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Posted November 2, 2012
Hold that Elevator!
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Monica Kulling’s Great Ideas Series showcases forgotten heroes, inventors who changed the course of history but whose inventions we now take for granted: George Eastman’s first photograph, Elijah McCoy’s steam engine, and Margaret Knight’s folding paper bag. The fourth book in the series tells the story of Elisha Otis and his elevator. As with her previous books in the series, Monica blends fiction and nonfiction to create an authentic historical and social landscape, as her poetic prose create very assessable characters.
“Going up!” shouts seven-year old Elisha Otis as he watches the hay hoist. It’s 1818, and young Elisha loves watching farm machines at work. He carries this love with him as he – at nineteen -- moves away from the farm, eventually starting his own family. By 1845, Elisha is working in a bed-frame factory, when he is inspired to make a machine that makes bed rails more quickly. His bed rail turned proved so successful, he is put in charge of building a new bed frame factory in Yonkers, New York. As he built the new factory, however, Elisha didn’t trust the hoisting platform; if the platform failed, as they often did in those days, falling machine parts could hurt people. So, he built a safety brake.
“Going up!” Elisha shouts to his men, as he began testing his safety brake. Once the platform reaches full height, he shouts, “Let it fall!” The workers are astonished as they watch – and the safety brakes hold the platform!
And then, Elisha gets a new idea:
“One night in 1853, Elisha sat bolt upright in bed. His nightcap was skew. “We’ll lift people!” he shouted.
“Lift people? Where?” mumbled a sleepy Betsy…
“Why, to the sky, of course! To the sky!”
But people didn’t trust the people-hoisting elevators. When the World’s fair comes to New York, Elisha finds his chance to prove his great idea. The rest is history, of course.
David Parkins, who had also illustrated the critically acclaimed – and one of my favorite books – In The Bag: Margaret Knight Wraps It Up, captures the personality of Elisha, from his knitted brow of concern as he mulls over the design of the safety brake, to his wide-eyed eureka moment when he bolts upright in his bed. Other characters, too – his sleepy wife, the astonished workers, the amazed onlookers as he tests his machine at the World’s Fair – pop off the double-page spreads. Monica includes an author’s note, stating that before Elisha’s safety brake, buildings could only be six stories tall. Afterwards, however, the sky became the limit! Elisha’s invention made it possible to build skyscrapers. This is an excellent read aloud about having the determination to make a dream come true.