Reviews /

Engineers Making a Difference

Authored by Dr Shini Somara
Illustrated by Adam Allsuch Boardman and Manuel Šumberac
Published by What on Earth Publishing

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Engineers Making a Difference is another fascinating and inspiring reference book from What on Earth Books produced in collaboration with Imperial College London. In this book, Dr Shini Somara shares her own passion for engineering and interviews 46 engineers from around the world working in fields ranging from healthcare to entertainment to space exploration.

As the title suggests, Somara is keen to demonstrate the many ways in which engineers make the world a better place, whether tackling climate change, building flood defences, creating prosthetic limbs or improving the lives of the underprivileged. This book will be of particular interest to children who already have an interest in pursuing STEM careers as it shows the variety of areas in which they could work and the pathways they could follow to get there. But there is also a broader ‘how stuff works’ appeal: all readers will be intrigued to discover how engineers replace giant escalators at London underground stations, for instance, or how audio filters are created on TikTok.

The book is produced to a high standard, as we have come to expect from What on Earth Books. Each interview is accompanied by a full or half-page photo, as well as relevant illustrations or diagrams and a fact file about each engineer; some also include QR codes which link to video interviews. The interviews are helpfully grouped into twelve chapters on different fields, including Human Needs, Communication and Robotics & AI. The book also includes an engaging introduction and an overview of the different branches of engineering, as well as a timeline, glossary and index. Although there were a few diagrams that I puzzled over, I felt that the book generally did a good job of explaining complex ideas in a way that is accessible to non-expert readers.

Diversity is at the heart of this book. Somara is keen to break down traditional stereotypes around STEM by celebrating the work of female and transgender engineers, engineers from different countries and of different ethnicities, and engineers with autism and dyslexia who describe how their neurodiversity has helped them in their careers; hopefully any child reading this book would feel empowered by seeing someone from a similar background to them featured. The book likewise reflects a diversity of educational backgrounds: some of the engineers interviewed studied at university while others completed apprenticeships (or are still completing them – Somara also showcases engineers at different stages of their careers).

Sustainability is another key focus – one of the chapters specifically deals with climate and the environment, but throughout the book engineers explain how their work helps to reduce waste, use energy more efficiently or mitigate the effects climate change. There were some amazing innovations here, such as transforming carbon dioxide into clothing and using chicken feathers to create packaging, and it is always great to read books for children which focus on climate solutions rather than just the climate crisis.

I can see this being a very popular reference book in school libraries – some of the concepts might be most suited to secondary-aged readers but I think keen and curious older primary readers would still get a lot out of this book. Teachers might also want to share specific interviews with their classes in relation to STEM or careers: the interviews are full of positive messages about persevering, learning from mistakes and following your dreams.

This book is clearly a passion project for Shini Somara and I can imagine it helping lots of children to make the transition from having a vague desire to work in engineering to having a much more specific understanding of what engineers do and where they see their future selves.