Today, I have great pleasure in introducing you to Dr Andrew King from Brisbane Australia. Andrew is an engineer, teacher, and writer of the popular Engibears series of picture books, designed to introduce children to engineering through friendly characters and story. Each book focusses on a particular aspect of engineering and, through examples and accompanying activities, is designed to encourage children to try engineering — to “Dream, Design and Develop”.
Dream, Design and Develop
Engibears have been part of Andrew’s family for many years. They were created while Andrew played and shared stories with his children.
Andrew thinks he is very lucky to be working with Benjamin Johnston, a Sydney-based architect and illustrator. Ben’s fantastic illustrations have brought Engibears and Munnagong, the city in which they live, to life.
Andrew is passionate about the role that Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (the STEM subjects) will play in our sustainable future and equally passionate about the importance of STEM education. He regularly talks to students about engineering, and facilitates student-centred engineering activities and programs.
His kids think he enjoys building shelves in his spare time. However, Andrew really enjoys spending time with his family, playing bass guitar, walking his dogs and trying to play golf.
The Engibear series includes three books; Engibear’s Dream, Engibear’s Bridge and Engilina’s Trains. In the most recent, Engilina’s Trains, Engilina, Engibear and Bearbot are back to build transport for the future – a new maglev train that will run from Munnagong to Billaburra as fast as a plane. During the project, they discover an old steam engine which leads them on an interesting journey and creates an unexpected link to the past. It’s an interesting story of trains, teamwork, technology and time.
Now let’s meet Andrew. Welcome to readilearn, Andrew. We are looking forward to getting to know a little more about you and your books.
Thanks for inviting me.
Andrew, when did you know you wanted to be a writer?
I had an inkling in primary school, a friend and I made some books of jokes and even sold a few in the playground. However, I didn’t continue and, as an adult, I just fell into it. I enjoyed reading to and sharing stories with my kids. We looked but we could not find any picture books about engineers or engineering, so we made up our own characters and stories. It was my daughter who suggested that we write a “proper book”.
Where do you write? Do you like to be by yourself in the quiet, or do you like to write in a noisy space?
I write largely at home, and I like to listen to instrumental music while I work. However, I spend plenty of time thinking about stories and making notes in all sorts of places. I have lots of scraps of paper with ideas on them. Writing takes me a long time, and it becomes a collation and organisation process.
What do you use to write – pencil and paper or computer?
It varies with the stage of the writing. I like using pencils, pens and paper when I am thinking broadly about a topic or a story. I typically create overview mind maps that include words as well as doodles and sketches. However, when I am considering the text in detail, I like to type up the text on a computer as I think that helps me track revisions. That said, I then print out the text to correct and revise it with a pen or pencil.
When do you write?
Usually in the morning before work or on weekends. Typically, I wake early and like to get things done when I am fresh. I find it hard to work at the end of the day (especially if I have had a glass of wine or two with dinner).
Where do you get your ideas?
Engineering is a very diverse profession. Just looking around, it is hard not to see things that have been created, at least in part, by engineers, so there is an almost infinite number of things to write about. To me, the trick is finding a story that makes these things accessible and hopefully appealing to kids.
Do you think of the story in your head before you write it?
Yes, I have an idea and an outline. As mentioned, I use mind maps, doodles and scraps of paper. I also do research to get the right technical background for the story. Finally, I talk to Ben. We work closely on the idea for the story so that the text and the storyboard illustrations fit together from the start. Then, as Ben’s illustrations develop, it is not uncommon for parts of the text to be changed to suit them better.
What gave you the idea for writing the Engibear stories?
Playing with and sharing stories with my kids and not having any engineering characters to tell them about. We created our own characters and, as a reflection of the sorts of things we did when they were young, our first story was Engibear Builds a Playground.
What do you like best about them?
The opportunity to portray engineering in an authentic way that, hopefully, appeals to kids. We created a fictitious city, Munnagong in which we can show “real life’’ engineering projects such as constructing bridges and train lines, and we can balance the technical engineering details with both story and pictures.
Benjamin Johnston has illustrated all the Engibear books. What do you like about his illustrations?
