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

Thursday 18 May 2017

Review: Robyn Boid: Architect

Once in a while I come across a picture book that makes me sit up and pay attention. This gem of a book is unique, witty and clever, crafting an original narrative approach to introducing non-fiction concepts.

Robyn Boid is a little bird with a big dream. She lives at the university on the ledge of the architecture school. Here she listens, she learns and she experiments. She wants to be an architect.

She builds domes and triangles, archways and entrances. But do they work for a nest? How do you ‘think outside the circle’ when it comes to nest design?  

The story uses sophisticated language and concepts but is balanced with clever illustrations that visually explain the ideas presented in the text.

Robyn builds 'capitals with curlicues; bridges with balustrades; pedestals, patterns and plinths.' Whilst the language sounds complicated, the visual representations encourage kids to interact with the text by asking questions, pointing and examining, so it does not seem too far-fetched for younger readers.  

The illustrations are fantastic. As with the cover illustration, the different architectural styles are represented against predominantly simple backgrounds, enabling the focus to stay on Robyn's designs - their beauty, their stylistic elements, their usefulness and, in several cases, their familiarity (look out for some famous landmarks!).

Robyn explores a range of architectural concepts in trying to design the perfect nest. The tall thin triangle is too pointy, and the towers and spirals are impressive, but where does her egg fit? She starts to realise the most important architectural concept of all. Despite all the fancy 'archways’, ‘buttresses’ and ‘balconies’, if a design does not fit its purpose (i.e, to hold an egg), then it just isn’t going to work.

I hope many of you picked up on the word play in the title (Robin Boyd was one of Australia’s most prominent modernist architects) and, of course, Boyd/Boid/Bird… What can I say... The text is interspersed with word puns and egg-xceptionally bad jokes that kids find hilarious! This lightens some of the more complex language by engaging kids in humour and focussing them on one of the key points of architecture – purpose (where does the egg go?).

The book is suitable for older primary kids and is well supported by the glossary of tricky architecture terms and teachers notes. However, younger kids will still enjoy Robyn’s story and journey of nest building discovery, and can also have fun with the look and find elements (eg can you find 14 wiggly worms throughout the book?).

I was really impressed with this book’s ability to tell us the story of a little bird with a dream and a problem to solve, whilst cleverly introducing the foundation of architectural concepts. The sophisticated language is not intimidating and leaves plenty of opportunity for further discussion with older readers. Kids are challenged to think about shape, structure and most importantly, purpose.

Coote has created an original and engaging picture book that will have the kids thinking they are egg-xperts on architecture in no time!

Title: Robyn Boid: Architect 
Author/Illustrator: Maree Coote
Publisher: MelbourneStyle Books, $29.95
Publication Date: 1 May 2017 
Format: Hard Cover 
ISBN: 9780992491741
For ages: 3 – 10 
Type: Picture Book