Remember eating an icy cold Popsicle® on a warm summer’s day when you were little? Your lips would freeze as you licked, slurped, and bit into it, the juice running down your chin. And then, when you were done, you proudly stuck out your tongue to show everyone how it had turned red, orange, or purple.
But for all the Popsicles® you’ve enjoyed in your lifetime, did you ever wonder who actually invented them? You may be surprised to hear it was an 11-year-old boy.
In their delightful new picture book, The Boy Who Invented the Popsicle: The Cool Science Behind Frank Epperson’s Famous Frozen Treat (Kids Can Press, 2019), author Anne Renaud and illustrator Milan Pavlović serve up all the frosty essentials in colorful, lickalicious detail.
Inquisitive, bright, and enterprising, California native Frank Epperson was born with the heart and mind of an inventor. As a boy, he “pondered important questions,” such as:
Do goldfish sleep?
Do ants have ears?
Do woodpeckers get headaches from pecking all day?
His ability to direct positive energy towards developing his ideas proved advantageous early on. Since inventing required experimentation, he was constantly doodling, designing, tinkering, testing, analyzing and scrutinizing.
By the time he was ten, “he had already masterminded his first invention: a handcar with two handles,” which ran twice as fast as one-handled cars. How he loved whizzing around the neighborhood in it!
Frank also enjoyed experimenting with liquids, especially flavored soda waters. He “had his heart set on inventing the yummiest, most thirst-quenching, lip-smacking soda water drink ever!”
Using various flavored soda water powders, Frank tested his concoctions on his younger brother Cray. Although some of the results were disastrous, Frank kept trying, and eventually shared his creations with the neighborhood kids.
One unusually cold night in San Francisco, where the temperatures rarely dropped below freezing, Frank wondered what would happen if he left one of his drinks outside overnight.
The next morning, he discovered that his drink had frozen solid. He had to lick it “like a lollipop.” Hot Dog! He had invented the first frozen drink on a stick.
As Frank grew older, his attention shifted to other concerns, such as eloping with his sweetheart at age 18 and working hard to support his family (he had nine children). Still, all that time, his frozen drink invention remained tucked in the back of his mind. It was only when he began seeing people eating frozen chocolate-covered ice cream bars that he decided to start experimenting again. Could he make money with his frozen treats? What if he tried fruit juice?
Frank used test tubes to mold the treats, built a special freeze box, and even found a way to lower the freezing temperature of water. He named his invention the “Ep-sicle” and began hand selling them at county fairs and beaches. Once he got shop owners to carry them, their popularity spread.
Frank’s kids loved sampling their father’s confections, clamoring for more of “pop’s ‘sicles.” Eventually Frank’s frozen treats became known as Popsicles®. “Today, with more than thirty flavors available, hundreds of millions of Popsicle® ice pops are slurped every year throughout the world.”
This book has oodles of kid appeal, not only due to its delectable subject matter, but because the narrative is lively and engaging, and the mixed media illustrations effectively capture Frank’s great energy and enthusiasm.
From the beginning, we can’t help but like Frank, who’s very patient, persistent, and methodical when it comes to his experiments. With every page turn, we can see that he’s always up to something — an active person who takes great joy in whatever he’s doing. Kids will love that Frank first thought of Popsicles® at such a young age, and was then able to further develop his invention into a lucrative product later in life.
Pavlović’s emotive, cartoony pictures draw the reader right into the action, and his use of occasional speech bubbles adds immediacy and humor. We can count on Frank to say, “Hot Dog!” when his experiments are going well, whether he’s a boy or an adult. The turn of the century period details are also interesting; I especially like Frank’s newsboy cap and knickers, and the old fashioned corner store where Frank buys his soda water powders.
Young readers will probably enjoy tracking the antics of Frank’s dog, as he’s never far from his master’s side, whether playing in the neighborhood or patiently watching Frank work on his experiments. The pup even shares Frank’s moment of triumph with his first frozen drink on a stick by jumping up for joy with his paws in the air.
Perhaps my favorite picture of all is the final double page spread, showing a diverse group of people of all ages and walks of life eating their Popsicles® outdoors. Whether sitting on a park bench, skateboarding, or walking their dogs, they’re all smiles, and there’s even a girl taking a selfie with hers. Lick lick lick!
But there’s more: four illustrated experiments are interspersed with the narrative to help readers understand the scientific principles behind Frank’s work. Since Frank liked to experiment with liquids, there’s an experiment about why oil doesn’t mix with water. There are also instructions on how to make lemon-flavored soda water and how to show that salt lowers the freezing point of water.
The Author’s Note features additional information about Frank’s life, his marriage and children, and how he applied for patents and eventually sold his rights to the Popsicle® to allay financial hardship. We also learn about some of Frank’s other inventions (Vitano sunscreen) and that he designed and built two of his homes, both inspired by castles. An added bonus are the wonderful vintage photos of Frank with his family and selling his Popsicles® on the street.
Fun to read, with both social studies and science applications, this story will inspire kids to emulate Frank’s can-do spirit, provide a chance for them to step into his shoes via the experiments, and at the very least, get them clamoring for more Popsicles®.
BTW, what’s your favorite flavor? 🙂
THE BOY WHO INVENTED THE POPSICLE: The Cool Science Behind Frank Epperson’s Famous Frozen Treat
written by Anne Renaud
illustrated by Milan Pavlović
published by Kids Can Press, October 2019
Nonfiction Picture Book for ages 4-8, 40 pp.
*Includes Author’s Note, 4 science experiments, and bibliography
This review is being linked to Beth Fish Reads Weekend Cooking, where all are invited to share their food-related posts. Put on your best aprons and bibs, and come join the fun!
* Interior spreads posted by permission, text copyright © 2019 Anne Renaud, illustrations © 2019 Milan Pavlović, published by Kids Can Press. All rights reserved.
** Copyright © 2019 Jama Rattigan of Jama’s Alphabet Soup. All rights reserved.