Quicksmiths

Middle grade & YA books with inventions

Do you get all excited when you see a good invention? Do you spend time drawing your own amazing gadgets? Have you already made the blueprints for your secret lab? If you answered yes to any of these questions, then you will enjoy the books on this reading list. Scroll on to explore middle-grade and YA fantasy must-reads with inventions at their heart.

If you find this list useful, and want to get a copy of a recommended book, please consider purchasing them using the Amazon links on this page or via Bookshop.org. These links pay a very small commission and it helps me (Loris) to keep writing as well as supporting the brilliant authors whose works are recommended here. Quick reviews and links for Quicksmiths books are included at the top for those who haven’t read them.

Fantastical inventive tales

The Ten Riddles of Eartha Quicksmith

Kip Bramley receives a mysterious invitation to join Quicksmiths, a school for sideways thinkers who harness Strange Energy to create impossible inventions. Guided by the riddles of the enigmatic Eartha Quicksmith, Kip and his friends uncover ancient secrets and face mind-bending challenges in a world where hidden science bends reality out of shape.

Things to love

  • Strange Energy: Inspired by real science, the Strange Energies in the book – from Skycrackle to Thoughtwaves – power fantastical inventions that help Kip and his friends get ahead in the treasure hunt.
  • Gadgetry: Bursting with inventions that will stretch your imagination, such as the Grandfather Clock which unravels strands of Timeyarn, Skimmi hoverdiscs for flights of fantasy, and the Froglash, Timmi’s wormhole lasso.
  • Interactive inventiveness: The book contains a bonus riddle and hidden object game, so you can participate actively in the story, as well as solving the riddles along with Kip and his friends.

Top tip: Don’t be daunted if you can’t crack every riddle on your own – half the fun is in the journey, not just the solution; you can also try solving the riddles with family or friends.

Reading range: 9-13

The Myriad Mysteries of Eartha Quicksmith

In book 2 of the upper middle grade Quicksmiths series, Kip and his friends face old enemies and new dangers, and discover that Strange Energy is even stranger than they had first imagined. When a freak accident separates the team, Kip and Timmi are plunged into the Myriads, a labyrinth of multiverses swirling with danger, surprise and intrigue.

Things to love

  • Multiverse mayhem: Take the oddest things you can think of, throw in some eyestalks, a ziggurat, some purple mini-gorillas, and a shapeshifting scarab beetle, shake them up in a bag of other odds and ends, and you might just end up with something like the Myriads.
  • Gadgetry: The spotlight is on Leela’s inventing skills, as her Dreambomber keeps the team together through thick and thin; and of course it wouldn’t be Quicksmiths without a mysterious contraption from the mind of Eartha Quicksmith herself – this time it’s The Crazy Paving … be careful where you step!
  • Interactive inventiveness: The book contains a bonus riddle and hidden object game, so you can participate actively in the story, as well as solving the riddles along with Kip and his friends.

Top tip: Visit the Fun Stuff area of the Quicksmiths website to get help with finding all the Myriad symbols in the book, and solving the bonus ‘odd-one-out’ puzzle.

Reading range: 9-13

Northern Lights (The Golden Compass)

Philip Pullman's universe shines with imagination - from soulful daemons, to charismatic armored bears, and the enigmatic alethiometer. Lyra Belacqua’s journey takes her from the cloistered halls of Jordan College to the icy expanses of the North, all in a quest to uncover a sinister plot involving kidnapped children and a mysterious substance known as Dust. Any fan of Quicksmiths will devour this trilogy.

Things to love

  • Living souls: The concept of daemons, animal companions that are manifestations of the human soul, is a deeply original and fascinating aspect of Pullman’s world, offering a unique lens through which to explore characters’ inner lives.
  • Gadgetry: The alethiometer, or golden compass, is a truth-telling device that guides Lyra on her journey, adding layers of mystery and intrigue as she learns to decipher its symbols.
  • Not your average bears: Armored bears, or panserbjørne, are not just fearsome warriors but also skilled metalworkers, with their own culture of rituals and rules.

