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)