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.”
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?
written by Emily Pilloton
illustrated by Kate Bingaman-Burt
Chronicle Books, 2019