The Kite That Bridged Two Nations by Alexis O’Neill
Windy Days Not Required …
To Enjoy This Story Based On Actual Historical Events
Did you know that April is National Kite Month (officially March 29 – May 4, 2014)? I didn’t until author Alexis O’Neill told me. So what better time than now to review her latest picture book, The Kite That Bridged Two Nations (Calkins Creek, $16.95, Ages 8-11) written by Alexis O’Neill with illustrations by Terry Widener? Just like us on Facebook and/or Twitter and let us know you did for an entry into the giveaway. Scroll down to the comment form to enter and please give us your mailing address in the comment section. Giveaway ends midnight PST on Tuesday, June 3rd. A winner will be chosen by Random.org and notified via email on Weds. June 4, 2014. Good luck!!
As a former New Yorker and a fan of Niagara Falls, I was eager to read O’Neill’s book to find out more about The Kite That Bridged Two Nations: Homan Walsh and the First Niagara Suspension Bridge. Perhaps, I wondered, I once even crossed its replacement, The Whirlpool Rapids Bridge, when I visited Niagara Falls long ago. I first heard O’Neill read from this fantastic true tale at an SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) conference and marveled at her meticulous research and attention to detail. The free verse she chose to use in the picture book, along with having an older Walsh as narrator looking back on this historic event from his childhood, made it very accessible. I think that’s a big part of what makes this nonfiction story come alive for readers.
Homan Walsh is a 16-year-old who gets the “itch to fly a kite” when he feels the wind blowing just right. In fact, his love of kite flying as well as his uncanny ability to read the wind, has made him one of the best kite fliers around. Widener draws us into the locale of the story with illustrations of Walsh so close to the edge of cliffs along the Niagara that we just have to read on first and foremost to make sure he doesn’t fall. Plus, put on some wool socks because Widener’s frosty, snow covered Niagara scenes will pull you into the pages, bundled up right beside Homan as he braves the cold winter clime to fly his kite. When a handbill announcing a kite-flying contest catches his eye, he’s determined to win the …
$10 PRIZE TO THE FIRST BOY WHOSE KITE STRING SPANS FROM AMERICA TO CANADA
Young Walsh builds his own kite which he names Union with “a thousand feet of string to reach across the gorge.” And though I knew the story had a happy ending, I still found myself rooting for Walsh. In the end pages O’Neill notes she could not substantiate Homan Walsh’s tense relationship with his father as depicted in the book, however her research did indicate he lived apart from his family. So when his second kite-flying attempt to span the gorge proves successful, Walsh wins not only the contest, but the admiration and approval of this father. He’s also laid the groundwork upon which engineer Charles Ellet, Jr. could string his cable to build a suspension bridge between the two countries.
As if the story alone were not good enough which it most certainly is, O’Neill seems to have read my mind and in the back matter of the picture book she answers the many questions I would have asked her in person. Included are an informative Author’s Note, a Timeline and Selected Sources and online links. Thanks to Alexis O’Neill for taking this seemingly little known story of Homan Walsh out of the archives and into our lives.
I encourage you to also check out this terrific interview with author O’Neill to get her personal account of how The Kite That Bridged Two Nations came to be written.
– Reviewed by Ronna Mandel