Christy Hale had the clever idea of taking three seemingly disparate elements and connecting them on the page. On the left hand side of each spread is a picture of a child building something - toddlers stacking cups, a boy building a house of cards, children bundled up while playing in an igloo. On the opposite page is a photograph of a real house or building that has something in common with the child's creative play. In the example of the children playing in the igloo, the photo across from them is of an astronaut in a space suit, walking around a domed shelter. The picture is a little bit surprising. It makes the reader question how the shelter and astronaut came to be there. But a reader can also immediately identify similarities between the picture of the children and the space shelter. Both are dome-shaped, with similarly-sized entrances. And where the igloo has been created with snow in cool tones, the space shelter looks to be created in a sort of honeycomb pattern. Circles echo in both sides of the page. The children's fluffy snowsuits and boots also resemble the astronaut's spacesuit.
We'll come back later to the astronaut and the space shelter, but for now I want to focus on the last element on each two-page spread. There is a piece of concrete poetry that ties the two illustrations together. The poems are often shaped in unique ways, which helps to further engage the reader. A poem connecting a sandcastle with La Sagrada Familia in Barcelona is shaped like drips of wet sand. As a child, I lived in San Diego, and seeing the poem makes my fingers itch to dribble sand through their fingers. But the poem doesn't just explain the child's activity. Hale does an amazing job of helping the reader to see that link between the two. Her poem, which reads in part "Towers twist high, sparkle with sea glass, treasures and shells." can equally apply to La Sagrada Familia, which we learn later in the book is covered in mosaic glass.
One of the many things that I pondered as a result of this book was the creativity that is shown both in the children's play and the buildings that are highlighted. The buildings that are shown are amazing works of art. There are the concentric swirls of the Guggenheim museum, the stacked terraces of Fallingwater. But there is also the draped look of the suspension roof at the Yoyogi National Stadium in Japan, which mimics the shape of a blanket tent hung over chairs. What is glorious about all of these real-life examples are their inspirations - space, nature and our lifestyles.
But I was also amazed by the diverse ways that children build and use their imaginations every day. We could all probably think of a few ways children build, and they are fairly traditional (stacking cups, blocks, legos). But there are other ways that children construct, such as the blanket tent, sandcastles, and building with toothpicks. While the book calls itself a celebration of building, it is just as much a celebration of creativity.
This book can be used by so many types of readers, too. I hate the perception that "picture books" should only be used with younger children, and this book fits my belief perfectly. Of course, you could read this book with groups of young children (although I'm not sure that children much younger than Kindergarten would really be able to get it). However, as children get older, it could be used as a model for creating concrete poetry. It's definitely a higher order thinking challenge. Primarily Hale draws strong connections between the illustrations with her poems so readers have similarities pointed out to them. But expressing those connections in words or drawing the architectural elements would also be fun ways to work with this book.
And finally, one of the things I love most about this book is its amazing back matter. Each building is reproduced in the back, along with a description of the materials it was created from, or the elements that make that building unique. There is also a brief biography of the architect or builder, along with some of their guiding principles and a portrait. And perhaps my favorite part of these biographies is a quote from the architect that perfectly fits the building in question. For example, that space shelter is actually Mars One, in Hesperia, California. It was created from sandbags, stacked in a dome shape (which is also alluded to in the poem), and held together with Velcro of all things! The builder, Nader Khalili, believed that "the best substances for constructing shelters would be the materials under the astronauts' feet." The quote is "'Everything we need to build is in us, and in the place.'" To me, it encapsulates the building perfectly. There is also an excellent page of sources for readers to research, both for photos and the quotations. This book might seem simple, but the layers are satisfyingly complex.
Dreaming Up: A Celebration of Building. Christy Hale. Lee & Low Books, 2012.
Borrowed from Lewis & Clark Library