Monday, January 20, 2014

Nonfiction Monday: Machines in Motion: Construction Machines by John Perritano

I will tell you in advance, this is not going to be a positive review. In fact, it will probably be liberally sprinkled with snark and sarcasm and may verge into rant territory at some points.

Ok, so construction machines. Tractors! Trucks! Bulldozers! The kids LOVE books about these and it's one of the main reasons I'm planning to switch to a neighborhoods-type organization in my picture books, so parents will find these subjects for younger children. I've ranted elsewhere about my problems with series nonfiction bindings, and will undoubtedly rant again, but I'm perfectly willing to shell out $15-25 per book for a good construction series. They don't get outdated as fast as some other subjects and they take a lot of wear and tear.

However, I'm not willing to shell out that much on a shoddy product, especially one with a very poor layout.

This is one entry in the Machines in Motion series from Gareth Stevens, which also includes Cars, Military Machines, Planes, Space Machines, and Trucks. It actually gives publication as 2014 but I borrowed it at the end of 2013 (I post ahead). The discount price for the library bound edition is $25, although you can buy a paperback for $13. It's 48 pages long.

At first, it starts out well. A brief introduction to the history of construction machines, then we move right into the bulldozers. Then suddenly we've hopped back in time to "mules and winches". If you don't know what a winch is, you'll have to flip to the glossary in the back, because it's not explained here. It's not even pictured - the main photographs for these historical pages are...modern bulldozers. Ok, then we have a super dozer. Cool. Shiny.

Moving on to dump trucks. Nice explanation of how an inclined plane works and a simple experiment.

Excavators! A little math here, in how you figure out the area of something. Then a historical section on William S. Otis who invented the first steam shovel. This is paired with a very confusing picture. It...looks like a historical steam shovel? Maybe? I mean, it's got a lot of smoke and the caption says "even early excavators made construction work easier" but it's obviously being used in a contemporary setting - the operators are wearing jeans and it's, you know, in use. Maybe a five year old historical construction machines enthusiast would know the difference. I don't.

Cranes! Cranes are pretty simple, you can't mess them up. I mean, they're cranes. Oooh, look they've actually got an historical reconstruction of how cranes changed over the years. With little arrows! This is good, this makes sense. (hmmm, I bet we could build cranes at Mad Scientists Club...)

Steamrollers. First picture is an historical steamroller. Even I can figure this out, cuz it's obviously parked permanently in the grass and has a little pipe thingy for the steam. Modern steamrollers, yep, all good.

Loaders, or front-end loaders. I want to know how they keep them from tipping over, especially when they mention that's a hazard, but that's just my morbid curiosity.

Break time! Somebody decided the best place to insert a timeline of historical construction machines the middle of the book. We've got a repeat of the digital reconstruction of a Greco-Roman crane, what is presumable the first steam shovel (covered in snow), a big steamroller, which is presumably the first one built, but don't take anything for granted because there's no caption and the photo credits offer no information whatsoever. Something that might be a steam-powered tractor, and then again might not. And then, for the 1920s entries...three very obviously modern machines. If they couldn't get photo permissions and really wanted photos there, why not caption the dang things?

Aaaand, we're back to the book with marine barges! And a little lesson on buoyancy, courtesy of our friend Archimedes. Then on to tunneling machines and what may be the only really clear caption of the entire book, the world's largest boring machine. And the caption actually says, specifically, that's what's in the picture!

Then on to pavers, which are mostly pictures of construction workers. Oddly...clean construction workers.

Then we get futuristic with digital designs of what are supposed to be "construction machines of the future". Did the artists make these up? Are these actual designs under consideration? Nobody knows...then we have some blurry pictures of what we are assured are "robocranes" and some artists' representation of a smart hauler called the Centaur. We're assured it really exists, but apparently they couldn't get any actual photographs of it. It's a conspiracy! The government is going to track us down with its smart haulers! Several more pages of futuristic machines follow, but no information on whether these are actually being conceived, designed, built, or are in use.

A quick lesson in drawing a dump truck, instructions on building a report (yes, they did), quiz questions on the book, a glossary, a couple resources, and index.

And you are left wondering why you spent fifty cents a page for this mess.

Verdict: As you can tell, I was really disappointed. For series nonfiction, the writing is not bad and the photographs are mostly decent, but the layout and organization is so appalling, I wouldn't add this no matter how many truck fans you have.

ISBN: 9781433996009; Published 2013/2014 by Gareth Stevens; Borrowed from another library in my consortium

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