Review of Girls Who Build, by Katie Hughes

Girls Who Build

Inspiring Curiosity and Confidence to Make Anything Possible

by Katie Hughes
illustrated by Kay Coenen

Black Dog & Leventhal Publishers, 2020. 258 pages.
Review written June 8, 2021, from a library book
Starred Review

This book is amazing and inspirational. It’s a high-quality photo book full of photographs of girls who build. Each featured girl has information about them – first name, age, location, and where they learn – and then a short interview about their history with building and how building makes them feel. Many of the girls present a project they’ve made, and instructions follow to make the project.

The book has a glossary and extensive instructions about building at the front. The importance of competent supervision and safety gear are stressed.

The author and photographer, Katie Hughes, is the founder of Girls Build. I absolutely love the story she tells at the end of her introduction which explains about the camp she runs, teaching girls to use tools:

On the last day of camp, when the girls are wild, loud, and somewhat preposterous as they tour their parents and guardians around, I make sure to position myself near what is commonly called the chop saw a stationary tool that sits on its own stand and features a 12” blade. Formally, it’s known as a sliding compound miter saw. To operate it, girls must reach up to the handle, hit the trigger, and lower the blade through a piece of wood. To parental eyes, it can look terrifying. It’s time to show off, though, and each girl walks up confidently.

She does all the prerequisite measuring and safety steps, and finally rests her fingers on the trigger, ready to cut. It’s at that moment that her parents, who have clearly been holding back, look to her and say, “Are you sure you can use this?” It’s like they waited until the last second, knowing they sent her to camp for this very tool, for this very lesson, and for her to use it with confidence. They can’t help themselves – they even hate themselves for it – but the words escape their mouths almost involuntarily.

Then comes the response.

No matter if she is ten or fourteen, she simultaneously huffs and slowly, meticulously, delivers the best eye roll imaginable.

“Of course I can use a chop saw,” she mutters, as if a chop saw were a pencil or tricycle or one of those little cars kids push with their feet. Of course she can. Duh.

She then hits the trigger, her shoulders thrown back in slight defiance, her cut as perfect as if I’d cut it. Then she blows off the sawdust with a little extra swagger.

I love that swagger. And I’ve started to think of the eye roll as the Girls Build litmus test.

Did she roller eyes at her parents for doubting her ability to handle the 12” sliding compound miter saw? Yes?

Mission accomplished.

What follows are photos of and interviews with those confident girls, explaining what building does for them, encouraging other girls to build, and explaining how they made some projects.

If you give this book to a girl, be prepared to help her find a place where she can learn to build.

I didn’t use the book to learn to build (though I was tempted), but I read the whole thing for the delight of seeing those confident faces.

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Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but the views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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