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The Picture Book Buzz

Construction People - Perfect Picture Book Friday #PPBF

I remember when our neighborhood was being built. My kids were little and one of our fun activities was go "peeking" and watch as the rough outlines became houses. We'd try to guess which rooms would be where. It was a lot of fun to see the wiring and plumbing that ordinarily hides behind the walls.

While generally we can't wander through a skyscraper under construction, many of us have watched one being built. This week's #PPBF choice gives readers a close-up glimpse of this process; of the numerous jobs that are obvious and many that happen quietly behind the scenes.

In Monday's interview of a number of the poets and the illustrator, Matt Forrest Esenwine, commenting about writing the poem "Construction Project Manager," said:

never underestimate the importance

or impressiveness of anything…

there are very cool, surprising facets

to just about everything in life!

I can't think of a cooler way to introduce this anthology about the construction of a skyscraper!

Construction People

Author: Lee Bennett Hopkins

Illustrator: Ellen Shi

Publisher: Penguin Random House/Wordsong (2020)

Ages: 4-8



Poetry, construction jobs, and STEAM.

Synopsis (by publisher):

Fourteen poems compiled by award-winning poet and anthologist Lee Bennett Hopkins introduce readers to the various construction people who collaborate to create a high-rise hotel building, from architect to crane operator to glaziers and more. How does an empty lot transform into a new hotel? This anthology begins with a busy construction site, and an architect’s (and her daughter’s) dreams drawn on blueprint paper. Next, workers with huge machines–backhoes, dump trucks, cement mixers, etc.–roll in. Poems full of noise and action describe every step of the construction process. From welders and carpenters building the skeleton of the building to plumbers and electricians making its insides work, this book celebrates people and equipment working together to build something magnificent.

Opening Lines:

Instead of supplying the first lines of the first poem, I decided to show you this beautiful "table" of contents:

What Will I Become?/ Rebecca Kai Dotlich

Architect/ Denver Butson

Backhoe Operator/ Georgia Heard

Dump Truck Drivers/ Darren Sardelli

Cement Speaks/ Ralph Fletcher

Crane Operator/ Amy Ludwig VanDerwater

Song of the Welders/ Allan Wolf

Carpenters/ B.J. Lee

Plumbers/ Charles Ghigna

Construction Project Manager/ Matt Forrest Esenwine

Glazers/ Joan Bransfield Graham

Elevator Installers/ Lee Bennett Hopkins

Electricians/ J. Patrick Lewis

What I Am/ Rebecca Kai Dotlich

Text © Lee Bennett Hopkins, 2020. Image © Ellen Shi, 2020.

What I LOVED about this book:

This gorgeous book begins with a touching tribute to Lee Bennett Hopkins. Ellen Shi titled the blueprint to the building "Hopkins Towers (East Side View)," not knowing at the time this would be one of his final anthologies.

Rebecca Kai Dotlich's opening poem "What Will I Become?," written from the POV of the building imagining it's future, features a wonderful repeating line "I will rise." And her closing poem "What I Am," perfectly bookends the anthology as the building proclaims it is, "[a] storied tower called splendid." A tower built of both physical and literary stories.

Ellen also does an excellent job bookending the anthology with her illustrations by initially showing a mother and daughter team during the architect's drafting and then visiting the completed tower on the final page. (Note the child's cherished drawing & the fountain.) In fact, in an illustrative thread, we follow these two throughout much of the book, sharing their enthusiasm for the emerging tower.

Text © Lee Bennett Hopkins, 2020. Image © Ellen Shi, 2020.

With a cast wonderfully diverse in ethnicity, gender, and age, Lee and the poets explore the people and machines responsible for the creation of a city skyscraper. Each of the fourteen poems appear on double-page spreads featuring a different poet and poetic form detailing the pride and actions of numerous individuals involved in the process. From the vehicles (backhoe operators, dump truck drivers, crane operators) to the individuals (welders, carpenters, and plumbers). It even includes the construction project manager, glazers, and elevator installers.

The one fun outlier is Ralph Fletcher's poem "Cement Speaks." Where the cement describes how slowly "like elephant-gray pancake batter" it sets about its job.

Text © Lee Bennett Hopkins, 2020. Image © Ellen Shi, 2020.

The masterful rhyme and rhythm of the poems, use of onomatopoeia, and word play make this fun to read and sure to enthrall and delight children and parents interested in vehicles, tools, engineering, construction, and poetry. Phrases like "wizards of the weld," "an iron maze,"

"hoist and climb," and "sky's everchanging face," combine with beautifully detailed illustrations of the job site to create a #STEAM book that teachers will enjoy for its educational use as well. Overall, a great book that I hope makes it into many homes, schools, and libraries.

Resources: Celebrate Poetry Month - April

Poetry -

- write a poem about an everyday topic, something that may even seem "ordinary" or perhaps a job you'd like to have.

- pick your favorite construction job and write your own poem.

- try to write a poem in a form you've never written before - such as Acrostic, Haiku, Cinquain, or Shaped poem (For poetry examples & definitions, see:

- read other poetry collections by Lee Bennett Hopkins School People, Got Geography!, I Am Someone Else: Poems About Pretending, or Amazing Places.

Engineering -

- create a plan (blueprint) and build your own tower, using wooden or plastic blocks, toothpicks & marshmallows, sugar cubes, toilet paper tubes, or popsicle sticks. (

If you missed the Tribute to Lee Bennett Hopkins by the illustrator, Ellen Shi, & some of the poets of Construction People find it (here).

This post is part of a series by authors and KidLit bloggers called Perfect Picture Book Fridays. For more picture book suggestions see Susanna Leonard Hill's Perfect Picture Books.


Maria Marshall

 Photograph © A. Marshall

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