An Engineering Book List to Stop the Summer Slide

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School’s out, and everyone exhales in relief at the same time.

But the extended summer break – a vestige of our long-gone allegiance to the rhythms of the farming calendar – can hold peril for students’ learning. Especially for elementary-level, low-income students, the long time away from class can lead to regression in core academic skills, i.e., the dreaded “summer slide.”

How to forestall the summer slide?

Reading, says Scholastic; reading, says Edutopia; reading, says the Colorado Department of Education.

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And so says everyone else, too, with corollary suggestions like reading aloud, reading together, having kids choose what to read, read at the library — anything to give kids a sense that reading is fun, a choice, and a way to discover new things about the world.

Engineering books to the rescue

We would propose engineering books as a genre that can hit all these marks. Still largely missing from early-grade curricula, engineering can give off that new-subject smell that marks it off from school learning but yields at the same time engaging lessons relevant to math and science subjects.

Plus, engineering books will introduce kids to a pervasive, formative influence on their lives and could spark an interest in a potentially rewarding course of study and work. The fact is, we live in the engineered world much more than the natural world, to such a degree that we almost don’t even see it as engineered.

Students’ conceptions of what engineers do highlight just how invisible this designed, engineered world is. A series of surveys over the last 15 years has made clear how little students, especially elementary-age, understand about engineering.

Engineers are, to them, mostly mechanics and laborers, along with some technicians. They fix vehicles and machines, lay down roads and put up buildings, and make sure the lighting and HVAC systems work.

The larger picture

Almost totally missing from students’ conceptions of engineering are the hallmarks of what engineers actually do. The National Academy of Engineering, for example, has laid out a full program for “changing the conversation” about engineering. It focuses on how engineers use knowledge of math and science to develop technological solutions to improve people’s lives and solve problems across nearly every field of human activity. Engineers, in this telling, are creative, persistent, collaborative, and analytical, in varying degrees at various times to various ends.

Future matters

It matters for students to understand these attributes of engineering because what they come to see as accessible, interesting, and possible for themselves, at even very young ages, has a big influence on their future selves. What excites them shapes what they like to do, which shapes who they think they can be, which shapes what they study, which lines them up for future career options.

A fascinating book, Surrounded by Science: Learning Science in Informal Environments, makes this case in well-researched, accessible detail. One of the main points turns on the importance of designing learning opportunities to positively shape young students’ interests and feelings about topics of study:

Recent research on the relationship between affect and learning shows that the emotions associated with interest are a major factor in thinking and learning. Not only do emotions help people learn, but they also help determine what is retained and how long it is remembered. (82)

For younger students, reading experiences can lay the circuitry of their affective apparatus in long-lasting ways. Whether experienced aloud, in reading groups, or in their own explorations, the content of engaging books can have an outsized impact on current and future learning orientations.

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Books to the breach

A summer reading list that includes books about engineering can thus serve two purposes. As both literacy tools and pathways into greater familiarity with engineering and technology, the books on this list offer widely appealing, substantive entrée into these forces that so deeply shape our individual and shared lives.

Can’t go wrong

The books on our list come with recommendations from various quarters, not least from the elementary-age children in our own house. We are of course partial to our own efforts in this vein: What’s Engineering? Color & Discover, and Dream, Invent, Create, in both English-only and English-Spanish versions.

The balance of our list is just a sampling of the increasingly wide world of high-quality, engineering-related books available for young learners. Mileage may vary, but these books are guaranteed to move students in some way or another, with approximate grade levels and links to more information provided.

For PreKindergarten to 2nd grade

2nd and 3rd grade

4th and 5th grade

And, finally

Have you read any of these books? How do you like them? What books would you add to this list? Let us know!

Please share with any interested friends or colleagues, too.

Note: With this post, we embark on our own summer break. We have many projects planned for the summer and look forward to returning in the fall with reports of progress and further learning to share about the E in STEM and other related topics.

Happy summer to all and thanks for your sharing some of your time and attention with us this past year!

Eric Iversen is VP for Learning and Communications at Start Engineering. He has written and spoken widely on engineering education in the K-12 arena. You can write to him about this topic, especially when he gets stuff wrong, at

You can also follow along on Twitter @StartEnginNow.

Brand new for 2018! Our new Cybersecurity Career Guide shows middle and high schoolers what cybersecurity is all about and how they can find the career in the field that’s right for them. A great pair with the recently updated version of our Start Engineering Career Guide.

We’ve also got appealing, fun engineering posters for K-2 and 3-5.

Our books cover the entire PreK-12 range. Get the one that’s right for you at our online shop.

Photo credit: Engineers, courtesy of Douglas Van Bossuyt