Mr. Ferris and His Wheel
By Kathleen Gibbs Davis
Illustrated by Gilbert Ford
(Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014, Boston, $17.99)
A staple at carnivals and amusement parks, the Ferris Wheel debuted at the World’s Fair in Chicago in 1893. An American engineer named George Ferris designed the ride, which he hoped would rival the Eiffel Tower, which had been the principal attraction at the previous World’s Fair. However, fair authorities scoffed at his idea; they found the concept of a huge rotating wheel improbable. Nonetheless, with no funding from fair officials and amidst much heckling from the public, Ferris built his wheel. When the fair opened in June 1893, the Ferris Wheel dazzled everyone with its velvet seats, electric lights, and views of three states.
In Mr. Ferris and His Wheel, Kathleen Gibbs Davis and illustrator Gilbert Ford reveal the ride’s history and celebrate this marvel of engineering. Davis captures the suspense of the building process even as she stealthily educates readers about various principles of engineering. Asides in small font, rather like textboxes, offer additional information without disrupting the narrative. Ford’s illustrations, particularly his depictions of the Ferris Wheel at night, are dreamscapes: illuminated by then novel electric lights, the fairgrounds might be a fairy metropolis.
Mr. Ferris and His Wheel is an interesting look at the story behind a familiar ride. It should also encourage young readers and listeners to be curious about how things are designed and built.
-Dorothy A. Dahm