To five-year-olds and many parents, learning math and science or studying engineering isn’t a very kid-friendly option. But a colorful new storybook for children by a couple of Texas engineers wants to change that. The authors say the book, which they have self-published and promoted, is the first written by licensed engineers to relate the engineering field to the world as kids see it.
“Rocks, Jeans and Busy Machines” is the first in what will be a series by authors Alane and Raymundo Rivera, a married 30-something couple from San Antonio who are licensed in Texas. It showcases different engineering specialties to children in the four-to-eight age range. The book narrates the adventures of “engineering kid” Violet as she and her friends learn how structural engineers improve objects in their world.
“Seeing these objects on a daily basis hopefully will plant a seed in their minds to think about becoming engineers when they grow up,” says Raymundo. “In this way, I hope our book will capitalize on children’s innate desire to help others and to be creative.”
The book also allows readers to gain an understanding of innovation and problem-solving skills in engineering, she points out. Forthcoming editions will focus on Violet’s multicultural cohorts Darla, Pedro and Mike as they explore the impacts made by geotechnical, electrical and mechanical engineers. “The characters will be recurring, so readers can recognize them and perhaps even identify with them,” he says.
The Riveras both have graduate engineering degrees from the University of Texas, she in civil engineering and he in the electrical and biomedical fields. Alane is a 14-year veteran of CPS Energy, the San Antonio utility, while Raymundo now works for a local engineer.
The Riveras opted to self-publish, anticipating challenges in gaining acceptance from established publishers “given the subject of our book,” says Alane, adding that the financial investment in the venture has been theirs so far.
Book promotion has centered largely on visits by the Riveras to local schools and libraries, featuring Power-Point presentations of projects they have worked on and smaller-scale hardhats provided for audience members as souvenirs. They have a Website, www.engineering-kids.com, and they hope to approach publishers when the second edition in the series is complete.
First Look at Engineering
“Children respond well to the book,” says Alane. “They like the colorful characters and the fact that there is a story they can follow. I am told by teachers that without my book, students otherwise never would have been exposed to engineering at their age.” For many educators themselves, the book is their first exposure to what engineers do, she adds.
Educators agree. “I love the way the book helps kids relate to this job in an uncomplicated way,” says Rebecca Alvarez, a 29-year kindergarten teacher at Inez Foster Elementary school in San Antonio. “It reinforces that they should stay in school and focus on math and science.”
The authors have been gearing up book promotion to industry groups and the media. “Rocks, Jeans and Busy Machines” was a finalist in the young children’s non-fiction category in the 2009 Next Generation Indie Book competition, sponsored by the Independent Book Publishing Professionals Group. The American Society of Civil Engineers will be featuring it on a soon-to-be-developed social networking Web page and in its child-focused engineering bibliography.
Things may pick up now that a distributor has agreed to place the book in national bookstore chains such as Borders and Barnes & Noble. “This was a big step for us since we were only carried by two small stores in San Antonio,” Alane says. Rivera already is giving readings at several Borders book stores. The Riveras say they are looking at the book-publishing venture as a giveback to the profession and as an “investment” in the future. Anything that is not reinvested in the venture, she adds, would be “icing on the cake.”