Top tip: Pay close attention to the symbolism and themes woven throughout the story—Pullman’s narrative operates on multiple levels, making each re-read a brand new experience for young adult readers.

Reading range: Ages 10-12

Sky Jumpers

Soar into a post-apocalyptic world where Peggy Eddleman introduces us to White Rock, a small town clinging to hope and survival after World War III. In this thrilling tale, twelve-year-old Hope Toriella dreams of proving her worth in a community of inventors, despite her own perceived shortcomings. When bandits threaten to steal the town’s precious medicine, Hope must summon all her courage and ingenuity to save her people.

Things to love

  • High-flying adventures: The daring and heart-stopping jumps through the Bomb’s Breath—a deadly, invisible layer of air—showcase Hope’s bravery and determination, setting her apart in a world where creativity is key.
  • Gadgetry: Though technology is scarce, the story highlights the townspeople’s resourcefulness, using remnants of the old world to create makeshift inventions and clever contraptions to survive.
  • A doubting yet redoubtable hero: Hope’s journey from self-doubt to heroism is both inspiring and relatable, as she learns to embrace her unique talents and lead her community through perilous times.

Reading range: Ages 9-12

The City of Ember

Descend into the depths of Jeanne DuPrau's underground city on the brink of collapse. Lina and Doon, two brave young citizens, embark on a quest to uncover the secrets of Ember's fading lights and dwindling resources. Their journey through this dark, decaying world is both a thrilling middle-grade adventure and a poignant commentary on hope and perseverance.

Things to love

  • Apocalyptic troglodytes: The underground city of Ember, designed to last only 200 years, is a fascinating and claustrophobic world that adds tension and urgency to the story. The city is as much a character as Lina and Doon.
  • Gadgetry: Ingenious elements like the cryptic instructions and the mechanical workings of Ember’s failing systems add layers of mystery and intrigue.
  • Race against time: Lina and Doon face numerous challenges, from deciphering fragmented messages and navigating pitch-dark tunnels to outrunning the city’s failing power supply. Their resourcefulness and quick thinking, and the inventive ways in which they navigate these dire situations shine a light on the creativity and resilience of the human spirit.

Top tip: Keep an eye on the small details—every clue Lina and Doon find is a piece of the larger puzzle that reveals the truth about Ember’s origins and its future, especially if you plan on reading the series … and after book 1, you will!

Reading range: Ages 8-12

The Invention of Hugo Cabret

Prepare to be enchanted by a mesmerizing tale that blends prose and stunning illustrations to create an immersive cinematic experience on the page. Brian Selznick introduces us to Hugo, an orphan living in the walls of a Paris train station. Hugo's life revolves around keeping the station's clocks running and fixing a mysterious automaton left by his father.

Things to love

  • Visual storytelling: The unique combination of text and intricate illustrations weaves a captivating narrative that feels like watching a silent film come to life.
  • Gadgetry: The heart of the story is Hugo’s quest to repair an automaton, a mechanical man with a hidden message that ties into the real-life history of early cinema.
  • Historical depth: The book richly incorporates the magic of early film-making, including the story of Georges Méliès, adding an educational layer to the adventure.

Top tip: Take your time to savor the illustrations—they are packed with details that enhance the story and deepen your understanding of Hugo’s world.

Reading range: Ages 9-12

The Mysterious Benedict Society

Embark on a thrilling adventure with "The Mysterious Benedict Society," where Trenton Lee Stewart introduces us to a group of exceptionally gifted children tasked with saving the world. Reynie, Sticky, Kate, and Constance, each with their unique talents, must navigate a series of mind-bending puzzles and challenges to thwart the evil Mr. Curtain's sinister plans.

Things to love

  • Friendships: The story’s charm lies in the diverse and complementary talents of the four protagonists. From Reynie’s logical thinking to Constance’s stubbornness, their unique abilities and evolving friendships are both heartwarming and crucial to their success.
  • Gadgetry: The narrative is peppered with perilous contraptions as well as ingenious problem-solving tools that the children use to outwit their adversaries. Beware the deadly weapons of the Ten Men, and the insidious Whisperer!
  • Mental gymnastics: The children face a variety of cerebral challenges that require teamwork and intellect, collaboration and cleverness. I loved the variety of puzzles they have to solve to succeed, and you’ll see this book series appears in my middle-grade books with riddles recommendations as well.

Reading range: Ages 9-12

Airman

Soar into the skies with "Airman," where Eoin Colfer blends historical fiction with high-flying in this YA adventure. Set in the late 19th century on the Saltee Islands, the story follows Conor Broekhart, a young boy who dreams of flying. When he is framed for a crime he didn't commit, Conor must use his wits and his knowledge of aeronautics to escape and clear his name.

Things to love

  • Aviation dreams: Conor’s passion for flight and his inventive spirit are central to the story. His journey from dreaming of flying machines to actually building them is both inspiring and captivating.
  • Gadgetry: The book features detailed descriptions of Conor’s innovative flying machines, including gliders and early prototypes of airplanes. These inventions are crucial to his plans for escape and revenge.
  • Historical setting: The richly depicted late 19th-century backdrop adds depth to the narrative. The political intrigue and the detailed descriptions of life on the Saltee Islands create an immersive experience.

Reading range: Ages 10-14

The Search for WondLa

A richly illustrated, space-age adventure. Eva Nine, a twelve-year-old girl raised by the robot Muthr in an underground sanctuary, is forced to flee when a marauder destroys her home. Armed with her Omnipod and a mysterious scrap of cardboard depicting the word “WondLa,” Eva ventures aboveground to find other humans and uncover her origins.

Things to love

  • A sci-fi wonderland: DiTerlizzi’s world-building is nothing short of spectacular, blending elements of classic sci-fi with whimsical illustrations that bring the story to life. The vivid, alien landscapes and unique creatures Eva encounters are both imaginative and immersive, and Eva’s bond with her robot caregiver, Muthr, is heartwarming.
  • Gadgetry: Eva’s Omnipod, a versatile device that functions as a guide, communicator, and search engine, is central to her survival and exploration. Her smart clothing, equipped with various functionalities, further showcases the innovative technology in this futuristic setting.
  • Journey of discovery: Eva’s quest to find other humans and understand her place in the world is filled with emotional depth and philosophical questions. Her interactions with diverse non-human characters highlight themes of family, belonging, and the role of technology in our lives.

Reading range: Ages 9-12

Animorphs

This epic middle grade adventure series follows a group of teenagers who gain the ability to morph into any animal they touch. Their new powers become the key to battling an alien invasion. Be warned ... if you get hooked there are a whopping 54 books in this series!

Things to love

  • Shapeshifting heroes: The unique ability of the characters to transform into animals provides a fresh and exciting twist on the traditional superhero narrative. This power is central to their strategy in fighting the alien threat.
  • Gadgetry: The sophisticated Andalite technology, including the morphing cube and various alien devices, adds a layer of sci-fi intrigue and complexity to the story.
  • What the yeerk? The series features an ongoing battle against the Yeerks, a parasitic alien species. The mix of personal struggle and epic battles creates page-turning stories that you won’t be able to put down.

Reading range: Ages 9-12

The Boundless

All aboard for a grand adventure with "The Boundless," where Kenneth Oppel masterfully blends historical fiction with a touch of magical realism. The story follows Will Everett, a young boy who embarks on the maiden voyage of the Boundless, the most luxurious train ever built, stretching over seven miles long and boasting amenities like an onboard swimming pool, cinema, and circus.

Things to love

  • A moving city: The Boundless train itself is a marvel of imagination, described as a “rolling city” complete with passenger cars, shooting galleries, gardens, and even a circus. This vibrant and detailed setting adds depth and excitement to Will’s adventure, making the train a character in its own right.
  • Gadgetry: The story features inventive elements like booby-trapped train cars, automaton bartenders, and clever uses of circus skills to solve problems. These inventive touches provide layers of intrigue and keep readers hooked.
  • Circus circuits: Will’s journey is intertwined with the circus performers aboard the Boundless. His interactions with the tightrope walkers, acrobats, and magicians add an element of danger and wonder, creating a rich tapestry of characters and experiences.

