'The best books, reviewed with insight and charm, but without compromise.'
- author Jackie French

Wednesday 1 October 2014

Guest Post: Andrew King on The Engibear Project

Kids' Book Review is delighted to welcome author Andrew King to talk about his inspiration for the fantastic engineering-focused Engibear picture book series which includes Engibear's Dream and the newly published Engibear's Bridge.

Kelly, Douglas and I enjoyed the usual family activities playgrounds, parks, drawing and reading. We also spent a lot of time peering through the fences of construction sites as Douglas really seemed to enjoy the things engineers do.

However, we could not find any books about engineering to read to him and engineering characters in popular culture were typically for older kids and adults (e.g. Brains from Thunderbirds, Scotty from Star Trek and Dilbert).

Eventually, through necessity, we created our own engineering character. Engibear started life as a tip-truck driving teddy bear in our back yard sand pit. We played Engibear games during the day and shared Engibear stories at night. Not surprisingly our earliest story was Engibear Builds a Playground. It was followed by other stories about topics such as Bearbots, bridges and trains. Our daughter, Marie-Louise, was born into a family with an imaginary friend.

We continued to read children’s books without finding any specifically about engineering or engineers, although Bob the Builder arrived and partially helped to fill this gap. A study by Holbrook et.al. (2009) confirmed that there were very few children’s books about engineering. In a sample of 4,800 junior fiction books (8-12 years) in Australia only one contained the word ‘engineer’.

Given the lack of children’s books about engineering, I believed that there was an opportunity to improve the way we introduced it to young children and that Engibear could help. He was a friendly face of engineering who could personalise it and make it more accessible and entertaining. As a consulting engineer, Engibear was involved in a wide variety of work, so he was also an ideal character for introducing children to the many and diverse aspects of engineering. With this in mind I started the Engibear Project with the aim of producing a series of children’s books about Engibear and his work.

After producing early drafts of my first book, Engibear’s Dream, which was based on our story Building Bearbots, I was fortunate that Little Steps Publishing agreed to take me on board and also introduced me to the illustrator Benjamin Johnston. With professional editing and Ben’s amazing illustrations and ideas, the book really started to come to life. I learned that producing a book can be a lot like many engineering projects and, as in our case, a multidisciplinary team is a great way to complete the task.

We are very grateful for the support Engibear’s Dream has received and are particularly excited that it has been used by others in an educational context:
•    Engineers Australia Newcastle Division is keen to start early in piquing the interest of students towards a career in engineering. To help with this, Committee members volunteered to visit local schools to read Engibear’s Dream with students and donate copies to the school libraries. Students enjoyed the story, offered solutions to the problems Engibear encountered and were excited by the opportunity to draw their own robots.
•    Queensland University of Technology has been using Engibear’s Dream to help illustrate the engineering design process to school students in Brisbane (English et.al, 2014).

Other engineers were also starting to address the lack of children’s books about their profession, two examples of books, both self-published, being:
•    Rocks, Jeans and Busy Machines which was described as the first children’s book about engineering written by licensed engineers.
•    Engineering Elephants which was created because of a lack of children’s books on engineering for young children (4-8 years).

However, numbers of books about engineering were still low. Dorie and Cardella (2011) searched worldwide on-line literature databases and only found six fictional storybooks pertaining to engineers that were suitable for very young children (3-6 years).

Ben and I have just completed Engibear’s Bridge and have been enjoying school visits, introducing Engilina - Munnagong’s Chief Engineer, talking about engineering construction and project management and facilitating bridge building workshops with students. We have also started drafting our next book, Engibear’s Train.

Others are also producing children’s books about engineering and the total number of books is growing, albeit slowly. It is encouraging that some of these books are doing really well, for example:
•    Rosie Revere Engineer - a New York Times Best Seller (KBR review here)
•    Goldie Blox and the Spinning Machine - an award winning book and toy combination

There is clearly a demand for more children’s books about engineering. There are few existing stories and the profession covers such a diverse range of topics that the opportunities to engage and inspire children are virtually limitless. Perhaps creating books about engineering, or more broadly, books about Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) is an option for more authors and illustrators to consider.

Andrew King is an engineer and author of the Engibear series, illustrated by Benjamin Johnston. You can read our review of Engibear's Dream here. Find out more about Engibear and his engineering projects at the Engibear website and Facebook page.

Article References
Beaty Andrea (2013) Rosie Revere Engineer. Illus. by Roberts David. Abrams Books for Young Readers. New York, USA.
Dorie Brianna L. and Cardella Monica E. (2011). AC 2011-1762: Integrating Children’s Literature into Occupational Learning about Engineers. American Society for Engineering Education.
English Lyn D., King Donna T., Hudson Peter and Dawes Les (2014). The Aerospace Engineering Challenge. Teaching Children Mathematics Vol.21 No.2. National Council of Teachers of Mathematics
Holbrook Allyson, Panozza Lisa and Prieto Elena (2009). Engineering in Children’s Fiction – Not a good story? International Journal of Science Mathematics and Education (2009) 7:723-740
Hunt Emily M. and Pantoya Michelle L. (2010) Engineering Elephants. Illus. by Steward Holly D. USA AuthorHouse.
Rivera Alane and Rivera Raymundo (2010). Rocks, Jeans and Busy Machines. Illus. by Sada Phillip.San Antonio, Texas. Rivera Engineering.
Sterling Debbie(2012) GoldieBlox and the Spinning Machine. GoldieBlox. Oakland, California.