The Classroom Bookshelf
Inside The Classroom Bookshelf

Dreaming Up: A Celebration of Building

Dreaming Up:  A Celebration of Building
Written and illustrated by Christy Hale
Published by Lee & Low in 2012
Grades PreK – 8
Book Review
If they can dream it, they can build it.” This quote, attributed to Madhu Thangavelu, captures the essence of an inspiring new picture book collection of concrete poetry that celebrates the human impulse to design and build. The structure of this book is as innovative as the remarkable buildings that it features. Double page spreads contain an illustration of children at work building with everyday materials, along with concise image-rich concrete poems echoing the shape of the child’s creation; these are juxtaposed with photographs of real-world buildings that incorporate design features from the children’s constructions. For example, two children building a drip castle from sand are depicted alongside Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia, of Barcelona, Spain. Author Christy Hale provides wonderful diversity throughout the book, from the images of multicultural children to the unique featured structures from around the globe. This clever book invites multiple readings and will prompt adult readers to see their child builders as the next Frank Lloyd Wright or Maya Lin.
Teaching Ideas: Invitations for your Classroom
Grades PreK – 1
  • Shapes All Around. After reading Dreaming Up aloud, reread the book, and ask students and ask students to name the geometrical shapes that they see in the buildings. Provide your students with building materials in a variety of shapes and invite them to experiment with making a variety of structures. How do different shapes fit together? What kinds of interior and exterior spaces do different shapes create? Take a shape walk in your community and invite students to use digital cameras and/or sketch pads on clipboards to document examples of different shapes that they see in the buildings of their community. (If you are in a suburban or rural area, invite children to walk the perimeter of the school building to document the different shapes they see at their school.)
  • Build It, Then Write! Provide your students with a variety of building materials and invite them to build structures inspired by a reading of Dreaming Up. Take photographs of their creations and ask students to write about their constructions. What kind of a building have they made? What are the key features of their buildings? Who will use this building and what will they do? Compile the photographs and students writing into a class big book that celebrates their structures. 

Grades 2 – 8
  • Exploring concrete poetry. Dreaming Up could serve as a mentor text in a genre study of concrete poetry. Young writers will find this poetry form both accessible and fun! Study the form by reading titles such as Handsprings by Douglas Florian and A Poke in the I by Paul Janezcko and Chris Raschka (and additional titles listed below). Invite students to try their hand at writing concrete poems, either writing poems on topics of their own choosing or contributing a poem to a theme or topic related anthology. Older students might want to research a topic and show what they have learned through concrete poetry.
  •  Interview an Architect: Form and Function. Invite a practicing or retired architect to visit your classroom to talk with your students. It would be ideal if he/she could bring along some of the tools of his/her trade to share with the students. In advance, have students prepare questions to ask. You might follow up the visit by having students write a nonfiction text about the roles and responsibilities of an architect.
  • Building Materials. Invite your students to research and report on a variety of building materials, considering their benefits and drawbacks in structural design. Ask students to consider what their homes are built of and what their school is built of. As an extension, you may want to discuss the resiliency of different building materials to storm damage and make a connection between socio-economic status and safety in houses and apartments.

Grades 3 – 8
  • Quotes. The wonderful quotes in the extensive back matter of Dreaming Up are worthy of special attention. You could highlight these quotes by reproducing them on index cards to have students reread them as a collection. Ask small groups of students to read across the quotes and then to have a discussion about the roles and creative processes of architects. Extend their discussion by talking about the profiles that the author has provided for each architect. How do the quotes enhance the information that she has provided? What can students learn about biographical writing from this text?
  •  Researching the Buildings.  Many of the buildings featured in Dreaming Up have websites from which students can learn more about the buildings and their creators. Divide your class up into small research groups and assign or offer choice of the buildings with websites listed below. Groups can be responsible for creating a short VoiceThread or PowerPoint to share their learning about the history, form, and function of the building with their classmates.
  •  Using Dreaming Up as a Mentor Text: Community building study. Invite your students to use the unique structure of Dreaming Up as a mentor text for a book about buildings in their own community. Ask the students to identify diverse and/or locally significant buildings. Research the building’s history, finding out when the building was built and by whom it was designed. What architectural forms are prevalent in the region and why? What building materials, and why? Also what physical challenges must be taken into consideration that are climate and geography-related? Students can then write concrete poems about the buildings to be accompanied by photographs that they have taken.
  •  Documenting Young Builders at Work. Pair students in an intermediate or middle school grade with a group of preschoolers and primary grade students. Ask older students to work with the younger students (in pairs) to construct structures using a variety of building materials. Older students should document the work in process and the finished product by taking photographs. Then, have the older students interview their partner about their favorite building materials and favorite buildings. Older students can then write up an architect profile that features the partners and their building (using Dreaming Up as a mentor text). Compile the entries in a class big book – be sure to make two copies, one for each classroom.
  •  Virtual vs. Physical Building. As an extension of the previous activity, you might want to have older students design an observational research study in which they compare young children’s talk, actions, and implied thought processes when building with both physical and virtual materials. For example, students could compare what happened when young children play with Legos and what happens when they use the free Lego apps available for iPads. Connect this to the tools used by today’s architects, including CAD design programs and physical mock-up models.
  •  A History of Building Toys.  Reread Dreaming Up to identify the building toys that are featured in the book. Ask students to brainstorm a list of additional toys designed for building structures with which they are familiar. If they do not appear on the students’ list, add some ‘classics’ such as Tinkertoys and Lincoln Logs. Ask students to identify a building toy that they are interested in learning more about. Students can work in small groups to research the history of the toy. Presentations of their findings should include structures that the group has built with the toy!

