THE KITE THAT BRIDGED TWO NATIONS

HOMAN WALSH AND THE FIRST NIAGARA SUSPENSION BRIDGE

A young kite enthusiast lends his skill to an engineering feat—the construction of the first suspension bridge downstream from Niagara Falls.

O’Neill’s narrator (16-year-old Homan Walsh in 1847, from the author’s note) recounts in free verse his entry in the kite-flying contest posed by the bridge’s engineer. The winner must anchor a line 240 feet across an 800-foot chasm between the United States and Canada above Whirlpool Rapids. Though his father is unimpressed by his passion for kite-flying, for the boy: “This is what I studied— / reading the wind, / calculating lift, / gauging line length....” He launches his carefully made kite from the Canadian side, knowing how the winds would work. As the wind drops at midnight, there’s “suddenly, a sag, a jerk. / The heavy line went slack! / It snapped on ice below.” The young hero waits (“Kind folks in Elgin sheltered me”) for ice to clear so he can return home to mend his rescued, broken kite for a second, successful attempt. Widener’s acrylic paintings capture the determination of the boy, the frozen, deeply chilly landscape, and the danger and power of the falls. In a later scene, the completed bridge imposes order on the wild waters below. Backmatter includes a timeline, source list and more complete story of what is actually known or surmised for the story’s telling.

Memorable and dramatic. (Fiction. 7-11)

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2013

ISBN: 978-1-59078-938-4

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Calkins Creek/Boyds Mills

Review Posted Online: July 17, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2013

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Thought-provoking and charming.

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THE WILD ROBOT

A sophisticated robot—with the capacity to use senses of sight, hearing, and smell—is washed to shore on an island, the only robot survivor of a cargo of 500.

When otters play with her protective packaging, the robot is accidently activated. Roz, though without emotions, is intelligent and versatile. She can observe and learn in service of both her survival and her principle function: to help. Brown links these basic functions to the kind of evolution Roz undergoes as she figures out how to stay dry and intact in her wild environment—not easy, with pine cones and poop dropping from above, stormy weather, and a family of cranky bears. She learns to understand and eventually speak the language of the wild creatures (each species with its different “accent”). An accident leaves her the sole protector of a baby goose, and Roz must ask other creatures for help to shelter and feed the gosling. Roz’s growing connection with her environment is sweetly funny, reminiscent of Randall Jarrell’s The Animal Family. At every moment Roz’s actions seem plausible and logical yet surprisingly full of something like feeling. Robot hunters with guns figure into the climax of the story as the outside world intrudes. While the end to Roz’s benign and wild life is startling and violent, Brown leaves Roz and her companions—and readers—with hope.

Thought-provoking and charming. (Science fiction/fantasy. 7-11)

Pub Date: April 5, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-316-38199-4

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Jan. 20, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2016

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A spirited, duplicable depiction of STEM fun.

ELLIE, ENGINEER

Ellie navigates secrets and gender conflicts while trying to create an amazing birthday gift.

Ellie and her best friend, Kit, overhear Kit’s mother talking about Kit’s upcoming birthday, and she mentions “Miss Penelope”—the name Kit’s picked out for a dog (her stepfather’s and sister’s dog allergies complicate her wish). When Ellie’s first attempt at a birthday gift doesn’t go so well (Ellie has a healthy, relaxed attitude about trial and error and perseverance), she decides to make a doghouse for Miss Penelope. To complete such a grand project in so few days, she enlists help from eager engineering student Toby and an artistic trio of girls named Madison, Taylor, and McKinley (they draw a comic book called The Presidents)—but she doesn’t let them know about one another, as the trio and the neighborhood boys don’t get along. Ellie feels guilty about her deception as well as for deceiving Kit so she can spend time away from her working on the doghouse. Eventually, she’s caught and must come clean. This she does neatly in a way that explicitly rejects the idea that activities and objects are gendered (e.g., boys and girls can both like engineering and tea parties). Throughout, she engineers both pranks and inventive ways around various obstacles, always using common materials. (Mourning supplies diagrams of both, amplifying the humor.) The twist ending is not what most readers will expect. Characters lack physical descriptions, but Ellie’s depicted with pale skin on the cover.

A spirited, duplicable depiction of STEM fun. (tool guide) (Fiction. 7-11)

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-68119-519-3

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Review Posted Online: Oct. 1, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2017

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