New in Town by Kevin Cornell

Cover image for New in Town.

New in Town by Kevin Cornell (9780374306090)

One morning, the residents of Puddletrunk woke up to discover that their bridge had collapsed. It certainly wasn’t the first time. They were lucky to have Mortimer Gulch, who had built and replaced over 200 bridges for the town. Mr. Gulch said it was the termites again and they’d just all have to donate to replace the bridge again. He was willing to accept jewelry and cash. But the new traveling clock repairman refused to pay, instead saying he would pay by fixing the clock tower for free. So bridge #272 began construction! Everyone worked hard to build it while Mr. Gulch orated, drummed and motivated them. Then they ran out of wood, but the clock repairman had some. When he refused to share his wood with Mr. Gulch, lest it get eaten by termites, readers soon find out exactly what has been happening to the bridges. But the traveling clock repairman just may have understood it all along.

Cornell has created an atmospheric picture book of an isolated town built in a marvelously ramshackle way on a small circle of land surrounded by a pit. Readers will immediately know that Mr. Gulch is a bad guy, but they won’t quite understand how bad until it is revealed that bridges (and clock towers) are simply delicious. The quiet and reserved repairman has a plan of his own that results in a wonderfully satisfying ending, neatly solving the bridge problem in a permanent way.

Cornell’s illustrations are a delight. They play with light and dark, filling with ominous shadows. The ramshackle town is full of small details as are the people in town. The ending works particularly well because of the art, showing the height of the tower, how precarious it looks, and the rather sad wooden bridge that connects them to the world. Even the font used for the book is unusual and interesting, swirling with promise of a fantastic tale.

A great villain, quiet hero and one doozy of a solution come together to make this fantasy picture book pure joy. Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

The Great Stink by Colleen Paeff

Cover image for The Great Stink.

The Great Stink: How Joseph Bazalgette Solved London’s Poop Pollution Problem by Colleen Paeff, illustrated by Nancy Carpenter (9781534449299)

It was 1858 and the Thames River in London smelled terrible. The problem was that the river was full of poop. The problem had started in 1500, when the sewers were emptied by men who shoveled them out at night. But the population kept on growing. By 1919, there were many more people in London and flush toilets are growing in popularity, but there is no way to get rid of all of the human feces, so some people connected their homes directly to the sewer, sending it all to the river. Cholera epidemics started killing thousands of people, but cholera is blamed on smelly air rather than polluted water, so they kept happening. In 1856, Bazalgette submits a plan to create large sewer pipes to take the sewage away from the river. His plan is finally approved in 1858 after a very hot summer causes the smell to get even worse.

Told with a merry tone, this book embraces the stink of history and shows how one man can change the lives of so many, rescuing them from disease and death. Paeff packs a lot of history into this picture book, making it all readable and fascinating through her use of historical quotes combined with a focused pared down version of what happened. Her writing is engaging and interesting, offering lots of information without ever overwhelming the story itself.

Carpenter’s art is just as stinky as can be. She captures the sewage entering the Thames, the miasma of stench coming off the river in the heat, and the grossness of dumped chamber pots. Against that unclean setting, a small baby is born and becomes an engineer who creates grand tunnels where the air is clear once again. Add in the macabre face of cholera and you have a book that is hard to look away from.

Fascinating, stinky and delightful. Appropriate for ages 6-9.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Margaret K. McElderry Books.

Review: Mr. Ferris and His Wheel by Kathryn Gibbs Davis

mr ferris and his wheel

Mr. Ferris and His Wheel by Kathryn Gibbs Davis, illustrated by Gilbert Ford

After the Eiffel Tower stunned World’s Fair visitors in 1889, it was up to Chicago to impress people at their 1893 World’s Fair.  So a nationwide contest was announced, but unfortunately many of the designs were just slightly-modified Eiffel Towers, so all of them were rejected.  George Ferris was an American engineer who had already designed big bridges, tunnels and roads across the nation.  He had an idea for a structure that would not just rival the stature of the Eiffel Tower, but would also move and be able to be ridden.  The judges of the contest reluctantly agreed to let him try, but would not offer him a penny of funding.  Ferris managed to find a few wealthy investors to help him and construction began on the huge project of creating a delicate wheel that would be strong enough to turn filled with people.  The tale of the building and invention of this now iconic ride is rich with suspense and the delight of accomplishment.

Davis has written a very successful picture book biography on George Ferris and his delight of an invention.  Occasionally in the text, there are sections in smaller font that offer more details and information.  It is all fascinating and those sections will be enjoyed as much as the main text.  Davis clearly explains differences between today and the late 1800s, such as the lack of Internet to carry ideas.  The story has plenty of dangers, lots of action and the ever-present danger of failure to carry it forward and make it enjoyable reading.

Ford’s illustrations are filled with rich, deep colors that capture different times of day.  They are a winning mix of straight, firm lines and hand-drawn characters and structures.  The play of the two on the page makes for illustrations that are eye-catching and that draw you into the story and the time period.

This is a particularly strong picture book biography that children will pick up thanks to the everlasting appeal of the Ferris Wheel.  Appropriate for ages 7-10.

Reviewed from library copy.

Review: The Most Magnificent Thing by Ashley Spires

most magnificent thing

The Most Magnificent Thing by Ashley Spires

A little girl and her best friend, her dog, loved to do all sorts of things together.  Most of all, she loved to build and he loved to unmake things.  Then one day the girl had a great idea she was going to make “the most magnificent thing.”  First she figured out what it would look like, how it would work, and then came the easy part, making it!  She hired her dog as her assistant and they set out to find parts.  She built the thing, but when she and her dog stepped back, it wasn’t magnificent at all!  So she tried again, and again, and again.  Finally, after trying many times, she hurt her finger and she was very angry about all of the time, and the failures, and was ready to give up.  Luckily though, her assistant was there to give her encouragement to give it one more try, after a long walk.

Spires, the author of Binky the Space Cat, has created an ingenious little book.  Through clever storytelling she has written about the process of trial and error, the process of following through on a design and testing it, the creative process itself.  This is a young heroine with so much resilience and determination!  Her failures make her all the more brilliant and successful in the end.  And perhaps my favorite little twist is that people in her neighborhood find their own uses for her failed attempts. 

The art has the same wonderful modern quirkiness as her Binky books.  Though this is not a graphic novel format, she does use panes in her illustrations, making the iterations of her designs all the more fun to explore.  Done with minimal colors except for bursts of red, the illustrations are perfect for a design process.

Get this into the hands of math teachers who will appreciate a very readable book about trial and error.  It is also the perfect book for little girls to be inspired to use tools and create their own designs.  Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from copy received from Kids Can Press.