Reading range: Ages 9-12

Mortal Engines

Welcome to a future where cities move on giant wheels, consuming each other in a brutal practice where the big and successful gobble up the small and weak. This steampunk adventure follows three central characters—Tom, Hester, and Katherine—as they navigate the dangers of a post-apocalyptic Earth.

Things to love

  • Hungry cities: The imaginative and unique concept of traction cities, enormous mobile metropolises that devour smaller towns for resources, sets this book apart. This inventive idea brings a fresh and dynamic setting to the dystopian genre.
  • Gadgetry: The world of Mortal Engines is filled with fascinating steampunk technology. From the moving cities themselves to the ancient and deadly weapon MEDUSA, Reeve’s creations add depth and excitement to the story.
  • Municipal Darwinism: Philip Reeve’s concept of Municipal Darwinism, where cities must consume others to survive, is a parody of Social Darwinism. This real-life concept misused Darwin’s theories to justify inequality.

Reading range: Ages 12+

The Boy Who Harnessed The Wind

An inspiring true story of a young Malawian boy who builds a windmill from scrap materials to bring electricity to his village. This memoir highlights themes of innovation, perseverance, and the transformative power of education.

Things to love

  • True innovation: William Kamkwamba’s journey from a drought-stricken village to building a windmill demonstrates the power of creativity and determination.
  • Gadgetry: The windmill, constructed from scavenged materials, stands as a testament to William’s ingenuity and resourcefulness, providing a real-world example of impactful invention.
  • Believe in yourself: The story is not only about the invention itself but also about belief in yourself and others, and the importance of education and community support. William’s story may just inspire young readers to pursue their own inventive ideas and solutions.

Top tip: When you’ve read the book, watch the Netflix adaptation – it’s brilliant!

Reading range: 10+

The Many Worlds of Albie Bright

When Albie Bright’s mother dies, he uses his father's quantum physics theories to try and find her in a parallel universe. Armed with a laptop, a cardboard box, and a potato, Albie - the son of two scientists - embarks on a heartfelt and mind-bending journey through multiple dimensions.

Things to love

  • Multiverse marvels: Albie’s journey through parallel universes is filled with imaginative and mind-bending twists. Each universe he visits presents unique differences, from additional planets in the solar system to altered personal histories, making his quest both unpredictable and fascinating.
  • Gadgetry: Albie’s makeshift quantum device, created from everyday items, highlights the ingenuity and creativity at the heart of the story. This DIY approach to science from a child’s-eye-view makes complex concepts accessible and fun.
  • Living with loss: Albie’s quest to find his mother is a deeply emotional journey that explores themes of loss, hope, and resilience. The story’s heart lies in its exploration of love and the lengths one will go to for family.

Top tip:  Christopher Edge masterfully explains real physics ideas, such as Schrödinger’s cat and the Many-Worlds Interpretation, in a way that is engaging and understandable for young readers.

Reading range: 8-10

The Clockwork Three

Immerse yourself in a tale of adventure, magic, and friendship set in a bustling, late-19th-century American city. The story follows three children—Giuseppe, Hannah, and Frederick—each facing their own struggles and united by extraordinary events.

Things to love

  • Intertwined destinies: The unique, interconnected stories of Giuseppe, an orphaned street musician; Hannah, a maid supporting her family; and Frederick, an apprentice clockmaker, highlight the power of friendship and resilience. Their separate quests become entwined, leading to unexpected alliances and shared goals.
  • Gadgetry: Frederick’s determination to build an automaton, a clockwork man, is a testament to the inventive spirit. His mechanical talents and the complex workings of the automaton add layers of steampunk-inspired intrigue.
  • Historical inspirations: The fictional city is inspired by real historical elements, blending the charm of late-19th-century American coastal cities with imaginative details. The hidden passages and mechanical creations are based on real historical craftsmanship and urban legends.

Top Tip: Pay close attention to the descriptions of
the clockwork devices. Do they symbolise the intricate connections between the characters and their destinies?

