Girls Who Build: An Interview with Katie Hughes
I don’t normally do this, but I’m going to let you in on a little secret. Here is a good method one might use when enticing a blogger into an author interview.
Step One – Show them this cover:
Yeah, that’s it. That’s all it takes.
By all accounts GIRLS WHO BUILD (Black Dog & Leventhal / on sale October 13 / ages 8-14) is created by Katie Hughes, who founded the Girls Build nonprofit after getting frustrated at finding herself the only woman on construction worksites. To change that, she began teaching classes to girls ages 8-14, showing them how to drill, saw, and weld. The next step, naturally, was sold out summer camps. Her publicist describes the book this way:
“It’s the perfect beginner manual to inspire girls, both through reading profiles of fierce girls across the country who know how to wield a hammer and fire up a saw, and by giving them simple building projects they can complete right at home (an especially handy section now that we’re all adjusted to our new quarantine lifestyles!).”
I’m no expert myself, but as someone who was a dedicated Techie for most of my high school career (who wants to be on the stage when you can be under the stage!), I respect anyone who can wield a Makita. So I sat Ms. Hughes down for a bit of a talk.
Betsy Bird: Hi, Katie. Thanks so much for chatting with me today. So let’s get to the bones of your origin story. What led you to found the Girls Build nonprofit in the first place?
Katie Hughes: I graduated college with a degree in Social Work, then spent a year volunteering as an Habitat for Humanity volunteer through AmeriCorps. When I got back to Portland after that year, I couldn’t find a job as a social worker, but I got multiple offers to work as a carpenter. Rent needed to be paid, so I took an offer. Many years later I took a job teaching women basic carpentry skills, and from there I started a summer building camp for girls. It was small and incredible, but after seven years at that organization, I moved on. One year later, they cut the summer camps I had started. I asked for their approval to start a girls building program on my own, and they were excited that someone would pick up where they left off. And, here we are, almost five years later!
BB: So tell us a bit about the book. Where did it come from? Did you think of it in a single glorious moment or was it a long time coming?
KH: I was actually contacted out of the blue by my wonderful agent, Jenny (who had found me through Mike Rowe’s show, Returning the Favor, which Girls Build was featured on). She essentially asked me if I would like to write a book, which, honestly, has always been a dream of mine. I had met so many incredible girls through my years of teaching, and I knew there were more all over North America that I would love to meet. We thought together and came up with this idea of interviewing girls and having them build projects. When I completed the proposal, it was beautiful and we knew we had something special.
BB: We currently find ourselves in a strange era where many of us are sequestered in our homes. And with the current school year approaching, it looks like remote learning is back on the menu. Are there any ways you could see the projects in this book fitting into this new homeschooling lifestyle?
KH: Absolutely. The projects in the book start out easier and then build on the skills you learn as the book progresses. My hope was that kids (or, honestly, adults) would see the projects and be inspired to try it on their own. Some are quite simple and you can build them with items from around your house, and some require a trip to your local hardware store. They are all a lot of fun, teach great building skills and techniques, and will surely light a fire for anyone who gives them a whirl.
BB: Here’s an unfair question: What’s your favorite project in this book?
KH: Oh, wow. I honestly can’t separate the books from the girls very easily, and each of these kids was so great. I suppose that the swing is up there simply because the swing requires minimal materials and tools, and when completed (in just a few hours), kids can actually use it. It was incredible to see the girls as they started the projects, working hard and concentrating, and then the switch in demeanor when the project was completed. Samantha, who made the swing, was so serious, but then when she hopped on the swing once it was completed, her face broke out into a huge grin. I hope many kids can experience that feeling of accomplishment and fun when using and reading this book.
BB: Was there anything you wanted to include in this book that just didn’t make the cut?
KH: So many things. First, some of the projects that I loved had to get cut because they were either too dangerous (like the soldering projects), or too complicated, like the house book shelf. Next, I had wanted to have our three Spanish-speaking girls have their interviews in Spanish first, then translated to English, but that turned out to be a little too much. I kept adding and adding to the book until the very last second, and I think drove my editor, Lisa, a little crazy. I’d say, “Oh, shoot, there is this other really cool bit I’d love to add.” I had to come to terms with the fact that the world of building has endless knowledge, tips and tricks, and there is another day, or book, for that.
BB: Any more books in your future? What are you working on next?
KH: Writing a book while raising two very young children and running a non-profit was a very WOW experience for me. I found more hours in the day than I knew I could, and it took me quite some time to settle down once the book was finally off to the printer. I am enjoying the moment of a little more downtime, and working with a collaboration of other organizations to see how we can best serve our community during the pandemic. As for another book, despite the alarm going off in my brain, I think I would jump at the chance to write one again.
A question you didn’t ask me but I want to answer: What’s been the most fun part of seeing your book out in the world? When my publisher mailed out my copies, I was in the middle of our Girls Build summer camps. I brought it to work and left it on a picnic table because, honestly, I was so excited and wanted to show it to the world. Throughout the week I saw it in the hands of so many adults–on lunch break, after work, etc., just reading intensely, smiling, and reading it out loud to coworkers. I worked hard to find girls that I found intriguing and unique, and I was excited to see that others found the girls, specifically, as interesting and fun as I thought they were.
Many thanks to Katie for answering my questions and to Nicole Banholzer for connecting us in the first place. Now if you don’t mind, I’m gonna go figure out where I stored my old drill . . .
Filed under: Interviews
About Betsy Bird
Betsy Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.
SLJ Blog Network
2023 Caldecott Jump
Fuse 8 n’ Kate: A Bad Case of Stripes by David Shannon
Ben Mortara and the Thieves of the Golden Table | This Week’s Comics
New Reports Show a Decline in YA Book Sales and I Have Some Thoughts as to Why That Might be Happening
The Classroom Bookshelf is Moving