Build a Farm. By Robert Pizzo.
Build a School. By Robert Pizzo.
The geometric precision of Robert Pizzo’s art, which offers substantial
(but age-appropriate) real-world information underpinned by a pleasant
whimsicality, continues to delight and inform the very youngest children (and
any adults interacting with them) in Let’s
Build a Farm and Let’s Build a School
– two board books that, when added to the earlier Let’s Build a Highway and Let’s
Build a Playground, form a four-book grouping quite unlike others for the
earliest pre-reading age group.
Actually, these books reach well beyond their intended readership (or pre-readership),
and do so with such cleverness that adults can be captivated by the material
even as it enthralls little ones. No longer need urban and suburban grown-ups
wonder how all that hay seen at the side of the road ends up rolled: Pizzo’s stylized,
simplified but thoroughly accurate portraits of a baler and the tractor pulling
it explain the process very neatly in the Farm
book. Similarly, the School book
opens with a first-rate representation of an excavator – which really does look
like the machinery that the equally stylized humans digging the school’s
foundation would use (although the person wearing a white shirt and tie along
with a hard hat has got to be a
supervisor or government inspector or something like that).
Pizzo’s “builder books” (called, officially, “Little Builders”) do a
first-rate job of instruction precisely because they do not seem to be teaching
at all. These are action books, with
each set of 24 pages showing the growth of an essentially empty area into a
recognizable, useful project. Each left-hand page clearly shows a component of
the finished project – in Farm, for
example, a post hole digger (for the uprights that are used to make a cow
fence), some chicken wire (for the chicken coop), and sheet metal (for the
grain silo). Each right-hand page then shows what the pictured object does: the
fence being built, three hens in their enclosure, two workers completing the
silo construction. Along the way, kids and adults get to see some genuinely
interesting machinery that is not normally viewable up close, such as the
farm’s sprinkler machine – shown in fascinatingly intricate detail on the left,
and in action watering crops (while the farmer watches) on the right.
The how of engineering and
construction is also made quite clear in these books. Thus, in School, bricks are shown on the left
while a bricklayer – standing on an appropriate platform – is shown using them
to make the building’s wall on the right; and multicolored tile, in its
shipping box on the left, is shown on the right being neatly laid to make a
floor. This book too features some amazing-looking machinery, such as the
telescopic handler used to lift drywall from the ground to the upper story,
where a worker is ready to receive it for installation. (Pizzo accurately gives
the names of machinery with which even adults may be unfamiliar – in this
specific case, he could also have called the machine a reach forklift or, more
entertainingly but perhaps less immediately understandably, a zoom boom.)
Of course, there is no way for Pizzo to detail every aspect of creating a farm or school (or highway or playground), and he is age-appropriately selective in showing specific implements and machines and how they are used. In Farm, for example, what he mentions for making a pig trough is a hammer – scarcely the only item needed, but yes, definitely one element of the construction. He also shows a hive “to keep all the bees,” and this involves one of his most-engaging illustrations, showing an appropriately suited and veiled beekeeper completely surrounded by the flying insects. Similarly, in School, Pizzo shows a completed food station being integrated into a lunchroom where microwaves are visible on the wall and there is a counter along which trays slide; and he shows a basketball hoop for the gymnasium, where the backboard and other elements are already in place. The result of all this is that adults reading these books with kids have a great opportunity to discuss other elements of what is being constructed – in addition to the ones on which Pizzo focuses. That makes these books into “think pieces” as well as illustrated guides to construction projects. This is quite an accomplishment for board books – for any kids’ books, in fact. There is considerable focus today on teaching children the STEM subjects – science, technology, engineering and math – to prepare them better for an increasingly complex world. Books such as Pizzo’s can help bring that world into recognizable, engaging and involving form for the very youngest kids, providing an excellent foundation for much later forays into the inner workings of farms, schools, highways, playgrounds and (if Pizzo continues the series) plenty of other everyday marvels. Bridge-building, anybody?