Reading range: Ages 8-12

Brightstorm

When twins Arthur and Maudie Brightstorm receive news that their father has died in a failed attempt to reach South Polaris, they refuse to believe it. They join a daring expedition to clear his name and discover the truth, journeying through sky ships and uncharted territories filled with fantastical creatures and incredible inventions.

Things to love

  • Sky-high adventure: The world of Brightstorm is a sky-bound wonderland, with floating islands, airships, and sky captains that add a thrilling dimension to the twins’ quest.
  • Gadgetry: From the innovative sky ships to the clever navigational tools, the story is rich with inventive technology that pours rocket fuel on the adventure.
  • Unbreakable bond: Arthur and Maudie’s sibling bond is the emotional core of the story. Their resilience, their unwavering belief in their father’s innocence and their fight for justice make this  journey both inspiring and heartwarming.

Reading range: Ages 8-12

Cogheart

In a steampunk-inspired Victorian England, Lily Hartman’s life turns upside down when her inventor father goes missing. With the help of her friends Robert, a clockmaker’s apprentice, and Malkin, a mechanical fox, Lily sets off to uncover the mystery behind her father’s disappearance. Together, they face off against sinister silver-eyed men, dastardly villains, and thrilling airship chases.

Things to love

  • Victorian adventure:  Lily and Robert’s adventures through dark alleys, aboard zeppelins, and within secret hideouts capture the essence of a thrilling Victorian-era adventure.
  • Gadgetry: This book’s world is a Victorian marvel where gears and gizmos reign supreme – from Malkin, the loyal mechanical fox, to the mysterious perpetual motion machine that everyone is after.
  • Villains you love to hate: The baddies in Cogheart are deliciously wicked, from the creepy, mechanical man Jack-of-All-Trades to the scheming housekeeper Madame Verdigris. Their grotesque and menacing presence adds high stakes and tension to Lily’s quest.

Reading range: Ages 9-12

Hidden gems

The Magnificent Makers

Best friends Violet and Pablo discover a riddle that opens a magic portal in their school's Science Space. Along with their new classmate Deepak, they enter the Maker Maze, a magical makerspace. Guided by the quirky scientist Dr. Crisp, the trio embarks on scientific adventures while learning about themselves on the way.

Things to love

  • Science-fuelled adventures: Each book takes readers on out-of-this-world adventures that cover topics ranging from human biology to ecology. The interactive and educational nature of the stories helps readers to grasp scientific concepts in an engaging and fun way.
  • Gadgetry: The Maker Maze is a treasure trove of scientific wonders, featuring robots, 3D printers, and an antigravity chamber.
  • Lessons beyond science: While the series is rich in scientific content, it also explores important life skills such as managing failure, teamwork, courage, and jealousy. These themes are woven into the storyline, offering readers valuable lessons alongside their scientific discoveries.

Top Tip: The book includes two science activities that kids can do at home. Activities use common household items and take 30 minutes or less, reinforcing the scientific concepts presented in the story.

Reading range: Ages 7-10

Maya and the Robot

A heartfelt story by Eve L. Ewing, focusing on a young girl named Maya who discovers a forgotten homemade robot just when she needs a friend the most. As Maya navigates the challenges of fifth grade, she brings the robot back to life, leading to a series of adventures full of lifelore.

Things to love

  • Robot resurrection: Maya’s journey in fixing and bringing the robot to life highlights themes of perseverance and ingenuity, showing young readers the joys and challenges of engineering and robotics.
  • Gadgetry: The robot, initially in disrepair, becomes a central character in the story. Maya’s process of fixing and enhancing the robot with modern technology provides a fascinating look at the world of robotics and engineering.
  • Community and diversity: Set in a multicultural neighborhood, the book features a diverse cast of characters and highlights the importance of community. Maya’s journey is not just about science but also about finding her place and building connections with those around her.

Top tip: Ewing’s detailed descriptions of the robot’s repair process and the various scientific principles involved make for an enriching reading experience that encourages young STEM enthusiasts to explore their own scientific curiosities.

