Over the river and through the woods, to grandmother’s house we go; we steal father’s car, we are going quite far, and mother cooks up the whole show.
In the town of Mannheim in Germany, in 1888, Bertha Benz decides to take her husband’s car, the Benz Motorwagen, to grandmother’s house, 60 miles distant in the town of Pforzheim, on roads that were more suited for—to all intents and purposes likely made by—sheep, horses, goats, and cows. Emperor Wilhelm II and the church are not amused by the self-propelled Motorwagen, so Bertha is out to prove them wrong. Bertha and her two sons push the car out of the garage in the early morn, but as they motor along, they meet up with internal-combustion-engine problems that the ingenious Bertha—who had worked with her husband to build the car—solves: she invents the brake shoe along the way, made for her by a cobbler. Adkins tells the tale with brio and dash and illustrates it with nifty, time-gone-by details like roadside alms boxes (hello, toll roads), springs disgorging through gargoylelike face into basins to refresh weary travelers, and naphtha as fuel. The artwork is mostly pleasing, with 1888 European countrysides and villages. The characters’ faces are often obscured by hat brims; when doffed, they often reveal unsettlingly wooden expressions. The story is a hoot of ingenuity and an exhilarating tip of the hat to unsung women heroes, and Adkins has a good time telling it.
Even though grandmother meets the Motorwagen with the same disgruntlement as the emperor, everybody else cheers the contraption’s epic voyage. (timeline, schematics, afterword) (Picture book. 6-10)