Mr. Ferris and His Wheel, written by Kathryn Gibbs Davis, illustrated by Gilbert Ford
published in 2014 by Houghton Mifflin Harcout
In 1893, Chicago was a bee-hive of activity as the city hosted the World’s Fair. A dazzling Great White City gleamed, exotic pavilions offered people a taste of foreign lands, and rising high, high above them all, the world’s first Ferris Wheel magnificently revolved, to the shock and amazement of all.
America needed something huge, cutting-edge, spectacular to compete with what Paris had thrown up for their Fair four years earlier: the Eiffel Tower.
After months and months of deliberation by worried judges, George Washington Gale Ferris, Jr. won the design contest with his plans for a Monster Wheel, an almost-unbelievable invention that would carry its riders 265 feet above the ground.
It can’t be done, most said. Too flimsy. Ridiculous notion. Utter folly.
Throughout the long months of designing, lobbying, fund-raising, foundation-digging, pumping, drilling, dynamiting, bolting, organizing, calming, encouraging, motivating, Mr. Ferris doggedly believed in his plan.
And on June 21, 1893, the excited, specially-invited, first guests stepped into their roomy, plush car and soared! Up, up, up for a glorious 20-minute airborne view of the Fair, the city of Chicago, sparkling Lake Michigan, and beyond. Mr. Ferris’s Wheel was a phenomenal success.
Some non-fiction titles rise above the rest like George’s wheel, and this is one of them. Excellent writing, juicy detail, keen pacing, with a bubbly sense of optimism and victory. Gilbert Ford’s digital mixed media, ink, and watercolor illustrations grab us right from the cover and front pages. Striking, nostalgic hues and lines, with the roses and purply-blues also conveying a bit of the fairytale wonderment this Fair must have held. The period details wing us back in time, yet strong compositions land us in an environment of steel girders, stalwart workers, and big dreams. The whole book feels hopeful and electric. You will wish you could have been there, standing in a long line with your ticket to ride.
Super read for ages 5 and up. If your interest is piqued, I highly recommend Robert Lawson’s excellent novel, The Great Wheel, as a follow-up. My review of that is here.