About the Holiday
While dates for this holiday may vary – some say May while others celebrate in August, National Inventors Month was established in 1998 by the United Inventors Association of the USA, the Academy of Applied Science, and Inventors’ Digest magazine. This month-long holiday recognizes the imagination and talent of individuals who dare to think differently to create new products, services, and ways of doing things that make a positive contribution to the world. Today, I’m sharing a book that highlights those who reach for the sky, dive under the sea, and look for opportunities to better help and connect people through the structures we use and live in. If you harbor dreams of being an inventor—on a large or small scale—look for opportunities to share your ideas!
How Was that Built?
Written by Roma Agrawal | Illustrated by Katie Hickey
They seem to have sprung from the ground, they soar into the clouds, they cross vast waterways—over and under the ripples and waves, and they come in all shapes and sizes. What are they? Buildings! For lovers of architecture, engineering, and just the marvels that people can construct, Roma Agrawal’s compendium of some of the world’s most incredible buildings will leave them enthralled—and much more knowledgeable on how these structures came to be.
In fifteen chapters, Agrawal reveals all the nuts and bolts about how buildings are secured on difficult sites (such as on sinking ground, in the sea, underground, and on ice); constructed to be tall, long, or able to move; and made to serve civic purposes. In addition to detailed explanations of the conditions architects and engineers must take into consideration when designing and constructing a building, bridge, or other structure, Agrawal clearly describes the materials used, how they are made, and why each is chosen for a particular job.
Rounding out each chapter, Agrawal goes in depth on one world building that demonstrates her topic. For example, In the first chapter she introduces readers to the Metropolitan Cathedral in Mexico City, which was built on top of an old Aztec pyramid in the middle of a filled-in lake. When it began sinking and tilting, engineers in the 1990s devised an intriguing way to save it. If you’re a fan of skyscrapers and wonder just how they’re built, a chapter on The Shard in London, which “is over 1,000 feet tall…and has 11,000 glass panels” (and for which Roma Agrawal worked as an engineer) reveals the secrets of a strong core and the incredible machinery that allows workers to keep going up and up.
Readers who love bridges will find two chapters on these beautiful and intricate structures. One reveals the fascinating story of how the construction of the Brooklyn Bridge overcame many challenges under the direction of Emily Warren, a woman who broke barrios for women in the engineering field. Another describes six different types of bridges as well as where they are used and why.
Readers also learn about concrete and how arches and domes work. They then explore the Pantheon and discover how it has stood for nearly 2,000 years. Other concrete structures from around the world are also discussed. You may not think too much about sewers, but imagine living without them! You’ll get a good (and stinky) idea about the conditions in London hundreds of years ago before Joseph Bazalgette designed and built the first sewer system. How did he do it? Agrawal breaks it down and then talks about today’s modern sewers.
You’ll also find chapters on dams, tunnels, and buildings with moveable parts—or buildings like the Halley VI research station in Antarctica that can be moved easily in their entirety to avoid snow or ice that may crack beneath them. Then there are the challenges of building under the sea and in outer space. While astronauts now rely on the International Space Station, “some engineers and scientists are studying how to build structures on the Moon! Then researchers could live there for a long time to carry out their experiments and learn more about outer space.” What considerations must engineers take into account and what materials will they use? Agrawal fills readers in. She then closes her book with a look toward the future and talks about new materials and methods of building that may transform our world.
Sprinkled throughout the book are “Try It At Home” prompts for experiments that readers can easily do at home to visually interact with the concepts Agrawal lays out, such as using malted milk balls and raisins to understand “how carbon atoms make steel stronger” and making a pneumatic caisson with just a few household items.
Back matter includes a glossary of terms found in the book and brief biographies of ten influential engineers from the past and present.
Readers of all ages will be engrossed by Roma Agrawal’s guide through the architecture and engineering that go into housing, moving, connecting, and supporting the world’s population. Every page contains fascinating details and interesting tidbits culled from Agrawal’s extensive experience as an engineer. These go far beyond an introduction to landmark buildings to show readers exactly how each type of building works. Relayed in a simple-to-understand, conversational style, her text is also broken up into short paragraphs that are easily digestible and invite further research, making this a superb resource for schools, homeschooling, and enthusiasts of all things engineering and architectural. Agrawal’s inclusion of structures from the past reveal the ingenuity of our ancestors and how they still influence today’s engineers and architects. Kids who love geography, archaeology, astronomy, and learning about all the intricate workings of the world will be enthralled with this book.
Katie Hickey gives readers an insider’s view of these phenomenal buildings with her stylish and incredibly detailed illustrations. Cityscapes allow children to understand the scale of skyscrapers from around the world and the beauty and breadth of New York City’s Brooklyn Bridge. Hickey whisks readers off to London to see The Shard; to New Zealand to view Te matau ā pohe, a bascule bridge whose shape was inspired by a fish hook; to Japan, where the Sapporo Dome accommodates soccer and baseball games with a moveable field of natural turf; and to Africa to stand on the edge of the Katse Dam and look 600 feet down into its reservoir. Along with this world tour, Hickey helps readers visualize the intricate working parts of certain buildings and bridges with interior views and small insets that demonstrate the physics of each design. Images of various types of cranes, pulleys, and other machinery also reveal the science behind building each structure.
A rich and comprehensive resource on the intricate engineering that goes into designing and building complex structures while also sharing the stories behind them, How Was that Built? will captivate readers of all ages. The book is a must for any STEM, science, art, or archaeology lover and belongs in all school and public library collections.
Ages 6 and up
Bloomsbury Children’s Books, 2022 | ISBN 978-1547609291
Roma Agrawal is a structural engineer who builds big. From footbridges and sculptures, to train stations and skyscrapers – including The Shard – she has left an indelible mark on London’s landscape. She is a tireless promoter of engineering and technical careers to young people, particularly under-represented groups such as women. She has advised policymakers and governments on science education, and has given talks to thousands around the world at universities, schools and organizations, including two for TEDx. Roma has been awarded international awards for her technical prowess and success in promoting the profession, including the prestigious Royal Academy of Engineering’s Rooke Award.
National Inventors Month Activity
Build a Remarkable Recycled Bridge
You don’t need fancy blocks and construction materials to build a bridge! Little ones will be fascinated to put together a bridge made out of items you already have at home or that may even be slated for the recycle bin. Spaghetti boxes make great roadways, and cut-up egg cartons can be used as supports.
Build a Whole Town
Want to give your bridge a town with a river to span – or maybe two towns to connect? Cereal boxes and pasta boxes make great skyscrapers, apartment buildings, fire stations, and more. Need a farm silo? Grab a peanut butter jar, oatmeal container, or aluminum can. Cut a meandering river for your bridge to span from paper or cardboard. You can use them as is or—if your kids are sticklers for a little more detail—add some paint and details! So look around at the raw materials around you, use your imagination, and get creative!
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