Today I bring you a review of a stunning non-fiction title, due to be published on 16th September, and I can already say that this will be one of my top five books of 2021! It continues Bloomsbury Publishing’s recent trend of re-working adult non-fiction into a format suitable for both children and also adults who might not have the time to read the heavier text content of the adult version. The author, Roma Agrawal, is a structural engineer who is well known for her contribution to the promotion of the engineering profession and her communication skills make this book soar as high as the skyscrapers she constructs. Her engaging explanations of engineering and construction techniques are perfectly complemented by Katie Hickey’s beautifully precise illustrations. This allows the text to be formatted into bite sized chunks which are easily digestible for younger readers as they are able to read and easily refer to the relevant diagrams.
The language is technical, Roma never patronises her young readers, but explanations are given relating complex engineering principles to scenarios which are easily understood. For example the stresses on a supporting beam are compared to trying to bend a carrot, just one example of suggested activities that can be carried out at home or in the classroom. The book fully explores the multi-disciplinary nature of engineering and construction, within its covers you will learn about architecture, chemistry, computing, geography, geology, mathematics and physics, and their relationship to engineering.
Structurally, the book demonstrates different engineering techniques in the context of a specific building. The challenges of the construction, the materials and equipment used, the geological or geographical hurdles are all examined and a human face is put on the stories with mini biographies of engineering pioneers. For example, The Shard on which Roma worked is used to talk about the challenges of building very tall buildings. The Thames tunnel demonstrates tunnelling techniques; the Sapporo dome is used to talk about constructions with moving parts and the culturally-sensitive Te Matau Ā Pohe bridge shows how to design in an earthquake zone. I have always been fascinated by arches and domes in ancient buildings that I have visited on city breaks and therefore appreciated the explanation of how to build a dome, as illustrated by The Pantheon, a breathtaking building constructed nearly 2000 years ago.
Additionally, there are fascinating pages about construction materials, their evolution and some of the prominent names in their development. Who could have imagined that cement, glass or bricks could be so interesting? The horizon scanning in the section about future building materials also provides interesting facts about biomimicry and robotics.
The challenges of building on ice or under the sea provide two of my favourite sections in the book. The British Antarctic Survey’s Halley VI research station looks like something my children would have constructed from Lego, but has had to factor in so many different elements to cope with the harsh climate of the ice shelf. The undersea Ithaa Restaurant in the Maldives looks utterly fantastic in Katie Hickey’s artwork. Finally, the book ends with an Engineers’ Gallery in which female engineers and engineers from multi-cultural backgrounds are featured, continuing the author’s mission to promote her discipline more widely.
Roma Agrawal is likely to encourage many more young people to consider a career in engineering through this wonderful book. Additionally, she enlightens many more of us in the complexities behind our built environment. I know that I will look with more educated eyes the next time I find myself sightseeing or in a city surrounded by high rise buildings.
I would urge all schools to get hold of a copy of this book. It answers so many of the questions that curious children ask and I can imagine it being hugely popular with the group of children who prefer non-fiction to fiction. It will be a brilliant resource for DT projects, especially the annual bridge building construction sessions. Although it is primarily aimed at Key Stage 2, I wish it had been available when one of my own children worked on an engineering project in Key Stage 4 as it would have provided excellent background information on which to build! If you want to buy a book as a gift for an inquisitive child, make it this one!
I am very grateful to Bloomsbury Publishing for sending me a copy of How Was That Built? in exchange for my honest opinion.
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