Girls Garage

Girls GarageI love this book SO MUCH. When Bookol­o­gy was sign­ing off for its sum­mer hia­tus, this book land­ed on my desk (thunk!) and I knew right away it would be my first rec­om­men­da­tion in the fall.

When I was grow­ing up a mil­lion years ago, my grand­fa­ther was a car­pen­ter who built every­thing from hous­es, bridges, church­es, and fur­ni­ture to bird­hous­es. I want­ed to learn what he knew but … girls didn’t learn those skills. I could help him by lay­ing down glue or paint­ing but no pow­er tools and no ham­mer­ing because I might hurt myself.

When I was in sev­enth grade there were two choic­es offered for girls at our mid­dle school: home ec or art. I want­ed to take shop. I had many teach­ers and admin­is­tra­tors explain to me why I couldn’t. It was a good les­son in advo­ca­cy but it failed as an exer­cise in persuasion.

Times have changed (sort of).

Now we have Girls Garage and I want to do this. Writ­ten by Emi­ly Pil­lo­ton, the sub­ti­tle is How to Use Any Tool, Tack­le Any Project, and Build the World You Want to See. In 2013, Emi­ly Pil­lo­ton found­ed Girls Garage, a non­prof­it, to “give girls the tools to build the world they want to see.” Girls Garage is also a build­ing in Berke­ley, Cal­i­for­nia, “the first ever design and build­ing work space for girls in the coun­try, because I noticed that on con­struc­tion sites or in the class­room, in a mixed-gen­der envi­ron­ment, my young female stu­dents often act­ed dif­fer­ent­ly than when it was just a few of us women. (I am guilty of this as well.) We some­times cen­sored our com­ments, or gave up respon­si­bil­i­ties, even though we knew how to use the miter saw as well as anyone.”

Girls Garage
the begin­ning of the Pow­er Tools sec­tion in Garage Girls, writ­ten by Emi­ly Pil­lo­ton, illus­trat­ed by Kate Binga­man-Burt, pub­lished by Chron­i­cle Books, 2019

A big por­tion of this book is a descrip­tion of the tools used to con­struct any­thing. We see a draw­ing of each type of tool (screw, nail, screw­driv­er, vise, mason line, and more) accom­pa­nied by a descrip­tion of what it’s used to do and how to use it. For exam­ple, under “torque screw­driv­er,” we learn “What the heck is torque, any­way? Think about the arm strength it takes to open a stub­born jar of pick­les. Torque is the force required to rotate or turn an object. Using a torque screw­driv­er, we can reg­u­late how much force is applied to turn­ing a screw.” The casu­al, friend­ly, infor­ma­tive text is just per­fect for stick­ing the con­cepts in my brain. Yours, too, I’ll bet.

There are short pro­files of girls and women who love build­ing as much as Emi­ly Pil­lo­ton does. Simone Parisi is a stu­dent at Girls Garage. She describes her­self as an intro­vert. She says, “As a Girls Garage builder over many years, I have learned how to use a chop saw, jig­saw, drill, dri­ver, speed square, table saw, and how to weld and draft by hand.” She’s learned so well that when Mandy Moore and Melin­da Gates vis­it­ed Girls Garage in 2019, Simone demon­strat­ed to them how to use a drill and driver.

We meet Kay Mor­ri­son, a jour­ney­man welder dur­ing 1943 to 1945, at a navy ship­yard in Rich­mond, Cal­i­for­nia, dur­ing World War II. Today, in her nineties, she and her fel­low “Rosie the Riv­et­ers” still meet to dis­cuss their lives and accom­plish­ments since that time. Kay says, “In my era there were many peo­ple who made it chal­leng­ing. Peo­ple were afraid of change. But I had a hus­band who was all for the rights of women. Equal rights, equal pay — and that gave me sup­port and incen­tive. But I was always the type of per­son who knew I could do what I want­ed to do, and I wouldn’t let peo­ple stop me or deter me.” Her advice to young girls and women? “Just do what you want to do. You have to real­ly want some­thing bad enough, and then just go and do it.”

Chap­ters such as “How to flip a cir­cuit break­er back on (and why it flips in the first place)” and “How to Jump-Start a Car” have clear, order­ly instruc­tions and illus­tra­tions … and safe­ty alerts!

There are Build­ing Projects at the back of the book like mak­ing your own “Go-To Tool­box” and “Sawhors­es.” I feel con­fi­dent I could build any of these things with the instruc­tions Emi­ly Pil­lo­ton has pro­vid­ed. She even shows how to make a stud-framed dog­house. Can a house for humans be far behind?

This book is writ­ten for the upper end of Bookol­o­gy’s age range (they rec­om­mend 14 and up with adult super­vi­sion), but I know the ten-year-old me would have want­ed to learn about the tools, under­stand the mechan­ics, and pre­pare for my first con­struc­tion project. In shop class?

High­ly recommended.

Girls Garage
writ­ten by Emi­ly Pilloton
illus­trat­ed by Kate Bingaman-Burt
Chron­i­cle Books, 2019
ISBN 978−1−4521−6627−8

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Lois Bartholomew
3 years ago

My girls all like to build things. This looks great for the grand­daugh­ters. Thanks, Vicki.

Lois Bartholomew
Reply to  Lois Bartholomew
3 years ago

When I was in Jr. High in a small school, for one semes­ter all the boys took Home Ec. and fixed the girls a meal at the end. All the girls took shop. We could choose our own projects. I opt­ed for leather work and made my moth­er a wal­let and myself a purse, carv­ing the designs and lac­ing it togeth­er. In 4‑H we worked with wood and I made a shoe rack. Can’t remem­ber using any pow­er tools, though.

April Halprin Wayland
April Halprin Wayland
Reply to  Lois Bartholomew
3 years ago

Oh my good­ness! I want to be 11 years old again and hang out in Berke­ley’s Girls Garage!