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Books for Xmas for Your Young Architect by Elizabeth Cox

9 December 2017

Books for Christmas for Your Young Architect - a review

Elizabeth Cox

Here is my collection of suggestions for some great Christmas books which might interest your young growing architect. While most books for children depict architects, engineers and builders as male, this selection gives young readers a more balanced picture of our changing professions.

(When available at the outstanding Wellington independent bookshop, the Kilbirnie Children’s Bookshop, I’ve added a link).

Firstly, a couple of books which acknowledge the existence of one female architect – always the same one of course - no prizes for guessing which one.  These are 13 Architect’s Children Should Know by Florian Heine and Cool Architecture: Filled with fantastic facts for kids of all ages by Simon Armstrong.  The first of these is a well-designed large scale book with attractive photographs given lots of space and good text, for about a 7-8 year old and above.

13 Architect’s Children Should Know by Florian HeineCool Architecture: Filled with fantastic facts for kids of all ages by Simon Armstrong

The second of these, Cool Architecture, as well as the bio of Zaha, also includes a picture of a female demolition expert blowing up a building, which I rather liked.  This small-scale book has over 50 double spreads about particular buildings, architects, theory, and topics such as bridges, ‘How to draw as an architect’, and even ‘architecture and control’.  It is illustrated with drawings, not photos, and uses humour to tell some of its stories.  The text is fairly complex, but would give a motivated child who a good reader a solid background into the history and ideas of architecture. 

A rather clever book which compares children’s play with architecture, with double spreads showing drawings on one side with a photo of a particular similar building on the other is Christy Hale’s Dreaming Up.  

 Dreaming Up by Christy Hale

This is for children ages 4-8, with simple text in poetry.  This book features two female architect/designers, Zaha Hadid and Maya Lin, the designer of the Vietnam memorial in Washington – illustrated below is the double spread about her Box house.

These two architects both also have had books put out about them this year.  Both are really beautifully illustrated picture books, with simple text, both showing the architects as young children - hopefully allowing young girls to see themselves in their learning and creative processes.

Maya Lin, Artist-Architect of Light and Lines by Jeanne Walker Harvey / The World is not a Rectangle, Jeanette Winter

One is Maya Lin: Artist-Architect of Light and Lines by Jeanne Walker Harvey, and the other is The World is Not a Rectangle: A Portrait of Architect Zaha Hadid by Jeanette Winter, which was chosen as one of the Washington Post’s Best Children’s Books of 2017.

A set of illustrated picture books we love in our house is Iggy Peck Architect, Rosie Revere, Engineer and Ada Twist Scientist, all by Andrea Beaty and illustrated by David Roberts.  All three of these kids are in the same class at school.  All three books honour and celebrate creative thinking in children, have great rhyme and rhythm, and the illustrations are fabulous (Roberts used to be a fashion designer before become an illustrator). 

Young Rosie is an enthusiastic inventor and engineer, but when things don’t work out, she is tempted to give up, until her Great-Aunt, also Rosie, encourages her to look at things differently. 


Iggy Peck Architect, by Andrea Beaty, illustrated by David Roberts

In Iggy Peck, Iggy’s female teacher hates architecture – but she does come around in the end. There are also two associated project books, which came out this year, Rosie Revere's Big Project Book for Bold Engineers and Iggy Peck's Big Project Book for Amazing Architects.

Gail Gibbons’ How A House is Built, for young children, goes through building a wooden-framed house in quite some detail, acknowledging that it is really complex process, and doesn’t talk down to the audience.  It clearly shows a female architect designing the house at the drawing board, (it was written in 1990, so no CAD for this architect) as well as other female professionals such as plumbers and electricians.

How a House is Built by Gail Gibbons

Slightly more complex, is the American book Women Of Steel And Stone: 22 Inspirational Engineers, Architects, and Landscape Designers by Anna M Lewis. Each biography is quite lengthy, and only a few illustrations, and would be best for a teenager.

One of the women featured in that book – Julia Morgan – has a picture book for younger children dedicated to her, Julia Morgan Built a Castle by Celeste Mannis, with illustrations by Miles Hyman (2006).  It is about Californian architect Julia Moran, who designed 800 buildings, was designed Hearst Castle for William Randoplh Hearst’s. Although it is a picture book it is for fairly sophisticated readers, perhaps 7 and up.

Women of Steel and Stone by Anna M Lewis / Julia Morgan Built a Castle by Celeste Mannis, with illustrations by Miles Hyman

Finally, a book known as Need a House? Call Ms. Mouse! in the United States and House by Mouse in Australia and New Zealand, by George Mendoza. Henrietta Mouse is an architect with a lot of friends, all with different requirements for their homes.  It came out in the 1980s, but it is out of print, and it is obviously well-loved, as 2nd hand copies in the US and UK sell for a tremendous amount.  At the time of writing the Wellington second hand shop Arty Bees is selling a copy for $300. So perhaps not for Christmas – at least Auckland Library has a copy.  There is a lovely review of it by Australian architecture critic Naomi Stead of it here.

House by Mouse, by George Mendoza