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Notes from a Children's Librarian: On Structures

Our Children's Librarian columnist, Julie Booker, brings us a new view from the stacks every month.

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Structures! Here are some great fiction and nonfiction titles to launch the Grade 3 science unit.

The picture book, Home, by Carson Ellis, is a great discussion-starter about different types of houses, as well as materials used to build them. This creative and humorous book showcases some fantastical structures, interspersed with questions: Who in the world lives here? And why? There’s a Japanese businessman’s sparse, cuboid home, a highly decorative Nordic god’s, a shoe (as in, ‘There was an old woman who lived in a…’), a tour bus, as well as homes belonging to a Kenyan blacksmith, and a “moonian.”

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Going Up! Elisha Otis’s Trip to the Top, a picture book by Monica Kulling, illustrated by David Parkins, will inspire young inventors. As a Vermont farm boy in 1818, Otis was intrigued by the ropes and pulleys hoisting hay up to the barn loft. As a grownup, he invented a platform to lift heavy machinery parts. He then moved onto elevating people, but the public were mistrustful. So he demonstrated his innovative safety brake in dramatic fashion at the New York World’s Fair. Otis’s invention made skyscrapers possible.

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Book Cover Young Frank

Young Frank, Architect, by Frank Viva, features young Frank who loves to design chairs, buildings, and whole cities out of books, toilet paper rolls and found objects. After a visit to the Museum of Modern Art with old Frank, the two of them collaborate on even loftier creations.

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The House that Max Built, by Maxwell Newhouse, features Max building a house on a lake. Simple, yet detailed pictures, show each stage of construction, from architect to framing crew,  brick layers to plumbers, drywallers to gardeners. There’s a descriptive job list at the back.

The Sandcastle Contest, by Robert Munsch, is pure fun. Michael Martchenko’s playful illustrations show Matthew and his family going camping with everything, including the kitchen sink. At the beach, Matthew encounters a sandcastle-building contest, with a bathtub full of ice cream as the prize. Matthew’s sand house is so realistic, the judges challenge its authenticity in a very destructive way.

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The nonfiction book, Look at That Building! A First Book of Structures, by Scot Ritchie, reads like a story, following five friends who decide to build a doghouse. They head to the library to research and along the way notice all that goes into a building—a nearby construction site’s foundation; animal homes; school walls; the fire station’s windowed doors; bus shelter columns; library ceiling beams. It ends with a procedural text of how to build a simple model doghouse out of toothpicks and marshmallows.

Build It! Structures, Systems and You, by Adrienne Mason, illustrated by Claudia Davila, is a good intro to structures and what makes them strong. The reader is challenged to find structures in cartoon-like illustrations, followed by a step-by-step activity demonstrating each facet of building, such as joining, layering, twisting and folding, and stable shapes.

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Bridges, by Etta Kaner, illustrated by Pat Cuppler, is a great resource for teachers. Provided is a description of various bridge styles, each with an illustrated step-by-step experiment to test its strength and capabilities. The book explains bridges of various lengths, bridges with beams, box girders, piers and reinforced concrete, as well as cantilever, covered, truss, arch, suspension and moveable (i.e. bascule, swing and vertical lift) bridges. It’s written in an inquiry-based way, interspersed with jokes and challenges.

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Towers and Tunnels, also by Etta Kaner, illustrated by Pat Cuppler, is similarly informative (and a quick lesson for teachers) about soil-testing, laying foundations, frameworks, wind effects, elevators. There are case studies of the Eiffel Tower, the CN Tower and a few other famous towers. The tunnel portion of the book offers experiments which demonstrate how to overcome specific problems, i.e. boring through rock, building underwater, reducing pressure in the Eurotunnel.

A past Silver Birch nominee, Earth-Friendly Buildings, Bridges and More, again by Etta Kaner, illustrated by Stephen MacEachern, blends Kaner’s two previously mentioned books, featuring some of the same experiments, but with more real-life examples. The narrator, Cory Lapont, daughter of world-travelling engineers (featured in her other books) has created this "scrapbook," filled with photos and fact boxes, about skyscrapers, bridges, tunnels, domes, dams, dikes, locks and levees.

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Fantastic Feats and Failures, by the editors of Yes Magazine, also a past Silver Birch nominee, contains two-page spreads showcasing real-world structures that turned out to be successful or disastrous. Feats include the Sydney Opera House, the Eurotunnel, Panama Canal, Canadarm. Disasters include Chernobyl, the Challenger. Both feat and failure: leaning tower of Pisa, World Trade Centre.

The following two fantastic series for this age level are perfect for independent research.

Book Cover Bridges

Canadian Structures, by True North (Beech Street Books) by various authors, provides simple explanations of forces at work in longstanding structures. Titles include: Bridges, Roads, Skyscrapers, Stadiums, Towers, Tunnels. The format is always the same: structure's purpose; how it was built; forces involved. Each brief chapter illustrates a famous structure somewhere in Canada, with fair representation across the provinces. Diagrams show concepts such as compression, tension, and shear load. Each book has bolded text, glossary, and some inquiry questions.

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Book Cover How Did They Build That

How Did They Build That? (Saunders Book Co.) by various authors, includes the following titles: Road, Bridge, School, Skyscraper, Stadium, Tunnel. This series has little discussion of forces but is a more detailed step-by-step discussion of how to build each generic structure. It also has photos, bolded text, glossary and further resources.

Building Canada, by Bonnie Shemie, is a visual timeline of architectural styles beginning in New France and ending in the year 2000. Detailed labelled watercolours, are accompanied by descriptions of why and how different styles developed (ending with First Nations' buildings), complete with glossary of architectural terms.

