Concrete: From the Ground Up

Candlewick. Sept. 2022. 48p. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9781536212501.
Gr 1-5–As unpretentious but essential as its subject, this is a marvelous book—an utterly compelling read. Theule (Kafka and the Doll) tells the story of concrete (not cement, but a composite material that uses cement), from ancient times to its rediscovery in the 18th century, and in pared-down style introduces readers to advanced vocabulary (“tensile,” “compressive,” “monolithic”); architectural monuments (the Pantheon, King Lalibela’s Ethiopian rock churches, the Three Gorges Dam); professions (gladiator, emperor, civil engineer); social history (Göbekli Tepe, the building and demolition of the Berlin Wall); and more, with clarity, directness, and humor. Everything is conversationally explained: when “plastic” is used to mean “moldable,” a brief speech balloon conveys that meaning. The spare but lively ink and watercolor illustrations are a perfect match for the text: unassuming but amusing, rich in detail and meaning. Iconic buildings in Sydney, Kobe, and Baku are depicted, as well as Nancy Halt’s Sun Tunnels in Utah. Skin tones vary, even on toga-clad figures. Back matter includes a brief bibliography.
VERDICT For elementary readers and up, this book will be read again and again.

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