Book Review: CRASH-TEST DUMMIES, by Jennifer Swanson

Save the Crash-test Dummies is a deep dive into the history of the design of safety features in automobiles. It’s a middle grade engineering book—but what does that mean about who you should hand it to?

Who exactly is Save the Crash-test Dummies for?

  1. The kid who only wants to read facts. This middle grade nonfiction is stuffed with facts—about how different kinds of brakes work, about how airbags work, about how GPS works, about why automobile side mirrors are curved. Any fact fanatic will sink into this book, feeling right at home.
  2. The kid who loves pictures. This book respects a middle grader’s sensibilities and never pretends to be a picture book, but it is richly illustrated. There’s only one spread without multiple illustrations. There are photographs—many of them historic—diagrams, and humorous illustrations.
  3. The kid who is a reluctant reader. The page design of this book is great for the reluctant reader. Because the book is so lavishly illustrated, each page has a manageable amount of text, which is made even easier to dig into by lots of catchy captions.
  4. The kid who is an activist-in-training. This book digs into important social issues. Why have crash test dummies been modeled after adult males and what does that mean for the safety of all the rest of us who ride in cars? When should humans be test subjects and when should they not? What issues do we need to settle as a society before we let self-driving cars loose on the road? This book will give kids plenty of information to debate all these topics.
  5. The kid who loves history. Did you know one of the early automobile bumpers was modeled after a cow-catcher? Or that one car manufacturer made water-filled bumpers. Text and photographs take kids on a fascinating tour into various automobile design experiments. As one of those history-loving kids, I found myself grabbing passers-by as I read to share fantastic historic photos.
  6. The kid who loves sparkling voice in books. Sure, this book deals with Newton’s laws of motion and the engineering process, but it is anything but dry. The language is vibrant, accessible, and full of humor. It would make a great mentor text for classes working on expository essays.
  7. Most of all..this is a book for anyone who rides in cars. You’ll never again think the same way about buckling up.

Annette Bay Pimentel is the author of Girl Running (Nancy Paulsen: 2018), Mountain Chef (Charlesbridge: 2016), and the upcoming All the Way to the Top (Sourcebooks: 2020). She writes nonfiction picture books in Moscow, Idaho.

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