2015 Gift Guide (No. 4): For the Mechanically Inclined

December 12, 2015 § Leave a comment

"How Machines Work: Zoo Break" by David MacaulayI would like to point out, as I sit here plodding along on my Holiday Gift Guide a mere thirteen days before Christmas, that Smitten Kitchen only launched her guide today (I will be asking for everything on it). So, you see, I am not the only one who believes (hopes?) that people still have some shopping left to do. Even if you have already finished yours, I hope you will keep my picks in mind for the New Year. Because any day is the perfect day to receive a new book.

Today, I want to tell you about a super-duper-awesome new non-fiction book. David Macaulay, who launched the Beast of Gifts in 1988 with The Way Things Work (Ages 10-16), a massive hardcover volume dedicated to demystifying science and technology for children with clear language and beautifully rendered line drawings, has this year created a fully interactive and substantive spin-off. How Machines Work: Zoo Break (Ages 6-9) is targeted at a slightly younger audience and is aimed at exposing specific scientific principles. Here, through a combination of flaps, pop-ups, and inset booklets—as well as a silly story line about a sloth and mouse determined to break free of their zoo enclosure—children are introduced to simple machines.

I titled this post, For the Mechanically Inclined, but that’s actually inaccurate. The beauty of this book is that it is so seductive, so tactile, and so pretty, that it will captivate even those who don’t think of themselves as science-y. There’s even humor in the speech bubbles of the two animals, whose bickering is half the fun (Sloth has a tendency to fall asleep mid-collaboration). Oh, to have a chance to grow up with the wealth of non-traditional science and math books being published today! I might not have run the other way, believing I was only capable of artistic ventures. But I digress.

Christmas for my son came two months ago, when this book showed up at our doorstep, courtesy of DK Publishing. I think the word “cool” might have been uttered 42 times, while JP ran to the couch and poured over the book until dinner (the next day, he read excerpts to his sister).

Did I mention that the gears on the front cover actually work? How about, on the page titled “Getting Leverage,” where Sloth and Sengi are experimenting with levers, fulcrum, and loads, that children get to construct their own seesaw to try and launch the animals over a pop-up fence?

"How Machines Work: Zoo Break" by David Macaulay

On the other side of Sloth and Sengi’s enclosure is a construction site, where workers are using hammers, wheelbarrows, and automated diggers (all different levers!) to build a new tiger habitat. Sloth and Sengi can only hear what’s going on, but we readers are afforded visual glimpses into the real-life applications of Sloth and Sengi’s makeshift constructions.

"How Machines Work: Zoo Break" by David Macaulay

The clever animals soon move beyond inclined planes and levers to wheels and gears, to pulleys and screws. Macaulay has packed his book with information, much of which isn’t digested (or even noticed) on the first few readings. It took awhile before JP was willing to dive into the inset book tiled “How Gears Work,” which covers the basics of spur gears, bevel gears, rack and pinions, and worm gears (cue learning alongside our children).

"How Machines Work: Zoo Break" by David Macaulay

The animals’ mishaps—an important part of any scientific process—are highly entertaining. Like when Sengi rigs up Sloth in a tire hanging from a rope and pulley, gives him a prod with a giant stick in an attempt to hurl him over the wall, and inadvertently launches him into the face of the zookeeper, who at that moment happens to open the gate from the other side with the sloth’s daily feed (Before he can say “Dinner time!”, he gets a face full of flying sloth.).

"How Machines Work: Zoo Break" by David Macaulay

The animals’ attempt at a pulley is then compared to the hydraulics at work in the crane that is moving the tiger into the new enclosure next door.

"How Machines Work: Zoo Break" by David Macaulay

After the umpteenth fail—this time with a screw-based flying machine that nearly deposits Sengi into the mouth of a hungry seagull—the animals start sketching for their final and most daring plan yet. It’s a giant complex machine, which not only combines all the simple machines from the previous pages but also serves as a kind of scavenger hunt for the reader. JP had a hay day explaining it all to me as I was trying to take these pictures (yes, we are in full Santa-hat-wearing mode). The answers are revealed at the book’s end, along with a Glossary of scientific terms.

"How Machines Work: Zoo Break" by David Macaulay

The question becomes, what will your child do with a book like this? What creations will they engineer? First on the agenda: how about a machine designed to pick up holiday wrappings, bag them, and bring them outside, while you stay in your PJs sipping eggnog? That sounds about right to me.

Did you enjoy this post? Make sure you don’t miss the rest of my Holiday Gift Guide! Enter your email on the right hand side of my homepage, and you’ll receive a new post in your inbox every time.

Review copy provided by Penguin (DK Publishing). Amazon.com affiliate links are provided mainly for ease and reference–although I prefer that we all shop local when we can!

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