Book Cover Building an Igloo

In Building an Igloo, by Ulli Steltzer, black and white photos illustrate the story of hunters Tookilkee and son constructing an igloo. They begin with locating the right snow, cutting it with a saw, laying the large rectangles in spiral formation, and completing it with chimney, window and porch.

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On her first day as teacher-librarian, Julie Booker was asked by a five-year-old if that was her real name. She's felt at home in libraries since her inaugural job as a Page in the Toronto Public Library. She is the author of Up Up Up, a book of short stories published by House of Anansi Press.

January 23, 2018

Books mentioned in this post

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Home

illustrated by Carson Ellis
edition: Hardcover
  • age: 4 to 8
  • Grade: p to 3
tagged: city & town life, country life

Influential artist Carson Ellis makes her solo picture-book debut with a whimsical tribute to the many possibilities of home.

Home might be a house in the country, an apartment in the city, or even a shoe. Home may be on the road or the sea, in the realm of myth, or in the artist’s own studio. A meditation on the concept of home and a visual treat …

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Going Up!

Elisha Otis's Trip to the Top

by Monica Kulling, illustrated by David Parkins
edition: Paperback
also available: Hardcover
  • age: 5 to 8
  • Grade: k to 3
tagged: historical, science & technology

 In 1818, seven-year-old Elisha was fascinated by farm machinery. As a young man, he tried a variety of ways to make a living, but nothing fired his imagination more than the job he found in a bed-frame factory. Soon he invented a machine that made frames four times faster than ever before. In 1852, while overseeing the construction of a new factor …

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The House That Max Built

by Maxwell Newhouse
edition: Hardcover
  • age: 4 to 6
  • Grade: p to 1
tagged: house & home, country life, architecture

Having worked construction for many years, author and illustrator Maxwell Newhouse shows young readers step-by-step how houses are built in this captivating picture book. From drawing up the plans to excavating the site to laying the foundation, the unique and colorful paintings move through the seasons as Max builds the house of his dreams. Watch …

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The Sandcastle Contest

by Robert Munsch, illustrated by Michael Martchenko
edition: Paperback
also available: Hardcover
  • age: 3 to 8
  • Grade: k to 3
tagged: humorous stories, imagination & play

When Matthew enters a contest at the beach, he builds an amazing, incredible, unbelievable sandcastle!

 

This favourite Munsch title gets a brand-new look

"Do we have everything?" asks Matthew's dad.

"NO!" yelled Matthew.

"No?" said his dad.

"No!" said Matthew. "We don't have dog."

"Dog?" said his dad.

"We don't even OWN a dog!"

"I know," said Matthew …

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Look at That Building!

A First Book of Structures

illustrated by Scot Ritchie
edition: Hardcover
  • age: 4 to 7
  • Grade: p to 2
tagged: architecture

Learning about buildings and how they are constructed has never been so much fun. This gem of a book introduces young readers to basic construction concepts through the eyes of five friends keen on building a doghouse for their pet pooch, Max. To find out more about the task, Yulee, Martin, Nick, Sally and Pedro head to the library, where they lear …

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Build It!

Structures, Systems and You

by Adrienne Mason, illustrated by Claudia Dávila
edition: Paperback
also available: Hardcover
  • age: 4 to 7
  • Grade: p to 2
tagged: physics, experiments & projects

Developed with the cooperation of a science consultant, this book in the Primary Physical Science series is a tool to teach the physical sciences to young children. From bicycles to bridges to beaver dams, structures are all around us. Build It! explores the function of structures, the materials they're made of, how their parts are joined together …

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Bridges

by Etta Kaner, illustrated by Pat Cupples
edition: Paperback
  • age: 8 to 18
  • Grade: 3 to 12
tagged: physics

Budding engineers can read about the hows and whys of real bridges and then construct their own using string, chairs, cardboard and other household materials. Sidebars feature information about bridges -- both past and present -- around the world.

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Towers and Tunnels

by Etta Kaner, illustrated by Pat Cupples
edition: Paperback
  • age: 8 to 18
  • Grade: 3 to 12
tagged: physics

Budding engineers find out the hows and whys of real towers and tunnels, and then construct their own using cardboard, modeling clay, straws, string and other household and classroom materials. Sidebars include current and historical information about famous towers and tunnels around the world, such as the Eiffel Tower, the CN Tower and the Chunnel …

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Earth-Friendly Buildings, Bridges and More

The Eco-Journal of Corry Lapont

by Etta Kaner, illustrated by Stephen MacEachern
edition: Hardcover
  • age: 8 to 12
  • Grade: 3 to 7
tagged: architecture, physics

Introducing Corry Lapont: 12-year-old and aspiring “green” engineer. This dynamic title takes the form of Corry's scrapbook. It's a dazzling collection of postcards, brochures and other memorabilia documenting Corry's research into green design. Kid-friendly language explains the engineering behind some of the planet's most cutting edge towers, …

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Fantastic Feats and Failures

by Editors of YES Mag
edition: Paperback
also available: Hardcover
  • age: 8 to 12
  • Grade: 3 to 7
tagged: architecture, physics

Astronauts on Apollo 13 averted disaster with the help of duct tape. The design of the Sydney Opera House was based on the segments of an orange. The Tacoma Narrows Bridge swayed so much it was nicknamed “Galloping Gertie.” From genius designs to deadly design-flaws, the story of engineering is full of oddities and surprises. Fantastic Feats an …

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Building Canada

by Bonnie Shemie
edition: Hardcover
  • age: 9 to 12
  • Grade: 4 to 7
tagged: architecture, city & town life

Sitting so close to the United States, and with influences from France, Great Britain, Asia, and Europe, building styles in Canada are familiar but different, eclectic, and unique. Bonnie Shemie, who studied the houses of North America’s native peoples, has created a beautiful and informative volume that defines this country’s history and geogr …

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