Illinois authors' works among the year's best
Many newspapers and review journals are publishing their Best of 2013 picks, and I was excited to see two Illinois authors' books included on the lists.
"Rosie Revere, Engineer" (2013, Abrams Books for Young Readers, written by Andrea Beaty, illustrated by David Roberts, ages 4-8) uses rhymed verse to tell the story of Rosie, a young girl who dreamed of becoming a great engineer.
At the beginning, we wonder why Rosie so shyly builds her gadgets and gizmos in a secret hideaway. It turns out, when Rosie was younger she was laughed at for building a special hat for her zookeeper uncle (with cheddar cheese spray to keep snakes away).
Now, though, her great-great-aunt Rose (Rosie the Riveter) shows up and tells Rosie that she's fulfilled all of her dreams, except to fly.
"But time never lingers as long as it seems. I'll chalk that one up to an old lady's dreams," Aunt Rose says.
That night, Rosie has an idea. Shyly, she builds a cheese copter to help her aunt fly. When Rosie tests it out, it hovers and sputters for a minute, but crashes. Rosie is horrified as she sees her aunt laughing.
However, then Aunt Rose congratulates her. "Your brilliant first flop was a raging success! Come on, let's get busy and on to the next!"
As they work together, Rosie becomes more confident.
"Life might have its failures, but this was not it. The only true failure can come if you quit," she says.
This book is illustrated in the same lively watercolor and pen and ink illustrations as Beaty and Roberts' previous collaboration, "Iggy Peck, Architect" (2007).
In "Papa's Mechanical Fish" (2013, Farrar Straus Giroux, written by Candace Fleming, illustrated by Boris Kulikov, ages 4-8), the main character introduces us to her Papa, who spends his days in his backyard workshop.
"Hear that? Clink! Clankety-bang! Thump-whirrr! That's the sound of Papa at work," she says. Papa invents many things, but he has yet to invent something that works perfectly.
Then one day when the family is fishing at Lake Michigan, the main character, Virena asks, "Papa, have you ever wondered what it's like to be a fish?"
Papa is suddenly inspired. A few weeks later, he emerges from his workshop with a small vessel — a mechanical fish. He climbs in to test it out.
"But will it work?" wonders Virena.
"Glub-glup-glub!" Papa swims back to the pier. "It almost worked," he says.
After some suggestions from his children, who mention fins and tails, Papa tries again. And again. And again. Until finally, he emerges from his workshop with a huge vessel with a steam boiler, portholes, and more.
Papa grins. "Who wants to go for a ride?"
Off they go, down into the lake — a successful ride.
In an author's note, Fleming tells readers that this historical fiction story is "almost true," based on the life of Lodner Phillips, an eccentric inventor who took his family on a ride beneath the waves of Lake Michigan in 1851 in a submarine he'd invented.
The illustrations, which include diagrams and glowing paintings, work well with the lyrical, repetitive text which tells the family's story of love, encouragement, and persistence.
Both of these books are well deserving of their inclusion in the Best of 2013 lists as they encourage children to celebrate the inventive spirit!
Alice B. McGinty (alicebmcginty.com), is the co-regional adviser of the Illinois Chapter of the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators and the award-winning author of more than 40 books for children. She directs a summer writing camp, Words on Fire, for teens, and she tutors school-aged children in writing.