skip to Main Content

Mr. Ferris and His Wheel by Kathryn Gibbs Davis

 Mr. Ferris and His Wheel by Kathryn Gibbs Davis
with illustrations by Gilbert Ford
(Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $17.99, Ages 4-8)

* A Junior Library Guild Selection

MrFerris-Wheel-cvr.jpgBefore I read this fascinating nonfiction picture book about the history of the first Ferris Wheel, I had no idea of the backstory; the competition to find and build a structure for the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair that would be taller than the Eiffel Tower, the lack of financial support for its construction, the grueling work on the foundation in the dead of winter, the tight timeline in which to complete it, and the lack of faith professionals and the public had in the project. I’m thankful to Kathryn Gibbs Davis for opening my eyes to innovator, George Washington Gale Ferris, Jr.

“George had an idea, an idea for a structure that would dazzle and move, not just stand still like the Eiffel Tower.”

What wonderful feats of engineering and willpower enabled Ferris to prove all the naysayers wrong! Over 1.5 million naysayers to be precise, the amount of people who rode on the wheel at 50 cents apiece in the “nineteen weeks” that it was in operation. And they said it couldn’t be done. Not only did Ferris change the public’s mind, but he changed history by building out of steel, what is now a staple of amusement park rides.

“George knew something the chief did not. His invention would be delicate-looking and strong. It would be both stronger and lighter than the Eiffel Tower because it would be built with an amazing new metal — steel.”

On almost every spread, Davis has managed to weave in assorted facts about the wheel’s invention in a way that will keep youngsters as engaged and enthralled as I was. The story itself flows easily and the artwork is simply lovely to look at. Ford‘s fabulous jewel-toned illustrations of 19th century Chicago took me back in time to an era in the industrial age when even electricity in homes was not yet commonplace. But as the sun set each evening, Ferris’s wheel, with is 3,000 electric light bulbs, lit up the night sky and was visible “as far away as forty miles.” I was happy to learn that after the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair, in 1894 “the next Ferris wheel appeared in California on a cliff overlooking the Pacific Ocean.”

How sad I was to discover in the back matter (where sources are quoted, and a bibliography along with helpful websites are provided) that a New York Times obituary says Ferris passed away on November 23, 1896 while still in his thirties. I can just imagine all the other innovative contributions he could have made to society had he lived longer. As it is, the enduring popularity of his ride is a testament to Ferris’s genius, and Davis has done a terrific job conveying that in a most readable, enjoyable way.

– Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

Click here for a link to a reading guide.

Leave a comment below about your favorite carnival ride then follow us on Facebook for a chance to win a copy of this must-have picture book. No entries after 11:59p.m. PST on February 11, 2015. One lucky winner will be randomly selected on Thursday Feb. 12, 2015. If you do not leave a comment you will forfeit your chance to win.

Share this:

This Post Has 37 Comments

  1. I liked this book as well and learned a lot from reading it.
    Favorite carnival ride? No thank you! Will stay on the ground eating a sweet, greasy piece of fried dough. Although I may take a ride on the merry go round later. 😉

        1. Thank you so much for sharing, Cathy!! Have you read it yet? It’s one of my faves and believe it or not, I chose this book by its cover because Ford’s artwork is splendid! Not to mention I have always been a Ferris Wheel fan.

    1. And for years, Barbara, I thought the name Ferris had to do with a translation of fer from French, like the chemin de fer. Never had any idea it had been named after its inventor!

    1. Jane, it really is a must-read because the odds were certainly against Ferris at the time he began construction. It truly was a testament to his talent that it came to pass. Thanks so much for visiting the blog and entering the giveaway!

  2. I love all rides from fluid ferris wheel to the turning tumbling teetering coasters. I loved this book, it was unveiled in a time where everything seemed possible and impossible in the world.

    1. That’s exactly how I felt when I read it. The world was changing so quickly and it seems like new inventions must have come on the scene almost weekly. I cannot image how visiting that 1893 Chicago World’s Fair felt for a young child, but possibilities seems to be the operative word. So happy you loved the book!

  3. I checked out a copy from the library, but would love my own copy to savor. I grew up near Myrtle Beach, SC, and when you rode the Ferris wheel, you could view the Atlantic Ocean when you reached the top of the Ferris wheel’s ride. Great memories.

    1. That must have been a spectacular view, Sherri. I used to go on one in Little Italy, in NYC as a child when there was the annual San Gennaro street festival. Always ate afterwards! Thanks tons for stopping by the blog and entering.

    1. Sue, it really is quite remarkable to think that even households at the time didn’t have lightbulbs yet there was this genius of an inventor creating the Ferris Wheel. And he was inspired by the waterwheels he saw as a child. Thanks so much for entering the giveaway.

  4. Hardly ever see them anymore, but I loved “The SCRAMBLER!” Spinning in the cab that was twirling in a smaller circle that was circling in a wobbly orbit through the sky. This book sounds like wonderful NF which is what my focus is now. Thanks for the view!

  5. I’ve been interested in the origins of the Ferris Wheel since reading Devil in the White City by Erik Larson. This looks like a fabulous PB!

    My not-so-favorite ride is called The Scrambler, the one that spins people in circles like an egg beater. I was on the ride once when someone else threw up. You can guess what happened.

    My favorite is the Skyride, the one that takes people over top of the fairgrounds and deposits them on the other side, or lets them ride round trip. Love the views!

    1. LOVED Larson’s book, too, (all of them in fact) and felt transported back in time from it. Amazing how quick the ride got built, especially considering the deep frost and the quick sand!! Not sure if I’d have been so brave back then to have a go. Thanks for your funny comment. Good thing I avoid those rides and the side effects.

  6. I like roller coasters at Cedar Point–which is strange, because I’m really afraid of heights and falling. But I do love to go fast!

    1. Lucky that you’ve found the right ride, Lisa. I’m with the Merry-Go-Round gang, and an occasional Giant Slide w/a burlap mat is speedy yet relatively quick. Good luck and thanks so much for stopping by.

  7. Amazing! I, too, had no idea of the history of the wheel or its name. I love NF picture books like this, the source of most of my adult education. 🙂
    I’ll have to go with Cathy here. Merry go Round is about my speed!

    1. I’ll join you on that carousel ride, Danielle. Isn’t it true that we can learn so much as adults from NF picture books like The Right Word, Mr. Ferris and His Wheel, The Noisy Paintbox, and Little Melba and Her Big Trombone.

  8. Favorite ride…hmm, that’s a toughy. I know the ones that scared me lol, the zipper for example. But to say in the end I do just like Rollercoaster, there fun, like the rush and no one can rock the seat =).

  9. My favorite ride would probably be a carousel. I prefer to have my feet close to the ground. I am not too adventurous. The Ferris Wheel is fun but I dont enjoy heights all that much. This book looks fun and interesting!

    1. Nor I, Merry. Nor I! Super story, especially to see how the popularity of the Ferris Wheel has endured. Thanks for visiting the blog, entering the giveaway and sharing.

    1. It’s a wonderful introduction for kids to learn about the Chicago World’s Fair and the ride in particular. Can you believe there was actually quicksand they had to deal with? This book does not disappoint.

Comments are closed.

Back To Top