Saturday, August 21, 2010
All Aboard! Written by Monica Kulling and illustrated by Bill Slavin. Tundra, 2010. $19.99 ages 6 and up
"What a letdown! Elijah knew engines inside out. He knew how to design them. He knew how to build them. He also knew the boss didn't think much of him because he was Black. But Elijah needed work, so he took the job. The steam locomotive was exciting. People called it the Iron Horse. It was a fire-breathing monster."
This is the second picture book biography for this team. It is the story of Elijah McCoy who invented a system of lubrication that changed the steam engine, making travel safer for its passengers and more efficient for its owners. Elijah was a born learner and when he settled in Detroit after being schooled in Scotland, he wanted more than anything else to be the mechanical engineer he was trained to be. Unfortunately, being black made that impossible in a racist society. Rather than working at his profession, he shovelled the coal that kept the train moving. His affinity for finding the best in everything led to a better life for Elijah himself. He is a man to be admired. He had a creative soul and showed perseverance against the odds. That is what makes this book about his life so engaging. As a child he showed his enthusiasm and dedication in the pursuit of his dreams; as an adult he pushed beyond the barriers that threatened him to do the job he was trained to do!
As with other picture book biographies this one will encourage young readers to take a closer look at Elijah McCoy and his life's work. Not only is his invention a source of interest; we are also made aware of slavery, racism, the dedication of inventors, and railroad history. Any of those themes might provide a jumping off point for further study.
The writing is very readable, the story well told and the illustrations add historical interest and impact. I liked the opening poem about the Underground Railroad, a very different kind of railroad that the one where Elijah worked; but one that impacted his life as much as the other. In a afterword, Monica Kulling explains how the expression 'the real McCoy' might have become a part of our language...and also lets her readers know that Elijah did not stop at one invention. Do you wonder what else came from his energetic and inventive mind? It's up to you now to check him out!