Reading range: Ages 8-12

Quintessence

Alma, a twelve-year-old girl struggling with homesickness and panic attacks, moves to the town of Four Points. Her life changes when she discovers a star that looks like a child, leading her on a quest with new friends to find the magical element 'quintessence' and save the star.

Things to love

  • Alchemical adventure: The journey to discover quintessence blends scientific curiosity with magical elements, creating a rich and imaginative narrative. Alma’s quest is filled with wonder and the excitement of discovery.
  • Gadgetry: The story features intriguing alchemical inventions and scientific tools. From telescopes to alchemical labs, these gadgets are central to the characters’ explorations and discoveries, adding a unique blend of science and magic to the plot.
  • Emotional resonance: The story’s focus on Alma’s mental health, including her anxiety and panic attacks, is handled with sensitivity and depth. The process of alchemy mirrors Alma’s personal growth from lead to gold. As she learns to handle alchemical elements, she also learns to cope with her own fears and anxieties.

Reading range: Ages 8-12

The Adventurer's Guide to Successful Escapes

Anne, a bright and determined orphan, is desperate to escape the dreary St. Lupin's Institute for Perpetually Wicked and Hideously Unattractive Children. Her opportunity arrives when a mysterious medallion propels her into a wild adventure, complete with dragons, ancient technology, and hilarious hijinks. Along with her best friend Penelope and the magical but hapless Hiro, Anne must navigate a fantastical world to claim her rightful place in the quest academy.

Things to love

  • Whimsical world-building: The book’s setting is a delightful patchwork of floating islands and magical tiers, each filled with its own brand of quirky charm and peril. Anne’s journey takes readers through imaginative landscapes where anything can happen—and often does.
  • Gadgetry: From mechanical dragons to intricate clockwork devices, the book is a veritable treasure trove of steampunk inventions. These gizmos aren’t just for show—they play pivotal roles in Anne’s daring escapades and clever escapes.
  • Humor and heart: The book’s tongue-in-cheek narrator and witty dialogue keep the tone light and engaging, even as Anne faces monumental challenges. The absurd situations ensure that readers are entertained while exploring deeper themes of identity and belonging.

Top Tip: Don’t let your eye skim over the chapter headings! They are often funny and give hints that enrich Anne’s already zany adventures.

Reading range: Ages 8-12

Leviathan

In an alternate World War I, Europe is divided between the Clankers, who rely on steam-powered machinery, and the Darwinists, who use genetically engineered beasts. Prince Aleksandar, a Clanker, and Deryn Sharp, a Darwinist, must navigate this tumultuous world aboard the airship Leviathan.

Things to love

  • Living machines: An innovative blend of steampunk and biopunk elements makes Leviathan a unique read you won’t be able to put down.
  • Gadgetry: The story is filled with fascinating inventions, from mechanized walkers and steam-driven war machines to the awe-inspiring living airship, Leviathan.
  • Hidden identities: Disguises and secrets abound as the characters struggle to keep their true selves under wraps, adding a rich Shakespearean layer of intrigue.

Reading range: 12+

Steel Lily

In a post-apocalyptic world ravaged by World War III, Avery Pike is a water Elementalist, one of the rare few with the power to create steam. She lives in Dome Four, a sanctuary protecting the remnants of humanity from the toxic atmosphere. Avery's abilities are critical for generating energy in this bleak future. As she navigates a world of political intrigue and hidden dangers, she encounters friends and foes, all while uncovering secrets about her past and her powers.

Things to love

  • Elementary, my dear Watson: Avery’s ability to manipulate water and create steam is central to the survival of her community, providing a fresh take on elemental magic in a dystopian setting.
  • Gadgetry: The novel is rich with steampunk-inspired technology and inventions. From energy-generating steam machines to innovative survival gear within the domes, the gadgets are intricately described and central to the plot.
  • Survival and secrets: The story delves into themes of survival, trust, and self-discovery. Avery’s quest to understand her own powers and her role in a larger conflict is filled with twists and turns, making for a gripping read.

Reading range: Ages 12+

Do you have your own recommendation for a middle grade or YA book with inventions that belongs on this list? Don’t delay – send a message by Thoughtwave Lens here!

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