connection to the top secret Haven research facility, currently hitting the headlines and under siege by religious fanatics, Gemma decides to leave the sanctuary she’s always known to find the institute and determine what is going on there and why her father’s name seems inextricably linked to it.

Amidst the frenzy outside the institute’s walls, Lyra – or number 24 as she is known as at Haven – and a fellow experimental subject known only as 72, manage to escape. Encountering a world they never knew existed outside the walls of their secluded upbringing , they meet Gemma and, as they try to understand Haven’s purpose together, they uncover some earth-shattering secrets that will change the lives of both girls forever… (Harper Collins, October 2016)

Karen’s Thoughts

Full disclosure, I haven’t finished reading this one to completion yet. But put this on your list of suggested reads for Strange Things fans. Also full disclosure, I’m a big Lauren Oliver fan.

Gamescape by Emma Trevayne

gamescapePublishers Book Description

The planet is dying. Centuries of abuse have damaged the earth beyond repair, and now all the authorities can do is polish the surface, make the landscape look pretty to hide the disease within. Two prominent yet mysterious businessmen couldn’t fix it, either, but they did something even better. Together, they invented Chimera, the most complex and immersive virtual reality video game the world has ever known. The Cubes in which Chimera is played quickly became a fixture of this landscape: part distraction, part hospital, and almost wholly responsible for holding up the failing world economy.

Miguel Anderson is also dying. He isn’t the only one who plays the game–everybody does–but Miguel has more reason than most: When players leave their Cubes for the day, the upgrades and enhancements they’ve earned for their virtual characters leave with them. New lungs to breathe poisoned air, skin that won’t burn under the sun are great and everything… but Miguel, born as broken as the earth, needs a new heart–and soon–if he wants any hope of surviving just a little longer.

Then the two Gamerunners announce a competition, with greater rewards and faster progression than ever before, and Miguel thinks his prayers have been answered. All he needs to do is get picked to lead a team, play the game he’s spent years getting good at, and ask for his prize when he wins. Simple, really.

At first, things seem to go according to plan. Mostly, anyway. Inside his Cube, with his new team–including his best friend–at his back, Miguel begins his quest. He plays recklessly, even dangerously, for someone whose most vital organ could give up at any moment, but his desperation makes him play better than ever. The eyes of the world are on him, watching through status updates and live feeds, betting on his chances. With greater rewards, though, come greater risks, and the Gamerunners seem to delight at surprising the competitors at every turn. As he ventures deeper into a world that blends the virtual and the real to an unsettling degree, Miguel begins to wonder just why the game was invented at all, and whether its stakes could be even higher than life and death. (Greenwillow, September 2016)

Karen’s Thoughts

I haven’t read this yet, but gaming, game design and coding are all very popular topics with teens in my Teen MakerSpace. For more video game related reads, check out this list.

Boy Robot by Simon Curtis

boyrobotPublishers Book Description

Boy Robot is the first in a planned science fiction trilogy that follows a group of synthetic cell human teens with special abilities as they fight against the government organization that created them and now wants to destroy them. (Simon Pulse, November 2016)

Karen’s Thoughts

On my TBR list

Have some other titles to add to my list? I would love for you to drop me a comment. I’m always looking for new ones.