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Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Going Up! Written by Monica Kulling and illustrated by David Parkins. Tundra, Random House. 2012. $19.99 ages 7 and up

"In Yonkers, Elisha got work overseeing the construction of a new bed-frame factory in 1852. Heavy machinery from the ground floor had to be moved to the second floor. Elisha didn't trust the hoisting platform. If the cable broke, it wouldn't be hay tumbling down - it would be the machinery parts. People might get hurt."

My very first job, besides babysitting, was at the Eaton's Department Store at Christmas time. The job? Why, I was the elevator operator! Three floors only, but young kids would get in and have a great time going up and down, up and down. Other customers were not happy with the inconvenience. Voila! My first job!

I had no idea that my job and so much more was due in part to Mr. Elisha Otis. Thanks to Monica Kulling, I now know that he had a hand in making life easier for shoppers that Christmas. His inventive mind was constantly considering ways to change life and the working world as he knew it.

In this fourth book from the much praised Great Ideas Series, Ms. Kulling continues on a path to introduce young readers to some of the lesser known inventors. Earlier she wrote books about Margaret Knight (In the Bag, 2011), Elijah McCoy (All Aboard!, 2010) and George Eastman (It's a Snap, 2009). It's a wonderful series of books and affords a glimpse at the lives of those who have made a difference in our world. You know how I love to tell you about new picture book biographies! 

Elisha had invented other things before looking for a better way to hoist heavy machinery from one floor to the next. When he found success designing a safety brake, he found the work he loved to do and set his mind to making 'safety brakes for hoisting platforms'. He thought he would be satisfied and so he settled his family in Yonkers. There would be no more moves. However, the inventive mind rarely settles with just one thing.  In a eureka! moment he thought that same platform could be used to move people.

The people he wanted to move were not receptive to being hoisted by the Otis elevator. He tried, but it wasn't going well. Serendipitously, the New York World's Fair provided a perfect venue for showing people the merits of such a people-moving device! The elevator business became a huge success and Mr. Otis got credit for making some far-reaching changes in the way people lived:

"Before Elisha's safety brake, buildings were never higher than six stories. No wanted to live or work on the higher floors because you had to walk up all those stairs. Elisha's invention made it possible to build skyscrapers."

The author tells a great story. It moves along quickly, using just the right amount of text to garner interest and hold attention. David Parkins uses pen, ink and watercolor to set this story in the early to mid 19th century and allows readers to see the ever-resourceful Elisha move from a childhood on the farm, to urban, industrial life. Expressive faces add emotion to this well-told account of Mr. Otis' life and times.
One more amazing inventor whose life work makes us wonder what the world might have been like today without his inquisitive and inspired thinking!

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