Book Review: Stunningly Illustrated ‘How to Build a Car’ Appeals to Children & Adults
Technical Tales book brings wonder and joy to readers through skillful illustrations
Despite the vast amount of educational picture books for children on bookstore shelves these days, few of those bland, simplistic texts ever get chosen as the esteemed “bedtime story.” How to Build a Car, published by Walter Foster Jr., might be the first book in your home to have that honor.
Although its title may sound cold and uncreative, its approach is anything but. Thanks to Martin Sodomka’s winsome illustrations and Saskia Lacey’s fictional story, a juvenile-oriented manual on the parts of a car becomes an adventure about three animal friends.
But that doesn’t mean this children’s book won’t teach you a thing or two about automobiles!
How to Build a Car (2015)
Written by Saskia Lacey, Illustrated by Martin Sodomka
Product Details: Hardcover, 64 pages, 9 x 9 inches
Publication Date: September 2015
Publisher: Walter Foster Jr., an imprint of Quarto Publishing Group
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Eli the mouse, known for his wild ideas, develops a plan that requires the helps of his two friends, Phoebe the sparrow and Hank the frog. We learn the basics of what makes a car–from the chassis to the engine–as we discover what teamwork and imagination can achieve. Their work is depicted with diagrams and vocabulary words labeling the parts of a car.
This book is part of the Technical Tales series which includes How to Build a Plane and How to Build a Motorcycle (or Motorbike), also created by the talented Martin Sodomka. Of the three texts, Car is the most accessible for introducing children to the inner workings of vehicles. The book was original published in 2013 under a different publishing house with different text, and has been rewritten by Walter Foster Jr. using the same illustrations.
The narrative portion of the book will take about 20 minutes to read aloud, but additional time should be spent examining and discussing the diagrams with your audience.
How to Build a Car is a book that’s the perfect size for what it is–hefty for a children’s publication without feeling like a textbook. Its cover is one of the most durable hardcover cases you can find on a children’s book, though the blue/orange color scheme is a bit jarring and distracts from the cover illustration.
Inside, there are hardly any “empty” pages as every inch is filled with large illustrations, lengthy narrative text, and diagram labels. Even the backgrounds resemble parchment and graph paper. Yet, the design is organized well enough to not feel crowded.
The binding in the copy we received was already getting loose between the pages, and although that may be a fluke with our copy, you may want to watch how often you let young readers drag around and damage the book if you want it to last.
The price ($14.95) sits near the average list cost of a hardcover children’s book these days and is a good value for the money.
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How to Build a Car might be categorized as an educational book—which it certainly is—but just because it has animals in its illustrations doesn’t mean it’s just a children’s book. While young readers will appreciate the basic premise and visual contents, older readers will appreciate this creative, narrative approach to a highly technical subject. For being a children’s story, it’s well-organized into chapters and a table of contents, with the steps summarized at the end. All throughout the book, the diagrams are filled with labels and vocabulary terms to challenge older (including adult) readers. Clearly this still intends to be an informative read.
The drawings are simply gorgeous and easily the highlight of the book. Their rustic, smeared appearance capture the grunginess of a mechanic’s garage. A few drawings are a bit too shadowy or dynamically angled, which may appear creepy to more delicate children.
The story is the weakest aspect of How to Build a Car. While it sufficiently integrates the technical jargon into the dialogue, its simplicity and lack of action might not keep certain listeners engaged. The characterization is basic but consistent. Chances are the second and third times you read through the book, you’ll skim over the story and focus on the illustrations and diagrams.
If you know a child who wants to know more about cars, regardless if they’re male or female (as this book doesn’t favor either gender), pick up How to Build a Car. It’ll be the most entertaining introduction to automotive mechanics kids will actually read.
How to Build a Car is available on Amazon, Indiebound, Barnes and Noble, Book Depository, Indigo, and other retailers.
Aaron is unashamed to be a native Clevelander and the proud driver of a 1995 Saturn SC-2 (knock on wood). He gleefully utilizes his background in theater, literature, and communication to dramatically recite his own articles to nearby youth. Mr. Widmar happily resides in Dayton, Ohio with his magnificent wife, Vicki, but is often on the road with her exploring new destinations. Aaron has high aspirations for his writing career but often gets distracted pondering the profound nature of the human condition and forgets what he was writing… See more articles by Aaron.