Thursday, November 6, 2014

The Story of Buildings by Patrick Dillion

The Story of Buildings: From the Pyramids to the Sydney Opera House and Beyond 
by Patrick Dillion
illustrated by Stephen Biesty

Published: March 11, 2014
Publisher: Candlewick

Pages: 96 pages
Genre: Nonfiction
Age Range: 9 - 12 years
Grade Level: 4 - 7
Source: library

Summary from Candlewick:
Featuring beautiful double spreads and flaps
We spend most of our lives in buildings. We make our homes in them. We go to school in them. We work in them. But why and how did people start making buildings? How did they learn to make them stronger, bigger, and more comfortable? Why did they start to decorate them in different ways? From the pyramid erected so that an Egyptian pharaoh would last forever to the dramatic, machine-like Pompidou Center designed by two young architects, Patrick Dillon’s stories of remarkable buildings — and the remarkable people who made them — celebrates the ingenuity of human creation. Stephen Biesty’s extraordinarily detailed illustrations take us inside famous buildings throughout history and demonstrate just how these marvelous structures fit together.

Aspiring architects will be in their element! Explore this illustrated narrative history of buildings for young readers, an amazing construction in itself.

Ack! Okay I am torn by another book here. The illustrations in the book are absolutely amazing. You have detailed pictures of famous building packed with information. Click on the picture of Notre-Dame for example. There are a bunch of callout boxes talking about the different parts of the structure. 

Super cool, right ? Reminiscent of David Macaulay's books like Pyramid, Cathedral and Underground.  I was immediately drawn to this book.

However, I have been finding the writing style, um, well plodding and choppy honestly. See, this is how the book starts ...

Imagine you find yourself in a forest. Night is falling. You have to build a shelter. 

You gather sticks and stack them up to make a cabin, but the sticks keep toppling over. At last you learn how to tie them with vines to hold them upright, but when you crawl into the cabin, there's hardly any space inside. Logs don't keep out the rain either. It trickles between them and drips on your face. 

Maybe you find yourself in the mountains, so you decide to make a stone house. But though you gather all the stones you can find, you don't have anything to stick them together with. After hours of hard work, your house is just a heap of rocks. 

If you find yourself by a river, it's even worse: there's nothing to build with but mud.

Right. So my first problem is that you are talking to an age group intimately familiar with mud, sticks and stones. They are already building constructions out of these materials. They get it. Plus, lots of these kids might be in the scouts too. And the book starts out talking down to them. Not to mention making our ancestors sound like a pack of idiots. ARGH! The text is just too dumbed down and vastly oversimplifies things or makes stuff up. It doesn't live up the illustrations for me.

Sorry, this one doesn't blow up as big.

Here is another example:

The greatest of all Egypt's rulers was Pharaoh Djoser. He expanded his kingdom far into Africa and Arabia, and his people worshiped him as a god. But as time went by, an uneasy feeling began to keep Djoser awake at night. He was the most powerful man in the world, but one day he would die just like the poorest beggar. He had defeated all his enemies, but he could never conquer time. 

Okay - so around here kids cover some portions of ancient civilizations in 6th grade and would usually have a unit or two about ancient Egypt in elementary school (mummies and pyramids are cool stuff!). So, the first things is that you are going to have is an argument about this "greatest of all rulers" stuff. Ramses II is usually the go to choice for greatest. Plus you can have some spirited discussion about Khufu (aka Cheops) of Great Pyramid fame and Amenhotep III who ruled Egypt at the height of its power - in any case, the name of some third dynasty guy is not going to feature prominently here. Then the rest of the paragraph is just made up stuff. Filler that is not historically accurate, nor does it address what is so interesting about what Djoser did. 

So, kids probably won't know this Djoser guy, but they will recognize the name Step Pyramid and many will have some idea of its importance in terms pyramid design, leading eventually to the Great Pyramids at Giza. So, why does book spout some gibberish about Djoser's motivations rather then talk about the design questions here - building a giant pyramid isn't easy - you have to get the pitch correct - too steep and it collapses - too shallow and it would take way too much time and too much material. Yes, this was the first stone monument but there was precedent - taking the basic structure of a Saqqara mastaba and stacking it. That is worth talking more about.

Also, Djoser isn't actually the interesting one here. Imhotep, Djoser's minister (vizir) is because he is the one responsible for design and construction of the Step Pyramid. Imhotep is considered often considered to be the earliest known architect and engineer, and one of the earliest physicians history. A Pharaoh being kitted out for immortality is par for the course. But the fact that Imhotep was one of only a few commoners ever to be accorded divine status after death is much more interesting.

Oh, right - the book also says ...

Djoser's great pyramid at Saqqara didn't fall, though. It remained, like a mountain against the Egyptian sky. Sandstorms buried his shrine. But when it was dug out, thousands of years later, its walls were as smooth and strong as ever.

Book - we have the internet - why are you saying silly things? No it was not not "smooth and strong as ever" - sheesh I am drowning in hyperbole here. The Step Pyramid is amazingly cool - you don't have to make up stuff! 

Now all of this said, I am still going to get my son a copy, because the illustrations are just that awesome. But why, oh why couldn't the text have lived up to them. 

So if you have child interested in architecture, this book would make a good present for the illustrations, but good golly be prepared for them to get just outraged at some of the stuff in the text.  

1 comment:

  1. Members of my family will find the illustrations in this book interesting, too. Looking forward to working with you as a Round I Cybils judge.


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