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Signs of springtime: construction

A late addition to our “signs of springtime” list: ’tis the season for construction!


This is right near our office on The Fenway, but cranes are popping up like crocuses all over Boston.

Here are some recent construction books for preschool- and early primary-aged kids (particularly vehicle-obsessed ones!), recommended by The Horn Book Magazine.

building our houseJonathan Bean draws on his childhood memories to demonstrate the process of one family building its own house in his 2013 BGHB Picture Book Award–winning Building Our House. A little girl narrates the engaging and warm account; the steps are broken down into captions for half-page panels, while moments of greater import, such as setting the corners for the foundation, receive full- and double-page spreads. Family and friends make not just a house but a cozy home. (Farrar, 2013)

dotlich_what can a crane pick upWhat can a crane pick up? According to Rebecca Kai Dotlich’s What Can a Crane Pick Up?, anything and everything. Dotlich’s energetic, smoothly rhyming text is well matched with Lowery’s childlike mixed-media illustrations. The images of happy, friendly-looking machines (and animals, planets, and underpants) are irresistible; the playful hand-lettered verse is full of silly surprises. Mike Lowery’s subdued palette balances the wacky scenes of smiley cranes taking on the challenges. (Knopf, 2012)

fleming_bulldozer's big dayOn his “big day,” Bulldozer practically flies across the construction site; he can’t wait to invite all his friends to his party. He starts with Digger: “Guess what today is!” But everyone appears too preoccupied with work to guess the answer to Bulldozer’s question. Poor Bulldozer: “‘No games.’ He sniffed. ‘No friends. No party.’” Of course, there is a party; everyone has secretly been working on constructing a giant birthday cake, which Crane hoists up, candles blazing. Birthday surprises, cake, and construction vehicles — little bulldozers will lift their blades up high for Candace Fleming and and Eric Rohmann’s Bulldozer’s Big Day. (Atheneum, 2015)

harper_go go go stopCharise Mericle Harper’s quirky Go! Go! Go! Stop! stars two traffic lights and a fleet of construction vehicles. Little Green shouts “GO!”, and Bulldozer, Dump Truck, Mixer, and friends get to work. But without a way to not go, things threaten to spiral out of control. Then a red “stranger” rolls onto the site, and disaster is averted — eventually. Harper’s action-packed illustrations feature cheerful trucks in colorful cartoonlike scenes. Lively dialogue adds to the storytime fun. (Knopf, 3–6 years)

low_machines go to workIn Machines Go to Work by William Low, each of six small vignettes introduces one or two machines (e.g., TV news helicopter); pose a question (“Is there an accident ahead?”); and, through foldout flaps, offers a (reassuring) answer (“No, a family of ducks is crossing the road”). This design, along with terrific sound effects, encourages listeners to join in. Digital art brightly colors each page with slightly impressionistic tones. (Holt, 2009)

machines go to work in the cityMachinery-loving preschoolers are first introduced to a particular situation involving vehicles, from a garbage truck to a tower crane to an airplane in companion Machines Go to Work in the City. What happens next? Lift a flap (which provides an extended scene of the problem at hand) and find out. Just as they did in Machines Go to Work, Low’s painterly illustrations display the drama and excitement of a bustling cityscape.

meshon_tools ruleA diligent T-square rallies its fellow tools to get to work building a shed in Aaron Meshon’s Tools Rule! One helpful illustration shows the tools, strewn about the lawn, but with captionlike arrows to identify what’s what. Meshon’s lively text is full of tool-centric wordplay; a detailed note describes his process for creating the digitally colored mixed-media illustrations of smiley tools with a can-do attitude. (Atheneum, 2014)

demolitionIn Sally Sutton’s Demolition, a demolition crew tears down an old building, sorts scraps of material, and hauls the debris off to make room for a new construction project, revealed at the end to be a playground. The rhyming text, full of onomatopoeia and muscular action words, captures the excitement and energy of big trucks hard at work. Brian Lovelock’s meticulous illustrations give the job site a suitably dusty patina. (Candlewick, 2012)

sutton_constructionSutton and Lovelock offer a builder’s-eye view of a construction project with Demolition companion Construction. The rhyming text’s onomatopoeia and action verbs capture the site’s sounds; cleanly rendered illustrations feature heavy machinery, tools, and men and women hard at work. Listeners will enjoy guessing what the new building will be before the reveal: “The library’s here for everyone. / Ready… / STEADY… / READ!” (Candlewick, 2014)


sturges_construction kitties_300x300Four indisputably cute overall-clad kitties don hard hats and hop into colorful earthmovers to dig, move, push, and smooth dirt at a construction site in Judy Sue Goodwin Sturges’s Construction Kitties. Shari Halpern’s irresistible gouache illustrations do the heavy lifting here, channeling Byron Barton’s style (strong black lines, rich hues) but with more subtlety of color. With its bold images and straightforward text, this book would make a good storytime choice.

Katie Bircher About Katie Bircher

Katie Bircher, associate editor at The Horn Book, Inc., is a former bookseller and holds an MA in children's literature from Simmons College. She served as chair of the 2018 Boston Globe-Horn Book Award committee. Follow Katie on Twitter @lyraelle.

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