Avoid Being a Skyscraper Builder! by John Malam

Posted by Mrs Giggles on July 19, 2015 in 4 Oogies, Book Reviews, Nonfiction

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Avoid Being a Skyscraper Builder! by John Malam
Avoid Being a Skyscraper Builder! by John Malam

Book House, £10.99, ISBN 978-1-906370-95-4
History, 2009


Avoid Being a Skyscraper Builder! sells the premise that working in construction, especially when skyscrapers are involved, in the 1920’s is a very dangerous thing indeed. Obviously, this The Danger Zone entry combines history with geography is a style that is half-fiction, half-nonfiction.

“You” are one of the thousands of Americans left without a job when the Great Depression hit the country in 1929. Fortunately, you know someone who knows someone in the construction business, and you find yourself hired as part of the team that would demolish the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel at the corner of the 5th Avenue and 34th Street. Once the demolition work is done, construction of a new building will begin at the site. You may have heard of the building – it’s called the Empire State Building.

This one presents very well the duality of the times: as many people end up jobless, skyscrapers begin to dot the landscape of New York City. People can’t afford a five-cent orange, but the buildings are taller with each passing year. Interesting! Mind you, this story has no happy ending, as it is made clear by the last page that, after the Empire State Building is completed, “you” are out of work again, and has to live on unemployment money from the government. And when that runs out, “you” have to stand in line with other poor people for daily hand-outs of food.

The bulk of this book focuses on how people back in those days build a skyscraper. While the technology itself isn’t too bad, there aren’t much safety measures in place, hence the title of the book. On one hand, this offers a pretty interesting look into construction work in those days. On the other hand, beware – there are some mentions of how people meet their sad ends. The descriptions aren’t too graphic (“A swinging hoist hits a man and kills him.”) but  David Antram’s lovely illustrations are so cheery and adorable that it can be quite a mood whiplash to see these adorable and cheerily drawn people meet their bad ends. Just take a look at the art in the cover – that’s what you will get inside the book.

The only issue I have with Avoid Being a Skyscraper Builder! is how the short length of the book and the targeted readers (obviously young ones) force information in this book to be on the rather superficial side. Not too superficial, fortunately, but still superficial enough to make me feel like the party has ended before things have become really interesting.

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