Finley Flowers is ready to make fourth-grade fin-omenal. As she reminds her friend, Henry Lin, "We're role models for all the younger kids." While Henry worries that this is a lot of pressure, Finley is positive that they will have a fin-tastic year. Their teacher, Ms. Bird, is ready to start their first big project of the year - a unit on inventors during which the students will each create their own invention, "a 'nice device' that makes the world a better place."
What a prefect way to amaze the teacher! Finley is always making and creating things, so this should be easy, but it isn't. Just when she needs lots of ideas, she can't think of any. And when she does come up with some inventions, her brother informs her that they have all been done before. (pulleys, catapults, etc.) Finley may get discouraged, but she doesn't give up. She and her friends make quite an impression on the inventors who come to judge the Invention Convention.
One of the things I love most about this series is the way ideas and inspiration are described. The author, Jessica Young, came to visit our school and talked to the students about the topic of inspiration. She told them that anything can become a seed for an idea just waiting to grow into something wonderful. This theme comes up several times in New and Improved. As Finley thought about the project, "she knew the perfect idea was somewhere in her brain - a tiny seed ready to grow and burst into bloom." (page 23) When Henry asks her how it's going, she says, "Nothing's sprouting in my idea garden." (page 33) But she also has persistence, and that is another great trait to model for young readers. If they cultivate their idea gardens and don't give up, they just may "better-ify" the world someday.