November 13, 2014
Mr. Ferries and His Wheel by Kathryn Gibbs Davis, illustrated by Gilbert Ford
Mr. Ferries and His Wheel
by Kathryn Gibbs Davis
illustrated by Gilbert Ford
Ten months before the Chicago World’s Fair (1893), planners still didn’t know how they were going to top the Eiffel Tower. Taller than even the Washington Monument, the tower eclipsed everything beneath it. Desperate to do even better, the planners announced a contest. Entries poured in from all over the country but the majority were simply bigger variations on the Eiffel Tower. This fair needed something new.
George Washington Gale Ferris, a young mechanical engineer, considered the challenge a matter of national pride. That French tower couldn’t outdo the US fair. George and his engineering partner William Gronau got to work at their drawing boards. They wanted to create a soaring structure that moved. They worked carefully because even the smallest error could bring their dreams crashing down to the ground in a twist of metal.
The Fair’s construciton chief, an architect, didn’t think it looked sturdy enough. Without his okay, the judges couldn’t decide. Finally four months before the fair, they gave their okay but with one hitch – they refused to foot the bill.
Davis has done a wonderful job of condensing the struggle to build an engineering marvel, an 834 foot tall steel ferris wheel. She goes into his inspiration, the struggles to get the plans approved, find the funding and overcome construction problems. Once it was built, people still questioned if it was safe.
Ford’s illustrations combine digital mixed media with ink and watercolor to create pictures that combine an old time pen-and-ink feel with contemporary colors and a slightly cartoony feel. The festive feel lightens up the story and help keep it moving along.
This book isn’t suitbable for preschoolers but grade school aged inventors, young readers interested in history and kids who just won’t give up will appreciate this story of an inventor with a can-do spirit. Although it isn’t the scientific method, teachers will like this book for the lessons it teaches about modifying a plan as needed to achieve success. A must for the classroom.