Thank you to @NetGalley and @bloomsburypublishing for providing me with a review copy of this book. All opinions are my own.
Ellie is an engineer. With a tool belt strapped over her favorite skirt (who says you can’t wear a dress and have two kinds of screwdrivers handy, just in case?), she invents and builds amazing creations in her backyard workshop. Together with her best friend Kit, Ellie can make anything. As Kit’s birthday nears, Ellie doesn’t know what gift to make until the girls overhear Kit’s mom talking about her present–the dog Kit always wanted! Ellie plans to make an amazing doghouse, but her plans grow so elaborate that she has to enlist help from the neighbor boys and crafty girls, even though the two groups don’t get along. Will Ellie be able to pull off her biggest project yet, all while keeping a secret from Kit?
What a fun book! Ellie is a riot and something of a hot mess. The book starts with a boys vs girls issue that Ellie solves by inventing a giant water balloon launcher and soaking the boys, but as the book progresses, Ellie learns that we can’t and shouldn’t always divide things by gender. One area where Ellie is sure that gender doesn’t matter is engineering and it is her biggest passion.
I really liked that there were a wide variety of characters in this book. Ellie loves to build things. Her best friend, Kit, loves to help out, but loves fashion and isn’t big on getting dirty. Toby Michaels, is sort of a know-it-all; Ellie wouldn’t normally let him help her do anything, but her desire to share her love of engineering overpowers her dislike of boys. The three girls who make up The Presidents are artistic and write comic books in their spare time. The other boys are all big on sports and tormenting the girls. All pretty standard 3rd grade fare, but you don’t often see all of these parts wind up working together in one book.
The story focuses on Ellie trying to secretly build an amazing doghouse for Kit after her first birthday present turns out to be a fail and after they over-hear Kit’s mom and think Kit is getting a dog for her birthday. Ellie has all of the engineering know-how, but she winds up needing help from others to make it all come together, especially since Kit is her normal go-to assistant. Toby is great with people and she needs his backyard to help keep the project a secret from Kit. The Presidents add artistic touches that she isn’t so great at. But while all of this is happening, Ellie is trying to keep everyone in the dark about who she is working with because the girls don’t like the boys and because it all needs to be kept secret from Kit. Secrets are hard to keep and feelings are easily hurt with misunderstandings. Of course, it all works out in the end.
The book features great drawings from Ellie’s sketchbook and some great descriptions about tools. She explains to Toby the difference between a Phillips and flathead screwdriver with great language and other tools are brought up from time to time, like a builder’s square “which wasn’t a square at all – it was a triangle – so it was sort of a weird name.”
This book also works as an enticement for young girls to consider engineering. The doghouse is not the only thing that Ellie builds in the book – each times her friends find out that she is an engineer, and not the kind that drives a train, they have something they want to create and need her help on. She is always thinking outside of the box and problem solving and is good at thinking quickly on her feet. As we continue to encourage more and more kids to embrace STEM, books like this are a wonderful addition to their arsenal.
I also love that gender roles are seen as problematic in this book. The girls had been left out of the soccer game in the beginning of the book, even though Ellie is apparently a better goalie than the Dylan. Kit didn’t invite any boys to her birthday party because it was a tea party, but Toby loves tea and the idea of a fancy party. In the end, all of the kids learn that working together gets great results.
This is a great addition for grades 2-5 which is being published January 18th.