Electrical Wizard: How Nikola Tesla Lit Up the World by Elizabeth Rusch, illustrated by Oliver Dominguez
Nikola Tesla was born in Serbia during a lightning storm, something that would portend his future interest in electricity. At a young age, Tesla became fascinated by the invisible energy everywhere around him, in the water, the wind and the insect that flew. In college Tesla grew interested in alternating current though his professor thought it was impossible. Tesla studied and invented and eventually figured out how to make alternating current work, but he needed help. He headed to America to meet with Thomas Edison, someone he knew would be interested. But Edison was not, insisting that direct current was the only electricity he would work with. Soon Tesla and Edison were rivals in the “war of the currents.” This first picture book biography will introduce young readers to one of the great scientific inventors of all time and his greatest rival too.
Rusch tells the compelling story of Tesla and his inventions. She shows Tesla as a complicated person, eager to pursue his own ideas and willing to stand up for them in the face of great opposition. She also tells the story of the rivalry of the two men in a very engaging way and Tesla’s ultimate victory and how he reached it. Her writing is engaging, detailed and impressive.
Dominguez’s illustrations are filled with period details that help ground this picture book directly in the time in which it is set. Scientific instruments are often in the forefront of the images, showing their structures in detail. This is a true celebration of the science of invention.
An electric read, this book shines light on a great man. Appropriate for ages 7-9.
Reviewed from copy received from Candlewick Press.
The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind by William Kamkwamba and Bryan Mealer, illustrated by Elizabeth Zunon
This picture book version of the nonfiction book manages to translate the story of William Kamkwamba with clarity and inspiration. When a drought hit his village in Malawi in 2001 and 2002, 14-year-old William and his family were in real danger of starving. William had always through about machines and even after he was forced to leave school due to the drought, he kept reading books about them. He thought about what could be done with a windmill in his village, bringing light and water. So he hunted through the junk yard and found pieces to use. Built entirely out of scraps, his first windmill and its electric wind brought electricity to the valley. The afterword gives more details about William’s story and how it took him longer years to bring his dream of pumping water to fruition. This inspirational story speaks to the inventor, the doer, and the dreamer in all of us.
The writing here is lovely. The imagery is impressive, such as comparing the windmill to a “clumsy giraffe” and giving William’s sorrow at having to leave school a physical sense: “alone with the monster in his belly and the lump in his throat.” The book carefully captures what life in Malawi was like and what little could be done to make a difference before transforming into a book where dreams create change.
Zunon’s illustrations are exquisite. They are a captivating mix of painting and collage. Filled with texture, the textiles of the clothing come to life and the objects have weight and feel. The most impressive are the faces of the people, filled with light. The faces become the place your eyes go first, making the message of the book just that much stronger in a subtle but powerful way.
A luminous picture book version of a compelling real-life story, this book should inspire others to not only dream but to make those dreams happen. Appropriate for ages 7-10.
Reviewed from copy received from Dial Books for Young Readers.
Wendell’s Workshop by Chris Riddell
Wendell was very busy inventing things, so he didn’t have time to clean up his workshop. When it finally became too untidy to bear, Wendell invented a robot named Clunk to help him. Clunk did the housework, but in such a way that it made an even larger mess. So Wendell threw him down the rubbish chute. Wendell created a second robot to help clean. This robot looked a lot like him, so he called him Wendelbot. Wendelbot was great at cleaning, but too great. Finally Wendel himself was the only untidy thing left, until Wendelbot threw him down the chute. Wendel found Clunk there and they devised a plan to stop Wendelbot in his quest to tidy the world.
Riddell has created a robot picture book that has a great story yet resists being too wordy or complex for young children. The book reads aloud very well, filled with great sound effects, wonderful big booms, and plenty of clutter. It is a story that all children will relate to happily whether they love robots or not. Riddell also laces his story with plenty of humor, which is carried directly into the illustrations. Wendel himself is very cute and fuzzy, a wonderful contrast to the hard surfaces of the robots. The detail of the illustrations is delightful, from the rolling screws to the intriguing depths of the rubbish pile.
This is a picture book with lots to love plus robots! Appropriate for ages 3-6.
Reviewed from library copy.
You can also check out a video of the book being read aloud on YouTube. It’s a bit blurry, but still offers great glimpses of the illustrations:
The Day-Glo Brothers: the true story of Bob and Joe Switzer’s bright ideas and brand-new colors by Chris Barton, illustrated by Tony Persiani
I am always on the look-out for books that offer a great story combined with nonfiction. This book definitely has that. Even better, it offers a tangible example of invention that children can relate to and understand. Joe and Bob were not similar brothers. Bob enjoyed working and planning while Joe preferred magic tricks and problem-solving. The two made the perfect inventing pair. After Bob suffered an accident and was limited to living in the family’s basement, Joe joined him there to practice using fluorescence in his magic tricks. The two worked together and created glow-in-the-dark paints. After years of success, they found that with some tweaking they could create paints that glowed even in broad daylight – day-glo colors.
The book is written in a style that is inviting and intelligent. It offers lots of background information on the brothers, understanding that part of the fascination is with the inventors themselves along with their flashy colors. The illustrations work to great effect with their vintage advertising style and effective use of bright colors.
A great biographical nonfiction picture book about an accessible subject, this book will be snatched off of shelves for the cover alone. Add it to bibliographies about inventors and children will be thrilled to have such a youthful title to use for reports. Appropriate for ages 6-8.
Reviewed from library copy.
Also reviewed by Abby the Librarian with author features on Cynsations and 7 Imp. You can also visit Chris Barton’s own blog.