Last week we published Building a Home, written by Polly Faber and illustrated by Klas Fahlén – a beautifully illustrated non-fiction book, following the journey of an old factory building as it becomes a new home. And today we’re thrilled to be sharing a piece from Polly about her inspiration and the importance of representation in children’s books…
I love tower cranes. Living in London it’s rare to find a view that doesn’t include at least one. During the day I stare out of my study window, mesmerised by a local cluster’s stately swinging arm ballet. At night, their metalwork becomes invisible so red lights hover and blink in the sky like UFOs. They are such an ordinary sight and yet seem so otherworldly, strangely romantic: their drivers, alone in their cabs all day, have their own isolated perspective on the world – rather like submariners or astronauts or even writers…
Becoming an actual crane driver was not a job option that ever occurred to me when I was small. Of course, there’s more than one reason why; I love cranes but I don’t like heights. The idea of climbing that endless ladder every day, or sitting in a cab that sways and creaks in the gentlest of breezes gives me shivers. And somewhere along the way through my 70’s and 80’s childhood I also absorbed the idea that building things and building machines were inherently male pursuits and interests: that they were not for me.
Fast forward thirty years and depressingly, it seems that still holds true. Only 10-15% of workers in the construction industry are women and the vast majority of them work in administrative support, rather than actually on site. While physical strength is an asset for some parts of building work, the continuing perception that it’s Bob, not Wendy, who’s the Builder has a much bigger part to play in keeping construction sites overwhelmingly male. Organisations like snappily named networking group, Chicks with Bricks, or Built By Her which inspires 16 to 18-year-old girls to consider a career in construction, are working to change the story but its slow.
This was the background I researched when writing Building a Home: even if I wasn’t going to drive one, those cranes had kept calling to me and somewhat to my own surprise, I found myself writing my first non-fiction book about a construction site. But non-fiction books have a responsibility to be truthful to the readers they seek to inform, however young those readers are. And so I pondered how to present my construction site workforce. If everything I wrote was truthful in the sense of being possible did it matter that it wasn’t a mirror of the status quo? I decided there must be as much room for a reader to be inspired and to dream through non-fiction as through any other sort of story.
In Building a Home, it’s Jane who drives the crane and Summer who plumbs in the toilets. Daisy who drives the bulldozer and Freya who lays bricks. And Amy is the architect in charge. Of course, there’s also Doug and Sanjit and Karim and Raoul among others; the crew is gender-balanced. I know that many readers won’t notice; they’ll be too busy enjoying all the different machines and processes. In fact, I hope that readers won’t notice, that they’ll take my 50/50 construction site for granted. And I hope – I dream – that the only consideration about whether or not those readers will climb a tower crane ladder of their own one day will be whether or not they’d like to!
You can take a look inside Building a Home below: