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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.

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Cathy Ballou Mealey
February 6, 2015 8:49 am

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. 😉

Cathy Ballou Mealey
February 7, 2015 9:26 am

Posted on the nonfiction Facebook group – lots of people will want to enter to win this book!

Barbara Ann Mojica
February 6, 2015 12:02 pm

It is truly amazing that so many inventions and pieces of modern day technology were spurred by Worlds’ Fairs and cultural expositions.

Barbara Ann Mojica
February 6, 2015 12:03 pm

Actually, it’s a toss up for me as to my favorite ride…difficult to decide between the Ferris wheel and the old fashioned wooden roller coaster.

Karen Fingerman
Karen Fingerman
February 6, 2015 4:13 pm

ferris wheel

Jane Heitman Healy
February 7, 2015 9:32 am

Thanks for sharing your impressions of this book. It sounds like a must read–and one I will remember every time I see a Ferris wheel!

Kristen Fulton
February 7, 2015 9:50 am

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.

Sherri Jones Rivers
February 7, 2015 9:54 am

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.

Sue Heavenrich
February 7, 2015 11:41 am

What an interesting story. I love Ferris Wheels. Them and carousels. Nice to learn a bit more about how the Ferris Wheel came to be.

Damon Dean
February 7, 2015 1:39 pm

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!

Jilanne Hoffmann
February 7, 2015 2:38 pm

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!

Lisa Rose
February 7, 2015 3:02 pm

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!

danielle @ this picture book life
February 7, 2015 3:19 pm

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!

Wendy Greenley
February 7, 2015 8:03 pm

The cover of this book looks gorgeous! My favorite ride are the tea cups. Make me silly, but don’t scare me to death!

Brittany Perez
February 8, 2015 12:36 am

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 =).

February 9, 2015 10:14 pm

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!

February 10, 2015 10:41 pm

I love the mega slide!!!

Dana Carey
February 11, 2015 7:26 pm

It’s the Merry-Go-Round for me.
Great review– I didn’t know of this book before but I’d really love to read it now!

February 12, 2015 1:34 pm

The ferris wheel, of course!!

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