Everything. To me, Ben’s illustrations really brought the characters and stories to life. His sense of humour combined with his character drawings and technical / engineering illustration skills (he is an architect) is a perfect mix for these books. Ben does exactly what I think a good illustrator should do, he adds new dimensions and perspectives to the stories.
Why was it important to you to write the Engibear stories?
I enjoy my work as an engineer, and I think engineers will play a very important role in our sustainable future. However, I think general awareness of the role that engineers play in society is low, and interest in the science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) subjects has been dropping at schools. So, I want to write these books to raise general engineering awareness and hopefully encourage more children to consider becoming engineers.
How do you hope they will impact readers?
Kids are inherently interested in the things that engineers do yet there are not many picture books about engineering. I hope these books provide a basis for kids to see the sorts of things engineers do and discuss them with parents, guardians, carers and teachers. Ideally, the kids will also be inspired to try some of their own engineering projects in their backyards and schools.
Are you planning to write any more books in the series?
Yes, our next book Young Engineers will be published next year. Hopefully, we can continue to create more books after that.
The books have a strong STEM focus. How would you like teachers to present them to children?
As a basis for the kids to dream, design and develop things. To help with this we are working on teacher’s notes for the books. For example, the Engibears website has a Bridge Building workbook (QUT, 2015) to be used in conjunction with Engibear’s Bridge.
Are there any messages you would like them to discuss?
To me, creativity is an integral part of the engineering process. In any project, the time when you can have the most impact is the initial development phase, and this is when creativity is most important – think about Elon Musk’s ventures like SpaceX and Tesla. While technical skills are required, we really need kids of the future to be creative.
Do you have any advice for teachers in their role as writing guides?
I am sure teachers do this anyway, but my advice would be to encourage students to dream, to think and create. By all means, provide starting points with hints and structure guides — but let the kids imagine and create what they want to.
Do you have any advice for children as writers?
Have fun and enjoy what you are writing. Write about topics that mean something to you. Capture your ideas any way you can and see where they take you and your stories. Worry about editing and the technical side of writing after you get the stories out.
What is your favourite picture book?
I have many favourites but at the moment I have a copy of The Worst Band in the Universe (Graeme Base) on my desk, and this book has long been a favourite of mine.
Who is your favourite author? What do you like about his or her work?
My favourite Australian children’s picture book author is Graeme Base. His books were part of my children’s upbringing, and they always enjoyed the intricate illustrations, the stories and the rhyming text.
Thank you, Andrew King, for sharing these insights about your books Engibear’s Dream, Engibear’s Bridge and Engilina’s Trains. We enjoyed hearing about your writing process and what inspired you to write these books. We look forward to reading Young Engineers next year, and any others added to the series. We wish you success.
Thank you, and thanks for having me!
A little more about the Engibear series:
Children are inherently interested in the things engineers do, yet there is an underrepresentation of engineers in children’s books, media and educational material. An opportunity to better introduce young children to engineering exists, and Engibear, Engilina and the Bearbot are here to help.
The Engibear Project involves producing a series of children’s picture books about Engibear, his friends and their engineering work in the fictitious city of Munnagong. The combination of story, pictures and friendly characters personalises engineering and makes it accessible for children.
The project is unique in that it focuses on engineering within STEM engagement in the early school years. Engineering is an inherently “cross-curriculum” activity with natural links to many of the Australian Curriculum subjects (e.g. Mathematics and Science).
Additionally, through story, pictures and characters the books link to a range of the Australian Curriculum General capabilities (e.g. Literacy, Numeracy, ICT and Critical and Creative Thinking).
The books also provide a focus on a Cross-curriculum priority – sustainability.
All three books in the series Engibear’s Dream, Engibear’s Bridge and Engilina’s Trains have been popular and have received good reviews.
To find out more about Andrew King, Benjamin Johnston and the Engibears, visit the website: www.engibears.com
Connect with the Engibears on social media
Or email Andrew: firstname.lastname@example.org
The books can be purchased from
The Engibears website: www.engibears.com
The Engineers Australia Bookshop – EA Books: https://www.eabooks.com.au/
Online book retailers and independent book stores including the State Library Shop (Queensland).
This interview is now available free, in a ready-to-print format, in Literacy Resources Author Spotlight Author Spotlight – Andrew King. The information may be displayed in your classroom or included in a class book about authors and illustrators.
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