Further Explorations
Online Resources:
Author/ Illustrator’s Website
Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum
Petronas Twin Towers
World Monuments Fund: New Gourna Village
Architects List: The Box House
La Sagrada Familia
Habitat 67
Montreal Biosphere
Society of Architectural Historians
Lego History Timeline
The Original Lincoln Logs History
National Building Museum: Architectural Toy Collection
Lessons from the Nation’s Biggest Architectural Toy Collection
MOMA: Century of the Child: Growing by Design 1900 – 2000
Library of Congress: Center for Architecture, Design, and Engineering
Philadelphia Center for Architecture: Online Resources
* This museum currently has an exhibit titled Constructing Play: Classic Building Toys
Bingham, J. (2010). Architecture. Chicago: Raintree.
  • This title in the nonfiction series Culture in Action provides intermediate level readers with an overview architecture including processes, notable figures in the field, and significant buildings.

Hudson, C.W. (2006). Construction zone. Photos. by R. Sobol. Cambridge, MA: Candlewick Press.
  • This engaging photo-essay traces the construction of the MIT Stata Center in Cambridge, MA and features the role of architect Frank O. Gehry.

Hutchins, H. & Herbert, G. (2008). Mattland. Ill. by D. Petricic. Toronto: Annick Press.
  • New to the neighborhood, a young boy constructs a village of his own, using materials he finds in a vacant lot.

McCauley, D. (2010). Built to last. Castle, Cathedral, Mosque. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.
  • David McCauley provides a detail description and visual depiction of the construction of these significant buildings. See our classroom bookshelf entry on Built to Last.

LaRoche, G. (2009). What’s inside?: Fascinating structures around the world. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.
  • Using intricate and detailed cut paper illustrations, the author explores the interior and exterior of various structures around the world, focusing on their roles and functions.

Lewis, J.P. (2005). Monumental verses. Washington, DC: National Geographic.
  • A collection of poems about man-made monuments around the globe.

McLerran, A. (1991). Roxaboxen. Ill. by Barbara Cooney. New York: Lothrup, Lee, & Shepherd.
  • This picture book celebrates the imagination and building prowess of children, featuring a child constructed village of stones and boxes where children enact community dramas.

Ritchie, S. (2011). Look at that building! A first book of structures. Toronto: Kids Can Press.
  • Fundamentals of building are introduced in this nonfiction picture book for primary grades.

Stevenson, R.L. (2005). Block city. Ill. by D. Kirk. New York: Simon & Schuster.
  • The classic poem from A Child’s Garden of Verses in which a child constructs an imaginary city from block is placed in a contemporary setting by illustrator Daniel Kirk.

Concrete Poetry Collections:
Florian, D. (2006). Handsprings: Poems & paintings. New York: Greenwillow.
Franco, B. (2011). A dazzling display of dogs: Concrete poetry. Ill. by M. Wertz. Berkeley, CA: Tricycle Press.
Graham, J.B. (1999) Flicker flash: Poems. Ill. by N. Davis. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.
Graham, J.B. (1994) Splish splah: Poems. Ill. by S. Scott. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.
Grandits, J. (2007). Blue lipstick: Concrete poems. New York: Clarion Books.
Grandits, J. (2004). Technically, it’s not my fault: Concrete poems. New York: Clarion Books.
Janeczko, P. (2001). A poke in the I: A collection of concrete poems. Ill. by C. Raschka. Cambridge, MA: Candlewick Press.
Sidman, J. (2006). Meow ruff. Ill. by M. Berg. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

Erika Thulin Dawes About Erika Thulin Dawes

Erika is a professor of language and literacy at Lesley University. A former classroom teacher, reading specialist, and literacy supervisor, she now teaches courses in children’s literature, early literacy, and literacy methods. Erika is the co-author of Learning to Write with Purpose, Teaching with Text Sets, and Teaching to Complexity.